Many companies ask themselves what to do when a customs inspection has been ordered for the first time. What is checked and what documents does the examiner need? Below we would like to give you some experience with customs inspections. We regularly accompany companies during customs inspections. That is why we know where the problems and weaknesses of a customs inspection usually lie.

How to prepare for the customs check?

  1. Read the test regulation carefully – what is tested and over what period of time?
  2. Selecting and preparing documents
  3. Have customs pre-audit carried out by consultants to identify weaknesses
  4. Preparation of an examination room for the examiner
  5. Proactively discuss any errors found with the inspector if necessary
  6. Perceive final discussion with the customs inspector
  7. Carefully examine the additional payment notice and file an objection if necessary


What is a customs inspection?

A customs audit checks whether a company complies with the relevant customs legislation. For this purpose, the accounts and other records of this company are audited. All companies importing goods from or exporting to a non-EU country may be subject to customs controls. In general, an audit takes no more than one week, depending on the nature and scope of the processes and their complexity. In individual cases, an audit can also be dealt with within a few hours; for large corporations, the audit can also take up to one month. The examination of companies using customs procedures with economic significance (e.g. inward or outward processing) may also take longer. How they behave during the customs inspection determines how the process will proceed and whether – in the event of detected errors – fines or criminal proceedings will be initiated, for example. It is therefore advisable not to go to a customs inspection unprepared, not least because there is often the threat of additional payments.

Period of customs inspection

How often a customs inspection is carried out cannot be generally said. In the case of regular imports, an inspection is often ordered every three years. It can be quite rare for small companies – and correspondingly more frequent for infringements in the past. With regard to the period of the customs inspection, the inspector will generally require all documents relating to your customs or export declarations for the previous three years and form a sample of them. In some cases, it may be necessary to extend the scope of the check. This is particularly the case in the case of irregularities found

What documents are required for the examination?

The documents you need to have ready for the customs inspection should be discussed with the customs inspector. In principle, you must keep all documents for your import processes and have them ready on the inspection date You must also allow the customs inspector to view other commercial documents (electronic or paper) or provide information about your manufacturing process or warehouse. You should therefore take precautions to ensure that the documents required for the examination are fully available. As a rule, the following documents are required for customs inspections:

  • Purchase contracts, invoices and delivery notes,
  • Inventory records,
  • Import and export licences,
  • Import and export licences,
  • Access to the posting accounts,
  • Import tax assessments,
  • Shipping papers,
  • Forwarding invoices,
  • Proofs of origin,
  • Totals and balance lists,
  • Chart of accounts,
  • Customs and import sales tax accounts,
  • Accounts payable,
  • Annual financial statements,
  • Export documents,
  • Trade register excerpt

Customs inspection for import

The aim of customs inspections for imports is to determine whether the imported goods have also been duly cleared through customs. For this reason, the system checks in particular whether

  • Anti-dumping duties were paid or should have been paid,
  • Tariff preferences have not been used without justification,
  • all transactions have been posted correctly.

Typically, a check is as follows:

  • On arrival, the examiner will identify himself and give you an estimate of how long the exam will take,
  • To gain a better understanding of your company, he will ask some general questions about your company
  • The auditor will then start checking your books and records,
  • If the auditor detects any irregularities, the details will be discussed with you and you will be informed in writing at a later date.

Foreign trade audit for export

However, there is also a customs audit for exports, which is also called foreign trade audit. In particular, the system checks whether you comply with all export control regulations and have not violated foreign trade law. As there are no export duties, the examination of whether the compliance for the export transactions has acted properly shifts. Irregularities are no less serious in these cases. Even if there is no threat of additional payments of customs duties, severe penalties can still be imposed, since a violation of foreign trade law is usually an administrative offence or even a criminal offence. As a result, it can be concluded that a customs inspection is usually to be mastered. But preparation is essential. However, if infringements are detected, companies may also be faced with high additional payments. Therefore, planning the audit pays off all the more.


Dieser Artikel wurde am 9. August 2018 erstellt. Er wurde am 30. September 2023 aktualisiert. Die fachliche Zweitprüfung hat Rechtsanwalt Dr. Tristan Wegner durchgeführt.

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