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Customs, Tolls or Duties of the Corporation of Kinsale (1788)
Officers from US Customs and Border Protection boarding a ship

Customs is an authority or agency in a country responsible for collecting and safeguarding customs duties and for controlling the flow of goods including animals, transports, personal effects and hazardous items in and out of a country.[1]

Depending on local legislation and regulations, the import or export of some goods may be restricted or forbidden, and the customs agency enforces these rules.[2] The customs authority may be different from the immigration authority, which monitors persons who leave or enter the country, checking for appropriate documentation, apprehending people wanted by international arrest warrants, and impeding the entry of others deemed dangerous to the country.

In most countries customs are attained through government agreements and international laws. A customs duty is a tariff or tax on the importation (usually) or exportation (unusually) of goods. In the Kingdom of England, customs duties were typically part of the customary revenue of the king, and therefore did not need parliamentary consent to be levied, unlike excise duty, land tax, or other forms of taxes.

Commercial goods not yet cleared through customs are held in a customs area, often called a bonded store, until processed. All authorised ports are recognised customs area.

Red and Green channels[edit]

Customs procedures for arriving passengers at many international airports, and some road crossings, are separated into Red and Green Channels.[3][4] Passengers with goods to declare (carrying items above the permitted customs limits and/or carrying prohibited items) should go through the Red Channel.

Passengers with nothing to declare (carrying goods within the customs limits only and not carrying prohibited items) can go through the Green Channel. Passengers going through the Green Channel are only subject to spot checks and save time. But, if a passenger going through the Green Channel is found to have goods above the customs limits on them or carrying prohibited items, they may be prosecuted for making a false declaration to customs, by virtue of having gone through the Green Channel.

Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States do not officially operate a red and green channel system; however, some airports copy this layout.

Airports within the European Union (EU) also have a Blue Channel. As the EU is a customs union, travellers between EU countries do not have to pay customs duties. VAT and Excise duties may be applicable if the goods are subsequently sold, but these are collected when the goods are sold, not at the border. Passengers arriving from other EU countries should go through the Blue Channel, where they may still be subject to checks for prohibited or restricted goods. In addition, limitations exist on various tobacco and alcohol products being imported from other EU member states and use of the Blue Channel if those limitations are being exceeded would be inappropriate. Luggage tickets for checked in luggage within the EU are green-edged so they may be identified.[5][6] UK policy is that entry into a particular Channel constitutes a legal declaration.

Privatization of customs[edit]

The Customs-and-duty House at the port of Haifa, Israel

Customs is an important part of the government involved in one of the three basic functions of a government, namely, administration, maintenance of law, order and justice and collection of revenue. However, in a bid to mitigate corruption, many countries have partly privatised their Customs. This has occurred by way of engagement of Pre-shipment Inspection Agencies who examine the cargo and verify the declared value before importation is effected and the nation Customs is obliged to accept the report of the agency for the purpose of assessment of leviable duties and taxes at the port of entry.

While engaging a preshipment inspection agency may appear justified in a country with an inexperienced or inadequate Customs establishment, the measure has not really been able to plug the loophole and protect revenue. It has been found that evasion of Customs duty escalated when pre-shipment agencies took over.[7] It has also been alleged that such involvement of such agencies has been causing delays in the shipment process.[2] Privatization of Customs has been viewed as a fatal remedy.[7]

Summary of basic custom rules[edit]

European Union[edit]

The basic customs law is harmonized across Europe. This includes customs duties and restrictions. Customs tax from 150 €. In addition, see regulations of each Member State.


Up to €22 there are no taxes (it is free). From €22 up to €150, it is necessary to pay VAT (EUSt in Germany) which is 7 or 19%, depending on the goods. From €150 it is necessary to pay VAT and customs.


Customs may be very strict, especially for shipped goods (from anywhere outside the EU). Up to €10 goods/package

Czech Republic and Slovakia[edit]

Up to €22 there are no taxes (it is free). From €22 up to €150, it is necessary to pay VAT (DPH in Czech/Slovak) which is 21%. From €150 it is necessary to pay VAT and customs. Customs may be from 0 to 10%, the amount depending on the type of imported goods.

North America[edit]


The United States imposes tariffs or "customs duties" on imports of goods.: 3% on average.[8] The duty is levied at the time of import and is paid by the importer of record. Individuals arriving in the United States may be exempt from duty on a limited amount of purchases, and on goods temporarily imported (such as laptop computers) under the ATA Carnet system. Customs duties vary by country of origin and product, with duties ranging from zero to 81% of the value of the goods. Goods from many countries are exempt from duty under various trade agreements. Certain types of goods are exempt from duty regardless of source. Customs rules differ from other import restrictions. Failure to properly comply with customs rules can result in seizure of goods and civil and criminal penalties against involved parties. United States Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) enforces customs rules. All goods entering the United States are subject to inspection by CBP prior to legal entry.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "customs". WordReference. Retrieved 2013-09-16. 
  2. ^ a b Chowdhury, F. L. (1992) Evasion of Customs Duty in Bangladesh, unpublished MBA dissertation submitted to Monash University, Australia.
  3. ^ Dual-Channel System - Travellers' Info Guide - Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) - Singapore[dead link]
  4. ^ [1][dead link]
  5. ^ "EUROPA - Taxation and Customs Union / Baggage controls". 2007-02-21. Retrieved 2012-01-06. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b Chowdhury, F. L. (2006) Corrupt bureaucracy and privatization of Customs in Bangladesh, Pathok Samabesh, Dhaka.
  8. ^ "Federation of International Trade Associations, country profile : United States". Retrieved 2012-01-06. 

External links[edit]