There are a number of physical formats you can consider when buying gold:
As a general rule, you should look at buying legal tender gold coins wherever possible. This will almost certainly include less overhead and premium than other formats, and be closer to the true spot price of gold.
Purchasing rare gold coins should be avoided unless you really know what you're doing. Some subjective measures of value are easy to misjudge, and may result in you getting taken advantage of.
When investing in any asset, including gold, it's important to keep the time horizon in mind. Prices fluctuate, and over a longer time horizon there's a better chance of your investment appreciating in value.
The last thing anyone would want is to invest money they'll need in the coming months, only to have the market move against them. Talk to your financial adviser, and carefully plan any future purchases.
It's important to comply with the law when it comes to buying gold, and knowing what they are goes a long way.
Under a certain dollar amount, there's no need to declare (which may be attractive to some), but once you hit a threshold you will need to (and should) declare your holdings.
Having liquid gold on-hand and ready in the event of a crisis is the best hedge. Being invested in gold ETFs is fine depending on your objectives, but if you're truly hedging against unforeseen market collapses, you want physical metal in your possession.