'I'm going through Customs'

‘I’m going through Customs’ is the expression I hear most during my work day. But in actual fact, it’s incorrect. Let me explain why.

Ben, an officer from the Border Control Agency

The difference between customs and passport control

You’ve arrived at Schiphol, checked in, gone through security … then what’s next? If you intend to travel outside of the Schengen area, the next step would be to arrive at passport control. My colleagues from the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee (RNLM) would then check your travel documents. Many people refer to this area as customs, saying 'I'm going through Customs' or 'I'm just going shopping on the other side of Customs'. In fact, Customs and Passport Control are two different areas altogether! At Schiphol, you only come into contact with customs when you return from your trip, usually with a suitcase stuffed full of souvenirs. Actually, you should really say 'I'm after the security check!’.

Goods versus people

I understand that this causes a bit of confusion. Customs and the Marechaussee both deal with border controls. Nevertheless, there is a simple distinction between both services. The Marechaussee deals with people crossing the border; Customs deals with goods crossing the border. We also dress differently – customs officers wear green and grey, whereas we wear light blue polos and dark blue trousers

The Royal Netherlands Marechaussee – more versatile than you think!

As a border guard for the Marechaussee, I'm an expert in travel documents. On busy days, my colleagues and I check about 85,000 passports every single day. We've been trained to recognise false documents. In addition to checking passports, we also have a lot of other duties connected with departure and entry to and from the Netherlands. We're Schiphol's 'police', so to speak. We maintain public order, provide assistance and participate in crime prevention activities. In addition, we also have a number of airport-specific duties, like border control, safeguarding the airport and taking additional security measures where necessary.

What you can bring in with you

Customs oversee the import, export and transport of goods. In doing so, they check whether all applicable taxes have been paid and whether goods comply with regulations, including things like safety and health checks for the Netherlands. For example, if you plan to bring a snakeskin bag, food, medicines or cigarettes back to the Netherlands, then you may come in contact with Customs at Schiphol. If you'd like to know what you can and cannot bring in, you can always download the Customs app to your smartphone.

Next time I see you at my desk at the Marechaussee, you’ll know what to do, won’t you?!