Updated: May 13
Traveling internationally with firearms requires mindful preparation ahead of your trip. I want to share a few things that I've learned, mostly for my fellow American teammates travelling to Thailand this year for IPSC Pistol World Shoot (but also for anyone planning a big trip with their guns.). There's some repeated instructions about contacting your airline...this is purposeful for the people who skim! Please comment if you have any other tips to add!
*** Adding more info and replacing links on 5/13/2023 NEW INFO IN ORANGE.
READ THE OTHER /FOLLOW UP POST TO THIS ONE HERE: https://www.beckyyackley.com/post/travelling-with-firearms-to-thailand-part-deux-shotgun-world-shoot
** Additions to this info will be at the bottom, as I find links that are useful. But this addition warrants being at the top: possible arrest or being banned from travel. There are instances where Americans have faced arrest, been banned from travel, or an airline flat out refused to let them travel with firearms. You have to call your airline to ask for permission, and they should direct you to the correct permission / permitting process ( if it is not part of your event or being handled by someone with the match you are attending.).
Start with a list
The best thing you can do to ensure that your trip is successful is make sure that you have done your due diligence on preparing paperwork for each leg of the trip. This means your outbound and return trips, as well as any connecting flights or border transits in between.
This is not something you can wing at the last minute. It might even require a visa or other permissions from the country that you are traveling to. ( E.g., if you fly through Amsterdam, even just a connecting flight, you need a permit to transit the country with a firearm.)
So begin gathering paperwork as soon as you know you are going. Print documents as you receive them. Have a folder to hold everything. Grab some clear sleeves to put copies in for airlines or anyone else you need to give them to.
PAPERWORK AND PERMITS:
Until USPSA submits the names to IPSC and IPSC sends you an email to create your fast track pin and input your information, you cannot begin the paperwork process. Once you have that, you will be asked for:
NAME & PERSONAL INFO
SERIAL #(s) FIREARMS
FLIGHT #, airport, dates and times of arrival and departure.
AMMO: how much you plan to bring and whether you plan to purchase.
After your permit information being submitted, the next item to work on is your ammo order and your 4457 from CBP. As well as your flight and calling your airline(s).
Customs form for firearm
You need a US Customs for 4457. Do this ASAP. Your local CBP office might not be open the day you travel, even if they say they are. Call ahead and find out exactly where in the building they are, if they leave for lunch, etc. This has always been a headache for me because it's hours away.
Copies of paperwork:
Bring enough copies of your necessary paperwork so the airline counter agent doesn't have to photocopy things. If they have to walk away to make photo copies, it will slow you down and can lead to confusion and potential loss of your original copies. Put a small sticky note on each item describing what it is: e.g. permit, match invite, etc. This helps them understand what they are looking at.
It's not a bad idea to have a spare set of paperwork for any connecting flights as well. (and you should have notified them to request permission, should the connecting flight be on another carrier).
Those in charge of the arrival process at your final destination might have given specific instructions on how many copies and of what that you should have ready.
As per match instructions for Thailand, bring: 6 copies permit 6 cover letter 6 passport For airline, bring: ( x2 - depart & return) Permit from Thailand (Confirm that serial # and passport # are correct. Took 5 tries, holding phone close, with Google Translate. ) US Customs form (photocopy the original in color so you have extra) Permission from airline - most just do this over phone, but some email. Ask for it in writing. Invitation letter - Emailed to RDs and sent to attending USPSA members Sept 5 Negative PCR test, if still required ( I believe return to USA, we no longer need test. But confirm with your airline.)
For personal carry: 1-3 copies of your paperwork
For each checked bag (that has guns/ammo), taped inside bag: 1 set - same items as for airlines I tape a set inside my checked bags and I write my cell # on this paperwork too. This saved me in Amsterdam because they started to write me up and assumed that I didn't have permission. Then they saw the Netherlands permit. Give a copy of your paperwork to travel partner, in case of lost baggage or an emergency. Copy your passport and take that in your personal items too. Generally, keep your passport on your person when traveling. You often need it at stores if using a credit card.
Permission for firearms & airline/ airport info: Contact EACH carrier / airline on your route. You need explicit permission for each leg of the trip. Confirm that you are requesting permission for both outbound and return trips / legs of the trip. I call my airline a month out to confirm everything is in place. Call one week out to make sure nothing has changed. (if you have permission in writing, maybe just one call.)
Note your airline gates for arrival (Google a terminal map) and look for: 1 - Customs and immigration ( I look for where I have to walk from my airline's arrival gates) 2 - Where you will be walking to get bags 3 - Firearm check /permit - for Thailand: here (Detailed instructions with photos of Bangkok airport: here ) 4 - How to get to the rental car or car pickup. 5 - Currency exchange for small amount of cash if you haven't done it already
Airport connections: If you have a terminal change at your connection, search on YouTube and travel blogs to see if you can find maps/video of exactly where you are going. It can save time if connection is tight. (Anyone flying through Taiwan and switching terminals, message me because I have these.) Maps to save to a text in your phone before you leave: Airport to hotel Hotel to range Hotel to any other place you need to go Other items to do: Set up international phone service. Send a group text to everyone in your travel group so you have that ready to reply to if you get separated. (save their individual numbers too.) Call CC companies to put travel notice on cards. Obtain cash for small purchases to limit use of CC overseas Bring cash for exchange. Money belt / secure way to carry cash and passport in airport and while traveling around.
PRC test - **NOT NEEDED FOR THAILAND 2023** Walgreens has an online appointment option. Usually open one week ahead. Check your local options ahead of time. This needs to be within 72 hrs of your flight departure. Travel Insurance: This website will allow you to enter basic data and get a quote comparison from major carriers. https://www.travelinsurance.com/get-quotes
I've used AIG before, but see better prices and higher coverage after using the above website. I used Go Ready this time, and it was $175 for two people. We insured $2,500 per person, for: flight, room, car, etc. and added extra coverage for baggage, sports equipment, and medical. Most insurances offer a "med flight to any hospital you choose" option. We did this when travelling to Russia and it was maybe $15 per person.
Documents and back-ups
It's a good idea to save your travel insurance, permit, etc. to a file on your home computer for family, in case you need help with lost baggage. We've had this happen, and so I leave a copy of everything at home. And it's also a good plan to save your documents to a drive you can access through your phone as well.
Things to review as you pack: Gear check book on IPSC website:
** IPSC SHOTGUN RULES: https://legacy.ipsc.org/pdf/RulesShotgunFREN.pdf
https://www.ipsc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/IPSC-Handgun-Equipment-Check-Handbook-Jan-2019-edition.pdf Airline regulations on the size and weight of your baggage. - International carry on is usually 22", but the size and weight are defined by carrier. CHECK YOUR CARRIER BAGGAGE RULES. - Confirm firearms and ammo rules for YOUR CARRIER. - Request permission as soon as you purchase your ticket. In writing if possible. - Confirm how your firearms and ammo are to be packed. Packing Ammo: usually in locked, hard-sided case in checked bag, separate from firearm. Plastic ammo boxes are going to save you weight. Technically, it's just ammo that should be weighed. Use the lightest boxes you can, just to ensure everything weighs as little as possible. It is a good idea to tape boxes shut. Tape your plastic reload cases shut and wrap in layers of plastic wrap - this can deter the nosey, but lazy from opening everything up.
Packing your firearm: Pack your guns carefully and in a way that they cannot fall out, if opened without you present. If you have a spare optic, etc. in your case, make sure it can't fall out and get damaged. TSA and customs can be really inexperienced and I had one drop my entire shotgun tube on the floor.
Some countries require trigger locks. I haven't heard if this is a thing for Thailand...anyone else know?
Get a few carabiners for your locks, keys, car keys. Then clip them inside your carry on so you don't lose them when you have to unlock gun cases or find car keys.
Parking for airport: - Get a reservation to park or plan a fail-proof ride to airport.
- If you are parking your car yourself, stop and take one last look that it's locked and you have everything. Day of departure: - Show up at least 3 hours early for an international flight. Security can be long. - Get everything ready at least 2 days early. If there's a flight cancellation or change, you need to be ready to go. - Wear pants or a jacket with zippered pockets so that you can keep your passport handy but secure. Something that has enough pockets for it and your boarding pass. Or use a travel /money belt. Put your passport in the same place always. Ideally not a pocket where you put your phone or anything else. - Bring a jacket, neck pillow, blanket. International flights are usually COLD. - Earplugs to sleep and wired ears for flight audio jack.
Meds: We've been sick overseas and it's not fun. Bring anything you normally use and consider what you could run into. Painkiller like ibuprofen for headaches
Activated charcoal capsules (for food poisoning or you don't want a hang-over) Sudafed or decongestant ( Guaifenesin tablets are a good choice ) Eyedrops Anti-nausea Dayquil / Nyquil Imodium Benadryl for allergies or zyrtec Vitamins Bee sting/bug bite swabs Antibiotics, etc. that you might be able to get via dr. for travel. Explain where you are going ask what they suggest.
Electrolytes Basic first-aid kit
There was plenty of water and groceries availabe. 711 on almost every block.
Water filter - Might want to bring one if you have it, or buy one. You probably don't want to drink anything but bottled water. I would take carbonated water over sill water. In some places, refilling water bottles with local water is something that happens. Drinking bottled teas or other drinks will ensure you aren't getting refilled water bottles. Some people brush their teeth with bottled water.
Things to make you more comfortable:
Blanket or pillow from home. If you have space and pack light, this can be a life-saver. In the AirBnB we had in Russia, we thought we were short blankets and I ended up using a blanket I brought from home.
Drink mixes or prepackaged food you like. A few powdered, caffeinated beverages might be helpful if your travel puts you into long hours without sleep. A Good to Go bar or something like a GoMacro bar, or other nutrient-dense food might be essential if you are stuck somewhere.
Hot patches or something for a sore back on the flight.
Bug repellent: This one is great / small / lightweight.
Lanyard: We get a photo badge for world shoot and often the lanyard isn't the best. You can buy a better one. Maybe something like these USA lanyards, so if you lose your badge, it's obvious where it's from.
Opening Ceremony and Awards: Opening and closing ceremonies are a big deal for IPSC. We had Migs flying overhead in the Russian version of a Blue Angels air show in Moscow! It's good manners to show up, to be respectful and if there is food afterward, to take part - even if just to socialize. Bring a small flag for yourself to carry in opening parade. At the rifle and shotgun world shoots I've attended, the youngest competitors have carried the flag in the parade. Sometimes people trade off with them, if it's long or we stand for a long time.
During the match, many competitors share small tokens, like stickers or patches or pins. Many give the ROs a pin or sticker on each stage. It's a lot of fun to trade things! Bring spare jerseys to trade.
Bring nice clothes for awards! If you are taking a photo don't be afraid to give good directions. The person on stage or in a photo can't see what they look like, it's your job behind a camera to help your teammates. Here's a great page to follow for tips on photos. We should bring several US flags so the teams aren't scrambling to hand them off.
🇺🇸 US Flag Etiquette: Don't let the flag touch the ground. If you are having a medal put around your neck, help your teammates out or hold the flag nice and high so it doesn't touch the ground. The blue and stars should be in your right hand.
Last tip is to be aware of those around you and that you are traveling with. Safety as well as just being a good travel buddy. Even a miserable flight delay can be overcome with good company. Think on your feet, think ahead, and get a lot of rest before you leave!
Water - some info on drinking water in Thailand. If you notice, a couple brands have plastic wrappers over the cap to ensure they are not refilled without breaking the safety ring.