Some products are illegal in some countries, or cannot be legally imported. If I attempt to carry such a product into the country, but then honestly declare it at the border (I would like to declare 50 g of marijuana, sir), can I be prosecuted for attempted smuggling? Or will I simply be faced with the choice of turning around or forfeiting my goods and continue without trouble?

For the sake of this question, assume the product can be legally possessed in the country of origin and the traveller is arriving by land.

For example, methyl alcohol is readily for sale in most/all EU countries, but cannot be taken by private persons into the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). If I carry it with me still and honestly declare it at the border when entering the EAEU at the Brest - Terespol border, can the Belarusian police arrest me for attempting to bring products across the border illegally, or will I at worst simply have to continue without those goods (or be denied entry and keep my goods)?

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    Belarus is not a typical example of a European country. Also, fair chance they won't let you cross at that border. Jun 25, 2019 at 0:53
  • @Harper I agree it's not a typical European country, but it's the border between Europe's two largest (customs) unions; at a typical European border crossing there is no customs border at all (I could've said Serbia, Ukraine, or Switzerland). Not sure what you mean by won't let me cross, you mean in general or in case I'm declaring stuff I'm not allowed to bring across the border? Plenty of EU citizens take the train from Poland via Belarus to Russia every week with the appropriate visas for Belarus and Russia so there certainly should be no general problem with crossing the border.
    – gerrit
    Jun 25, 2019 at 7:33

2 Answers 2


If I attempt to carry such a product into the country, but then honestly declare it at the border (I would like to declare 10 kg of marijuana, sir), can I be prosecuted for attempted smuggling?

This depends on the jurisdiction and its definition of "smuggling." In the US, as an example, smuggling implies fraud or "clandestine" action. Openly bringing a forbidden item and declaring it would not meet the definition of this crime.

Or will I simply be faced with the choice of turning around or forfeiting my goods and continue without trouble?

Depending on the product in question, probably not. In the marijuana example, even if you are not guilty of smuggling, you are guilty of possessing and transporting a controlled substance (see 21 USC subchapter I). You could also be charged with intent to distribute, which would likely be a more serious crime. You could also be charged under the laws of the state in which the port of entry is located.

With regard to the methyl alcohol example, I do not know whether bringing it to the customs desk at a port of entry would constitute a crime.

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    To amplify, usually multiple laws will apply. Failure to declare an imported item is one such law, but typically not the only one, and declaring that you are bringing in contraband would generally constitute a confession of guilt with respect to another offense.
    – ohwilleke
    Jun 24, 2019 at 19:54
  • guilty of possessing and transporting a controlled substance — but when I arrive at a US land border, I'm not on US soil yet, so how could they prosecute me for a law that applies only on US soil? If I decide to turn around I never enter US soil in the first place.
    – gerrit
    Jun 24, 2019 at 20:38
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    @gerrit you most certainly are on US soil. You will have been in US territorial jurisidiction from the point your plane reached the 12-mile limit, I believe, and if you are flying on a US carrier you will have been in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States for some time before that. Even if it's a land border, the border post isn't directly on the border but some meters at least inside the US. You haven't been "admitted" under immigration law, but you are subject to US jurisdiction.
    – phoog
    Jun 24, 2019 at 20:43
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    @gerrit that seems to be the way they interpret it. The Canadians follow the same approach. For example, from reality TV you can learn that making a wrong turn near the Canadian border can cause problems if you have drugs or guns in your car, even perfectly legal guns for which you have a license in the state you're coming from. They don't even let you turn around before you reach the checkpoint, no matter that you never had any intention of going to Canada. The US operates similarly.
    – phoog
    Jun 24, 2019 at 21:13
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    @Acccumulation "Do penalties for failing to confess guilt raise fifth amendment issues?" To the extent that they might, customs officers are authorized to search people crossing the border, and failing to submit a customs form would certainly trigger a very thorough search. The fifth amendment might get you out of the fine for failing to declare, but I doubt it. It certainly won't protect you from discovery, in any event, because the fifth amendment does not authorize people to lie, and you therefore can't file a false customs declaration to cover up the commission of a crime.
    – phoog
    Jun 24, 2019 at 22:39

You don't get do-overs at the border

The instant they catch you, they can charge you with absolutely anything that applies. They apply the laws which apply in their country.

It's easy to forget that they have multiple laws for what is basically the same thing. So even if one does not apply, another one will. If they don't get you for smuggling, they can get you for importing, possession or anything else that can stick.

The impact is worse than inside the country

Let's say you are going from Canada to Washington State . Marijuana is legal in both jurisdictions, but it's not legal at the US Federal level, and they're the ones who run immigration/customs. So you're really pretty much at their mercy. At the very, very least, it will definitely be confiscated, even if they do choose to let you through or send you back to Canada.

Since you declared it, they probably wouldn't make smuggling stick. But they could still nick you for a variety of Federal charges, including possession obviously, and importation.

Further, being caught with the contraband will significantly affect your privilege of crossing that national border in the future.

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