How to behave during a customs inspection? This is a frequently asked question of companies. It is customary for customs authorities to check German companies that import or export goods. Customs inspections are usually more or less random and almost always a surprise to the companies concerned.

Importers are rarely informed in advance by customs officials that an inspection is pending. Within the scope of a customs audit, importers or exporters who are increasingly tested with sensitive products (e.g. regularly high import duties, anti-dumping duties, etc.). The audits are carried out to ensure that each company complies with European customs legislation.

Many companies do not know how the examination procedure works and how they should behave during the customs examination. They also usually underestimate the consequences that the results of the customs audit can have for a company. Having a good knowledge of the customs procedures used is extremely important, as violations of customs law can constitute criminal offences and can lead to personal criminal responsibility. This article explains the verification process and how companies should behave in customs audits.

How companies should behave in an audit depends largely on whether it is a normal customs audit or a criminal search.

Regular customs audits – you must cooperate

In a regular customs inspection, customs selects the company to be inspected and sends an inspection request, after which a customs officer is sent to the company by the inspection service. These tests are carried out regularly or as required. Such a check usually proceeds as follows:

  • First, Customs will arrange an initial interview and announce the proposed audit and indicate which transactions are to be audited and which documents are required.
  • They should also examine their transactions before the check itself, as errors voluntarily reported to customs are considered positive.
  • The actual customs inspection then takes place in the company.
  • After the check, Customs will hold a final meeting with you and discuss with you how your customs clearance can be optimized in the future. Any additional payments will also be discussed here – but not negotiated.

Silence is golden – criminal customs searches

However, if criminal offences are suspected by customs, the company is not informed. In these cases, the chief customs office applies to the court for a search warrant. At this stage, the court only takes into account the application and the documents submitted by the customs officers. The search is carried out surprisingly and with a large number of officials in order to take advantage of the surprise effect. Customs officers have the possibility of seizing suspicious documents or evidence during a search. In addition to confiscation, officials may request the company to provide further documents within a specified period. They may also ask the company’s representatives to make oral or written declarations on suspicious import transactions. The main customs office will then examine and evaluate all the evidence, including the testimonies. On the basis of the evidence, customs officials will decide whether there is a violation of the Customs Code or criminal law and will pursue it further.

This is the right way to behave during customs checks

Many companies ask themselves how to behave during a customs inspection. The answer depends on what kind of test is available. If a regular customs inspection is available, they are required by law to cooperate. You must answer all questions and submit all documents. Cooperation with the customs officer is also recommended in order not to prolong the examination unnecessarily. However, if a criminal search is carried out, completely different rules apply. Such a search only takes place if a court has already confirmed a sufficient probability of criminal conduct. In this respect, any statements made against you during the review may be used later. Under no circumstances should more than necessary be spoken to customs officials. Instead, call your lawyer, who is familiar with customs law, and discuss the next steps. In these cases, document requests should also not be answered prematurely. Speak to your lawyer beforehand and do not give anything out beforehand.

In the case of a search, remember the following points

If you have indeed been subjected to a criminal customs search, please coordinate your conduct with your lawyer. Think of the following points:

  • Let me show you the warrant,
  • for searches without a decision: question the reason, scope and purpose of the customs investigation order,
  • Forbid all employees to make statements and keep quiet,
  • Contact your own lawyer immediately,
  • ask customs officials to wait for the lawyer to arrive (but you have no right to do so),
  • Do not resist the customs officers’ searches


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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