Everything you ever wanted to know about smuggling. Aka: a Q&A session with a customs officer - including some tips on how (not!) to smuggle. [Sssht, you didn’t hear this from us!]
Since customs officers aren’t actually allowed to talk about this, we have had to give our inside source a pseudonym. Let’s call him… David.
Hi J… er... David! What do you pay attention to most when people pass through customs, and what sort of smuggling gear do you mostly encounter?
“I mostly watch people’s non-verbal communication. But our briefing and inspections differ for each flight, because each country has its own speciality of smuggled goods. From China and other Asian countries people mostly smuggle traditional medicines, made out of protected animals, electronics and fake brand products. From South America it’s mostly drugs, protected animal species and exotic plants. From Africa, we mostly come across ivory, cash money and qat (a stimulative drug). Egypt and India: we check for Viagra and other illegal medicines. So that’s what we pay specific attention to. And furthermore: anything that is out of the ordinary will be inspected.”
What is suspicious behaviour? Is there specific behaviour or are there specific people that you would always pick out to check up on?
“As soon as people arrive at the luggage belt, I start to observe them immediately. If someone is dressed in brand clothing from head to toe, the chances are big that they have some more - maybe illegally brought in - brand clothing. With so called ‘drug flights’, I always pay extra attention to peoples eyes and breath; if they have red eyes or smelly breath, that could be a sign that they have swallowed little plastic bags filled with drugs. People who are rushing, sweating, or are waiting around doing nothing and only pass when all customs officers are busy - I pick them out for sure. And then I ask them all sorts of questions. Did someone go to the Caribbean, for only three days? Suspicious. Does someone say their profession is a car mechanic, while their hands look soft? Suspicious.”
So, what is the best way to smuggle? And what are the best hiding places?
“There are none. To be a good smuggler you most of all have to have a poker face and be a good liar. Do you want to bring in fake brand clothing? Then cut out all the labels, and throw the receipts away. That way you can pretend the clothing is not new and that you already had it before (your trip). You can obviously also just try to hide it. Sometimes I just see it as a game; people try to hide something and we need to find it. But we check everywhere. Even in your dirty laundry and in your bag of dirty underwear. And if you don’t have dirty laundry but a suitcase full of clean tidy clothing; then you are obviously suspicious too.”
What exactly can and can we not take with us when flying home after our holiday?
“That is different for every country. But you can check that on the customs website of the country you are traveling to.”
You can find a list of the most common forbidden goods (valid for most countries) here.
Taking them anyway? Then please remember to:
- dry your forehead & use a good deodorant
- use eyedrops & brush your teeth or use mouth spray
- say you are an accountant, not a car mechanic!
- when going to the Caribbean, go for at least a week
- cut the labels out of your clothes and make them dirty
- practice your poker face