Each year, hundreds of U.S. citizens face arrest in other countries because they are carrying firearms or ammunition, much of which they could legally possess in the United States. Most arrests happen on the Canadian and Mexican borders, where people attempt to cross with a firearm they routinely keep in their vehicle.
The penalties are severe: paying steep fines, having the firearms -- and vehicle -- taken away, going to prison, and/or being banned for life from that country.
No one is exempt for violating another country’s gun laws – not members of law enforcement, veterans, or even U.S. military stationed in that country unless specifically covered by a Status of Forces Agreement.
However, with a little thought and research ahead of time, you can avoid most of these problems.
Know Before You Go
Here are some tips to avoid complications with your firearms or ammunition when traveling abroad:
- Check your vehicle thoroughly for firearms or ammunition if you plan to cross the border! The stray shell from your last hunting trip or the handgun you routinely carry for protection could be a very big problem for you.
- Become familiar with the approaches to the nearest border crossing. Many U.S. citizens, after arrest, claim that they did not intend to enter Canada or Mexico but missed their exit or took a wrong turn. Know where the last exit or turn-around is.
- Research the laws of the country you will be traveling to. Contact the foreign embassy in the United States.
- Review the Department of Homeland Security’s rules for exporting a firearm, the Transportation Security Administration’s rules for flying with firearms and ammunition, and the Department of State’s International Traffic in Arms regulations.
- Check your luggage and clothing! If you are using the same luggage for international travel that you did to transport a firearm or ammunition, or taking a vest or jacket you might have carried ammunition in, check them thoroughly for any loose cartridges or other items that might be contraband in your intended destination. To be on the safe side, use an entirely different set of luggage.
- Enroll in our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to receive important safety information and to help the U.S. Embassy in another country contact you in an emergency.
If You Are Arrested Abroad
One of the highest priorities of the Department of State is to help U.S. citizens arrested outside of the United States.
Ask the authorities to notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, or do so yourself if possible. We can help you in many ways, including:
- Contacting your family
- Helping you find an attorney
- Visiting you in prison
- Ensuring that you are treated humanely and in accordance with international, domestic, and foreign law
- Represent you in court
- Pay your legal fees
- Get you out of jail