How do I go about bringing firearms into South Africa?

Recent reports by visiting hunters confirm that the hassles of bringing an own firearm into South Africa is largely a thing of the past.

Many hunters prefer to hunt with their own firearms. The temporary importation of firearms into South Africa for a hunting safari is free, and if correctly done, an easy administrative matter. Andrew McLaren Safaris is quite happy to guide a client using his/her own familiar firearm, provided some thought was given to the choice of caliber and ammunition to be used in relation to the species to be hunted. South Africa recently implemented a totally new Firearms Control Act, and "old hands" must take note that there are significant changes. The full import procedure is described in the "Importation of Firearms" section.

American hunter should also take note of the advice given by Terry Carr at the following URL about traveling with firearms.

If you do not mind hunting with a borrowed firearm Andrew McLaren Safaris will gladly provide you with a firearm suitable for the game you intend to hunt and the ammunition therefore free of any charge. Using such a borrowed weapon has some advantages and some disadvantages for both the hunter and for Andrew McLaren Safaris. A significant advantage for the hunter is that there is no need to lug a firearm around to the airport. The only significant disadvantage is that you'll have no excuse for missed shots: I KNOW that my firearms are very accurate shooters! Note that I'm right-handed, and can not easily provide left hand models.

Those who are bow and arrow hunters are welcome to hunt with their preferred killing tool. You should however advise us of your intention to do so, as not all hunting concessions allow bow hunting. With prior arrangement Andrew McLaren Safaris can provide a limited choice of compound and recurve hunting bows for use by visiting hunters. As the bringing of a bow into South Africa only involves carrying it around, and as bows are more finicky, you are advised to bring your own.

The options regarding the choice of hunting tool are described in the Step 13 of the Safari Planning page. 

A detailed description of all the factors to consider for the actual choice of what rifle, caliber and bullet to bring will fill a few books! We advise to bring the hardest hitting rifle that you can shoot well loaded with the heaviest premium quality hunting bullets. A very large plains game animal well hit by a mild medium caliber premium hunting bullet will die much quicker than the same animal shot in the gut with a large diameter heavyweight bullet propelled at some super velocity by a flinch-inducing rifle.  If in any doubt, just send an e-mail and ask. 

Once the choice of which rifle(s) to bring has been made, you may need to put in some extra shooting practice.  In South Africa you are not likely to shoot from a tree-stand or other type of hide. With Andrew McLaren Safaris as your hunting outfitter you are likely to walk in search of a trophy, then stalk to within shooting range and take a shot from a standing or sitting position using whatever natural or artificial rest is available. Many clients benefit very much by the use of "shooting sticks", and you are advised to try to obtain such sticks for your practice sessions at the range. 

Bow and arrow hunters should note that in the rural areas where you are likely to be hunting facilities to repair and set up bows are few and far between. You should attempt to bring the likely to be required spares along. Even if you would not be able to fix a breakdown requiring such a spare yourself, as there may be an archery shops within reasonable range which could help you with the common repairs, provided they have the spares available. 

If you intend hunting with a muzzle loading firearm, you must note that black power (and presumably substitutes like Pyrodex also?) is not allowed on any commercial aircraft. Advise your hunting outfitter about your needs, and he should be able to arrange a suitable supply. You should allow at least some time to test the suitability of such a supply, which may not be identical to what you normally use, in your firearm. 

Importation of Firearms

The text below is copied from the web site of the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa. Note that the SAP 520  form can be downloaded from the PHASA site. (Updated – August 2004)

Visitors bringing firearms into South Africa for hunting purposes, will be asked to fill in a SAP 520 – Temporary Import Application which is available from your outfitter, can be downloaded off the SAPS Website at  by clicking here, or be filled out on arrival. The instructions on how to fill out the form can be downloaded from here. We would suggest filling in the form beforehand to save the processing time at the Johannesburg International Airport South African Police Service Office for yourself and the Police.

Instructions for Filling in SAP 520 Form

  • 1. Black ink must be used to fill in the form.
  • 2. The form should be left unsigned until the document is finalized in front of the police official issuing the actual permit. This gives the police official the opportunity of making sure the signature is an original and is yours. Should you sign the form beforehand, please make sure the form with your original signature is handed in and not a copy.
  • 3. Please note that not all sections of the form apply. Visitors bringing their own firearms in for hunting purposes should concentrate on filling in the following:
  • Section D – (temporary import or export permit)
  • Section E – 1 – 25.4
  • Section G
  • Section I – (Must fill in all details requested)
  • Section J - (remember do not sign until in front of police officer at firearm office)

Additional Requirements along with the SAP 520 are the following:

1. Identity and Flight Details

  • a. Passport
  • b. Return Airline Ticket

2. Other Supporting Documentation

  • a. Proof of Ownership
  • Firearm licenses, documentary proof, etc. For USA Citizens, Customs Declaration Form 4457 (officially stamped) is acceptable
  • b. Proof of Export
  • Documentary proof of export from the country of origin
  • c. Motivation Letter from Client
  • This is a letter from the client stating that he is temporarily importing the referred to firearm/s for the purpose of hunting, to include that the firearm/s are required as he will be hunting (list the species to be hunted), etc.
  • d. Invitation Letter from the Hunting Outfitter
  • This is supporting documentation from the Hunting
  • Outfitter/company with whom the client will be hunting, to include full name of company, full contact details and address, dates and location where the client will be hunting and confirming that the applicant will be using the specific firearms as applied for.
  • e. Any Other Supporting Documents

Firearms will be physically inspected to ensure the serial number(s) match those of the licenses (proof of ownership) and the application form. Ammunition will also be inspected.

For visitors clearing customs at the Johannesburg International Airport, please take note of the following procedure to be followed on arrival:

  • 1. Clear passport control in the Terminal where your flight arrives (generally SAA and its co-partners at Terminal 2 and all other airlines at Terminal 1).
  • 2. Proceed to baggage claim at the respective carousel. Pick up general baggage, then proceed to the respective Airline Help Desk to pick up firearm/s from the airline company and sign a receipt for the firearm/s. Ask the Airline Help Desk to direct you to the South African Police Firearm Office. Depending on the terminal where you arrive, they may need to escort you to the Office.
  • 3. Proceed to the South African Police Firearm Office (Do not at this point proceed to customs)
  • 4. On receipt of the temporary import permit at the SAPS Firearm Office, proceed to Customs, the Red Zone, where you declare the firearm/s and finish other custom clearance procedures.

For those visitors clearing customs at any of the other international points of entry, please take note of the relevant information made above which relates to documentation requirements, etc.

Please insure sufficient time is allowed to go through the temporary importation process and to clear customs. During the busy periods of the hunting season up to seventy clients may be needing permits at the same time. We would therefore recommend at least five (5) hours be set aside for this procedure and between connecting flights.

Firearm / Ammunition Allowances and Specifications

1. No more than one firearm per caliber and 200 rounds per firearm will be permitted. No ammunition for other rifle calibers will be permitted.

An exception to this may apply for shotguns where more than one of the same caliber may be allowed for bird hunting purposes if the client produces on arrival at the SAPS Gun Office an acceptable written motivation as to why more than one is required.

2. Firearms must bear the manufacturer’s serial number or any other mark by which the firearm can be identified. The identification number must be stamped and the mark affixed in the prescribed manner on the barrel or the frame or the receiver of the firearm.

3. Handguns will be allowed into the country, but only for hunting purposes. Any visitor wanting to bring in a handgun in this regard needs to have a letter from an association in the country of origin, stating the handgun will be used for hunting purposes.

4. Prohibited firearms which may NOT be imported into South Africa include:

  • a. Any fully automatic weapon
  • b. Any semi-automatic weapon
  • c. Handgun/s for self-defense
  • d. Weapons which fall under military categories

5. A semi-automatic shotgun for hunting purposes may be allowed if an application is made at least 21 days before arrival through the Central Firearms Register with a motivation letter as to why this type of firearm is required.

General Provisions:

1. Temporary Import Permits:

  • a. May only be issued to a foreign visitor for the purpose of hunting
  • b. Will be issued subject to the requirements of the Act with regard to the carrying, storage, safe custody and transport of a firearm and ammunition
  • c. Subject to the use of the firearm only for the purpose set out in the permit
  • d. Subject to the fact that no person who holds a temporary import permit is allowed to transfer the firearm to another person in South Africa without prior written permission having been obtained from the Central Firearm Register.
  • e. Whenever the holder of a temporary import permit leaves the Republic of South Africa, the firearm in respect of which the permit is issued must accompany the holder of the permit
  • f. Possession of no more than the quantity of cartridges determined by the Registrar and specified on the permit for each firearm in respect of which the temporary import permit applies
  • g. A Temporary Import Permit shall not be issued for a period exceeding six months at a time
  • h. Applicant must be 21 or over
  • i. Should a firearm not be declared on arrival and a temporary import permit not issued, you will face severe penalties and possible arrest on departure from South Africa.

2. Applications for Temporary Import Permits can be made in advance to the Central Firearm Register. Ask your Hunting Outfitter to assist you in this regard.

3. Please ensure that your firearm/s arrive on the same flight as you do. This must be done with the airline company on departure. Your firearm/s may only be signed for by you and will not be released to your outfitter or professional hunter should it/they arrive on a separate flight. If the firearm/s do not arrive with the passenger, the passenger must proceed to his final destination in South Africa and apply at the closest Police Station for a Temporary Import Permit. When the Temporary Import Permit has been issued, the original permit with the keys to the rifle case must be couriered to the Border Post of entry. A Transport Agent with transport permit must be appointed by the passenger. This Transport Agent must have a letter from the passenger instructing him/her to transport the firearm/s to the passenger in person. The firearm/s will be inspected by the Police at the Port of entry and the firearm/s and permit will be handed to the transporter to be transported to the passenger.

4. Please do not pay for any service regarding the handling of firearms at Johannesburg International Airport, or any port of entry. The issuing of the SAP 520 is a free service and the South African Police Service asks clients not to pay anybody involved in handling firearms from the time of arrival in South Africa right through until you receive your firearm/s and the permit from the SAPS. Clients that are paying the various airline staff, security staff, or porters involved are actually creating a problem. Please note however there is a handling fee charged by airlines and/or security companies for the handling of handguns, and some airlines have started charging a handling fee for all firearms. We suggest checking with your airline with regard to any “official” fees that may be required.

5. There is no permit required, nor any charge by the South African Police Service for a bow. Handling fees are charged by airline and/or security companies for bows and handguns.

6. Please note that NO firearms will be held for safekeeping by the SAPS. If a client brings in a prohibited firearm, brings in more than what is allowed, or lacks the necessary documentation and his request for a temporary import permit is denied, the involved firearms must be exported immediately by the client or voluntarily surrendered to the State.