Moving to the UK? Leave firearms behind, or face legal repercussions
Capt Carolyn Glover
U.S. Air Forces in Europe – United Kingdom Public Affairs
Servicemembers, civilians and family members preparing for a permanent change of station
move to the United Kingdom must make arrangements to leave firearms, swords and other
weapons behind before scheduling their move with the Traffic Management Office.
Including hunting rifles, knives and display weapons may seem standard when it comes to
preparing a typical household good shipment. However, this is not the case when moving to the
U.K. Here, importing these items is punishable as a criminal offense under British law. Members
can also face additional repercussions through their chain of command for failing to comply with
Air Force instructions and falsifying documents.
The Department of Defense Personal Property Consignment Instruction Guide states: “It is
strongly recommended that no firearms, parts of firearms, imitation or replica firearms,
ammunition (live or inert) or other weapons are imported to the U.K.” This includes, but is not
limited to: handguns, automatic and burst fire weapons, semi-automatic and pump-action rifled
weapons, parts of firearms, air and BB rifles and airsoft realistic imitation firearms. Ammunition
is also prohibited in DoD-arranged personal property shipments.
Additionally, U.K. customs authorities classify other commonly-owned knives and novelties as offensive.
These include: gravity knives, switchblade and butterfly knives, stealth knives, push daggers, swordsticks,
knuckle-dusters, truncheons and numerous types of marital arts equipment, such as hand and foot claws and swords
with a curved blade of 50 centimeters or more in length.
All goods are subject to inspection upon arrival in the U.K. Firearms and other offensive items are easily
detected by customs officials, immediately confiscated, reported to authorities and consequently destroyed.
“There have been several instances where members have attempted to ship prohibited items, such as handguns
or rifles, into the U.K. Whether this was accidental, or a blatant attempt to smuggle contraband into the country
is irrelevant,” said Col. Matthew Grant, Director of Legal Services for U.S. Air Forces in Europe – United Kingdom.
“The result will always be same: the member faces criminal prosecution in British courts; will be investigated through
their chain of command; and the illegal items will be confiscated and possibly destroyed.”
Those already living overseas in countries tolerant of firearms could find disposing of them particularly difficult
when embarking on a continuous overseas tour. Burying these items in household good shipments may appear to be the easiest
option. In reality, it is the worst course of action, as it would mean falsifying shipping documents.
“If you are already serving an overseas tour, either lawfully dispose of them at your current location, or find a way to
ship them back to the U.S. for storage during the duration of your time here in Britain,” explained Grant. “If you attempt to
sneak contraband items in your shipment, they will be found by customs authorities. There is nothing the U.S. government will
be able to do to help you at that point.”
There is a process in place that could enable personnel to possess certain firearms. This requires obtaining a valid U.K.
Shotgun or Firearms Certificate or Import License prior to import. Acquisition of these certificates is a lengthy, complicated
process involving residency in the U.K. for at least two years. The Personal Property Consignment Instruction Guide suggests
the likelihood local constabularies will license any firearms is extremely low.
“Eliminate any chance for legal liability, and leave your weapons in the states,” emphasizes Grant. “If you have questions
about whether or not your items are allowed in the country, ask someone. It is better to ask now than to find yourself facing
prosecution in British courts later.”
All incoming personnel should communicate closely with their installation TMO when coordinating a weapons transportation plan.
For questions regarding permissible items for importation into the UK, email the USAFE-UK A4 office at USAFE-UK.A4@us.af.mil,
or review USAFE-UK’s Firearms Reference Guide (link).
Individuals can access the Personal Property Consignment Instruction Guide at https://tops.ppcigweb.sddc.army.mil/ppcig/menu/query/country.do.
After opening the link, select United Kingdom from the country listing, and click Submit. Then, click the spy glass.
Move.Mil is a publicly accessible DOD website. Content updates to this website are required to undergo a public affairs and legal review prior to being posted. Therefore please be patient with any requested changes. This process is in compliance with DOD policy.