Gun Ownership for Foreigners in the USA: A Comprehensive Guide

Foreigners in the United States are generally prohibited from purchasing firearms. The purchase and ownership of firearms in the U.S. are regulated by federal and state laws. In most cases, individuals must be U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents (green card holders) to buy guns. Foreigners who are in the U.S. on a non-immigrant visa, such as a tourist or student visa, are generally not eligible to purchase firearms.

Overview of Gun Ownership Laws in the USA

Gun ownership laws in the USA are often a complex and confusing topic, especially for foreigners. The second amendment grants US citizens the right to bear arms, but this right does not extend to non-immigrant aliens residing in the country on a temporary basis. However, an alien with a valid hunting license or permit is allowed to own a firearm for lawful hunting or sporting purposes. Obtaining a hunting license is quite easy, and proof of address and residency is required.

A background check is performed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) before purchasing a firearm. Non-citizens cannot purchase firearms from federally licensed dealers unless they have been a state resident for at least 90 days. State laws regarding gun ownership vary, with some states having no special restrictions for non-citizens while others do not issue concealed handgun licenses to non-citizens. It is important for foreigners to verify the current laws before attempting to own a firearm in the USA.

Eligibility Criteria for Foreigners to Buy Guns

Foreigners who are non-immigrant aliens and have entered the US for a fixed period of time are typically not eligible to purchase guns unless they fulfill specific requirements. In order to purchase firearms, the individual must hold a non-immigrant visa and must meet the state of residency requirements. Those without a non-immigrant visa and who are lawfully in the US cannot possess guns. However, non-immigrant aliens lawfully admitted to the United States without a visa can possess firearms or ammunition if they meet state of residency requirements and are not otherwise prohibited.

  • If an individual with a non-immigrant visa wants to purchase or possess firearms in the US, they need to meet certain exceptions, such as possessing a hunting or sporting license, being an official representative of a foreign government, or being an official of a foreign government or distinguished visitor designated by the Department of State. Foreign law enforcement officers of a friendly foreign government entering the US on official law enforcement business can also acquire firearms. To acquire a firearm, the non-immigrant alien must meet state of residency requirements.
  • In order to buy a gun as a non-citizen of the US, an individual must provide proof of their USCIS number or Alien Registration Number. However, there are restrictions on who can buy or possess firearms in the US, including people temporarily visiting on non-immigrant visas or deemed a danger to society. Additionally, individuals who are guilty of unlawfully possessing or using controlled substances, or with prior felony convictions, including a prison sentence of more than a year, cannot buy guns.
  • The minimum age required to purchase shotguns, rifles, and ammunition is 18 years, while for other firearms, the minimum age is 21 years. While state and local governments regulate whether citizens can carry guns in public, the federal government enforces the Gun Control Act and regulates who can purchase and possess firearms in the US. It is important for foreigners to understand these rules in order to follow them and buy guns legally without any issues.

The Process of Purchasing a Firearm as a Foreigner

Gun ownership is a constitutional right in the USA, however, the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms has been interpreted to apply only to citizens and permanent residents. So, can a foreigner purchase a firearm in the United States? The answer is yes, but with some restrictions.

  • Firstly, foreigners on a non-immigrant visa can purchase a firearm if they have a valid hunting license or permit admitted for lawful hunting or sporting purposes. Obtaining a hunting license is quite easy and does not require passing any exam.
  • Secondly, to fulfill the exception, foreigners need to provide proof of residence in the form of two documents showing an address. This could be a rental contract, utility bill, or car registration.
  • Thirdly, the dealer will fill out a request with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to perform a background check. Foreigners will always receive a “conditional no” and the ATF will perform a manual review which takes about one hour.
  • Lastly, there are some restrictions on who can purchase a firearm in the US. Foreigners temporarily visiting on non-immigrant visas, fugitives, patients involuntarily committed to mental institutions, and people found guilty of unlawfully possessing or using controlled substances are among those who cannot purchase or possess firearms.

State-Specific Regulations and Restrictions for Foreigners to Buy Guns

Foreigners who aren’t US citizens but temporarily residing in the country might want to buy a gun just like any other legal resident. However, many state-specific regulations prohibit gun ownership or make it hard to obtain one. Here are some examples of the regulations:

  • California: Non-immigrant aliens are prohibited from owning firearms, except for hunting purposes.
  • New York: A valid hunting license is necessary to own a firearm.
  • Texas: Non-immigrants who hold a visa other than a non-immigrant visa or are in the country without a visa can’t own firearms.
  • Florida: Non-immigrant aliens are allowed to possess firearms but are required to have a hunting license or permit.
  • Pennsylvania: Non-immigrant aliens with lawful hunting or sporting purposes admission may purchase and possess firearms.
  • Colorado: Non-immigrant aliens who hold an unexpired hunting license can possess firearms.
  • Ohio: Non-immigrant aliens may possess firearms, but they need a hunting license.

Traveling with Firearms as a Foreigner in the USA

Traveling with firearms as a foreigner in the USA can be a complicated process. Here are some key facts to keep in mind:

  • Firstly, all departing persons who intend to travel from the USA to a foreign country with firearms and/or ammunition must obtain a valid and appropriate export license or qualify for a valid license exemption.
  • Permanent export regulations may be regulated by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) or the Export Administration Regulations (EAR). Travelers should consult with relevant authorities for more information.
  • If traveling with a firearm in checked luggage aboard a commercial aircraft, travelers must file a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) form 4457. Non-immigrant aliens are generally forbidden to possess firearms or ammunition, except those who hold a hunting license or permit lawfully issued in the USA.
  • Green-card holders and immigrant aliens who do not yet have their green card are both allowed to possess firearms under federal law. However, each state may have additional laws and restrictions.
  • For instance, in California, non-citizens are not allowed to transport their handguns in their cars unless they fall under specific exceptions in the law. It is always important to research the specific laws and regulations of each state before carrying a firearm.


Foreigners visiting or living in the United States may wonder about the laws and regulations governing gun ownership. The United States has comparatively loose gun laws and high rates of gun ownership, and gun violence has surged amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While the right to bear arms is guaranteed by the Second Amendment, the U.S. Congress and state legislatures have authority to enact controlling legislation. Federal law provides the basis for firearms regulation in the United States, but states and cities can impose further restrictions. Some states, such as California or Hawaii, have lower incidences of gun deaths.


Leave a Comment