4231096905_6aea8de9b0_oSwitzerland is in the Schengen Area. But it is not part of the EU Customs Union. Therein is the newest excuse I’ve heard for a border control within the Schengen area.

I was a passenger on Railjet 362, departing Feldkirch* (Austria) at 0948 this morning, and scheduled in Buchs (Swiss border station) at 1005, although we were 10 minutes late, and it took the guards some time to go through the train.

An officer of the Corps des gardes-frontière / Grenzwachtkorps comes through the train and asks me for my passport. Not all passengers were asked.

Initially I assumed he was a policeman performing a border control so, as is my normal behaviour, I stated (in Hochdeutsch) that Switzerland was in Schengen, and hence there should not be a border control. No, he said, this is not a border control, but it is a customs control, and this is allowed as Switzerland is not in the EU Customs Union. OK, a customs control, fair enough, so I show the guy my passport, and then awaited questions about my luggage, was I carrying money etc… But no such questions were forthcoming (and I had a huge rucksack with me), the guy thanked me, and off he went.

Only passports / IDs were demanded from the few other passengers in the train that the guy spoke to. No mention whatsoever of anything to do with customs.

This then strikes me as some kind of border control, but dressed up as a customs check when you push the officer for an explanation. Yet another story to add to add to my ever-lengthening list

* – how I ended up in Feldkirch is a story in itself. In short: splitting my Zagreb-Geneva rail trip there meant the whole lot cost less than half the price than if I booked the whole lot in one go.


  1. On our way back from a weekend in Austria, very frustrating experience, we were stopped by a very impolite officer who approached us very harshly and discriminated us making fun of the fact that we don’t speck German yet (but only English and Italian).

  2. Crazydre

    Switzerland frequently performs internal border checks, especially for long-distance buses, in which case everyone’s passports/visas are verified. Especially common at the crossings in Chiasso and Kreuzlingen.

    On suburban trains, it is much rarer for border guards to enter, and when they do, they usually just walk along the train before getting off again. If they do perform a check, it’s usually a pure customs check. Same goes for local buses and trams in the vicinity of Basel

  3. öjkafajskjfksaj

    I am frequently travelling between Sweden and Åland (usually taking the Kapellskär-Mariehamn ferry), and there customs checks are the norm. Åland is part of Schengen and the customs union but is outside the common VAT area. These customs checks are true customs checks and not passport checks in disguise. When I arrive in Mariehamn, a customs official stands outside the customs office and checks if anyone is likely to be carrying something which has to be declared. You can still walk through the corridor normally, so this doesn’t delay your travel in any way. When the ferry arrives to Kapellskär, there is again a customs control, although the customs official often tends to be replaced by a piece of paper telling that you should make a phone call to the Swedish customs authority if you have something to declare.

    I have also tried going to Norway by train. Norway is outside both the common VAT area and the customs union, so a customs control is needed there too. Usually, the customs control is conducted by driving past a customs station at full speed without any customs official being anywhere near the train. Since there is no way to walk through the red line, I’m not sure what to do if you happen to be carrying something which needs to be declared.

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