Definition of customs
Industrial port and container yard

Definition of customs

Customs is an authority or agency in a country responsible for collecting tariffs and for controlling the flow of goods, including animals, transports, personal, and hazardous items, into and out of a country.[1][2] The movement of people into and out of a country is normally monitored by migration authorities, under a variety of names and arrangements. Immigration authorities normally check for appropriate documentation, verify that a person is entitled to enter the country, apprehend people wanted by domestic or international arrest warrants, and impede the entry of people deemed dangerous to the country. Compare illegal emigration.

Traditionally customs has been considered as the fiscal subject that charges customs duties and other taxes on import or export. In recent decades, the views on the functions of customs have considerably expanded and now covers three basic issues: taxation, security and trade facilitation.[3]

The terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, has become the factor that prompted a significant strengthening of the security component in the operations of the modern customs authorities, after which security-oriented control measures for supply chains have been widely implemented for the aims of preventing risk identification. The most complete guidelines for customs security functions implementation is provided in the WCO SAFE Framework of Standards to Secure and Facilitate Global Trade (SAFE),[4] which have already received five editions in 2005, 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2018.

The trade facilitation objectives were introduced into routine of customs authorities in order to reduce trade transaction costs. The contemporary understanding of the “trade facilitation” concept is based on the Recommendation No. 4 of UN / CEFACT “National Trade Facilitation Bodies”.[5] According to its provisions (Para. 14) “facilitation covers formalities, procedures, documents and operations related to international trade transactions. Its goals are simplification, harmonization and standardization, so that transactions become easier, faster and more economical than before”.

 
Officers from US Customs and Border Protection boarding a ship

Each country has its own laws and regulations for the import and export of goods into and out of a country, which its customs authority enforces. The import or export of some goods may be restricted or forbidden.[6] A wide range of penalties are faced by those who break these laws.[7] A customs duty is a tariff or tax on the importation (usually) or exportation (unusually) of goods. Commercial goods not yet cleared through customs are held in a customs area, often called a bonded store, until processed. All authorized ports are recognized customs areas.

At airports, customs functions as the point of no return for all passengers; once passengers have cleared customs, they cannot go back. Anyone arriving at an airport must also clear customs before they can officially enter a country. Those who breach the law will be detained by customs and likely returned to their original location.[8]

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