Exports and Imports of Firearms: Visitors' Permits and European Firearms Passes

AuthorLaura Saunsbury/Nick Doherty

Chapter 7

Exports and Imports of Firearms: Visitors’ Permits and European Firearms Passes



7.01 In 2006 the United Nations (UN) passed a resolution to establish an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). This led to the Treaty coming into force in 2014; 153 countries voted in favour, three voted against and 23 abstained, so a large proportion of the world is covered, and even those that voted against, such as the United States, have similar controls in place. The purpose of the Treaty is to control the international trade in conventional weapons; the objectives being to prevent arms ‘crossing existing arms embargoes’, being used for human rights abuses or in terrorism. It is not intended to control arms within a sovereign state. To achieve these objectives all member states of the UN are expected to track exports of arms to ensure they do not ‘end up in the wrong hands’. Any country which is a member of the UN is expected to ‘track’ the movement of a firearm when it is exported and record the ‘end user’; such information is supposed to be retained for 20 years.

7.02 It would not be possible in this book to discuss the details of the requirements under the ATT; suffice it to say, the UK is a signatory. This means that in every case where an individual or company wishes to export a gun from the UK an export licence will be required. Currently this does not apply to an individual who is taking a firearm to another EU country as part of his ‘personal effects’ and has a European Firearms Pass for the gun in question. Keep in mind that the country to which you move might well require an import licence for firearms and you are likely to need to obtain the relevant certification or comply with local notification requirements, as appropriate. This requirement for export paperwork already applies to other EU countries, and will obviously continue to do so after we leave the EU.

130 The Firearms Law Handbook

7.03 A certificate holder in Britain who moves abroad permanently will need to notify the police who issued the certificate when he moves. The police will then cancel the certificate. This is not necessary if a person continues to maintain a property here and intends to carry on using his guns when in this country, but expect the police to look carefully at the question as to whether you still ‘reside’ at your British address. If you do reside here, and spend a few months here every year, it should not be a problem.

7.04 To state the obvious: the rules as to what is allowed, or not allowed, in respect of the possession of firearms, and the reasons for which they can be possessed, are different in every country, so it is advisable to check before you leave. In light of the requirements of the ATT, it is also worth checking in advance whether the country to which you are moving will subsequently require an export licence before you can leave again with your guns.


7.05 It is possible to import firearms and shotguns into this country if you have either a shotgun certificate, or a firearm certificate with a relevant ‘space’ to acquire that type of firearm. This is confirmed in the ‘Notes’ section on both types of certificate which requests Border Force to notify such importations to the police force which issued the certificate. If the country from which the gun has come correctly applies the rules set out in the ATT, they will also notify the UK authorities that it is coming here.

The UK Export Control Order 2008

7.06 This provision further controls dealing in firearms and associated goods. To take one entirely hypothetical example, making a phone call to someone in South Africa asking them to arrange a transfer of firearms to Colombia – if done without the necessary authorities and paperwork – is an offence here punishable by up to 10 years in prison. This will be the case even though you have never been to South Africa, and never touched the guns in question. This is known as ‘brokering’. As with all issues relating to the movement of firearms between countries, it is best to get expert advice if this is a real issue. The 2008 Order has been amended to conform to EU Directive (EU) 2017/853. These amendments came into force on 14 September 2018 and revise the items controlled by the Order.1

1The guidance notes can be found at...

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