You may be controlled by customs
Your attitude is vital to the quality and speed of the control.
What is the purpose of customs controls?
Customs officials are authorised to inspect merchandise, means of transport and people
pursuant to Article 60 of the Customs Code for the purpose of conducting the tasks that the
legislator has assigned to the customs administration and uncovering customs evasion and
Where can the controls occur?
This general power of inspection can be exercised throughout the national customs territory
(land and sea).
• When crossing a border and within a zone called a customs radius (1), customs officials have
the right to control the identity of the people they inspect (2).
• This right is therefore not restricted to border crossings: it may be exercised on the public
highway and, in general, in all places where customs normally operates.
You may therefore be controlled:
- In airports;
- In ports;
- In railway stations;
- On the public highway (the outside tables of cafés giving onto a public highway and
directly accessible by customers, markets set up in places open to the public, stalls
selling goods in arcades open to the public such as flea markets and fairs to which
the public has free access).
(1) Pursuant to articles 43 and 44 of the Customs Code.
(2) Pursuant to Article 67 of the Customs Code.
How does a control take place?
All controls are announced in advance by means of appropriate signs at land borders, in ports
and airports, and when conducting road controls, and verbally:
“This is a customs control.”
The customs officials also explain the purpose of the control.
They can be clearly identified by their uniform or, when in plain clothes, by an armband
marked “douanes” (“customs”).
Controls conducted by customs officials pursuant to Article 60 of the Customs Code may
* Baggage and merchandise:
- Mainly merchandise and baggage contained in the means of transport (personal
and professional) or carried by the individual (irrespective of size or use, with the
exception of diplomatic and consular bags);
- In this event, customs officials are authorised, among other things, to search the
boot or trunk of the means of transport and examine any papers in the baggage and
personal belongings of the person controlled, in compliance with the secrecy of
* Means of transport:
- The customs officials’ right of inspection goes hand in hand with the power to halt
the means of transport (3),
- Vehicle drivers must accede to the requests of the customs officials who may,
should the controlled person refuse to comply, use any means necessary to
immobilise the means of transport (4).
- Customs officials are authorised to conduct pat down searches of individuals (5) to
ensure that the controlled individual is not carrying any items liable to cause bodily
injury or put life at risk, with regard to either the customs officials or the people
circulating in the vicinity of the control.
- They may also conduct body searches.
- In addition, they are authorised, in the event of a serious reason to believe that the
individual is transporting narcotics concealed on his or her person, to submit this
individual to a medical search provided they obtain his or her written consent (6).
(3) Pursuant to Article 61 of the Customs Code.
(4) Pursuant to Article 56-2-b of the Customs Code.
(5) Pursuant to Article 60 of the Customs Code.
(6) Pursuant to Article 60 a) of the Customs Code.
Should the individual refuse, the customs officials may request authorisation from
the president of the court of first instance or the judge delegated by this president.
Refusal to comply with the order of the judicial authority is punishable by one year
in prison and a fine of €3,750.
These controls are conducted in accordance with instructions drawn up by the customs
administration to guarantee respect for the person and confidentiality rules.
Customs officials are authorised to ask you any regulatory questions they deem
necessary to conduct the control.
A person can be held for the time required for the control to be conducted and the
relevant procedural paperwork to be drawn up.
If you are entering France from a country outside of the European Union, you must make a
verbal declaration to customs if you are carrying certain merchandise,
I don’t have time to be controlled … Can I refuse?
The controls conducted by customs officials are legally binding.
In the event of any obstacle to the smooth running of a control (insults, abuse, interference
or obstruction), customs officials are authorised to charge the individual controlled for
The Penal Code (8) also sanctions threats, intimidation, insulting behaviour and acts of
rebellion committed against customs officials.
The Highway Code (9) sanctions drivers of vehicles who do not comply with demands to
stop by civil servants or officials (customs officials in particular) assigned to report
violations and bearing external and apparent signs of their status.
7 Pursuant to articles 53-1, 60 and 413 a) of the Customs Code.
8 Articles 433-3, 433-5 and 433-6.
9 Article L. 233-1-1 of the Highway Code.
Okay, but what are my rights?
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You may ask for your complaint to be recorded in a register provided for this purpose and
available in all customs divisions.
You may ask the customs officials controlling you to present their credentials, which include
You also have various rights of appeal, which are detailed in the “guide des voies de recours
et de conciliation” (in French).
General Directorate of Customs and Excise at the following address: Direction générale des douanes et droits indirects, 11 rue des Deux Communes 93558 Montreuil cedex - FRANCE.Retour haut de page
Page mise à jour le 01/01/2010 par Bureau information et communication