I was told it would be difficult, but it was surprisingly easy to transport my competition firearms in and out of the country. However, I found it easy because I was over prepared.
First, I called ahead to customs and border patrol at the airport that I would be flying out of Los Angeles, and asked what I would need to have with me. The woman told me I would need proof of my purchase of my air pistol. I was using a borrowed .22 Walther sport pistol from my team’s club, so I expected the process to be different than my air pistol. She also told me I would need proof I had permission to have the firearms, proof that my club had purchased the firearm, and proof that there was an actual competition in Korea and I had been invited. I got proof that I had permission to have the firearm from the club, but it was harder to get proof my club had purchased the firearm because the group my club had purchased the firearm from had dissolved and had never given them a proof of purchase or an official receipt. My coach also let me know I would need a separate form (form 4457) from customs and border patrol. I had been told that it could take five hours or more for me to make it through customs with my firearms, so I decided to go before my departure day and get as much done as I could beforehand.
Next, I gathered up as much of what the woman had told me to have and took it to the Atlanta, Georgia Airport. I walked into the customs office, asked to have my form signed off, and began to proudly produce every scrap of paper I had. The man behind the counter smiled and politely asked for me to put away all my paperwork. He checked off my form, checked the serials on my pistols to make sure they matched up, and then ran the serial numbers to see if anything was stolen. He returned my form then pulled me off to the side. He told me that he worked with competitive shooters like me all the time, and knew that there wasn’t anything wrong, but I need to be careful about showing all my paperwork before its asked of me. He said that it might seem like to others that I was trying to cover something up or hide something. He then wished me good luck, and I was done. He didn’t look at any of my proof of purchases or any of the paperwork I had worked so hard to get. All he wanted was the form (along with an estimate of how much ammo I was bringing), my passport, and a quick glance at my pistols. That was it.
When it was time to leave for the trip, I checked in, the attendants made a photocopy of my 4457 form, and I was good to go. When I got to Korea, I had special escorts with me and my firearms. I was checked again by Korea’s customs guards that my form was complete and correct and the firearms matched the serials listed and weren’t stolen. That took a while of sitting and waiting, but the people were all pleasant and helpful. My firearms and ammo (in separate hard cased containers) were then taken from me, put into an armored truck with police escorts to the range. I got on a separate bus and rode to the Athlete Village. Whenever I wanted to touch my firearms, I had to go to the armory at the range. I would show the police officers and volunteers my special tags for my pistols, grab my ammo from the separate room, then go to the designated range for my competition or training. At the end of the session, I would take my things back to the armory, traded my firearms for the special tags, put away my ammo, get made fun of for my poor pronunciation of goodbye in Korean, and leave.
Before it was time to go back to the United States, I filled out paperwork for my firearms to be escorted to the airport. This time, the airport was a little more chaotic. The volunteers never indicated where I was to meet them to pick up my firearms and ammo to check onto the plane. I eventually found the volunteers by accident. I was taken to the front of the line and checked into the plane. This time on the flight, my ammo was not allowed to be stored in its hard case inside my suitcase with my clothing. This was a big deal for me because the case I had for my ammo wasn’t very strong and I was worried it would break open or be damaged on the flights I had to take to get back to Salt Lake City. After being checked in, I was taken to customs where they did another check of my form and my serial numbers on my firearms. They also check how much ammo I had. Once that was done, my firearms were checked in, and I was free to go through security and get ready for my flight.
When I got to the US, I found my luggage on the conveyor belt, but my firearms and ammo were with a flight attendant in the middle of baggage claim. She escorted me, along with a couple of shot gun shooters from Colorado on the same flight over to US Customs. They checked my pistols serials, and I was good to go. Everything made it back to Salt Lake in one piece, and it was hardly even a hassle.
The hardest part of the whole thing was the language barrier. When talking about firearms in a country that doesn’t actively work with them, it got a little difficult to ask questions. That and I will 100% recommend going a week ahead of your departure time to get the CBP form 4457. Have that form with you at all time and encase it with protective layers like it is the diamond from the Titanic given to you by the Queen. That paper was the pass to get my firearms in and out, and it’s extremely difficult to get a replacement. Otherwise, as I said, it was all relatively easy.
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