As a rule, customs officers check travellers on a random basis without a specific initial suspicion. They thus operate in a preventive way.
In order to be able to carry out necessary controls in a reasonable manner, customs officers have powers, but also obligations. In order to determine whether import or export regulations have been properly observed, customs officers may for example
- stop persons,
- ask for identification documents and
- examine luggage and the means of transport (car).
If there is a reasonable suspicion that a person is
illegally hiding goods under his or her clothing, customs officers may also
physically search this person.
However, only customs officers of the same sex may carry out this search. A person of the opposite sex may only carry out the search in the event of danger in delay (for example if a person is suspected of hiding a firearm on their body).
Occasionally it happens that articles are found during a
customs inspection and it cannot be clarified immediately whether they are
subject to prohibitions and restrictions or not.
For example, it is sometimes impossible to determine immediately whether certain souvenirs are made of material from a protected species of animal or plant. In such cases, the articles in question can be seized and submitted to a test by experts.
As a traveller you have an obligation to provide active assistance during a customs inspection. For example, you must
- indicate the origin of goods you have with you,
- tolerate the removal of samples without compensation,
- at the request of customs officers, provide the assistance required for them to control luggage and means of transport (car).
The forms of assistance that might be requested by customs officers include, for example, opening the boot of your vehicle or opening and unpacking your luggage and its contents.
Furthermore, Customs is entitled to carry out controls in the cross-border movement of cash in order to combat money laundering.