Why are goods held up in customs?

why are goods held at customs

Buying in online retailers and stores located anywhere in the world is becoming an increasingly common activity. Now, it is something that is being done even more due to the coronavirus pandemic that we are suffering. All products purchased in countries that do not belong to the European Union must go through one or more required customs controls. Although the vast majority of these products reach their buyers without a hitch, others do not. Therefore, we want to explain why some goods are held up in Customs.

This problem happens to both large and small importers, regardless of the buyer’s country of residence. Customs is an authority or agency responsible for controlling the flow of goods into and out of a country. It is in charge of regulating international goods traffic. It supervises and monitors cross-border international trade. Each country has its own laws and regulations for the import and export of goods into and out of a country, enforced by their respective customs authorities.

As a result, Customs is empowered to retain all those shipments that it may consider suspicious due to their doubtful origin or appearance. China is the world’s largest exporter and is constantly observed by Customs officers. Thus, goods that come from this country are the most withheld products.


5 Reasons Why Shipments Are Held Up in Customs

Basically, goods are stuck in Customs when they fail to comply with the regulations imposed on the products. Although each country has its own customs laws, there are some reasons for withholding goods that are applied by all competent authorities, such as the Unidad de Análisis de Riesgo (Customs Risk Management Unit) in Spain. These are the 5 most frequent:


Undervaluation of Goods

The amount of duty an importer must pay is based on the declared value of the imported goods. By fraudulently undervaluing the cost of goods, a company pays less than the amount it rightfully owes. This situation usually happens with some Chinese sellers, who mark very low product values. It ​is something very controlled and pursued by Customs.



Often when buying products from another country, the price does not include the corresponding tax, such as VAT, since they are not subject to that tax there. Therefore, when introducing these products in the buyer’s country (if they are withheld), it is necessary to pay the corresponding tax and other expenses related to a series of customs procedures—such as handling costs, storage charges and postal administrative expenses.


Special Permissions

Some products require certain special permits—such as medicines, agricultural products or used vehicles, among others. If a product that needs these special permits is imported and does not include these documents, it will be retained at Customs.


Bulky Goods

For security reasons it is likely that Customs will withhold shipments that are excessively bulky.


Suspicious or Dangerous Goods

Finally, goods that may appear suspicious or dangerous. Products that look like a pistol or some other type of weapon (even if they are harmless), or that once they are acquired, another tax must be paid, can also be withheld in Customs.


If the customs officers withhold a shipment and consider that taxes must be paid, they will notify the buyer of how much money needs to be paid to release the shipment. In any case, if we want to avoid that goods are held up in Customs, the best thing we can do is to ask for a global customs service through International Freight Transport and Customs, or to use a Global Trade Management service.