Customs Duties are taxes on the import of goods. They are one of the oldest forms of taxation. Prior to joining the European Union, Ireland and the UK each had their own separate customs duties which applied on imports into each country. On joining the European Economic Community in 1973, Ireland and the UK abolished their own customs duties.

Custom duties arise when goods are imported into the European Union or when they are released into free circulation from a customs control process. There are no customs duties on good passing between European Union Member States. The European Economic Community and the European Union into which it evolved, is a customs union. It has exclusive competence in relation to customs matters and the related commercial policy.

The EU Customs Regulations also provide the export procedures for goods exported from the EU. The exporter or its agents must make a declaration. There are certain procedures whereby goods may be exported and brought back into the community

1993 Single Market

The advent of the EU Single Market on 1st January, 1993 removed most frontier controls within the European Union.  There are exceptions to the free movement of goods on grounds public health, narrow public policy and security, which are discussed in the sections on European Union legislation.

The EEC customs union applied in full in Ireland after 1978. However, it was only the substantial completion of the single market, dealing largely with regulatory matters, which leading to the effective removal of  customs posts on the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Controls remain  in respect of the non-EU traffic remain.  Controls are not necessarily carried out at the frontier but may be carried out within the territory.

Controls in respect of the cabin and check-in baggage of persons taking flights or sea crossings in the EU were removed in 1993. Where a flight begins outside EU control and passes through two community airports, controls take place at the last airport.  Similarly, when the flight is to a place outside the EU, the controls take at the initial airport of departure. Private or business aircraft are subject to control at the first airport of arrival. Equivalent provisions apply in respect of sea crossings

Customs Legislation

EU regulations are the primary source of law. Customs are an exclusive EU competence. The Customs Code and Tariff are EU Regulations constitute directly applicable legislation in all EU Member States. They provide the detailed substantive law on customs and similar duties throughout the EU Customs area.

Until recently, many important customs provisions were found in the Customs Consolidation Act 1876, a statute of the United Kingdom parliament.  After the establishment of the Irish Free State, the Adaptation of Enactments Act adapted the Act to apply to the importation and exportation of goods to and from the Irish Free State, whether by land or otherwise.  It was  amended by numerous annual Finance Acts.

EU regulations may not provide directly for criminal offences.  The domestic legislation deals with the management and enforcement of the EU legislation in Ireland. It has been recently modernised by the Customs Act 2015. EU regulations may not provide directly for criminal offences.  The pre-existing customs framework as amended and updated remains in force.

Breach of customs law constitutes a criminal offence.  Significant criminal and administrative penalties apply.  Revenue can seize and forfeit offending goods as well as vehicles and other things used in activities in breach of customs law.

Management and Regulations

The duties of customs are under the care and management of the Revenue Commissioner.  The Commissioners are the customs authority for the purpose of the Community Customs Code. Revenue may authorize and delegate powers to  customs officers.

Revenue may make necessary regulations, which must be laid before Dail Eireann for the purpose of giving effect to the Customs Act, the Community Customs Code and to enable them discharge their functions.

Mutual Assistance and Cooperation

EU states are required to provide mutual assistance and co-operation in relation to customs administration. There is a central unit in each customs authority dealing with mutual assistance request matters. The requested authority must extend all assistance in relation to possible customs violations and infringements. They must carry out appropriate enquiries and investigations as requested.

Customs authorities must engage in co-operation for the prevention, investigation and prosecution of infringements including in particular in

  • drug trafficking,
  • trade in certain illicit substances,
  • trade in goods which are designed to evade tax or obtain unauthorised state payments
  • trade in prohibited goods under national rules

Customs officers who observe the commission of an infringement which could give rise to extradition, may continue and pursue the suspect into the territory of another member state without authorisation, where this is urgently necessary, and it is not possible to notify the authorities of the other state. The pursuing officers must contact the competent authorities of the other state Certain procedures apply.

Central Customs Information System

There is a central customs information system. This is a database accessible from each member state. It includes data relating to the commodities, means of transport, businesses, persons, fraud trends and the availability of expertise.  There are limitations in relation to the inclusion of personal data.

National authorities within each state, which are designated for that purpose have exclusive access to the database. The database must be used only for legitimate customs purposes. Each state designates an authority responsible for the data which are subject to data protection rules

Regulation re Other Goods

The Minister for Finance may make regulations specifying that customs control to apply to the importation, exportation of any goods by land.  The regulations must be laid by before Dail Eireann.

The Minister for Finance has power to prohibit the importation and exportation of all goods or good of the class specified, except by routes which may be prescribed.  He may prescribe places where and the form and manner of the entry of goods imported or exported and the payment of duty on them.

The Naples Convention governing mutual assistance between EU customs authority is continued in force.  It was originally given force by the Customs and Excise (Mutual Assistance) Act 2001.

The customs information system is also given force by the 2001 act.  It is being replaced and national law it is made to conform with its provision.

There is provision for ratification by Ireland of the EU Council Convention on centralized custom clearing concerning the allocation of national collection costa, when customs duties are made available to the EU budget.


There are provisions for appeal to the Revenue Commissioners in relation to a customs decision and assessment of duty.  There is provision for an appeal to the Appeal Commissioners against the determination of the Revenue Commission in the initial appeal.

The 2015 Act provides for the conditions and procedures for the making of an appeal to the Revenue Commissioners in relation to customs decisions and assessments of customs duty. It providea for an appeal mechanism in respect of decisions of the Commissioners on certain customs matters. In line with European Union law, (the Union Customs Code and its associated Delegated Regulation and Implementing Regulation) the appeal process has two stages.

First, an appeal is made to the Revenue Commissioners against the decision. If the appellant is not satisfied with the outcome of that appeal, he or she may make a further appeal to the Appeal Commissioners whose determination, shall be final and conclusive unless a case is required to be stated in relation to it in the High Court on a point of law.

Charge of Duty and Tax

Imports may be liable to customs duty depending on their classification and where they come from.   They may also be liable to additional duties such as anti-dumping duties.  Reduced or zero rate of customs duty may apply to some countries, although they may be limited to a quota.   Documentary proof is usually required as to where the imports originate from.

Goods are not normally released by the Revenue Authorities until all charges have been paid.  However, there are arrangements under which payment can be deferred.

VAT is charged on goods imported from outside the European Union.  This is charged at the same rate as if it is supplied domestically.   VAT registered businesses can reclaim VAT as an input tax in the same way as VAT is paid on domestic purchases. Instead of paying VAT to the supplier, VAT is paid to the Revenue.  Goods such as tobacco and alcohol are subject to excise duty.   See our separate note in relation to these products.

Import Declaration

In the case of imports from outside the European Union, it is necessary to make an Import Declaration to customs. Customs duty and import VAT must be paid. Excise duty may also apply. Certain duty suspensions or relief may be available which are mentioned below.  There may also be also restrictions on imports such as quotas and other controls.

Imports from outside the European Union are declared by way of the Single Administrative Document.   This can be submitted electronically through the CHIEF system or manually.  To make the declaration correctly, it is necessary to identify the goods from the Customs Tariffs.

The declaration explains what is happening with the goods e.g. where they are being purchased, brought into free circulation or are being brought in for a temporary period etc.  The commodity code determines the rate and type of customs duty that is charged.  An agent such as a freight forwarder, frequently makes the customs declaration on behalf of the importer.   A freight forwarder can obtain authorisation to make electronic declarations, thereby speeding up the process.

Customs Ports or Airports

The Customs Act gave continuing effect to the Customs Cooperation Convention drawn up under the EU treaty together with certain other EU conventions.

Any place in the State may be appointed as a customs port or customs airport for the arrival and departure of vessels and aircraft into and out of the State.  Appointments may be subject to conditions and restrictions.  In particular, airports are to be designated type 1 and type 2.  The terms of appointment may be varied.

The Revenue Commissioners may approve in conjunction with the Minister for Transport, any place within  customs port or airport for the arrival and departure of vessels and aircraft, for the loading and unloading of goods and stores, for the embarkation and disembarkation of passengers and for the storage of goods awaiting customs clearance.

The privileges, conditions and restrictions applicable may be revoked or amended as required.  The operator of a customs port or airport and the operator of any facility or building within it,  may be required by Revenue to provide the customs authority with the appropriate office, accommodation or other facilities.  The approvals are valid for five years.

Obligations of Master of Vessel

The master of a vessel entering the State must berth the vessel, unload the goods and stores and disembark passengers and crew at an approved place or space within the customs port.  Derogations may be allowed subject to conditions in the case of a force majeure or  with the consent of the Revenue Commissioners.  Contravention is an offence subject on summary conviction to a fine of up to €5,000.

The master of vessel arriving or departing from the State must deliver a report of the vessel to the Revenue Commissioners.  He is required to answer all questions relating to the voyage, the vessel, passengers and goods carried onboard and the crew.  There are certain exemptions.  Failure to comply is an offence with the same sanction as above.

Obligations of Pilot of Aircraft

The pilot in command of an aircraft entering the State must land the aircraft at a customs airport and unload the goods and storages and disembark the passengers at an approved place or space within the customs airport.  He is required to load the goods and stores, embark passengers and crew at and depart from the approved place or space within the customs airport.

A pilot in command of an aircraft arriving in or departing from the State must deliver a report of  the aircraft to Revenue and is required to answer all questions relating to the flight, aircraft, passengers and goods carried on board and the crew.  There are certain exemptions. Contravention is subject to a fine on summary conviction up to €5,000.

The person in charge of the airport must notify the customs of any contravention of conditions or restrictions.  Derogations may be permitted in respect of force majeure and with Revenue consent.

Obligations of Persons

A person entering or leaving the State must

  • declare to an officer of customs anything in his baggage
  • answer all questions in relation to his arrival or departure
  • and unpack and repack the baggage for examination, and
  • remain present for the duration of the examination.

Where a red channel /  green channel is in operation, the person declares by entering into one or other channel that he has or has not goods to declare to customs.  Contravention is subject to the above sanction.

Postal Movements

The Revenue  may approve premises for the receipt and storage of postal packages, which are awaiting customs clearance.  The operator of such premises shall, if required by Revenue, provide and maintain appropriate office accommodation and other faculties for the use of customs staff.  The Postal authority must collect and pay over to Revenue, duty and tax payable on goods imported in postal packages.  The same sanctions as above, apply.

The Customs Acts apply to postal packets in cross-border mail. All postal packets in cross-border mail may be examined and opened and the contents examined by an officer of customs without the requirement to notify the addressee of such examination.

Where, following examination of the contents of a postal packet in cross-border mail, it is found that the description or declared value on or attached to that postal packet is false or misleading, such postal packet may be seized as liable to forfeiture.

here duty or tax is payable on goods contained in a postal packet in cross- border mail, the value of which falls below the threshold for which a declaration for free circulation is required under the Customs Code, such duty or tax shall be collected by the postal authority and paid over by the authority to the Commissioners at such time and in such manner as shall be from time to time determined by the Commissioners.

Where delivery of a postal packet in cross-border mail is not accepted by the addressee and the duty or tax payable on it is not collected, that postal packet shall be returned by the postal authority to the sender. Where no sender can be identified and where the postal packet is subsequently sold or disposed of other than by destruction, by or at the request of, the postal authority, any duty or tax payable on it shall be paid by the postal authority to the Commissioners within 30 days from its disposal.

References and Sources

Text Books

Customs Law of the European Union 4th ed 2012 M Fabio

EC Customs Law (Oxford European Community Law Library) 2nd Edition 2008 Timothy Lyons

Customs Code of the European Union Hardcover (1996) Tom Walsh  Damian McCarthy

European Union Customs Code 2015 Tom Walsh

EU Legislation

The Union Customs Code  Regulation (EU) No 952/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council.

amended by Regulation 2016/2339

The UCC Delegated Act Commission Delegated Regulation No 2015/2446.

The UCC Implementing Act Commission Implementing Regulation No 2015/2447.

The UCC Transitional Delegated Act wCommission Delegated Regulation No 2016/341.

Copyright (Customs) Regulations 1964, S.I. No. 231 of 1964443

Irish Legislation

Customs Act 2015

Customs-Free Airport Act 1947

Customs-free Airport Order 1947 (and numerous amendement)

Transport Customs-Free Airport (Amendment) Act 1958

Free Ports Act 1986

Customs and Excise (Mutual Assistance) Act 2001

ustoms and Excise (Mutual Assistance) Act, 2001

(Commencement) Order 2002, S.I. No. 59 of 20022996

Customs and Excise (Mutual Assistance) Act 2001 (Section 8)

(Protection of Manual Data) Regulations 2004, S.I. No. 254 of 2004

Customs (Electronic Filing of Returns) Order 2014, S.I. No. 474 of 2014

Customs and Excise (Provision of Information relating to Persons, Conveyances and Goods) Regulations 2011, S.I. No.

410 of 2011

European Communities (Customs) Regulations 1972, S.I. No. 334 of 1972

European Communities (Customs) (Amendment) Regulations, S.I. No. 211 of 1980

European Communities (Customs) (No.2) Regulations, S.I. No. 202 of 1982

European Communities (Customs) Regulations, S.I. No. 78 of 1983

European Communities (Customs) Regulations, S.I. No. 365 of 1984

European Communities (Customs) (No.2) Regulations, S.I. No. 366 of 1984

European Communities (Customs) (Revocation of Statutory Instruments) Regulations

European Communities (Customs and Excise) Regulations 1991, S.I. No. 57 of 19913925

European Communities (Customs and Excise) (Amendment) Regulations 1991, S.I. No. 174 of 1991

European Communities (Customs and Excise) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 1991, S.I.No. 368 of 1991


European Communities (Customs and Excise) Regulations 1992, S.I. No. 394 of 1992

European Communities (Customs) (No. 2) Regulations 1992, S.I. No. 431 of 1992

European Communities (Customs) (No. 3) Regulations 1992, S.I. No. 432 of 1992

European Communities (Community Transit) Regulations 1992, S.I. No. 433 of 1992

European Communities (Tir Carnet and Ata Carnet Transit) Regulations 1993, S.I. No. 61 of 1993

European Communities (Customs Appeals) Regulations 1995, S.I. No. 355 of 1995

European Communities (Customs Declarations) Regulations 1996, S.I. No. 114 of 1996

European Communities (Customs Action against Goods suspected of Infringing certain Intellectual Property Rights) (Amendment) Regulations 2013, S.I. No. 309 of 2013

European Union (Customs enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights) Regulations 2013, S.I.No. 562 of 2013