Customs officers - powers of search
Customs and Excise officers carry out checks on imported goods (including personal baggage) to prevent people from smuggling dutiable, excisable or prohibited goods. These checks are regularly carried out on travellers arriving from outside the EU (or from outside the EU via an EU country). These travellers must make a Customs declaration, which is a document with details of goods that are being imported or exported.
If you are arriving in Ireland from outside the EU via an EU country, you must make a Customs declaration unless all your baggage was cleared by Customs officers at your point of arrival in the EU. If you are entering or leaving the European Union and carrying €10,000 or more in cash, you must make a special declaration to the Customs authority of the EU country you are entering or leaving.
If all of your baggage was cleared by Customs officers when you arrived in the EU, you can proceed through the Blue Channel at your point of arrival in Ireland. You usually use the Red Channel or the Green Channel if you are making a customs declaration.
Travellers should go through the Red Channel if:
- They have more than the allowances they are entitled to, or
- They are in doubt about whether they have more than the permitted allowances or
- They have prohibited or restricted goods.
Travellers should go through the Green Channel if they have:
- Only the allowances that they are permitted and
- They have no prohibited or restricted goods.
Travellers arriving from outside the EU may be questioned and their baggage may be examined. Travellers arriving from within the EU do not have to make a Customs declaration and should proceed through the Blue Channel. However, Customs officers can question these travellers if they have reason to doubt that the person arrived from an EU country. Customs officers may also intervene if they have reason to believe that:
- Prohibited or restricted goods (including drugs) are being imported or exported
- An offence is being committed in respect of excisable products
These procedures are in place to help protect public safety and to guard against tax or duty fraud.
Can I be searched by a Customs officer?
Travellers can only be searched by Customs officers if an officer has reason to suspect that:
- They are carrying prohibited or uncustomed goods (uncustomed goods are goods that are imported, which are in excess of the traveller's allowance and not declared to Customs).
- They are carrying drugs on their person.
If a Customs officer suspects that the person is carrying uncustomed or prohibited goods, they must go before a superior officer of the Customs and Excise service who will decide if there are sufficient grounds to carry out a search.
In practice, most searches made by Customs officers are because the officer suspects the person is carrying drugs. If you are to be searched on suspicion of carrying drugs:
- You must understand the reason for the search. If Customs officers need to search a child or a person with a disability, it must be done in the presence of a parent or guardian.
- You can only be searched by an officer of the same sex
- Nobody of the opposite sex can be present if you have to remove clothing for the search (other than a hat, coat jacket, gloves or similar articles of clothing) unless another person is needed because of your violent conduct
- You have the right to request that the search be carried out by a medical practitioner
- The search must be conducted in a room that the public does not have free access to. Windows must be screened and doors secured to ensure complete privacy.
If Customs officers find controlled drugs, you may prosecuted. You may be arrested or proceeded against later by summons.
If you refuse to be searched, you can be arrested without a warrant by the Customs officer and may be prosecuted. If you are arrested by Customs officers, you will be taken to the nearest police station to be charged with an offence.
Customs officers keep records of all the searches that they conduct.
Additionally, anybody who is detained by Customs officers has the right to:
- Access a solicitor
- Access a doctor
- Inform a relative or third party about their situation
If you feel you have been unfairly treated by Customs officers you can make a complaint - see ‘Complaints about customs searches’ below.
Types of Search
Pat down search
A pat down search involves a search of outer clothing without the removal of clothing.
Intimate body search
An intimate body search may involve the removal and search of clothing and a visual examination of the undressed person by an officer or medical practitioner to verify if drugs are being concealed.
You cannot be subjected to an intimate body search for drugs unless:
- Customs officers have reasonable cause to suspect that you are in possession of a controlled drug.
Internal body search
Customs officers do not carry out internal body searches.
Penalties for carrying uncustomed goods
The penalties for carrying uncustomed goods are generally three times the duty paid value of the goods. The goods can also be seized along with any other articles used to conceal or carry the uncustomed goods or anything that was packed with them.
Penalties for carrying illegal drugs
The penalties for smuggling illegal drugs are set out in the Misuse of Drugs Act (1977-2016), as amended . The penalties range from a fine (in the case of a person convicted of importing a drug such as cannabis for personal use) to life imprisonment (for the most serious offences, such as importing drugs for supply to others).
If you have any information in relation to drug smuggling in Ireland, you can send a completed Customs Drugs Watch report form to Customs Drugs Law Enforcement- see ‘Contact’ below. (Remember to clearly mark "FREEPOST" on the envelope.)
Complaints about customs searches
If you feel that Customs officers have treated you unfairly, you should complain to the Collector or other local manager . If you are unhappy with the response, you can ask to have your complaint referred to the Customer Service Manager in the relevant Region or District . Revenue have published a leaflet (CS4) on their complaint and review procedures (pdf).