Whether you’re traveling domestically or internationally, bringing along firearms and ammunition requires extra considerations. This page is geared toward air travel specifically. Please note that this is not intended to be a comprehensive list and is subject to change. It is your responsibility to know TSA and airline regulations, local laws, etc. I hope the below tips and resources will help you better prepare for your upcoming travels! Please contact me if you have any questions or suggestions for this page. Thank you to everyone who has contributed.
—Reya Kempley, Team Operations Coordinator (August 2020) – updated March 2021
|COVID Considerations||ID/Passport||Airlines||Checking In||Upon Arrival||International Tips|
Traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic adds extra considerations. Requirements change frequently, so your best bet is to check online resources both prior to planning your trip and often after booking. Here are some useful links you can use for both domestic and international travel:
- U.S. Department of State Country Information (find links to the embassies’ web sites from here)
- International Travel Advisories
- The airline you booked your reservation
- Destination and Travel Restrictions Map | Delta Air Lines – View restrictions for any U.S. state or country in the world with this useful page on Delta’s web site.
- TestforTravel.com – Find a testing site near you.
- Returning to the U.S. from another country: these requirements vary according to vaccination status and citizenship. See the CDC Requirements for the latest information.
- Requirements for international travel are changing frequently. Always check the U.S. Embassy web sites of your destination and layover countries and your airline prior to traveling. Testing and/or proof of vaccination as well as online health affidavits may be required.
For domestic air travel, you must have a valid government-issued ID card. Beginning May 3, 2023, every air traveler 18 years of age and older will need a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license, state-issued enhanced driver’s license, or another acceptable form of ID to fly within the United States.
Read more about the new REAL ID requirements:
A passport is also valid identification for domestic travel. When traveling internationally, you must have a valid passport. Make sure it will expire no sooner than six months after you plan to return home.
Make copies of your passport. Put them in your gun case, gear bag, backpack, and keep a digital copy on your phone. This can come in handy for identifying your bags or if you lose your passport!
Consider signing up for TSA Pre-Check, as it can greatly reduce the time you spend going through security at the airport for domestic travel.
Signing up for Global Entry will reduce the time you spend clearing U.S. customs when returning from an international trip.
Airlines often have specific policies regarding firearms and ammunition, which change frequently. Before committing to any airline or itinerary, consider the following:
Most airlines have a policy that minors (under 18 years of age) cannot have a firearm in their checked bag. An adult must check that firearm instead, under the adult’s name. Check the specific airline policy before you commit, and plan ahead if a minor needs an accompanying adult on the trip.
Many foreign airlines charge extra fees for firearms specifically. This applies not only to their own flights but also codeshares, which are identified by four-digit flight numbers and are labeled “operated by Lufthansa,” for example. These fees can greatly add to your trip expenses, so look up the fee policies on the airline web site prior to booking. Lufthansa is one example, as they recently recategorized firearms as “sports baggage” and charge fees according to the flight’s length.
Example: Lufthansa Sports Baggage Fees (scroll down to “Sport weapons”)
Domestic: Generally, it’s best to allow at least one hour for domestic layovers. Two hours gives you more leeway in case of flight delays to make sure your gear and firearms make the transfer.
International: Two hours or more is a good rule of thumb when transferring flights in another country. When in doubt, go with the longer time for international layovers. It increases the odds that your checked bags and firearm will make the transfer.
When traveling internationally, your first stop in the USA when returning home will be where you go through customs. Book at least a two hour layover here, and perhaps more in the below cities, which are known to be especially slow with firearms:
- Newark (EWR)
- Seattle (SEA)
- Los Angeles (LAX)
- Houston (IAH), especially when flying United
Some locations have local laws restricting firearms and ammunition, even for travelers just passing through. Here are some examples:
- Avoid layovers in the UK, especially London
- Avoid layovers in Hong Kong and Shanghai
- Avoid layovers in Paris and Bogota, or allow several hours if you must transit there
- Layovers in Amsterdam require a special permit, even if you are not leaving the airport.
KLM Airlines Weapons Permit Page
Netherlands Permit Application
(Note: if traveling under NATO orders, you are exempt)
- European layovers in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria are generally safe
Some airlines, such as Lufthansa, require advance notification that you will have a firearm and/or ammunition in your luggage. After purchasing your ticket, but well in advance of your trip, call the airline(s) in your itinerary with this policy to give them the information they require. Otherwise, they may deny you from bringing your firearm or ammunition on their flight at the airport. This applies to both outbound and return legs (to and from the USA).
Please read these tips from Dave Johnson, former National Rifle Coach, Director of Operations, and Interim CEO: Identifying_Luggage
Making your luggage easily identifiable and marking it with your contact information is important, especially at baggage claim or if your bag is misplaced during your travels. Many people also put a colored ribbon or tape on the bag as well, to quickly identify it from a distance.
Before you pack your bags, check baggage rules on your airline’s web site and look up your particular reservation to see what your baggage allowances are and what checked bags may cost. Usually fees get pretty high when you go over 50 pounds or two checked bags. Make sure to weigh your bags at home before you leave for the airport. If you have any issues, you can put some gear into your carry-on bag, but NO gun parts, ammo, or anything that could be confused as such by TSA can be carried onto the plane. Things such as shooting boots, glove, shooting clothing, glasses, even spotting scopes are ok (this rule about scopes in carry-ons is relatively new). Be advised that some TSA agents may challenge something like a spotting scope in your carry-on bag, even if it is allowed. Scope stands and rifle stands can go in the gun case, for instance, to save weight for the gear bag.
When returning home after a competition, check your bags for any loose rounds of ammunition, including your carry-on. Sometimes athletes carry ammunition around at the range in the same backpack they carry onto the plane, so it is important to double-check all ammunition is secured in your checked bag within the proper packaging and/or container.
Changing Airlines in the Same Itinerary
You may find inexpensive flight itineraries online on Orbitz, Kayak, etc. that have you changing airlines from one flight to the next. Keep in mind that one airline may not automatically transfer your firearm to the next unless they are partners. This means that at a layover, you may have to go to baggage claim, clear customs, and re-check your firearm for the next flight. Not only will this take extra time, but you may need a firearm permit for the layover country as well! It is a good idea to choose flight itineraries containing the same airline or codeshares operated by partners from departure to destination, even if they are not the cheapest.
If you’re not traveling as part of the U.S. Team, carry some documentation with you for the competition or training camp you are attending. (If you are traveling as part of the U.S. Team, you’ll get these documents from myself or your coach). Also have your gun permit for your destination country. Present all these things at the counter when you check in. This often helps smooth out the process and can help the agents be a little more forgiving on overweight bag fees.
Always keep your bags–especially your firearm case–nearby and do not leave them unattended.
When checking in for your flight, you must declare that you have a firearm. You will sign a declaration that it is unloaded and place that piece of paper in the gun case. Then you’ll lock it up. Do not use TSA locks on your gun case—these are not required and are not secure. Use sturdy combination or key padlocks and keep the keys with you. Delta Airlines requires a lock in every available spot on your case. Be prepared with enough locks for every spot on your case made to accept a lock.
Some agents may ask to see the firearms to make sure they are unloaded. This is not required and frankly they are often not educated about firearms. Be polite, but you don’t want to be uncasing your gun in the airport for others to see. Ask for a supervisor if you think you’re being treated unfairly. Realize this may be the very first firearm this agent has ever had to deal with.
After this, you may carry your gun case to a special screening area or be asked to wait for about 15 minutes for TSA to swab your case down and test for explosives. You may have to unlock and open your gun case again at the TSA station. After they have done their inspection, either TSA will take your case to the plane or they will escort you back to the airline check-in counter to drop it off. Sometimes this process does not occur at all, and the airline agent will put your bag on the belt and you’ll be done.
You are allowed a maximum of 5 kg/11 pounds of ammunition per person. This is international law. The TSA states you can place ammo in the gun case, or in your other checked bag. But not in your carry-on!
Here’s a helpful page with TSA’s firearm/ammo policies you can print out and bring with you:
One more note: when returning to USA from another country, a lot of these things go out the window depending on the local laws and regulations. They may not want anything else in the gun case besides the gun, for instance. Being friendly and flexible will help.
Colorado Springs Airport: Air Cylinders
Per current TSA policy, if you are departing from Colorado Springs Airport, you will not be allowed to have an air cylinder with you unless:
- You are a current member of a USA Shooting National Team, AND
- USA Shooting sends an email to TSA at least 48 hours prior to your travel to clear you.
The air cylinder must be unpressurized. Do this at the range or at home, before traveling to the airport.
If you are not a current member of a USA Shooting National Team and are departing out of Colorado Springs airport, please contact Reya Kempley for more information. One alternative is to ship your unpressurized air cylinder back home.
Your firearm case will probably not come out on the regular baggage carousel with the rest of the checked luggage. Look for the oversized luggage area or the airline office near the baggage claim area. A baggage handler or airline agent will usually require you to show ID before handing off the firearm case.
A helpful article from NRA Women: How to Fly with a Gun
Before you travel:
- Read up on your destination country at the State Department’s web site. You’ll find safety precautions, advisories, and more: U.S. Department of State Country Information
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to notify the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate of your travels. You’ll receive important notifications and help in an emergency.
If you are traveling on an official USA Shooting trip as a member of the USA Shooting Team, the gun permit will be handled by USA Shooting. You’ll receive directions on how to submit your information by myself or whomever is handling the travel arrangements. USA Shooting will work with the local organizing committees on behalf of the entire team.
If you are traveling internationally on your own, you’ll need to obtain a gun permit to legally carry your firearms and ammunition into other countries. These can take months to obtain, so start working on this early! The best resource is the local organizer of the event you are attending or coach for the club where the training camp is happening. They will be familiar with the local laws and know what governmental agencies to contact.
Changing a gun permit after it is issued can be extremely difficult. Be sure you bring the exact firearms, ammunition, and any other items listed on your permit. Double-check this before leaving for the airport.
Do not hand over your firearm and permit to someone else and assume they will be able to get it into or out of another country for you. This puts them in a difficult position with the local authorities should any questions be asked. The permit is specific to the person, dates of travel, and often the exact arriving and departing flights.
When arriving in a foreign country, have all your documents in your possession. Be prepared to show your passport, gun permit, and any other supporting documentation. Maintain a sense of humor and patience. Customs processes can take a long time.
Some destinations require permits simply to transit, or prohibit firearms and ammunition altogether. See the above section on “Airlines” for more.
Some countries will issue gun permits to minors (under 18 years of age), but most do not. If the permit is in the minor’s name, consider carefully that airlines usually do not allow the minor to check the firearm under his/her own name. In this situation, an accompanying adult must check the firearm and must be on the exact same flight itinerary as the minor. The best way to handle this is to have the minor and adult under the same reservation. If this is not possible, call the airlines and have them cross-reference the two itineraries. This will ensure that the two passengers stay together, should there be any changed or canceled flights.
Customs Form 4457
This form allows you to prove to U.S. customs agents that you already owned your firearm (or any other valuable) when you left the country, which means you don’t owe duty tax. (As opposed to if you bought the gun overseas and are bringing it back home.) It is possible U.S. Customs will confiscate your firearms if you do not have this form with you!
To complete the form: Go to any major airport’s customs office well in advance of your travel date. Most airports have one. It’s often away from the main terminal areas, so just google the location and phone number. Bring any firearms you will bring on an international trip. They will fill out the form with each gun’s make, model, serial number, then sign and stamp it to make it official. It is not valid until it has been stamped by a U.S. Customs officer prior to travel. This form does not expire once completed. Make copies and bring them with you when you travel. I keep my original taped in my passport book, then put copies in my gun case, my gear bag, and my backpack (along with copies of my passport—see above). I also have a digital copy on my phone. You may or may not be asked to present it upon your return to the U.S., but always have it with you.
Every country has its own rules on guns and ammunition. Some countries require that you must have your ammunition in a separate container—even pellets. Pack it in your gear bag on the way over. People use a variety of things: metal military ammo cans, Pelican cases, small coolers with secure closures, etc. Make sure it isn’t too heavy to make your gear bag overweight. Label this container with your contact information, just like any other piece of luggage.
If you are a shotgun athlete, this may not apply to you—often ammunition is sold at the range, as the volume and weight of your ammunition required for competition is not practical for passenger air travel luggage.
General International Travel Tips
Look up your destination country’s currency and the exchange rate with US Dollars. If you’d like to order some paper money from your bank before departing, a few hundred dollars’ worth is probably a good start, but this is not essential. I recommend avoiding exchanging cash at the airport and hotel. You will usually get the best rate at ATMs—just be sure to have a buddy with you and be safe. It’s possible you may want to avoid this in some countries. I like to use cash at small businesses to help them avoid credit card fees, but it’s up to you. There will probably be a fee per ATM transaction with your bank, so look that up for your bank that and plan accordingly.
Make sure to call your credit card and debit card companies before you depart to notify them you’ll be traveling! Some cards have transaction fees for overseas use, so be sure and research that ahead of time.
Do some research with your carrier to see what plans they have available for overseas use. I used to have T-Mobile service, which was great for overseas travel. But any carrier should have a variety of options depending on how much you’ll be using your phone.
Try to text whenever possible, as it will use less data. Apps such as Whatsapp are popular for international texting and calling, as it uses wi-fi instead of data.
In-room hotel phones often have very high rates, so use them only as a last resort.
You’ll probably need an electrical adaptor for the outlets, as they are often different than here in the USA. Any store like Walmart will have these. Check out these web sites for country-specific information:
And this video gives an overview of international adaptors and what you may need for your trip:
If you are traveling with a team, know who is on your flight and watch out for each other. Know who is supposed to meet you where and have cell phone numbers handy for coaches just in case. Have the name and address of the hotel you’re staying at if you need to take a taxi. Your travel coordinator will send you this information.
Always have a buddy or more with you when outside the range. We encourage wearing clothing with “USA” at the range, but not when you are around town. Wear something generic and conservative when going out to dinner, shopping, etc. Be careful about what you say and do, always. You are ambassadors for USA and shooting sports everywhere you go. Be polite, avoid politics, and remember that other countries often don’t have the same customs or ideas about freedom of speech that we do.
Every country has its own concerns or lack thereof in this regard, so be sure to do some research for yourself and consult your doctor on any concerns you may have. The U.S. State Department is a good place to start. Here are a few helpful tips:
- Ask your doctor if any vaccinations are recommended for you and the country you are visiting.
- Carry all medications in your carry-on bag, and bring more than you think you will need.
- If the local water is not safe to drink, use only bottled water for drinking, cooking, and brushing teeth. Avoid raw foods like salads, drinks made from tap water such as coffee, ice in your beverages, and only eat raw fruits you peeled yourself.
- Consider international health insurance coverage. The USOPC commonly uses UHC SafeTrip. It is inexpensive for a short-term policy.
Local Language, Culture, History, Food, etc.
I make an effort to learn at least a few words, numbers, and phrases in the local language of whatever country I’m visiting. You’ll probably encounter a lot of English, but locals appreciate it if you make an effort to communicate in their language too. It’s just part of being a respectful traveler and ambassador. You’ll also get more out of the trip if you learn a little about the country’s history, culture, and food before you depart. Mmm, food!
Have fun, shoot well, and safe travels!