How do two countries that share a border in the EU (which are a part of the Schengen area) maintain their different laws regarding customs regulation and price regulation of various commodities (as they can be freely transported among the borders)? People would easily transport commodities that are banned in one country from another country where they are allowed.

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    Well i am Dutch living near the German border...do most my shopping in Germany because it's much cheaper, and a guy in my street got weapons from Austria that are illegal here...so a short answer would be "Badly"
    – A.bakker
    Apr 27, 2021 at 12:53

3 Answers 3


The same way laws not involving international transportation are maintained. Through police investigations and a justice system that punishes criminals. The underlying idea of the Schengen Agreement is that a huge majority of international travel is entirely legitimate. This is especially true in the Schengen Area, where almost every person legally allowed to be on one side of the border, is also legally allowed to be on the other side (because of the EU's free travel rules, and Schengen's common visa policy).

But while in other areas of life people are assumed innocent until proven guilty, when crossing a border in most of the world people are instead assumed guilty until a border guard is convinced of their innocence after questioning and searches. This is not only an inconvenience for travellers, but also requires a lot of money from tax payers.

Instead, in the Schengen Area cross-border criminal activity is treated the same way as other criminal activity: through random checks, anonymous tips, investigations, and so on.

Yes, this means it's very likely that you'll get away with stuffing your car boot full of alcohol and take twice the legally permitted amount over the border. The problem is, what do you do with it at that point? You can't legitimately sell it, because any tax audit will be a disaster if you have no purchase invoices for the products you sell. You can set up an illegal business selling bottles of wine as if they were illegal narcotics, but scaling this up to something that's worth your while runs the risk of the justice system finding out about it.

So what are you left with? Smuggling things for personal use or for making very small amounts of money. And this definitely happens, a lot. But the Schengen countries have decided that trying to prevent this through border checks is like preventing speeding by covering every square metre of road with speed cameras: the cost is just not worth it. Complete prevention isn't necessary, random checks to discourage the behaviour is entirely sufficient.

  • (+1) The same calculation led to very spotty checks in both directions at the French-Swiss border long before Switzerland joined the Schengen area.
    – Relaxed
    Apr 28, 2021 at 21:33

Actually this is two different questions.

First, how do different prices still exist? Simply because for most people it is not economic to drive 100km to go shopping, although that really depends. I live in Germany right at the Swiss border (they are not in the EU but in the Schengen area as well) and the Swiss guys drive quite a lot to go shopping because including the VAT refund most goods are like half the price.

Second question is how do countries prevent people importing illegal goods? There is a misunderstanding of what the Schengen area actually means. It just means that people can freely travel between countries. It does not mean that there are no checks at all and it does not mean that you are allowed to transport arbitrary amounts of goods across borders.
There are checks, although in my experience they are pretty infrequent and not always right at the border. To be more precise, I have seen more customs checkpoints 20km away from the border at the highway than right at the border. So if you happen to buy something illegal while abroad (like weed or a knife classified as a weapon) or you had been withdrawing a large amount of "tax optimized" money from your Swiss bank account, you might just be stopped and checked on the highway a while after you smuggled it into the country. Obviously, those checks are rarely during daytime and it is probably not preventing anyone from smuggling things for a business.

  • You say Schengen "just means that people can freely travel between countries", but that's not true, that's the EU. EU citizens can travel freely to any EU country, including non-Schengen ones like Ireland. Schengen is much less about fundamental rights, and much more a pragmatic thing: when you allow free travel anyway, why not sync up visa policies as well and abolish border controls? Random checks still happen, but abolishing systematic border checks is the core of the Schengen agreement. Apr 28, 2021 at 17:06
  • It is not EU. There are non-EU countries that joined the Schengen area like Switzerland and Norway
    – Manziel
    Apr 28, 2021 at 17:37
  • The countries with free movement are those of the European Economic Area (EU + Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), plus Switzerland which has a bilateral agreement with the EU. Free movement is an "EU thing", so to speak, but there are indeed separate agreements that allow those other countries to join in. Apr 28, 2021 at 17:47
  • Schengen on the other hand doesn't include Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland and Romania, which do have free movement with the rest of the EEA + Switzerland. Free movement of people is not dependent on being part of the Schengen Area. Apr 28, 2021 at 18:17
  • @FrederikVds "Freely travel" doesn't have to mean the right to free movement of people in the EU sense. Travel without routine passport checks and a common visa policy is also travelling "freely". In any case, OP's point, at least to me, was that Schengen is about abolishing checks for persons, not goods. Schengen does not prohibit routine customs checks.
    – xngtng
    Apr 29, 2021 at 13:36

maintain their different laws regarding customs regulation

Things get a bit complicated for non-EU Schengen members (Switzerland and Norway) but for EU members the idea is that there aren't any customs regulations to think of with a few minor exceptions. All goods can be transported anywhere at any time, with zero taxation at the border. That's the idea behind the European Single Market. Customs checks are conducted at external non-Schengen borders, at which point goods are free to move around the EU.

price regulation of various commodities

The idea is that eventually prices should completely equalize among EU nation states, adjusted for shipping costs and sales tax amounts. If prices are not equal, smart entrepreneurs will arbitrage the discrepancy until this difference is reduced to zero.

People would easily transport commodities that are banned in one country

Yes and they often do so. But the cost of these violations to society is much lower than the cost of imposing stringent checks at the border. Sure, someone might set illegal fireworks on fire or import a gun but its not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

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