When a Customs officer stops a traveler for a Customs examination, it does not necessarily mean that the traveler is suspected of unlawful activity. In addition to enforcing narcotics related laws, Customs enforces hundreds of laws for other federal agencies. The purpose of the Customs examination is to verify the information on the Customs Declaration, which has been completed by the arriving international traveler, and to deal with issues arising from it. Frequently, Customs officers are looking for narcotics when they choose passengers for examination. This may result in having to undergo a personal search. However, there are many other reasons for a traveler to be referred for a Customs examination.
For example, Customs may need to determine if:
- You owe Customs duty or other taxes
- You have merchandise that you did not declare on your Customs Declaration
- You have commercial merchandise
- You have merchandise that may be considered prohibited or restricted
In addition, the United States Customs Service has established a program to randomly select a small percentage of international passengers for examination. The program, called Compliance Examination (COMPEX), is designed to validate our knowledge of smuggling trends and patterns.
Why aren't all passengers examined?
Although Customs officers have the authority to examine everyone and everything entering the U.S., there are two reasons why they don't. First, most passengers entering the U.S. are law-abiding travelers. Second, Customs resources are limited; therefore, Customs officers generally concentrate on finding the few passengers who are not in compliance with the law.
What can I do if I think the examination was not conducted in a professional manner?
If you feel that the examination was not conducted in a professional manner, ask to speak with a supervisor immediately. A Customs supervisor is always available at the Customs facility or by telephone. Supervisors are responsible for ensuring that Customs officers treat all persons with dignity and that they behave in a professional manner.
This Customs processing facility may also employ a Customs Passenger Service Representative (PSR). The PSR is a supervisor specifically trained to handle any concerns or questions you may have.
If you have any additional comments or questions, the Customs Service wants to hear from you. You may write directly to Customs Headquarters at:
Executive Director, Passenger Operations
U.S. Customs Service
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20229
You will receive a written response in a timely manner. If you provide your daytime phone number, Customs will contact you directly by telephone.