I ask or worry not about the standard questions required during customs, such as a traveller's basic personal information, purposes of travel, etc... However, what if a traveller fears for his privacy, and suspects hostility or nosiness from a customs officer?

For example, can a traveller exercise his right of silence, without adverse inferences drawn by an impartial court? Or even the customs officer, who may loathe the silent treatment?

Afterword: I ask the above for Canada, USA, and UK.

  • 1
    Do you include immigration officers as well, or just customs? (also, English tip: "I ask or worry NOT about X" is awkward, and is better phrased as "I am not asking about X.")
    – cpast
    Jun 7, 2015 at 3:11
  • 2
    A customs inspection or interview is not an arrest. It is a completely different area of law from a criminal investigation. The purpose of customs is to control the entry of goods into the country, and where applicable, impose and enforce import duties on such items. If you cannot satisfy customs of your intentions, in general they have broad powers to seize your goods. AFAIK there is no automatic right to keep your goods by remaining silent in any of the jurisdictions you mention.
    – Calchas
    Jun 23, 2015 at 3:04
  • @cpast Both, let's assume. Thanks for the tip.
    – user89
    Jun 23, 2015 at 3:57
  • @Calchas However, customs officers can and do arrest people for violating laws about what can and can't be imported; their powers aren't limited to confiscation. So it might matter there.
    – cpast
    Jun 23, 2015 at 4:38
  • 1
    Additionally, it is necessary to know the nationality of the person traveling since this is at a point of entry. As the law states in some areas, at a point of entry you are not yet "in the United States" for some purposes. Exceptions for US Citizens.
    – Andrew
    Jun 24, 2015 at 20:28

1 Answer 1


When you refer to customs, that necessarily denotes travel to a foreign county, such that each county will have their own laws, rules, and regulations that govern these issues. It is more than likely that if you refuse to answer the questions of customs officials in ANY country, you will be denied admittance. The same is true if you refuse or balk at being searched (personally or your possessions), and keep in mind that this is without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. The best thing to do is to answer the questions honestly and accurately, but also as narrowly as possible to completely answer. Trying to argue with them will only send up red flags and you will be there longer. Remember it is a privilege, not a right, to enter a sovereign nation of which you are not a citizen.

For example, in the U.S., customs reserves the right to detain for questioning, search you, your car, your children, your bags, packages, purse/wallet, or any other travel item with full legal authority to do sol they can even examine your electronics (content and hardware). You place your stuff on the exam station and open it. (After the exam is completed, you will be asked to repack and close the baggage.) If you are unhappy with the way you are being treated, you do have the right to ask to speak to a CBP supervisor, but I cannot see anything good coming of it, unless they were super rude without provocation or broke something of value.

The authority to delay and speak with travelers derives from the United States Code (section citations below) enables CBP to prevent the entry of persons who are inadmissible under the Immigration and Nationality Act, and to prevent the smuggling of merchandise, including narcotics and other contraband items, into the United States.

Speaking with travelers and examining merchandise coming into or leaving the United States is just one of the mechanisms used to identify illegal or prohibited items, and to determine whether or not someone is trying to enter the U.S. for unlawful or fraudulent purposes. Unless exempt by diplomatic status, all travelers entering the United States, including U.S. citizens, are subjected to routine Customs examinations. At times, people make the mistake of thinking their civil rights are being violated by being asked questions about their trip, personal background and history, etc. That is not the case. Supreme Court decisions have upheld the doctrine that CBP's search authority is unique and does not violate the fourth amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

U.S. Customs website has a detailed Q&A section. Most modern countries do as well.


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