Travelling with Thermal scope


We have recently bought a Pulsar thermal scope and are very happy with it and are planning to travel with it abroad. Now I have heard rumors that someone has had it confiscated in the security check in Singapore…

During my last trip, the security staff in Beijing were incredibly suspicious and besides binocular and cameras I had to remove all batteries and torches from the hand luggage. Another person got rid of her power bank. Luckily I hadn’t got the thermal this time.

I will go through security in Denmark, Moscow, Mongolia, Spain, Ecuador and Peru later this year and now I wonder if I really dare to bring the thermal. I really, really don’t want to loose it but of course bought it for use on trips!!

What are your experiences of travel with thermal scope??



  • Curtis Hart

    I had no issues going to Nicaragua or Australia from the US. Those are the only two countries I have taken mine to.

  • David Bishop

    I pass through Singapore many times a year thus I was astonished to be ‘accosted’ as I was about to enter through the Green Channel and have all my baggage very thoroughly examined. The rathe robnoxious and unpleasant officer questioned my carrying a regular spotting ‘scope, camera gear and binoculars. They asked if I had a Thermal scope, which I didn’t. They stated that it was illegal to import thermal scopes into Singapore. Hopefully this sort of behaviour by overzealous security staff will not result in innocent birders and the like being futher hassled and abused in a country where I understood the rule of law was properly followed.

  • Steve Firth

    I have only had my thermal scope for a year. Living in the UK I undertook some research and it transpired that I needed to apply for an Export Licence despite the fact that the Thermal Scope is for my own use and is brought back to the UK. I’m sure that the majority of people don’t apply for an Export Licence and just take their Thermal scope anyway.

    Not wanting there to be a chance that the Thermal Scope would be confiscated by UK customs on the probably slim chance that they found the Thermal Scope in my hand luggage., I duly applied for the Export Licence.

    It took some working out how to complete the online application on the Spire System and what exactly was necessary to input. The good news is that on my second and third requests for an Export Licence, I could follow closely how I had completed the application previously, so it takes about 30 minutes and the Licence takes about 10 days to come through.

    I print out the Licence and take it with me on the trip, but do not mention the Thermal Scope, I just have the Export Licence as a “back up”. I’m not convinced that it would help me if stopped in other countries, but it might help a bit to have an official UK Export Licence.

    So far I have taken the Thermal Scope to Mongolia via Moscow and return, Suriname via Amsterdam and return and to Spain and return and have not been stopped so far. The Lithium battery needs to be “out” of the Thermal Scope and I give the batteries to my girlfriend to carry in her hand luggage, so that any officials can’t actually operate the Thermal Scope to see what it is.

    It would be useful to have an idea which airports would potentially pose a problem to transport Thermal Scopes through, so I look forward to hearing how other people have fared.

    • Chris Grimmett


      I find the Spire web site almost impossible to interprete. Could you provide your route to the application you made? Thanks

  • Munkhnast Dalannast

    Hello Animalita,
    Last year we organize birding and mammal watching trip and one guy brought thermal camera. I am going to ask about it and will get back contact with you.

    How long stay you in Mongolia? Do you have mammal watching plan for the country? I have small tour company which we offer mammal and birdwatching tours. More information at

    • Animalita

      Hello Munkhnast,
      This time I have a plan for the visit, but I have saved your website for coming trips.
      Look forward to hear about the guy who brought the thermal camera.

  • Judy

    No issues to Peru in 2019. Was in backpack with camera and day bins. Spare batteries all in separate compartment.

  • tomeslice

    Shit, I’m flying to Singapore next month with the thermal scope I had just bought last week!

    Should I be expecting problems? What if I take out the batteries?
    Should I risk putting it in my luggage instead of my carry-on bag?


  • Per Ole Syvertsen

    I have no experience with thermal scopes, but I would carefully considered what countries to bring one along to. I visited Jordan this spring, primarily for bird watching. At the Assam airport even our ordinary spotting scopes was viewed with suspicion, causing delay and interrogation until we finally managed to come in contact with a more senior officer.
    Regards, Per Ole

  • BRUGIERE Dominique

    I don’t carry a lot my thermal camera because I am afraid to get it confiscated. I have carried it in Sierra Leone via Brussels and to Romania without problem. I didn’t get problem when living France.But with my flahlight including 4 2600mAH lithium ion batteries the police at Shangai airport didn’t accept them and finally called their chief who finally accepted I put 2 batteries in the flahlight et 2 outside in their protection. At Beijing, Seoul and several Japanese airports I had no problems with the flashlight. But what would have happen in China with a thermal scope?.
    When I flex to Senegal from France I had no problem with my flashlight but on my way back the 4 lithium ion batteries were confiscated but there I expected that. I wouldn’t dare to carry a thermal scope in Russia, China and most african countries.

  • Vladimir Dinets

    I wonder if a scope has enough metal in it to trigger the metal detector if you just carry it in your inside pocket.

  • Stuart Chapman

    I am based in Laos and have been to Australia,Thailand, India, Nepal, Malaysia and Singapore in the last year without any problems. I was also stopped when entering Singapore in June and July by the customs officers manning the x-ray machine by the exit and nothing was said about the torch, camera, bins and thermal scope in my hand luggage. That said, after reading the above account from David Bishop, I won’t take it to Singapore again.

  • Tomer

    I have no choice!
    I will be in Singapore before and after my big trip to Malaysia. I will just carry it in my backpack along with my camera. Hopefully I won’t have any problems.


  • Jon Hall

    I have been digging into this a bit to try to find out what the truth actually is: there is a fair bit of misinformation out there about these scopes, in part because some laws treat thermal rifle scopes differently to thermal squirrel scopes.

    OK so first off, this is NOT legal advice! Don’t sue me if you end up doing 5-10 in a Singaporean jail cell Tomer.

    But,from my limited checking, I understand that thermal (mammal) scopes are not tied up with US military equipment regulations. Rfle scopes are. This is good news and sensible. It means that there ought not to be a problem taking them in and out of the US. I have carried mine in and out of the US on multiple occasions without any questions.

    I imagine – but maybe Steve Firth knows much more than I do – that the regulations might be similar for taking them out of the EU (ie stricter controls apply for rifle scopes than our handheld ones … there are so few handheld ones in use that I would not be suprised if most bureaucrats know and just assume they are all treated the same).

    I have taken my scope in and out of the EU too a few times.

    I have also taken my scope to Gabon, Sierra Leone, Namibia, the UAE, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Australia, Morocco and a bunch of other places I have forgotten about over the past 2.5 years. I have not had any questions and simply leave it inside my camera bag with my flash and my torches etc. I always take the batteries out when I travel and put them elsewhere in my hand luggage (airport security are getting increasingly antsy about lithium batteries of course and they can’t be in checked bags).

    Until I read this thread I would have said that with the exception of Israel and North Korea (not that I am comparing the two countries in any other way!) I would have taken my scope anywhere. It doesn’t surprise me though that Singapore wants to regulate them – as it is one of the world’s most regulated countries. But it is very strange they are asking naturalists at the airport if they are carrying a thermal scope as I cannot imagine there are more than 100 wildlife spotters worldwide who have one. So I don’t know what has happened there … that said as night walks are banned in the forest in Singapore they might be worried about encouraing mammalwatchers to go out after dark.

    But – Tomer – they are going to have pretty sophisticated scanners at Changi airport …. You might want to get in touch with their government in advance to see if you can get permission to bring it in… or leave it with them at the airport to collect on the way out maybe? I know it sounds complicated but their government offices are famously helpful in dealing with queries and so it might be worth asking.

    Has anyone taking them in and out of China? Though as you can legally buy them there I cannot imagine its a problem.

    For me the bottom line is that there is always a chance in many countries that airport security or customs may get suspicious about a long lens, binoculars or a spotting scope: you might, they think, be a spy or worse a journalist! So always be cautious and do some research beforehand. Jon

  • tomeslice

    Thank you for the very detailed response, Jon! I hope I won’t find myself throwing darts at a picture of you in my Singaporean jail cell after this.. (just kidding 🙂 )

    But what you said did occur to me – worst comes to worst – to leave it with them at the airport and collect it on my way out.

    I wonder if calling ahead is worse or better than just innocently bringing it in as part of my personal camera gear and leaving the batteries out. I just wonder if me asking and being told I can’t bring it in, then bringing it anyway is worse than “I didn’t know.. can I just leave it with you until I return?” But I’ll have to think about it.

    Anyway, I did end up buying a Pulsar Quantum one, actually one of the older generation ones (not the new Helion ones) so it’s pretty small and should fit in my camera bag and pass for a video camera. It’s also super light weight. Additionally, I dont’ have a very expensive tele-lens camera or a birder’s telescope, just a pair of binoculars, a (pretty big) maglight, a Nikon P900 single-lens superzoom camera, and now this scope. It’s all pretty amateur looking, so I hope I don’t get stopped…?

  • Vladimir Dinets

    Jon, did you mention Israel for a reason? I was planning to take my scope there next spring.

    • tomeslice

      Vladimir – I want to say Israel wouldn’t be a problem. but then again I can’t say it with confidence.
      I know if I get held up for questioning upon my arrival, it will be resolved very quickly, as I speak the language and am clearly not a terrorist nor a spy. But I’m not sure how they would handle it with foreigners.

      But having said that – in Israel they don’t scan your hand-luggage in the arrival hall. Only if you go through the “I have goods to claim” customs booth. And they very rarely choose someone at random to check. In fact, it never happened to me or to anyone I know. I would be worried mostly about the increased security inspection at the gate prior to the inbound flight. I don’t know what to tell you there, but I would also probably just take out the batteries and say it’s a video camera (which it is)…

      Which brings me to my next question – do they scan your luggage upon arrival in Singapore, even if you don’t have goods to claim? I’ve never seen it happen in any country I walked into…
      The only exception was in Cameroon – they chose me at random, took me to a small room and looked through all my luggage (Welcome to East Africa, Mr. Ben-Yehuda).

    • Jon Hall

      I say Israel without any evidence Vladimir, other than that – for obvious reasons – they have extremely thorough and effective security there. When I told them 10 years ago at Ben Guion airport I had been to Palestine they scanned every single item in my luggage. I also know of people who have run into problems with the military while doing stuff at night there. So I guess a scope might potentially cause some issues both inside and outside the airport. Maybe not.

      Tomer if you read David Bishop’s comment it seems he was pulled out of the “nothing to declare” lane at Changi and searched. So don’t act like you are a birder. Or a drug smuggler. Or in possession of chewing gum.

      • tomeslice

        Ha, I’m usually not very good at “not acting nervous when I’m supposed to not act nervous”. I guess not being a good liar is a quality my girlfriend appreciates ;-P

        Regarding the heat scope in Israel – the guy who I bought it from, who is the owner of a weapon store, told me that based on his relationship with/partnership with the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority, he doesn’t think that using the thermal scope in itself is frowned upon. But lighting up your torch to get a better view is frowned upon because it’s disturbing the animal (and makes you suspicious of illegal hunting). So just do it quickly, get a nice picture, take a second to enjoy, and turn the light off 🙂

  • Vladimir Dinets

    Makes me think about buying one of those small ones that fit into pockets better. Has anybody tried Flir or Leupold? They sell for US$500 and 700, respectively.

  • Lennartv

    Interesting stuff, personally I hadn’t thought much about the consequences of bringing a thermal camera through customs. So far I’ve travelled with mine to Abu Dhabi (UAE), South-Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Chile, Bolivia and Peru and travelled from the Netherlands and Germany. I have never been questioned about it. It’s also interesting to me that you all take your batteries out and put them in your hand luggage. When I went to the aforementioned countries I’ve always had a pack with a serious amount of (Lithium) batteries in my checked bagage and never had a problem. I do put the power banks in my handluggage now though as I’ve heard those can get confisquated. I think I’ll keep doing the same as it has worked for me so far.

    Personally I think it’s smart to pack your handluggage in a way that it raises the least amount of eyebrowes. That’s why I only carry my camera’s, lenses (and yes the thermal camera) in my handluggage. Spotting scope, binoculars and torch go in the checked baggage (although binoculars not always). The other reason for this is that the cameragear also happens to be the most expensive stuff I’ve got. Photographers tend to get less attention as it is far more common to see people with camera’s travelling then people with mammalwatching gear. The thermal camera doesn’t look out of the ordinary as it looks just like a normal videocamera.

    Everyone should do what they think is best of course. I think I will take the batteries out of the thermal camera now though, just to make sure it’s inoperable. After the stories I will not use Singapore as a stopover when I’m carrying the thermal camera, luckily UAE is also a fine stopover and I like travelling with those airlines too (I will be doing that when I’m travelling to Borneo). I guess we’ll see how it goes and I would appreciate it if people have updates regarding certain countries if they get in trouble there. I’ll do the same!

  • Animalita

    Thanks for all input in this topic. There doesn’t seem to be any right or wrong so far and most security staff probably don’t know that much about thermal cameras. But I think that will change in the future as birdwatchers have start to use them and they will become more and more common.

    Maybe I look very suspicious because I often have to take out all the equipment in the hand luggage for extra control.
    And yes, I have lied about a small lithium battery in my checked-in luggage once in China and they discovered it and my name came up on the board and I had to go in and remove it.

  • Conuropsis

    I just got the Pulsar Quantum Lite XQ23V and it says right on the instructions that it’s illegal to take it out of the US without the proper permits. I have a feeling as people have noted that you can usually get away with taking it over seas and they are just covering their backs. Either way I haven’t found anything with it yet, but I am mostly pleased with how it works. I could do without the having to constantly calibrate it though.


  • Michael Johnson

    Coming through Singapore from Malaysia for transit to Australia last week I went through screening of my hand baggage before entering the airport concourse, for the first time that I can remember. All passengers were screened. After the bags went through the x-ray my day backpack was pulled out and I was asked to open it, and I opened one compartment. It was not the compartment with my binoculars and a small camera in it. The operator then asked if my binoculars were a thermal scope. I said no and they let me go.

    I took the opportunity to approach the senior officer present and explained that although I did not own one myself I knew others who did and Singapore policy was confusing. She was happy to answer a few questions and from that I was able to ascertain:

    * Thermal scopes were banned imports because they threatened Singapore security and would be confiscated if found.
    * Application could be made to import them for “legitimate use”,
    * Passengers simply transiting and not leaving the airport would not have their scopes confiscated.

    Hope that helps.

  • Animalita

    Very helpful Michael!
    I have now travelled through Moscow, Mongolia, Denmark and Spain. Moscow and Mongolia were very relaxed and didn’t pay attention to any equipment. In Spain I had to take out the camera.
    But – after some advices beforehand I put the thermal scope in the check-in bag and only carried the battery in hand luggage.


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