The United States has the largest civilian firearms market in the world – a market that appreciates products from abroad. People have made fortunes selling foreign-made guns, parts, and ammo to American consumers. However, most people aren't familiar with the process for safely importing the merchandise into the United States. Let's walk through the steps for how to import guns and ammo for commercial resale.
First, you must have a qualifying FFL
You can only import guns and ammo to the United States through a Federal Firearms License (FFL) that is permitted to import. Only these types of FFLs are qualifying import:
- 1 Dealer (can "occasionally" import)
- 2 Pawnbroker (can "occasionally" import)
- 3 Collector of Curios and Relics (can "occasionally" import; no surplus military items)
- 7 Manufacturer of Firearms (can "occasionally" import)
- 8 Importer of Firearms
- 11 Importer of Destructive Devices
Either you or your business must possess an import-allowed FFL, or be partnered with an import-allowed FFL. Yes, this is even true for importing ammunition. While federal law does not require you to possess an FFL for "dealing in" ammunition, it does require you to possess an FFL for importing.
Keep in mind that ATF requires FFL importers to pay a Special Occupational Tax (SOT). The exact amount of the tax varies depending on the SOT Class, but is not more than $1,000 per year. Whether the SOT is Class 1, 2, or 3 depends on the FFL type. For example, the Class 1 SOT is for an "Importer of NFA firearms" and can only be paid by a type 8 or 11 "Importer" FFL. The SOT must be paid before an FFL is allowed to import anything.
What are the steps to import guns & ammo?
After you've secured an import-allowed FFL, these are the basic steps of the import process:
- Get import approval from United States (ATF)
- Get export approval from seller's government
- Make payment
- Send shipment
- Clear customs
- Transport to final destination
Let's walk through each of these steps in detail.
Get import approval from United States (ATF)
To begin the import process, you must have ATF approve a Form 6: "Application and Permit for Importation of Firearms, Ammunition and Implements of War". This form itself is fairly simple. The trickiest questions are about the customs broker and shipper, which are topics covered below. The required supporting documentation is generally the more challenging aspect.
There are cases where you need to provide supporting documentation with your Form 6. For example, you may need to provide original documentation "attesting to where the firearm has been located for the five-year period immediately preceding importation". For full details about the paperwork requirements, please read the ATF Import Guide.
Get export approval from the seller's country
After receiving import approval from the United States government, the seller should get export approval from their country's government. The seller will generally need the approved Form 6 as a piece of documentation for this process, so you should expect to provide a digital copy of it to the seller.
The export approval process varies widely by country. As you would expect, it generally takes longer to get export approval in countries with slow or complex bureaucracies. In fact, the export approval is often the most time-consuming part of the import process. So be prepared to wait.
The export approval process isn't always the second step. Sometimes a seller will ask you to pay some or all of the merchandise price before going through the export approval process. That's fair – the seller wants to know they're going to get paid for their efforts. But it's also fair that you don't want to pay before having export approval. This chicken-and-egg problem can be solved by one of the available payment options.
Pay the seller
International payment options are already limited, because many payment platforms don't support them. The options are further limited in this context, because all payment platforms prohibit gun related transactions. Basically, you only have a few options that support international payments for gun-related transactions:
- International wire transfer through your bank. These usually cost around $50. They have no payment limit. They do not include any purchase protection, and cannot be reversed. Only send an international wire transfer to someone you fully trust.
- MoneyGram. The fee is around $3, plus currency conversion costing around 2%. It is limited to $10,000, and possibly less. It does not include any purchase protection. Only send a MoneyGram to someone you fully trust.
- GunTab. It costs 2.9% (or 2.5% if you're an FFL). It has no payment limit. It includes full purchase protection because it is escrow (the only gun-friendly escrow in the United States). Use GunTab to ensure you get what you paid for, and to solve the chicken-and-egg problem with "payment versus export approval".
In any case, you will usually need to provide documentation to support your international payment, including your approved Form 6.
Shipping to the United States
What type of shipping you need depends on the volume and weight of guns and ammo you are importing.
If you are importing just a few items, let's say less than 500 pounds, you can probably use a commercial carrier like DHL or FedEx. These are often shipped by airmail, so they are fast. But they can be quite expensive – for example, around $1,000 for a box of 4 rifles. Also, keep in mind that many commercial carriers have begun refusing to accept gun-related shipments. Be sure to have a backup option.
If you are importing more than just a few items, you can either rely on the seller to arrange shipping in advance and tell you the cost, or you can hire a logistics company to work directly for you. Ian McCollum at Forgotten Weapons recommends using Polaris Worldwide Logistics because they not only have a Firearms Department led by a gun collector, they even have their own FFL.
Larger imports probably won't be using airmail – you will probably be using container shipment. There are two basic types:
- Less-than container load (LCL). These are common, because even imports that fill entire 40-foot containers can have excess that doesn't fill an entire container.
- Full container load (FCL). These make customs simpler, because everything in the container belongs to you.
If you're buying a full container, be sure the seller packs it strategically. Obviously heavy boxes should go on the bottom. But also, any time-sensitive boxes should go in the front. If there are things you plan to sell immediately, ask the seller to pack the container accordingly.
Also, be sure the seller packages the merchandise appropriately. For example, it may be advisable to use moisture-resistant packaging and/or dessicant for items going on long rides on container ships.
Everything imported into the United States must go through the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) clearance process. This is especially true of firearms and ammunition shipments, because they require approval from ATF.
You can navigate the clearance process yourself, but unless you have experience with the process it is recommended that you hire a customs broker to navigate it for you. Mistakes in the clearance process can cause delays, so you should probably leave it to a professional. If you have hired a logistics company, it will generally handle customs for you.
Transport to final destination
Once a shipment has cleared customs, it can be transported to its final destination. That might be an FFL store, a warehouse, etc. Generally, you need to hire a trucking company to bring an empty truck to the port, have your shipment loaded, then transport it to its destination. So once again, unless you have experience with freight logistics, it is recommended you rely on a logistics company. Hopefully the same company you hired to ship the merchandise internationally can also handle this final leg of domestic shipping. That is called "door to door" service (versus "port to port" service, where transport to the final destination is your responsibility).
This might go without saying, but don't shirk on security – both financial and physical. While the shipment may technically be the responsibility of a trucking company at this stage, you don't want any guns or ammo being stolen. You may
Optional legal counsel
It isn't required that you have legal counsel to import guns or ammo, but it can be advisable. Hiring a qualified attorney might be a good idea if you are considering a large or complex import transaction. For a referral to a qualified attorney in the United States, please contact us and we can share our list.
As you can see, importing guns and ammo for commercial resale is not necessarily fast. But it's approachable if you break it into steps, it's safe if you use GunTab for payment, and it's easy if you use a logistics company for transportation. So if you find a great deal on guns or ammo abroad, it's entirely possible you can make a fortune at home.