How does Customs work?

Is it like Beverly Hills Cop where everything coming into the country is held until investigated? And what are customs officials looking for? Do they inspect the contents at all either randomly, every 100th box or boxes from places like Islamabad and Pyongyang?

Also, do different countries have different customs procedures?

Most stuff coming into the U.S. isn’t checked at all unless there is a specific reason for it. There simply isn’t the time or manpower to handle it. Foreign goods usually come over on container ships like this:

The containers get loaded onto the ship by crane at the point of origin and loaded straight onto a tractor trailer truck bed at the destination for delivery. There are random customs and FDA inspections but it certainly doesn’t catch everything.

Answers to your questions:

1 &3. As state above, we pick and choose what to inspect. We don’t have time or manpower to look at everything. Depending on the commodity, the level/type of inspection can vary, from physical to xray to canine. Sometimes all three.

  1. Narcotics, mostly. Also, agricultural products, intellectual property rights violations, currency, firearms, etc.

  2. I’m pretty sure the basics are the same, but the methodology and targeting are different.

If they’re available, see if the ABC show about Homeland Security is online and check it out. It’ll give you a good basic idea about how CBP (and Border Patrol) work.

Anything else?

Inellectual property rights violations? What would this consist of? Fake sneakers and such? Seems to me a DVD or CD would be easier to transmit via the Internet then make copies here.

Imho, a small part of customs is to prevent dangerous imported goods, like drugs. However, the main part of customs, in any country, is to enforce tax laws and make sure goods are properly taxed when they are brought into the country.

Yep, counterfeit goods–clothing, shoes, handbags, etc. If it’s got a fake logo on it, it’s not legal and is seized. Digital media (CDs, DVDs) is considered “piratical” and is illegal as well. If you go to, and search “news releases”, there are several concerning IPR violations.

Superhal wins a paper declaration and a trip to secondary–Customs is the second largest source of revenue for the US Gov’t, coming from duties and fees collected on goods entering the commerce of the US.

CBP is a huge agency, passenger and cargo inspections are just a fraction of what we do.