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30 Extra Minutes of Packing Will Save You From 30 Months in a Middle Eastern Prison

What item in this suitcase will end with you getting man-raped in a 3rd world prison?

NOTE: This info is not just for Civilian Contractors – anyone who travels internationally should read this

So gents – What is the difference between a spent piece of 9mm brass or an EOTECH and an M-60?

According to many customs agencies in the 3rd world [and even some 1st world countries] there is absolutely zero difference between a single 9mm brass and a Bazooka.

Yep, if you get caught with something as simple as a Fore Grip for an M-4 in your bag when traveling through parts of the 3rd world you will go to prison for smuggling a firearm into the country.

And more than likely due to a combination of your nationality [infidel], occupation [murdering mercenary], the misguided belief that all Westerners are rich [you can pay a fat bribe] and local laws that were written by some guy with a 3rd grade education – you will spend months or years and every penny you and your family has fighting the local Sharia courts.

And that’s if you are lucky.

If you get cut a “break” by the local authorities then you will only spend 2 months [and no doubt all of your money] in some 3rd world shit-hole jail.

If you are not so “lucky” then you will be in jail surrounded by people who hate you because of your nationality with no end in sight like one Security Contractor I know who is currently in a Middle Eastern prison for unknowingly having something in his bag that was considered a firearm.

And if you think your company will help you – well Buster, think again. They may feign like they are helping you for the first 30 days because they are legally responsible for you [because most U.S. based Contractors cannot fire you until you are MIA for a month]. But after those thirty days is up they will stop answering your calls and throw you to the wolves.

And I am not talking about going through some 3rd world customs with a shit-load of tactical gear and firearms accessories like what happened to Nicholas Moody. Most of us now know now that you cannot travel with all that shit anymore.

What I am talking about is something that you did not purposely pack, some little thing that either fell into your bag or is so small that you didn’t even know it was there.

The Bag Dump

Honestly even after years of traveling around the world I had never even heard of a Bag Dump until after I started working internationally as a Civilian Contractor.

Luckily I have never accidently had something that I should not have had in one of my bags. Considering the fact, that I pack like an 1800’s British Colonial tourist that makes me one lucky mo-fo.

So what exactly is the “Bag Dump”? Well, the current and former military folks here are probably aware of it but for the civilians like myself let me explain.

– The Bag Dump is when you clear a good sized spot out on the floor and individually lay out every single thing that you are going to pack out in a neat manner.

– Then you take whatever bag you are going to pack and lay it down also. Then you go through every single nook and cranny, every corner, under the hard bottom, in every pocket and then you turn it inside-out and visually inspect every inch again.

– After you have inspected your bag set it to the side. Then take the items you are going to pack in the order you are going to pack them and pretty much do the same thing. Turn them inside-out, upside-down and give them a shake.

– After you are sure that the item is “clear” pack it in your bag. Repeat with everything else

– Then Lock your bag and tape any external zippers down [the ones you cannot lock]. I know many guys who don’t lock their bags until they are ready to hop in a car to the airport.

Bad move.

Why? It will prevent you from not thinking if you have to open your “sterile’ bag to throw in that last shirt, the lock will remind you that this bag is clean and you should follow the same procedures when adding things.

And there are some people out there that may hate your guts and stick something into your bag to get your ass locked up [yep, it has happened].

And that is a Bag Dump – Sure it is tedious as fuck, but it is better than getting corn-holed in some Middle Eastern prison for the next year.

What you should look out for during your Bag Dump

Just to make things clear what should you be looking for? [NOTE: this is by no means a comprehensive list, it is just off the top of my head]:

– Ammo
Any live or spent ammunition, including links. Yes, a single spent brass will be looked at from a legal standpoint just as if you were smuggling an AK-47.

– Any Medical Supplies
IV’s, syringes, auto-injectors – all of that stuff. Basically any medical kit that can cut, puncture or would normally be a restricted item in the West.

– Medication
Maybe you got some antibiotics or pain killers from the TMC or from your Dr. stateside and had it in your bag when moving from one room to another. Well when you had the baggie in your suitcase one fell out and is now wedged in the corner.

So when you arrive in Amman, Jordan on a layover to Baghdad and the customs guy finds it in your bag – you are now an international dope smuggler.

– Pyrotechnics
You know those tiny flares that you use with pen flares? That is the same as a live grenade in some countries. Pretty much anything that has a tactical or military applications and burns is a no-no.

That is the short-list, there are literally dozens of other shit that will get you man-raped in an Istanbul prison but those are the main ones.

In Conclusion…

Like I said above, this is tedious as fuck, but a necessary evil if you are around any “tactical” stuff and you travel internationally. And if you don’t think that “it” will happen to you – well, that is what other guys thought before they ended up in a 3rd world jail.


~James G
Founder – Editor in Chief

James G is a Veteran Civilian Contractor who has worked in the Middle East and Southeast Asia for way too long; he has traveled to over 50 countries chasing fortune and glory. He spends his off time in Indonesia and Virginia getting drunk, shooting guns, writing poorly written articles and Dumping His Bags. James G. on FACEBOOK


  1. Very smart article. I started doing this when I almost took my Glock 27 to the airport once a couple years ago. Now it was in my rolling laptop bag (my rolling office). Had I not checked, I would have had one of those “Jerry Lewis” moments that I had forgotten my piece was in the bag.

    Now I dump both my garment bag and my laptop case every single time. You are right, it is time consuming, but I dont need to end up in the Tijuana Jail because I was lazy.

    Invariably, every time I do, I find something. Pieces of candy, lego pieces etc etc. I think my kid likes to play Daddy with my laptop case when I m not lookin…

  2. i left iraq my first time with a 30rd mag full up… didnt notice it till i got to cuba! one deployment later..and after multiple bag changes.

    i just didnt check my flak and i had a full mag. almost 30-45 days after i should have turned in all rds… yea looking through your gear is the right thing to do.

  3. I dumped a Glock 33 round mag into the garbage at an airport, it was in my lap top bag and to this day I have no idea how it got there.

  4. great Article James, reads like poetry!

  5. Bag Dump is Legend ! It has saved me every time I bounce out or Home I always find something !

  6. Great article. Don’t forget, with the checking for chemical residue on bags that some airports are doing, that the day pack you threw range gear in may now be ‘contaminated’ with gunpowder or other substances that may set the machine off.

    Thanks again for the great articles.

  7. I would also add to mark your freaking bag as well as taping or locking up cleared sections of it. A lot of us have the same gear and some people just don’t pay attention to whose bag they are stuffing crap into. I remember one time I was packing out and heading home and for some reason I checked my bag again.

    My dumbass bunkmate shoved a mag and a couple switchblades in to my easy access pouch because we had the same bag and just didn’t care enough to make sure it was his. Don’t just do this stuff to prevent your own brain farts, do it so other people don’t screw it up for you.

    And just a random thought, if I might add one James. I might sound paranoid, but hey there are some vindictive people in this world. Once you have cleared and packed a bag if wether you decide to use locks or tape. I would suggest uniformly and methodically adhere to a certain way to lock or tape your closures up. It doesn’t take a genius to pop a regular lock let alone a travel lock.

    Lock it up a certain way, so that the shackle of the lock always is pointing a certain direction. And that when you tape that it is always taped in a certain direction if you are taping around your pulltabs that it is always to the right or the left.

    If you are taping over the zipper that one little corner is bent a certain way always. And then it just becomes a simple cursory check of your closures on your bag to ensure that you were the last person to close this bag. Sorry for the tangent.

    Great Article James, it is the little things like this that a lot of people miss and don’t discuss that end up costing people big time.

    • Love the comment. With all the craziness going on, that’s a first class idea. Add to that, there’s all the halfwit inbred psycho spec-ops/SWAT rejects who got hired by TSA, and now get to look at all your luggage. Speaking of inbreds, is it just me, or does Big Sis look like Janet ( Jack ) Reno? Just a thought.

  8. Great article. This even applies to domestic situations. I had a roommate who had to go through a lot of hassle for forgetting to unpack his revolver from a previous range outing. He took his S&W to the airport. I think I will buy another bag for my range days so I don’t take a firearm to work with me.

  9. This happened to a guy that worked for the same company I did. The story goes that he was rotating home and during the final check, at the gate, security found one live 5.56 round in his tactical man purse. He was actually hustled out of the airport by security and ended-up spending the night in the local jail.

    I met the guy when I was rotating out. He’s trapped in country, the local judiciary has his passport and he sits around the head shed and files paperwork while this whole issue winds it’s way through the courts. Dude’s probably fucked to put it bluntly.

    Hawaiianbob hit the nail on the head. Use separate bags for travel and work. Most of the guys and gals that I worked with would travel, on civilian aircraft, with the same bag they used for their daily mission/work. OK when you’re .mil, very bad idea when you’re PSC.

    When I got in country my travel gear got locked-up in the bottom of my wall locker and never saw the light of day until I rotated out. Like James said; I locked my bag every time I was done accessing something in it. I had the bag locked until I was told to unlock it at the airport. Don’t trust anybody.

    On a side note; when I left Iraq I went through four different screening points before I ever set foot onboard an aircraft. The last screening point, before actually walking down the jet-way, was the most extreme. This is where local airline worker would actually, physically go through ones bag.

    The “pile” of contraband was amazing. I saw all types of fixed and folding blades, multi-tools, over-the-limit liquids, empty magazines, etc, etc. Keep an eye on these fuckers when they are going through your gear too. They’ll try to take your stuff that is not contraband.

  10. Totally agree. I shoulda done a bag dump before moving to Tokyo. I’m an avid shooter and have been forever (since boy scouts). I packed up to move to Japan on a contracting job (education, not blowing shit up…unless you count that toilet I ‘carpet bombed’ after a long night at the only decent Mexican Cantina in Kichijoji) , got here, go tthrough customs, got my place, unpacked and Viola! A spent .40 Smith and Wesson from my Sig P229 .40cal right there in the crack one of the day packs I brought for sightseeing adventures.

    I’d carried my gun shit in that bag a few times to the range, just to help carry all the crap I lugged range side when I shot. I never thought to look deeply or thoroughly into the bag before bringing it here. Luckily, Japanese Customs didn’t catch it (thos toads couldn’t catch the the clap in a Lebanese brothel) thankfully and all I have is a pithy anecdote to post on DVM instead of stories of woe and acute anal discomfort courtesey of Taro the Gaijin-raping Yakuza sex criminal.

    Lucky me. Don’t roll the dice like my silly ass did. Protect your posterior virginity and do a bag dump as shown above!


  11. Great article. Don’t forget, with the checking for chemical residue on bags that some airports are doing, that the day pack you threw range gear in may now be ‘contaminated’ with gunpowder or other substances that may set the machine off.
    Thanks again for the great articles.  

    This was a point I was going to make as well. We dog handlers train with live odor every day. I went as far as having a special backpack that is only for flying home, it never goes to work with me and is completely empty until it’s time to go home. Good article, as usual…

  12. Something else you may want to consider both stateside and abroad.

    Do the bag dump on the return trip as well. Not just on the way there. (more for civie’s than anything). I know I’ve picked up quite a few things and had to make last minute ditches in trash cans, last minute stops at a UPS or FEDEX shop before hitting the airport and could have avoided running late had I checked ahead of time.

    Another thing that I’m pretty sure was mentioned in previous articles, don’t pack anything you can’t afford to lose. That includes phones, laptops, etc. I know I do pack stuff like the phone and laptop, but they’re work related and have to go. This is more for the contractors and .mil guys, but it’s a decent idea for civies as well.

  13. i have a travel question for you guys…long time advice around photographer forums online is to travel (domestically) with a starter pistol in your camera case, so that it will get locked down by the TSA. I’ve never checked my equipment, instead I carry on my ‘$20k daypack’ jam packed with equipment. (but with no fancy camera brand logos visible–that screams ‘steal me’, photographers should be greymen as well.)

    So, in situations where you can check firearms, is that even secure? Does the extra tracking from TSA and locks, etc, help or would that just be drawing more attention to the bag?

  14. Very smart article.I started doing this when I almost took my Glock 27 to the airport once a couple years ago.Now it was in my rolling laptop bag (my rolling office).Had I not checked, I would have had one of those “Jerry Lewis” moments that I had forgotten my piece was in the bag.Now I dump both my garment bag and my laptop case every single time. You are right, it is time consuming, but I dont need to end up in the Tijuana Jail because I was lazy.Invariably, every time I do, I find something. Pieces of candy, lego pieces etc etc.I think my kid likes to play Daddy with my laptop case when I m not lookin…

    Personally, I believe a responsible gun owner knows where every single on of their guns is at any given time. That aside, having a tendency to forget guns in bags your kids have access to, and play with, seems pretty irresponsible.

    Now, I’m not one to tell other people how to raise their kids, or live their life, but since the anti-gun people are going to come after MY guns, when your kid winds up shooting themselves, I will say this; Square your shit away. Don’t be one of “those” gun owners.

  15. Nice article, there was a story where Chinese drug smugglers stuffed drugs into a Canadian tourists bag, the Chinese shot her daughter before the foreign affairs could intervened. So, it’s not only in 3rd world that you have to look out for

  16. Great article and excellent advice I have been an avid practitioner of the bag dump since I did some documentary work in South America. The idiot producer pissed off the wrong the person and we had to clear out quickly. Long story short we go through the customs and a Dart Frog leaps out one of the crewmembers bag.

    Luckily it was not one of the toxic ones but one of the customs agents tells how many times people accidentally leave with all types of vermin in their luggage. Since then, I fully inspect my bags before and after leaving any travel destination.

  17. I sure as shit doesn’t have to be anything related above. I was transiting through Dubai a couple of years ago.

    The guy I was flying with got hemmed up by customs to the point of the cuffs were on and they were waiting on a wagon to get there.

    For what….wood shavings. A day or two before heading back in theater he was cutting up some firewood and had some shavings from the chain saw in his boots that he had packed.

  18. Good points and well presented. As far as my routine goes, I have a civi daysack and a civi bag. These bags are completely sterile from work. Locked away when I am working and only used for travel to and from work. This negates the need for any ” forgotten” contraband prior to rotation end. As they never carry any work related kit. I must admit to laying everything out prior to packing and working though each item one by one when packing.

    Furthermore I don’t care if the piss is taken out of my pink Versace wheelie case! :-)

    Keep up the good work fellahs and how do I get some free stuff?

    Stay safe

  19. Ok guys,

    because I never heard before that a foregrip or a cleaning kit can bring one into jail, I really wonder how you get all your gear to your destination?

    I mean how do you get your reddots, sparemags, slings, weaponlights and all the other shit down there? I assume that you can´t depend on buying everything in the px, right? And you can´t leave anything that is worth more than a 10$ behind for your next contract, because I´m pretty sure you´re “mates” would “borrow” it for an ulimited period of time until you gone (my personel experience).

    I´m sorry for this question, but since I never worked for a private company, I never had to worry about these kind of things.

    Working for the government still has some advantages…

    take care guys!

    • Mail all that tactical stuff. It’s cheap and easy, as long as you’re not trying to mail anything dangerous. I’ve had HH6 mail some of my tac gear, so did some of the other guys.

      When one rotates home, just leave it locked-up in your wall locker and have your CHU-mate agree to watch your stuff. Of course, you’ll have to watch his stuff when he rotates out.

      If you’re really worried about your high-end tac gear, just lock it up in a foot locker and store it in the supply room or arms room. If you’re leaving for good, just mail it home.

      A lot of the PSC companies will ship a foot locker, or two, of your gear from one job site to the next while your out of the country on rotation too.

  20. Although it was stateside, I once flew from Philadelphia to West Palm Beach with a box of ammo.

    When I was waiting for luggage, I pulled my laptop out and nearly shit myself when I found a box of 22lr in my carry on.

    It passed through security, I few the whole way and was now sitting in the airport with a full box of ammo.

    Needless to say, when I returned home, I separated my EDC bag from my Range Bag.

  21. Man, I nearly got jacked up going through Amman. I had my dog in a crate, which the local customs guys really hated. WORSE, though, I was told there was a “problem” with my bag.

    I asked what the deal was. They said there were explosives or ammunition in my duffle. So, we began digging. The senior officer, after offering to shoot my dog for me, took my passport and disappeared through a door. We dug and dug, reran the bag and it was still there.

    Come to find out, it was ONE 9×19 round that made it into my bag full of change. They took the round as “evidence” and after some talking, they let me through.

    Mind you, this bag had already cleared customs at BIAP. I got lucky. They could have tossed me in the clink, shot my haaji-dog and friend “Sugar” and nobody would have heard from me again.


  22. James,

    Another great article. I was working in a US “friendly” country in the Middle East, and my buddy, our terp, and I took a weekend trip. My buddy had done a bag dump, but his ASP baton was in the bottom in one of those pockets inside a pocket, and he had missed it.

    The security screener spotted something and ran his bag through x-ray a second time and then found his ASP. Fortunately, our terp did a great job and we were only detained for a short time. They even let one of our teammates come down and pick it up. I would hate to think if that had been a US “unfriendly” country.

    Several readers mentioned separating your “operational” bag from your “civvie” bag. On this contract, we were very low profile, and we all used civilian bags to haul our stuff back and forth from work. I learned my lesson.

    If you are working low-pro, have two civvie bags; one for work and one for R&R. Also, it’s always good to have a good relationship with your terp. He could have just said “I don’t know these dudes” and walked away.

    @Code24 – I think maybe you don’t own enough guns, or you don’t carry them and their associated gear around much. IMHO. :)

    • I currently own 4 handguns, 3 of which I cycle through carrying on a daily basis (based on clothing, situation), and I own several rifles and shotguns. At any time, I can tell you exactly where each weapon is, and whether it is loaded or not. Any professional should be able to do that.

      GEAR is another story all together. My gear is all over the place. But weapons? If you ever think to yourself “gee, I wonder where I left my Glock”, you are an idiot. Everyone goes on and on about their ability to defend themselves… to me knowing where your weapons are, and their current state, is kind of a no-brainer.

      If someone breaks into my home, going for the defense handgun in the bedroom when there is a piece in my range bag 50 feet closer, is fucking retarded.

  23. I was doing some work in S. America a couple of years ago and had all the local military papers authorizing weapons and ammo. Got stopped at some out of the way post by the military which immediately questioned the weapons. I produced the documentation.

    They proceeded to inspect each round-huh? Guess what–my papers were only good for FMJ, not hollow points, which according to them were never legal in the country. Punishable by loooong prison sentences. Who knew? The “fine” ended up being me offering all the soldiers a few rounds each, in the traditional method of Latin American problem solving.

    The point being, James is right–you REALLY gotta do your homework on what is legal and what isn’t in these places.

  24. A buddy of mine had a live 5.56 round in his bag, left over from a training evolution. He had not realized it was there and this was in the US… Post 9/11 US. It was a long day for him.

    For myself, I checked a full Med Bag en route to Peru & back. Both times I got called off the plane after I had already boarded, had to open the bag up, explain what it all was, who I was, and why I was traveling with it. Official military orders and some other paperwork helped me out, but it still wasn’t fun.

  25. Great topic. Lots of good advice. I’ve always done a bag dump as a matter of course, along with checking a list of what I pack and where it’s secured, but that\’s due to a crappy memory and most times no spare cash to replace what I may have left home without. My wife is one of those effortless travelers, 10 minutes to pack and she’s out the door. She used to laugh at me about my process until the one and only time I didn’t do a list and forgot my dress shoes on our way to a family wedding. Now she reads off the list for me.

    Stay safe

      Lergnom(Quote This Comment)

  26. Be sure to add anything camo colored.

    Camouflage items are considered “weapons” in some countries.

  27. BTDT, fortunately pre-9/11 in a US airport. Flying out, had a backpack I had once used to move… hunh, so that\’s where that set of steak knives went…

    Yeah, needless to say, I left a set of steak knives at the security checkpoint, but fortunately, the only thing it cost me was a set of steak knives. And I was still in college, so they were shitty Wal-Mart steak knives anyway.

    But yeah, ever since, I go just batshit crazy on my luggage before every time I fly.

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