There’s nothing quite like visiting a foreign country–experiencing different food, smells and cultures adds to the travel experience. Attending a foreign trade show, where products unavailable in the United States are often on display or for sale, delivers a new level of excitement. There are myriad travel sites that give advice for international travelers, but what about those of us in the arms industry? What are the pitfalls, honey traps and risks to avoid? What are good, commonly accepted tips for staying safe and returning home in one piece?
Cell phones and tablet computers are ubiquitous in modern life. It’s nearly impossible for some to put down their cell phones. Cell phones may be used to call anywhere in the world at a very low cost. Apps like WhatsApp and Skype permit audio or video communication using only a Wi-Fi signal. Instagram, Facebook and other social media also allow nearly instant global communication to a mass audience. Unfortunately, privacy rights that are the norm in the United States do not always apply when overseas. Foreign governments do not always need a warrant or other judicial intervention to listen in on a phone call or to intercept data sent from a cell phone. In some countries, malware may be covertly installed as a means of monitoring and reporting cell phone and computer use.
Frequent international travelers may want to consider using a dedicated cell phone for overseas travel. Swapping a SIM card from the primary phone to the dedicated international phone is quick and easy, allowing the international phone to take on the characteristics of the primary phone. The phone dedicated to international travel would have a limited contacts list, to include only those persons with whom communication is critical. The number and type of apps on the phone would be limited to those critical for the international trip. Credit card and other sensitive information should not be saved on the phone, or within the apps used on the phone. Upon return to the United States, a factory reset should be performed to eliminate (or reduce) the chance of malware on the travel phone.
Similarly, laptop or tablet use should be scrutinized. Is a laptop required for the trip? If not, leave it at home. If a laptop is needed, consider taking one with only the bare essentials needed for the trip. Once overseas, examine how e-mails and data are being downloaded. As mentioned in the context of cell phones, data transmitted via the hotel Wi-Fi system may not be secure. Consider using a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, as a secure means of transmitting data while overseas. What files are on the computer being taken? Are there blueprints or technical data saved to the computer that might require an export license to take overseas? Are the data on the device encrypted? If the computer gets stolen or compromised, is there critical information on the device that would result in an export violation? As with cell phones, consider using specific devices only for international travel.
You’ve arrived at the trade show. There’s a crush of people trying to get in. Did you pre-register, or are you registering on site? In many instances, pre-registration is encouraged, or even required. In some cases, pre-registration is cheaper than registering on site. A photo may be required as part of the registration process. As a professional, be professional. Use the name listed on your passport or government-issued identification. Some shows verify the name on the entry credentials to government ID. Treat your show credentials properly; remove and stow them upon leaving the show to avoid being identified as an easy mark to street level crime. Do not swap credentials with friends or colleagues. At a recent show in the United Arab Emirates, multiple show attendees were arrested when found to be using show credentials that did not match their name. Reportedly, it cost upwards of US$25,000 per person to bail the parties out of an Emirati jail.
The use of a credit or debit card is common within the United States. We’ve all seen foreign currency for sale at the airport. Travel websites have a number of tips on how to get the best exchange rates. Using an ATM or a credit card is fine–as long as it works. That said, cash is king.
Believe it or not, there are still places in the world where there are no ATM machines. Credit cards do not always work overseas, even when notice of international travel is provided to the credit card company. As an example, Visa will routinely decline credit card transactions originating from China. If your credit card is rejected (or worse, stolen) do you have an alternate means of paying for a hotel bill? Do you have enough cash to pay for a modified airline ticket to get home in case of an emergency? While it may seem counterintuitive, carrying several thousand dollars in cash as an emergency fund may get one out of trouble when all other means of payment fail. Make sure that the emergency cash is newly issued and not worn–many places in Asia will not accept old US $100 bills, and if they’re worn, won’t accept them either.
Returning home to the United States may not seem problematic, but remember that not everything encountered overseas can come home. The amazing charcuterie experienced in Germany or mind-blowing cheese found in France may not be allowed into the United States. In general terms, meat and soft cheeses are not allowed. As members of the gun culture, also bear in mind that the laws of foreign countries do not always match those of the United States.
In Europe, bolts and barrels are restricted items. Sound suppressors are lightly regulated in some parts of Europe and may be purchased for cash, without the lengthy ATF Form 4 processing times. However, do note that the import of nearly any firearm part will require an approved ATF Form 6 import permit. Importing firearm parts without an import license is a violation of US law and creates the risk of arrest, seizure and potential jail time. As enticing as it may be, don’t risk it.
International travel is an amazing opportunity to see historical sites and experience the gun culture in a foreign country. Frequent travelers owe it to themselves to be adequately prepared personally and professionally to ensure that the trip is successful. With a little forethought about the risks associated with privacy and the loss (or theft) of critical data, as well as how to successfully navigate financial challenges, frequent travelers should face few issues. Preparedness is key. Safe travels.
Mr. Wong is a Washington-licensed attorney. He regularly provides legal counsel to the firearm and defense industry via his law firm, The Firearms Law Group. Mr. Wong also maintains Hurricane Butterfly, an import/export company that assists firearm manufacturers and foreign buyers to wade through the regulatory morass of US import/export regulations.
The guidance provided within this article was correct and current at the time it was written. Policies and regulations change frequently. The preceding article is not intended as legal advice and should not be taken as legal advice. If the reader has specific legal questions, seek competent legal counsel.