What is a firearm competency certificate? [and how to get one]

To get from walking into a gun shop and purchasing a firearm to becoming a legal firearm owner, one of the first steps you’ll need to take is obtaining a firearms competency certificate. But, what exactly is a firearm competency certificate?

A firearms competency certificate is a document in the form of a card issued by the South African Police Service to someone who has demonstrated that they are proficient, competent, and fit to operate a firearm. This certificate is a prerequisite to applying for a license to possess a firearm.

There are a lot of myths around firearms competency certificates and confusion about how to get one and how it is different from an actual firearm license. In short, a competency certificate qualifies you to apply for a license to possess a firearm.

I highly recommend that you read on as I delve into the process of obtaining a firearms competency certificate, how much it costs, and how long it is valid for.

How to get a firearm competency certificate? 

OK, so you have decided that you would like to become a firearm owner. How do you get a firearm competency certificate?

Before being issued with a firearms competency certificate, the applicant must undergo the prescribed firearms training, submit an application with the Police, and pass a background check. You will also need to provide character references and have your fingerprints taken and stored on the Police database.

How to get a firearms competency certificate, step by step:

  1. Make sure that you meet the firearms competency certificate requirements.
  2. Complete proficiency training.
  3. Obtain at least three character references (testimonial letters).
  4. Get your documents ready for submission.
  5. Submit your competency certificate application.

1. Firearm Competency Certificate Requirements

Before you do anything, it would be wise to make sure that you qualify for a firearms competency certificate in the first place. Suppose you have recently been convicted of a violent crime. In that case, chances are very slim that you’ll be issued a competency certificate. The same goes for any record of abuse of drugs or liqueur, including driving under the influence of alcohol.

To qualify for a firearm competency certificate, the applicant must meet the following requirements:

  • Is at least 21 years of age (unless motivated specifically)
  • Is a permanent resident of South Africa
  • Must be declared mentally stable and fit to own a firearm
  • Must have no history of substance or alcohol abuse and have no criminal record.

If the applicant meets the above criteria, then they are in the clear and should continue to the next step of the process, and that starts with the firearm proficiency training.

2. Firearms proficiency training

Either approach a training provider directly or visit your nearest firearm dealer. Most firearm dealers will do the proficiency training for free if you purchase your firearm from them. This training can be done at any approved private training provider of your choice, and it consists of two parts. “The Legal Test (Knowledge of the Firearm Act)”, and “Handle and Use a Handgun (or Rifle’Shotgun, depending on what you are licensing)”

Firearms proficiency training: The Legal Test (Knowledge of the Firearm Act)

The Legal Test, or “Knowledge of the Firearm Act”, consists of studying a book, attending a lecture, and writing a test. This is an essential written test, and most people will pass the first time without any issue. A rewrite is usually allowed if you fail until you have demonstrated adequate knowledge of the Firearms Control Act.

Firearms proficiency training: Handle and Use a Firearm

Once you have completed the legal test, you will move on to “Handle and Use a Handgun” (or Rifle, or Shotgun, depending on what you are licensing).

You will be given another book that you must study. You will also be given some practical training through lectures and demonstrations in firearm safety, how to use a firearm, and other essential skills required by a firearm owner. This training is completed with a practical test, where you are required to safely load, unload, and make a firearm safe. You will also be required to do a basic shooting test.

When you have successfully completed this training, the training provider will issue you a proficiency certificate and a statement of results. Keep these safe because you will need these documents to apply for a competency certificate.

3. Obtain character references

The South African Police Service wants to make sure that those applying for a competency certificate are of sound mind, do not have any history of substance abuse or violent behavior. In addition to conducting a background check and a criminal record check, the South African Police will require three written testimonials from relatives or close friends.

While templates are available all over the internet, this letter should not just be a “copy & paste” letter that you ask someone to sign. I highly recommend that the person writes naturally, from the heart, testifying to your good character. Having said that, here is a template that you can use to base your character reference on.

To whom it may concern,

RE: Character reference for [applicants name]

I, [name of person & ID number], have known [applicants name & ID number] for many years. We have grown up together, and have spent a lot of time together. I am also a close friend of the family and I can testify that [applicant name] has never displayed any signs of violent behavior, abuse of alcohol or substances. I find [applicant] to be a highly responsible person and wholeheartedly support [applicant’s name]’s desire to apply for a firearm competency and firearm license.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me via phone on [authors phone number] or email, [authors email].

Yours sincerely,

[name of author]

This letter should explain why they believe that the applicant is responsible enough to handle a firearm and have no objection. The letter should also include contact details in case the firearms registrar needs to get in touch.

4. Documents required for a firearms competency certificate

Before you go to your local police station, make sure you complete the SAPS 517 (Application for a Competency Certificate), and have the following documents ready:

  • A certified copy of your ID or passport.
  • A certified copy of your proficiency training certificate.
  • Two passport-sized color photos that are not older than three months. Write your name and ID number on the back of each photo in block letters.
  • A certified copy of your proof of residence.
  • Three character reference letters with full contact details.
  • **If you are not a South African citizen, then you must provide your permanent residence certificate.
  • **If the applicant is younger than 21 years, then they must provide a compelling motivation as to why a competency certificate is required.

5. Submit your application to the Police

Once all these documents are ready, go to your nearest police station and speak to the DFO (Designated Firearms Officer). They will be your point of contact throughout your application process. After you have given them all the documents, they will capture it all on their system. Your fingerprints will then be taken (with ink, SAPS is old school), and you’ll be given remittance advice (invoice) that you take with you to the cashier to pay for your application. Once paid, you will be issued a receipt that you take back to the DFO. The DFO will then give you an “acknowledgment of the receipt of the application (SAPS 523)”.

Once the application is submitted, it’s time to forget about it and let it take its course. Competency certificates (and firearm licenses, for that matter) can take anywhere from 90 days up to a year to be approved. This brings me to my next point…

How long does it take to get a firearm competency certificate in South Africa?

Once you have submitted your application, I am sure you’re wondering how long of a wait you’re in for. Rumor has it that the waiting period for a firearm competency certificate can be up to a year. But is that really true? How long does it actually take to get a firearm competency certificate?

According to the Firearms Control Act, the CFR (Central Firearms Registrar) must decide the application within 90 days. However, most applications can take anywhere from 35 days up to 153 days. This period can vary depending on the workload at the Central Firearms Registry.

Below is a table showing the ten most recent approvals posted on South African forums. The shortest waiting period here was a measly 35 days. However, some have waited 209 days for their applications to be approved. The average waiting period for these 10 cases was 153 days. That’s over five months!

Applicant’s Alias:Date Applied:Date Approved:Number of days:
Jos***W14 Aug 202024 Nov 2020102
He***und11 Jun 202025 Nov 2020167
to***om7 Sept 202012 Oct 202035
Sn***uns14 Aug 202011 Nov 202089
kbo***9915 Jun 202013 Nov 2020151
Ir***c19 March7 Oct 2020202
b***2010 Jan 20206 Aug 2020209
Eri***ZZ12 Dec 201903 Jun 2020174
Chri***12 Nov 20198 Jun 2020209
Gw***ie30 Oct 201912 May 2020195
Average Waiting Time (Days):153.3
Average Waiting Time (Months):5.475

Suppose you have submitted an application and it has taken longer than 90 days to get a decision. In that case, I highly recommend you contact your DFO and find out the status of your application.

How much does a firearm competency certificate cost?

A firearm competency certificate costs around R1,120 in total. This consists of R1,000 for the proficiency training, R50 for your color photos, and the R70 application fee that must be paid to the South African Police when you submit your application.

The cost of the competency certificate is really not an issue when you’re most likely spending upwards of about R10,000 on a good quality firearm. And like I said before, most firearm dealers will do the proficiency training in-house for free if you buy a firearm from them! So don’t be shy to ask. You may save yourself a small fortune.

How long does a firearm competency last?

A firearm competency certificate is valid for 5 years on its own. A competency certificate will expire at 5 years unless you have a valid firearm license in the same category as your competency certificate. The certificate will remain valid for as long as you keep your firearm license renewed.

If you are applying for a firearm competency certificate ONLY, you will have to renew it every 5 years. But suppose you have an actual firearm license. In that case, your competency certificate will remain valid for as long as you keep your firearm license renewed.

For example, suppose you have a competency certificate and a firearm license for a self-defense handgun. In that case, your competency certificate remains valid as long as the firearm license remains valid, which will need to be renewed every 5 years for self-defense.

Another example, if you have a competency certificate and a firearm license for a sport shooting handgun, your competency certificate will remain valid for the length of the firearm license, which needs to be renewed every 10 years.


A firearm competency certificate is a document that is issued to a person declaring them competent and fit to handle a firearm and is a prerequisite to applying for a firearm license. To apply for a competency certificate, the applicant must be at least 21 years old, a permanent South African resident, mentally stable, and with no history of violence, alcohol, or substance abuse.

The applicant must then undergo proficiency training at an approved training provider where they will be taught and tested on the firearm law in South Africa and the safe handling and use of a firearm.

The applicant will also be required to provide three character references supporting the applicant’s good character. Once that is done, the applicant must gather all the required documents and apply for their competency certificate at the police station nearest their home.

Competency certificates can take anywhere from 35 days to 209 days to be approved or declined. However, if your application has taken more than 90 days, be sure to check in with your firearms officer if there is something wrong with your application.

Have you recently applied for a firearm competency certificate? I would love to hear about your experience and how long it took to get approval. So please leave a comment below…

4 Replies to “What is a firearm competency certificate? [and how to get one]”

    1. You can check the status of your firearm license application by visiting the SAPS firearm status inquiry and entering your South African ID number along with your application reference number. If you have not received a reference number via SMS, you can check the status using your ID number and the serial number of the firearm.

  1. Hi can a person use a firearm with only a competancy certificate eg can my wife use my firearm in an emergency situation with only a competancy certificate.

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