Every year hundreds of Australians travel to all corners of the world to pursue their shooting sports. It could be hiking over the Rocky Mountains for that elusive elk or competing at the World Silhouette Championships in Prague. But the most popular destination for Australian shooters, be they hunters or target shooters, is New Zealand. Australia and New Zealand have many pistol shooting disciplines in common where world and national competitions are regularly contested in IPSC, Target Pistol, Single Action, Silhouette and Service Pistol, to name a few.
Travelling overseas with firearms and ammunition requires processes to be followed, both for authorities at home and those in the destination country. It is not difficult but you do need to lodge a number of documents, which to some, may appear a bit overwhelming. Despite this, every time you travel it seems easier as you become more familiar with the routine.
Apart from booking your flights and accommodation, it is important to contact the host club to tell them you are coming. The club hosting the event will usually require a nomination form completed and sent with the required funds to confirm your participation. If you are going to pay by international bank transfer in New Zealand dollars, your bank will charge a fee of around $AU30. If the host club does not have a credit card facility, you can ask if the nominations can be paid when you arrive at the shoot.
You will need to establish communications with the following agencies when preparing to take any firearms to New Zealand: your airline, Australian Border Force and the New Zealand Police. There are four helpful websites with all the necessary information to complete the task.
The best one to start with is Pistol New Zealand’s Shooters Coming to New Zealand webpage. As the title implies, this is where you will find most of the information you will need to start the ball rolling. From this site you will be directed to the NZ Police site for your temporary licence (police.govt.nz) and import permit - more about that later.
Australian Border Force
The first thing you have to do is register as a client with Australian Border Force (ABF). Effectively, you are about to become an exporter. You will be issued with a Cargo Customer Identification (CCID) number, which you will use on all paperwork to do with ABF as you are now a client in the ‘integrated cargo system’. The ABF also administers the paperwork required by the Department of Defence for exporting firearms and ammunition and will process the Restricted Goods Permit on its behalf.
Thanks to the SSAA’s successful lobbying, as of late 2015 you no longer require to organise a Form B709 from your state firearms registry to import your firearms and ammunition back into Australia. The Export Declaration Advice issued by ABF doubles as an import permit on your return provided the firearms you are bringing back are the same ones taken out when you departed Australia without any change, additions or modifications such as having a new barrel fitted. This decision, apart from making a lot of sense, takes a big chunk out of the paperwork process.
If you are not able to attend an ABF office at one of the international airports or capital city offices, there is the provision to lodge the paperwork by mail. Because of my proximity to Canberra, I decided to visit the Border Force HQ. It is not a bad idea to lodge all the ABF paperwork at the same time, face-to-face, particularly if it is your first time going through the process.
The third form to complete is the actual Export Declaration form. This form is a bit more complicated, so I filled it out with the help of the ABF officer in Canberra. There are no fees charged for ABF services.
While there is normally no problem taking firearms on commercial aircraft, you are required to declare the fact to airline staff at check-in and they can only travel as checked baggage. However, there is a requirement to obtain permission to carry ammunition on an aircraft prior to travelling as it is considered ‘dangerous goods’. Make sure the airline you choose is able to carry firearms and ammunition to the country you are visiting before you buy the ticket.
There are international aviation rules that allow a passenger to carry up to 5kg of ammunition. In the case of Qantas, you can go to its Dangerous Goods site to find out more and to apply for approval. The site also tells you what information to put in your request and what packaging is approved for the flight.
You require a permit to shoot in New Zealand even if you do not bring any firearms with you. If you are taking your own firearms, the application process you complete online will be for a Visitors Firearms Licence and Permit to Import Firearms. You can also reach this page through the Pistol NZ website.
This is a tricky form in that it has a number of pages. The difficulty is you can’t advance to the next page until you complete all the required fields on the current page. Therefore, you are not able to look ahead to see what questions are coming up and what information you will be asked. My advice is to complete this form last as it is the one that requires the most detail and, by the time you fill it in, you will have planned the entire trip and have all the information at hand.
One question on the application form requires the name, address and licence number of the person that is going to be responsible for the safe keeping of your firearms while you are in NZ. This is something you can organise when you first make contact with the host club. Alternatively, you can be in touch with Pistol NZ for further information.
You will receive an email from NZ Police confirming the information you provided and then a few days later, an email will arrive approving your application with instructions on how to collect your permits when you arrive in New Zealand.
Something to consider when you buy your airline ticket is baggage allowance. Ideally, you will be checking in two bags and carrying one with you in the aircraft cabin. Unless you are travelling Business Class, you may have to pay extra for that second bag and it can be expensive. One checked bag will be for your clothing, ammunition and accessories such as holster, belt, magazine pouches, cleaning gear, earmuffs, glasses, hat and so on. The second bag will contain your guns plus anything else that did not fit into your main bag.
One or two chains and a padlock will be useful when securing your guns in your hire car. I converted my range bag into my carry-on bag for the flight then turned it back to a range bag for the shoot; reversing the process when it was time to go home.
If you have any questions about the safe storage and transportation of your firearms, ammunition or accessories, contact your state firearms registry as well as your airline well before you travel.
When you arrive at the airport and before you check in, go to the Border Force office and tell them you are taking firearms out of the country. This will involve matching the serial numbers with your Export Declaration Advice previously issued. Even though this process takes no more than five minutes, depending on workload, you may have to wait to be served by ABF staff, so allow extra time just in case.
I have been lucky to date but I can tell you that the Border Force staff are attentive and professional and are very appreciative when they see you have all the correct paperwork completed before arriving at the airport.
Once your paperwork has been stamped as cleared to export, you can then go to the airline check-in counter with all your baggage. At the airline check-in, produce your ticket and passport plus the email you received from your airline approving you to carry ammunition. The staff will ask you which bag has the firearms and which has the ammunition. Your bags may then be tagged for special handling. They may also ask you questions about the weight of ammo you are carrying and how it is packed.
Once you have checked your baggage, you are just another normal traveller. You will not be required to produce any paperwork other than your passport and boarding pass. Proceed through security, Customs and immigration as usual. Enjoy your trip!
Arriving in New Zealand
During the flight, you will be given a Customs/immigration declaration card to complete that you will hand to Customs officers at the airport in New Zealand. Remember to tick the box that asks: Are you carrying prohibited items? Obviously, the answer is: ‘yes’.
After you go through passport control - which is streamlined for Australian passport holders - your baggage will soon appear at the carousel in the baggage claim area or at the counter where special baggage items are processed.
Once you have all your bags, head for the police desk and ask for your Firearms Licence and Import permit. After cross-checking serial numbers, you will also need to pay $NZ25 for your permit. In Auckland, the police only accept cash and they don’t have change, so make a dash to the currency exchange before going to the police counter.
You can now leave the airport via the Customs officer where you will hand in the card declaring that you have prohibited items with you. It is here that you will show the permit you just picked up from the police desk. Enjoy (the rest of) your trip!
Returning to Australia
The trip back to Australia is effectively the reverse of everything described above, except there is no requirement to visit NZ Police. Simply go straight to your airline check-in. On the flight back, you will fill in the Customs/immigration arrival card and again you will declare that you are carrying prohibited items. On arrival, the ABF will check serial numbers against your paperwork and that’s that.
You can only take firearms registered in your name with you, so no dealer stock is allowed and always check the correctness of the registration certificate issued by your firearms registry. My Smith & Wesson Model 14 revolver was originally described as a ‘semi-auto’. Ensure any mistakes are fixed and have your firearms registry issue a new certificate before you travel.
If you are making a domestic connecting flight, for example from Auckland to Rotorua, allow plenty of time to make that connection. In this situation, your baggage will only be booked as far as Auckland from where you will have to clear immigration, collect your baggage, have the firearms inspected and cleared by NZ Police, clear Customs, go to domestic check-in and then rebook all your baggage to Rotorua.
If you are using your range bag as your carry-on luggage on the aircraft, make sure you have no shooting-related bits and pieces in it. Apparently, someone accidently left an empty 9mm case in one of the side pockets of the bag and it was picked up by the X-ray machine at the airport. Could be embarrassing.
Travelling overseas with firearms does require attention to detail and some commonsense. The workload in sourcing the information, applying for permits and dealing with authorities is a bit of a chore but it is necessary. As stated, the first time you travel internationally with firearms is a steep learning curve but the consolation is that it prepares you well for the future trips you make in pursuit of your sport.