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Information on customs examination of travellers and baggage carried by the travellers

This information clarifies the procedure for customs examination of travellers and the baggage carried by travellers.

One of the duties of the Estonian Tax and Customs Board is the protection of the society and economy, prevention of import and/or export of smuggled goods, dangerous and prohibited substances/articles into the country. Also the legislator has put the Estonian Tax and Customs Board under an obligation to ensure the collection of taxes payable upon the import of goods and to exercise supervision of compliance with the customs rules.

Violation of the customs rules is, for example, evasion of customs control by carrying the goods to be declared across the customs border, failure to declare the goods or other fraud.

Upon preventing illicit trafficking the customs authorities are concerned with the following goods: narcotic substances, cigarettes, alcohol, weapons, goods infringing the intellectual property rights, endangered animal and plant species (CITES goods).

The customs officials provide services to travellers and exercise supervision at the internal and external border checkpoints of the European Union, which are located in the international ports/airports (incl. transit areas) or land.

Customs examination of a traveller or his or her baggage shall be performed if the customs authorities have reason to believe that the traveller is hiding the goods subject to declaration (incl. the goods which are prohibited or subject to restriction) in his or her clothing, on or in the body.

If a customs official has reason to suspect an offence, the official shall exercise necessary supervision measures necessary for prevention or detection of an offence. The measures are taken against the concrete person who is suspected to have violated the customs rules.

For the purpose of customs examination of travellers they may be questioned, or asked to unpack their baggage, and pack the baggage after the inspection.

We request the travellers to retain an understanding attitude, for the customs officials are performing their duties in view of welfare and security of the citizens of the state.

Examination of baggage

A customs official on duty has the right to demand the presentation of baggage by the traveller for customs examination.

"Baggage" means all things carried by a traveller during the journey in any form, for example, bags, suitcases, packages, boxes, briefcases and also the articles therein. A traveller's baggage may also be in the means of transport.

"Personal effects" are articles to be used or consumed on a journey by a traveller, which were in the ownership or possession of the traveller already at the beginning of the journey. The articles acquired during the journey are deemed to be the goods.

A traveller is responsible for the whole baggage carried by the traveller at the moment of the border crossing.

Baggage shall be examined in the presence of a traveller. Upon inspection a person must present his or her baggage and open it for the customs examination and pack it thereafter.

If a person refuses to be present at the customs examination or refuses to open his or her baggage for inspection, the customs officials may examine the baggage in the presence of one impartial witness, without the presence of the possessor of the baggage.

Participants in the proceeding, their colleagues and the persons close to them cannot be impartial witnesses.

Customs examination of travellers (persons)

In case of suspicion that a traveller may have the goods hidden in the clothing, on or in the body, a customs official of the same sex may:

  • examine the traveller in a separate room (during customs examination a customs official has the right to feel the clothing of the person and request that the person get undressed, if necessary);
  • send the traveller to a medical institution for bodily examination.

The customs official shall prepare an inspection act on the course of an inspection and the outcome, and before signing it the person under examination shall examine the inspection act. If a traveller does not consent to the inspection act, he or she shall add his or her dissenting opinion on the inspection act.

Behaviour of the customs officials during the customs examination

  • The customs officials proceed from legislation when performing their duties.
  • They introduce themselves to the person under examination.
  • They are polite and discreet .
  • They ask only relevant questions.
  • They provide information on the reasons for customs examination and acts to be performed during the inspection.

The customs officials may:

  • check a traveller's documents;
  • request a person to pack or unpack his or her baggage;
  • examine the goods carried by a person and his or her personal effects;
  • request a traveller to be physically examined.

A traveller has the right:

  • to demand that:
    • examination of a person shall take place in a separate warm room designated for this purpose in the presence of an impartial witness of the same sex and a witness selected by the person from among those present;
    • a copy of the inspection report shall be given to the person.
  • to file a challenge against an act of the customs authorities. Challenge shall be filed within 30 days as of the date when the person filing a challenge became aware or must have become aware of the act under discussion. The customs authorities shall review the challenge within 30 days as of the date of acceptance of the challenge. When the circumstances regarding the case need further investigation, the term may be extended for 10 days and the person shall be notified thereof.
  • A traveller of a foreign country may use an interpreter.

Upon violation of customs rules:

  • a misdemeanour procedure shall be initiated,
  • a fine shall be imposed, or 
  • the goods which are direct objects of the misdemeanour procedure shall be confiscated in the cases provided for in legislation.

If a big quantity of goods is an object of the misdemeanour, or a person has been punished for a similar act and the punishment is still in force, a criminal procedure shall be initiated. Also a criminal procedure shall be initiated if the goods subject to restrictions or prohibited goods are carried by crossing the border of the customs territory of the European Communities or the state.

Supplementary information

Before starting a journey we recommend that you: