Canadians purchasing ammunition in the U.S

Being in Maine with plenty of Canadian tourists in my area, and now operating my retail store selling ammunition, it occurred to me to want to clarify the legal status of selling ammunition to Canadians, or any non-resident alien in the U.S. (outside of odd occurrences like SLICS where they have permits & such). The long & short of it is: Yes, contrary to almost everyone telling me that Canadians can not purchase ammo at the retail level in the U.S., they actually can, in any state except the FOID card requirement states like Illinois and Mass…

I had thought this to be the case ever since I found buried in the ATF’s Firearms Regulations Reference Guide from 2014, on page 196, paragraph 5, section A7, that: “an alien admitted to the United States under a non-immigrant visa” is not legally eligible to receive or possess firearms and/or ammunition. In researching the specifics of non-immigrant visas I found on the website for the U.S Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs, it clearly states that Canadian & Bermudian citizens do not require a non-immigrant visa most all of the time, including simple tourism. There are some odd situations described, but none of them amount to what almost all Canadians (of stays less than 90 days) are in the U.S. for who might be purchasing ammunition, which is simple tourism. Any Canadian (or any non-resident alien from anywhere) who does have a non-immigrant visa while in the U.S. cannot purchase or possess ammunition (except the odd ATF permit situations like SLICS, shooting competitions, etc.). It is a little odd that only Canadians & Bermudians enjoy this status, but I checked extensively, and they are the only citizens who enjoy this simple instantaneous disqualification from needing to be under the guise of a non-immigrant visa status when their passports are processed here. Every other country’s citizens are, apparently “non-immigrant aliens” when entering the U.S., but they might still enjoy having their non-immigrant alien status waived for various oddball reasons such as being refugees, or who knows what else.

Therefore, since most all Canadians in the U.S. for tourism do not have a non-immigrant visa, they are not subject to the G.C.A. restriction regarding holders of a non-immigrant visa being able to purchase ammunition, because they do not hold such a visa. Whether or not such Canadians are able to return to Canada with any such purchased ammunition is entirely up to Canadian law, and the Canadian border / customs agents.

In talking with various dealers locally, online, and even in calling the ATF field office in Portland, Maine - they ALL disagreed with me, and seemed to think that any non-resident alien, regardless of visa status was prohibited from buying ammunition, to say nothing of firearms. The agent in Portland sort of chuckled it off and gruffly proclaimed that no non-citizen could buy guns or ammo, etc. etc… but I could tell he didn’t really know what I was talking about.

Finally, I found on the ATF’s own .gov website one of their many opinion letters, this one issued in 2012, and which directly addressed the issue of non-immigrant visas. clearly states that:
“A non-immigrant alien who is lawfully admitted to the United States without a visa (e.g. Visa Waiver Program), may acquire or possess a firearm in the United States, provided that he or she is not prohibited from shipping, transporting, receiving, or possessing firearms or ammunition in the U.S.”

So, since virtually all Canadians are in the U.S. without a non-immigrant visa because they do not need one, they can purchase ammunition. They can even purchase firearms as long as they have some sort of state residency proof, since the FFL would need to know that, but for ammo there is no such background check or requirements other than IL, MA, and now CA I guess.

Thoughts? Experiences? Since I am not an FFL I worry less about ATF rattling my cage about this whole thing since I have no license to suspend or rescind, and since I now have all of this in print, ready to show to anyone who asks.

1 Like

Matt, while I agree and believe everything you said is true, I would still have a trusted lawyer on speed-dial. When those who enforce the law do not have a clear understanding of it, problems can occur…for you, not them.

I hear you there Jonny, but luckily my father-in-law is a retired Lt. Col. JAG with 30-years experience as a criminal trial lawyer, so no sweat. Besides, any enforcement would be thrown out in a pre-trial motion because this is so black & white, and direct from the ATF’s own papers.

And to go a step further, I actually noticed in the ATF opinion letter from April 2012, that they go on to reference the bureau of Consular Affairs list of Visa-waiver qualifying countries, which further extends the list of countries eligible to 40, as shown here:

visa waiver

So since virtually none of the persons visiting the U.S. from those countries would need a non-immigrant Visa - they are all eligible to purchase ammunition as well, in every state except IL, MA, and CA.

I have had experience with this directly and can tell you what I was told (and I even challenged this with DOJ and Border Services). For Canadians coming back in to Canada you are allowed your personal allotment of ammunition, up to 500 rounds. It is the USA side that is the issue. I was coming back to Canada and for some reason the US Border services (s they weirdly often do now) stops people first before going to Canadian Customs. I was stopped and declared my ammunition. I was detained 5 hrs and waiting for a ATF officer to arrive from his posting 2 hours away. They confiscated everything an stated to export ammunition or to even possess ammunition as a Non USA resident. They also stated I need some form (basically same form one would use to buy and sell an F22 plane). Then it was a $2500 non refundable application fee as well. Ridiculous. I challenged it with ATF, DOJ etc and got nowhere. I even asked if a US citizen could take the ammo as some was very rare and collectible, nope. This is also the next premise I used to try and challenge as most of the ammo I had was antique and pre 1900. Much pre 1880. Basically this stopped all ammo trading across the border. Not worth the chance when US custom’s stops you before the Canadian border. Lot about $2500 worth of cartridges that trip…One i got on an auction site for $1200!!! Canadian customs is just fine with bringing ammo in if you feel like gambling.

I would note, that my explaning of the law is in terms of allowing Canadians or any non resident alien who is not on a non-immigrant visa to purchase & posses ammo in the U.S only. When it comes to border crossing, then that is another matter, and gets into all of the stuff with hunting permits, the ATF form that collectors going to SLICS use, etc… My motivation for looking into all of this was in terms of my being a dealer / seller of shooting ammo mostly, and having many Canadians in my area who want to buy. Not to sound uncaring, but what happens to them when they get to the border these days is their problem, and I have no doubt that the degree of enforcement and interpretation of legality will vary wildly all across the border from coast to coast. Typical government stuff. I have no doubt that many of these Canadians might not declare the ammo anyway, or maybe they are shooting it up while in the U.S. - who knows. When I sold 1100 rds of 7.62x51 to a Canadian a few days ago and asked him about what he does at the border, he just said no sweat, no problem, nobody cares as long as it is less than 5000, rds, and he has done it dozens of times. ?? He, incidentally worked for a super-heavy equiment moving company and was going to be crossing into Ontario, so maybe as a commercial rig he gets less hassle? I’m sure exeriences vary wildly from not declaring at all, to Curtis’ version of extreme search & seizure above, and everything inbetween. But anyway, they can buy all they want.

In the post I did above, it was not just about border crossing…but also Possessing ammunition in the USA…needed that permit according to ATF. The border had nothing to do with it. Canada allows you to bring 500 rounds in… period. It was the USA border security who stopped me before going in to Canada which would have nothing to do with the border crossing per se as I am leaving the USA. Why they would they stop people leaving the country is beyond me…if a criminal etc you would think they would be happy to see them leave the country. This is a newer practice. But they randomly do this now. So according to the ATF a permit is needed for any Non USA person to possess ammo. They did not say buy…but said possess. But then again hunters who go to the USA have ammunition so this is contradictory in itself. I think the ATF agents all interpret the law differently as it is so confusing so a real crap shoot in my opinion.

DK- I agree with your interpretation on the narrow purchase part of the issue. However, the “possession” part is equally important, as your Canadian customers may be (improperly, probably) charged with illegal possession as soon as they walk out the door.

It would be a huge service if you (or your legal beagle relative) requested a letter ruling from BATFE on the “possession” issue specifically regarding visa-waiver non-immigrants, who are not separately licensed for special events such as hunting, competition, etc. Cite their letter on purchase as apparently allowing possession, but experiences where individuals who have legally purchased ammunition have been detained and their ammunition confiscated as an issue needing clarification.

It does not matter what we think the laws or letters mean, it only matters how BATFE (and by extension their cousins in other federal agencies) interpret the laws and regulations. If you can get them to put it in writing on BATFE letterhead that gives people a decent chance of avoiding the hassles encountered by CartridgeCorner above. Perhaps people will be stopped and detained, but having a copy of a BATFE letter in hand should expedite clearing things up and freedom to return to lawful activity.

Bureaucrats often do not know the law or their own agency’s policies, so verbal assurances from any level are worthless. It MUST be IN WRITING to get some local agent to pause and comply with agency policy, not their personal interpretation.

Totally ridiculous that this would be necessary, but with people thinking “evil terrorists getting guns and ammo” they are totally oblivious to legal and harmless cartridge collecting hobbyists.

For the In-writing part, they effectively already state it in writing at the atf . gov link in my first post where they flatly say that any alien in the U.S. who is not on a non-immigrant visa, has no restriction in terms of purchasing or possessing firearms or ammunition in the U.S… The firearms part is more tricky because one would need to prove some sort of state residency, but ammo has no such need, except in MA, IL, and CA.

The trick is in getting any suspicious customs or atf agent to understand that Canadians are all visa-waived, and what that means. The link at the customs website where it declares that Canadians & Bermudians are visa-waived is here: and is important because Canada does not appear listed for some reason on the list of visa-waived countries In the link offered in the atf link in my first post, which is here:

Absolutely the LAST person to ask for advice on ANY question involving firearms or ammunition is a BATF agent. Not only are they ignorant of the law, they are under instruction to confuse and obfuscate whenever they can. If you ask five agents the same question you will get seven answers, all of them wrong. Show them the wording of the law in writing and they will ignore it and lie about it. Quite aside from the fact that the BATF is ignorant and willfully obstructive, they don’t have jurisdiction on exports, only imports. Exports are regulated by the State department and they know even less about the law than the BATF.

I once donated a rifle to a museum in Australia. It took months and the involvment of several licensees and moutnains of paperwork, to get a 90-year old SMLE out of the USA. Given the hostility of the government to private ownership of firearms you would think they’d be happy to see it gone, but again, delay, obfuscation, expense, and frustration are the goals.

I have also walked a New Zealand resident through the purchase of a rifle, with no issues, because we had a) the law in hand and b) the proper documents to show is status. That went through because Wal-Mart rtead the law and complied with it. Had they decided to call the BATF for “advice” the sale would never have happened. Bottom line: non-resident aliens with proper documents CAN buy firearms and ammunition in the USA except in a few states.

I once had someone try to scam me on buying a revolver, and I reported him to the local BATF office. The agent listened politely and did nothing whatever, despite my giving him hard documentary evidence of attempted violations not only of the Gun Control Act, but open mail fraud.

If you get advice from the BATF you are asking for trouble.

Thanks NRV. I would only add that I think most rank & fie agents are ok people, they are just dealing with some very conflicted and obtuse regulations and so they often err on the side of just telling people things are restricted so as to cover for themselves and the department. For foreigners purchasing firearms and/or ammunition in the U.S. - as long as they are from one of the Visa-waived countries shown in the Bureau of Consular Affairs chart above, then they are fine to purchase. They would usually still need to provide for proof of residency in some state however, since FFL’s usually want to know if the buyer is from their own state or not, which would dictate whether the firearm might have to be transferred. But of course there would be a great many FFL’s who would run & hide from a foreigner in any case because they don’t understand any of this, or because they believe it to be illegal, in no small part due to many ATF agents telling them that it is illegal.

The more I read this, the more confused I become!

I’m coming to the US in October and want to pick up some ammunition whilst I am there. Not a lot but like most of us, I’ll grab what I want to add to my collection. Flying with the ammo is not a problem but I am concerned about being challenged whilst checking my bag in at the US airport both when travelling interstate (GA to TX) and when exiting the country.

I’m from one of the VWP countries listed in the table above but for some years now we all have to complete an ESTA visa application

I note that it was commented that people attending SLICS have some documentation and I wonder if anyone could point me toward the relevant document(s) please? If this is only event specific (i.e. an organised cartridge show, can I get a ‘sponsor’ letter or similar?).

I can probably fake a US accent but as soon as I pull out my passport that charade will be over!

@DKConfiguration - the last link you posted is now returning a 404 error (they are on to you - LOL)

I would add that exiting the country with ammunition is an entirely different beast and requires an ATF Form-6 (to get in and then out of country with ammo) which takes months ahead to apply for and fill out, and then you have a 5 kilo weight limit to deal with if flying. I was only talking about the legality of the actual purchase in the U.S… What happens after that as far as whether the ammo is fired off before leaving the country, or if the person drives across the border with it, is up to them. 99% of the Canadians I deal with in Maine have driven here.

Again, asking any authority from the government or the airlines is a virtual dead-end as most of them have no idea as to the specific legal situation, and you sort of have to know what to do to get yourself ready for when you are inevitably challenged with such ammunition at the airports,customs, or border by having the proper ATF Form-6, or whatever forms are needed to get back to the home country. Asking other collectors who have waded through this swamp is your best bet.

Slightly off topic, but be aware that the ESTA Visa waiver site you posted is a scam site. They claim in their contact address to be based in Bulgaria.

They operate legally in that their terms claim that they offer a service of filling out the form on behalf of the traveller. They also charge an $86 fee for doing so.

People that have realised this scam before travelling have apparently tried to cancel the charges via their credit card company. However this can apparently lead to the fraudulent ESTA company cancelling the $14 fee to the DHS. This will apparently lead to any future ESTA applications being denied.

Of course there are also the associated risks of handing over a lot of personal information to a shady scam organisation.

It says the following at the bottom of the page: is a private company and is not affiliated with any government agency. We assist foreign travellers needing proper documentation to enter the USA . Our service fees are $100 US Dollars and include the USA Government fee of $14. You may choose to engage our services or visit DHS Internet sites and make your request to travel to the United States Of America for a lesser fee. The Government site can be accessed at

This is the address for the genuine ESTA site:

Thanks Falcon - I just grabbed the link for the first one that popped up. My travel agent always sends me the correct link but I was too lazy to go to the email…

No problem. A certain popular search engine* is also complicit in the scam in that they allow the companies to use paid adverts to appear in search results.

*I will not name them as they can afford better lawyers than I could.

Thanks - I’ll look into that form.

Any Australians want to wade in here?

I have exited the USA with firearms and ammunition, no problems. All you need is a Form 4457 for the guns: pick it up at any Customs office. It serves to prove you had the gun when you left, and an ATF Form 6 is NOT required for export. That’s an import form only. If you lack the 4457 Form the agents can (and most will) impound the gun until a Form 6 is approved, even if you have a bill of sale showing you owned it when you left: another ihnstance of ignorant jacks-in-office who are hidebound by stupid regulations.

As to exiting with ammunition, I don’t know about canadian law, but the US places no real restrictions on it that I’m aware of. Certainly not for sporting ammunition. There MAY be State Department rules under the Arms Control and Disarmament Act but those wouldn’t be enforced on small quantities (under 11 pounds) of sporting ammunition even by the most obtuse agent. For that matter there is no Customs examination on exit of anything. The Transport Sturmabteilung at the airport will (sometimes) check to see that the rifle is unloaded and that the 11-pound limit on ammunition is observed, but they aren’t Customs and don’t demand any sort of paperwork. Entry into the USA with un-used ammunition is similarly simple. Nobody even asks. I once had some CBP Nazi try to confiscate one of my rifles because “…the serial number has to be on the receiver…” despite the fact that the gun was made in Sweden in 1944, long before serialization was required; and the serial number was on the barrel, which is the controlled part in most European nations. This man was utterly ignorant of the laws he was supposed to enforce. Even he didn’t ask about the ammunition I brought home. I had to account for it leaving Namibia, but not entering the USA.

No, one does not need a Form 6 or 6-NA to EXIT with a firearm unless the country you’re traveling to demands it. The USA does not.

As far as I have understood from those I have heard from in the business, the concern lies mostly with the retailer for whatever reason, and not the person (the Canadian). The reason (which I am still not fully aware of whatever the exact concern is) seems only to apply to FFL holders selling ammo, that is, licensed gun dealers. Since around 95% of ammo sellers in the U.S. are FFL holders, the ATF has a tight reign on them and needs little justification to make their life miserable & confusing at times, and selling ammo to non U.S. citizens is apparently one of the triggers that sets them off. In most cases the enforcing agents seem to be simply unaware of the exact legal status of Visa-waived citizens, particularly Canadians who are rather obviously 99.9% Visa-waived, and are perfectly eligible to purchase ammunition.

As far as I have understood from those I have heard from in the
business, the concern lies mostly with the retailer for whatever reason,
and not the person (the Canadian). The reason (which I am still not
fully aware of whatever the exact concern is) seems only to apply to FFL
holders selling ammo, that is, licensed gun dealers.

Any alien legally in the USA can buy ammunition if he holds a current
and valid hunting license. Can’t answer for states, but that’s Federal law.

Big stores like Wal-Mart simply don’t ask for any sort of
identification, certainly not a visa or passport, when they sell
ammunition. At least not unless the state requires it.

the ATF has a tight reign on
them and needs little justification to make their life miserable &
confusing at times

The BATF EXISTS to make their lives miserable and eventually to
frustrate them to the point where they go out of business. The BATF is
a rogue agency run by scoundrels and it is under instruction to harass,
intimidate, and bully people out of the gun business. Their unstated
but very real mission is to eliminate all private firearms ownership,

, and selling ammo to non U.S. citizens is apparently

one of the triggers that sets them off. In most cases the enforcing
agents seem to be simply unaware of the exact legal status of
Visa-waived citizens, particularly Canadians who are rather obviously
99.9% Visa-waived, and are perfectly eligible to purchase ammunition.

The last person who knows anything at all about firearms laws is a BATF
agent. Even if he knows the laws he doesn’t care. as to sales of
ammunition, again, with some state exceptions, no records are kept. If
a Canadian walks into a Wal-Mart and buys a box of .30-06 or .270,
nobody is going to question it.


The unfortunate part is many agents interpret the laws in their own way. Buying the ammunition in the USA is no issue. I had about 75 rounds of collector antique ammunition (Maynards, sharps etc) from the USA and was driving back to Canada. Every now and then US customs do the check stops of Canadians returning to Canada and set up right before the Canadian border. In one of these odd checks I was pulled over and all ammo was taken from me. They brought in an ATF agent from the nearest city 70 miles away to come talk to me. I did not get my ammo back. I even appealed it later and did not get my ammo back. I was told on all levels I needed a form 6. I lost over $1000 in cartridges. Sp no matter how well we know the laws… always be prepared for the bureaucratic bs and the chance you my lose your ammo.