Import Control System

Each country maintains an import control system that aims to secure the flow of goods as they enter the country or a customs union. At the international level, these control systems are recommended by the SAFE standards set up by the World Customs Organisation (WCO).

The elements described here will enable you to understand the provisions and issues relating to these controls in a comprehensive manner.


In a context of ever-increasing world trade, states have sought to secure the use and consumption of products imported into their territory by creating systems for controlling imported goods.

The import control system defines the safety and security requirements for an import. Each country or customs territory defines these controls according to the nature of the products and their country of origin, among other things. Some measures may involve restricting or even banning imports from certain countries depending on the products, if governments consider them harmful or dangerous to the environment, health and/or safety of consumers.

These import controls aim to ensure the quality and conformity of imported products, in order to prevent any health or safety risks. But they are also sometimes an opportunity for governments to put in place non-tariff barriers to entry in order to limit imports and protect local production.

Products concerned

All imports of goods are subject to an import declaration or even a pre-import declaration (to be made before the arrival of the goods at the first point of entry into the country or customs union).

In addition, certain categories of products that could potentially present health or safety risks are subject to increased surveillance and therefore to reinforced controls:

  • Food, animal and non-animal products
  • Plants
  • Animal products and live animals
  • Endangered wild animal and plant species
  • Cosmetics
  • Toys
  • Medical equipment
  • Electrical and electronic products
  • Building materials
  • Weapons
  • Gas appliances
  • Car parts
  • Chemical products
  • Pharmaceutical products
  • Textiles
  • Cultural goods

This list is not exhaustive and depends on the regulations in force in each country.

In addition to checks on imported products, checks may also be carried out on packaging, for example, when it is made of wood or according to its origin.


The exporter should check in advance the import controls to which products and packaging will be subject, and ensure that they comply with the requirements of the importing country.

The operator in charge of import clearance (usually a customs broker) is responsible for the various formalities related to import controls. The exporter must nevertheless provide the operator with all necessary documents required to carry out this task.

In particular, the operator is in charge of:

  • Lodging an entry summary declaration before the goods arrive at the first point of entry
  • Making the import declaration
  • Presenting the necessary documents required by the customs authorities: commercial invoice, transport documents, certificates of origin, declaration of customs value, import licences, inspection certificates if applicable.
  • Pay applicable customs duties and taxes

On arrival, the goods are placed in temporary storage under supervision until they are cleared through customs.

Once the formalities have been completed, there are three possibilities:

  • The goods are cleared on the basis of the documents presented, so they can proceed to their final destination
  • The goods are held for further documentary control and the operator responsible for customs clearance may be asked to submit additional documents,
  • Goods are designated for physical inspection: they will be examined on the basis of a representative sample to verify their conformity

Customs control

The applicable regulations and any specific controls carried out on a good are identified in particular thanks to the product's import code in the customs classification of the importing country. It is therefore essential that this number is correctly entered on the import declaration.

Certain controls must be carried out prior to import, on the territory of the exporting country, by approved bodies or authorities. They are the subject of inspection certificates (such as sanitary, veterinary, phytosanitary, etc.) issued by the competent organisations of the exporting country. These certificates must be presented in their original version when the goods are cleared through customs. A translation into the language of the importing country or into English may be recommended or even required (this should be confirmed with the importer or the competent authorities).

The control of the most sensitive goods is generally carried out in three stages:

  • A documentary check: verification of the existence and accuracy of the required documents
  • Verification of the identity of the products: verification of the actual composition of the batch compared to that mentioned in the documents
  • Physical control of products: verification that products are safe and comply with Regulations

In some cases, a period of quarantine may be required to establish the status and compliance with regulatory requirements before certain products are released. This applies in particular to animals and plants.

Checks on the labelling and/or regulatory marking of products may be carried out on import.

In conclusion, in order to avoid blockages or additional inspections, you should therefore ensure that your goods meet the standards in force in the importing country, check the validity of the declaration of conformity (certificate) and the availability of the technical file on the goods, so that you can respond quickly to any request from the inspection services.

To go further

Resources on this site:

Identify the Customs Classification Number of a product in the country of import.
Check the controls that apply when importing a product.
Identify the accompanying documents needed to import a product.

External resources:

The resources of the World Customs Organisation:

Standards framework SAFE
Movement of goods for import under customs control

Customs control systems in major countries:

Import controls in the US
The import system in China
The system of import controls in the European Union
Import rules and controls in India
Import procedures and regulations in Japan
Import controls in the UK
Customs clearance and inspection procedures in South Korea
Import controls in Canada