On the border between two States, one of which belongs to the European Union and one from outside the EU, is located the Customs Office which has the duty of carrying out controls on incoming and outgoing goods between the two States.

The cases are not rare in which, during the control operations, customs seizure is made by the customs office.

More specifically:

- The outgoing controls are for exports. What must be ascertained is the absence of specific constraints, or rather the free export of goods. Having verified the foregoing, customs officers are required to issue the export authorization, better known as the customs declaration.

The export of goods, unlike the importation, is not subject to the payment of customs duties: no tax can be charged at the exit of the European Union.

- The incoming controls are instead aimed at ensuring national security and public order, as well as the collection of duties.

Indeed, for goods imported into Italy, payment is due not only to VAT but also to customs duties.

Both transporters and simple travellers are subject to customs controls.

Customs seizure in Italy: what must be declared? 

Not everything can be imported into Italy. Specifically, the admitted goods are those that comply with the European legislation.

In this sense, the customs declaration will help avoid customs seizure.

In fact, despite the European countries, for which there is free movement of goods, people and capital, in the rest of the world, or in non-EU countries, it is necessary to compile a customs declaration of goods when preparing to cross the State.

In this sense, it will be useful at the moment of departure from a European Union State to head to an extra EU country, to indicate which goods are transported, in order to avoid paying taxes upon return, following the verification of products that, having not previously declared them, will be considered by the customs officers purchased in the non-EU country.

The aforementioned applies only to items of a commercial nature and significant value.

Therefore, the same must be indicated in the customs declaration, which may be:

- written, through the use of appropriate IT tools, to which are accompanied the documents related to the goods such as the purchase invoice or warranty;

- report, at the time of customs control, following which the customs authority must issue to the traveller a receipt which he must keep and show on his return.

In case one moves by sea or by plane, the customs declaration form must be compiled during the crossing and handed over to the crew. The latter will deliver everything to the customs inspectors once having reached the destination.

Therefore, the declared and transported goods are subject to very strict controls and, in the event of non-compliance with the quarantine regulations or other laws concerning the regular transport, they can be ordered the customs seizure.

In the case of omitted customs declaration, the traveller risks the imposition of huge penalties for possible irregularities or for the transport of goods that are among those to be declared compulsorily.

In doubt, therefore, it is always good to declare what you have in your suitcase.

The articles that without a doubt must always be declared to avoid the customs seizure are:

- objects and consumer goods, such as camera, cell phone, video camera, etc., that are brought to non-EU countries must be declared.

A demonstration of their purchase in the country of origin must be submitted, together with their statement, appropriate documentation (receipt of purchase or invoice). In the absence, the traveller must ask the customs office to issue the declaration of possession;

- money, for amounts equal to or higher than € 10,000.00;

- animals. If someone goes to a country outside the EU he needs to bring an international certificate containing the identification data of the animal and of the owner, which certifies that the animal is healthy;

- food of animal and vegetable origin;

- cultural assets;

- medicines;

Concerning the counterfeit goods, however, their import or export is strictly prohibited and involves the application of criminal and administrative sanctions.

In this regard, it is interesting to note that the officials of the Como Customs Office, in collaboration with the Finance Guard of the Ponte Chiasso Group, in carrying out routine controls, have been able to ascertain a high rate of illicit trafficking of valuables and goods, especially luxury watches and jewellery that led to their seizure.

More of the time the customs seizure follows the communication of the crime report of the competent Public Prosecutor for the crimes of aggravated smuggling referring to the Article 295 of the Consolidated Law on Customs (since the simple smuggling has been decriminalized and nowadays it is sanctioned only in an administrative way with a fine varying between five thousand and fifty thousand euro) and evasion of VAT at importation.

Customs seizure in Italy: in which cases comes the customs litigation? 

Customs litigation is an instrument of defense, administrative or judicial, which can be activated by those who have been subjected to customs seizure and have received administrative or criminal penalties for violation of community and national customs legislation.

It is divided into two phases:

- the first is administrative, which begins with the notification to the recipient of the official report of contestation about the infringement of the customs legislation. In cases of customs seizure, if the person stopped does not understand the language spoken by the Customs officers, it will be necessary to proceed with the seizure under the assistance of an interpreter.

The official report of contestation must contain under penalty of nullity:

- indication of the generality of the parties;

- indication of the reasons for which the customs authorities considered the existence of violations of the contested customs legislation;

- indication of the period within which the party can make any observations in his own defense.

If the official report of contestation was considered inexact or incorrect, the interested party may communicate his own observations to the authority responsible for evaluating them. If the observations are recognized as groundless, the sanction will follow; vice versa, if the observations are recognized as grounded, the proceeding can be closed and the sanction is not imposed.

- judicial phase, if any, will only happen when the customs authority makes an unfavourable decision that the person concerned has the possibility to challenge within 60 days, in front of the Tax Commission responsible for the territory.

In cases where the dispute in customs matters has a value equal to or greater than € 50,000.00, it is obligatory to carry out a prior attempt of complaint and mediation, otherwise the appeal cannot be filed.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.