Troubleshooting AWS S3 cp Error: An error occurred (403) when calling the HeadObject operation: Forbidden

When working with AWS S3, you may occasionally encounter an error message that reads: ‘An error occurred (403) when calling the HeadObject operation: Forbidden’. This error is typically related to permissions and can be quite frustrating.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the reasons behind this error and provide solutions to help you resolve it.

Understanding the Error

Before we delve into the solutions, it’s important to understand what this error message means. AWS S3 cp is a command-line tool used to copy files to and from Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service), a scalable object storage service. The error message “An error occurred (403) when calling the HeadObject operation: Forbidden” typically indicates that the AWS S3 cp command is trying to access an S3 bucket or object for which it doesn’t have the necessary permissions.

Common Causes of the Error

There are several reasons why you might encounter this error:

  1. Incorrect IAM permissions: The IAM user or role executing the command may not have the necessary permissions to access the S3 bucket or object.
  2. Bucket policy restrictions: The bucket policy may be restricting access to the S3 bucket or object.
  3. Object-level permissions: The object may have specific permissions that prevent access.
  4. Incorrect bucket region: The bucket may be in a different region than specified in the command.

Solutions to the Error

Now that we understand the potential causes, let’s explore the solutions.

Check IAM Permissions

The first step is to ensure that the IAM user or role has the necessary permissions. The minimum required permissions for the s3:HeadObject operation are s3:GetObject or s3:ListBucket. You can check the IAM policy attached to the user or role in the AWS Management Console.

    "Version": "2012-10-17",
    "Statement": [
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": [
            "Resource": "*"

Review Bucket Policies

Next, check the bucket policy. If the bucket policy explicitly denies access, it will override any permissions granted by IAM policies. You can view the bucket policy in the S3 section of the AWS Management Console.

Verify Object-Level Permissions

If the object has specific permissions, they can override both IAM and bucket policies. You can check object-level permissions in the S3 console by selecting the object and viewing its permissions.

Confirm Bucket Region

Finally, ensure that you’re specifying the correct region when using the AWS S3 cp command. If the bucket is in a different region than specified, you’ll receive a 403 error. You can check the bucket’s region in the S3 console.


The “An error occurred (403) when calling the HeadObject operation: Forbidden” error can be a stumbling block when working with AWS S3. However, by understanding the potential causes and systematically checking permissions and regions, you can resolve this issue and continue with your data operations.

Remember, AWS S3 is a powerful tool for data scientists, and understanding its intricacies is key to leveraging its full potential. Stay tuned for more posts on troubleshooting AWS issues and enhancing your data science workflows.

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