When entering Germany by bus from Switzerland, border checks are occasionally performed.

However, the checks are not always performed by the border police (Bundespolizei, officially responsible for passport/visa checks), but sometimes by customs (Zoll, officially responsible for checking goods), although they rarely ask passengers about goods, instead only checking passports, visas and entry stamps.

To be exact, I've had the following experiences:

At the Weil am Rhein crossing: 4 crossings, 3 checks by customs, 1 check by border police.

At the Rheinfelden-Autobahn crossing: 4 crossings, 1 check by customs, 1 check by border police (followed by an actual customs check by customs)

At the Kreuzlingen-Autobahn crossing: 8 crossings, 2 checks by border police at the Konstanz Döbeleplatz bus station 1 km away

How come passport/visa checks are often performed by customs, rather than the border police? Are they even authorised to check visas/stamps and determine people's legal presence in the Schengen Area?

  • 1
    Both Switzerland and Germany are Schengen countries, so immigration does not need to check. They do not share the same tax rules and area, so customs are the right people to do the checks. While they do check they might as well check visa, for the odd times those checks happen.
    – Willeke
    Dec 10, 2017 at 20:23
  • @Willeke Customs rarely asked a single question about goods, be it to me or other passengers. To be exact, only had it happen once. They simply looked at documents, flipped to the entry stamp or visa page for non-EU citizens, and asked about the trip (destination, purpose and date of return back home). At Rheinfelden, the documents were collected for scanning without a single question being asked
    – Crazydre
    Dec 10, 2017 at 20:36

3 Answers 3


Since the introduction of 'temporary' immigration checkpoints at many of the German land borders to the Schengen countries in September 2015, the Federal Police have not enough capacities to perform all the duties themselves, but have delegated some of their work to other authorities like the regular police force or customs. Immigration checkpoints at the German-Austrian border are e.g. usually operated by the state police.

The police and customs have many overlapping authorities and customs officers have extended authorities in border proximity, less than 30km from the border. There, customs officers are entitled to stop anyone and request identification (ZollVG § 10).


Half a century ago, Germany was right on the Iron Curtain. Now it is in the middle of the EU.

  • There was the Bundesgrenzschutz, the Federal Border Guards, who protected the borders. In wartime they would have come under military command, except for the female officers. They also had the premier German counter-terrror team of the time, the GSG-9.
  • When the Iron Curtain came down, it was transformed into the Bundespolizei. In addition to border protection, it polices the rail system and provides reinforcements to state police forces. The name and the focus changed from border control to manpower-intensive general police tasks.
  • Then there was/is the Bundeszollverwaltung, the Federal Customs Administration, to collect customs at the border and do some other law enforcement tasks regarding taxes and money.
  • They still do customs e.g. in the big seaports, but they are much more visible in their other roles, e.g. enforcing labor laws.

So, slightly different focus (as dunni said in his answer), but mostly a historical relic to have both at the border.


One task of the Zoll is the Grenzaufsicht (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grenzaufsicht). An english translation could probably be "border inspection", contrary to border protection, which is a task of the Bundespolizei. However Grenzaufsicht also includes detection and prevention of illegal movements over the borders, so they are authorised to check documents of people crossing the borders.

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