I recently traveled with FlixBus through France. Both coming from the Netherlands and from Spain, the bus was stopped and checked by customs. Coming from the Netherlands, baggage was checked (I suspect for drugs) and on the way from Spain only ID cards, visas, etc. were checked.

I'm confused why this is. I figured that because no checks are carried out at the borders between Schengen Member States this wouldn't happen.

Why are these checks done?

  • 1
    Those checks are not carried at the border per se. No checks at the border doesn't mean there are no customs, nor that they don't check stuff. (I was once checked by customs in the area of Limoges, which is not exactly near any border)
    – njzk2
    Jul 31, 2022 at 10:10
  • 2
    @njzk2 Clearly, checks like those mentioned by Nathan are, in fact, related to the fact the bus crossed the border and actually quite frequent. The French customs administration has other missions and can perform some checks on the whole territory but checking ID and visas would be illegal in other contexts (the police can do it under separate procedures).
    – Relaxed
    Jul 31, 2022 at 14:31
  • 2
    @phoog You would think so but there are still a few things they could catch like goods that are simply illegal or things that have been smuggled from outside the EU (e.g. cigarettes). The border is just a convenient place to intercept them, I guess. I have also been asked about the amount of cash I am carrying as requiring a declaration for large amounts of cash is legal under EU law.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 31, 2022 at 22:34
  • 3
    In any case, French law explicitly gives customs agents additional powers along the borders, even internal EU/Schengen borders. I am not quite sure how much resources are allocated to this but they can legally do many things that in other countries would be handled by other law enforcement agencies including checking a person's immigration status. Customs agents can only do that along the border and in airports and train stations, not everywhere in the country.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 31, 2022 at 22:39
  • 4
    Flixbus is checked more than Thalys because poor people travel on Flixbus.
    – gerrit
    Aug 1, 2022 at 7:58

4 Answers 4


Why are these checks done?

Looking for illegal goods, criminals, people without the proper visa/paperwork.


Ces interventions, qui sont menées partout en Europe, sont destinées à repérer des ressortissants étrangers sans titre de séjour ou à lutter contre le trafic de stupéfiants, de marchandises volées ou de reproductions.


These interventions, which are carried out everywhere in Europe, are intended to identify foreign nationals without residence permits or to fight against the trafficking of narcotics, stolen goods or reproductions


They might be looking for drugs indeed, also people who are either staying illegally (overstayed their visa, entered with someone else's passport and have no visa or permit, living and working in a country with a permit from another country), or asylum seekers who applied to have their status recognized in one country but would rather live in another one.

I could write a lot about the legalities and politics of it but that would be a bit off topic here. As a practical matter, that's the reality of the Schengen area since circa 2015: common visa area, no visible border facilities and open road traffic, minimal formalities for air traffic, ostensibly random checks targetting cheap public transportation and the poor generally, almost systematic checks on some borders (e.g. between France and Italy).

If my experience is anything to go by, all those checks have become more (and not less) frequent over the years. Whether they are legally permitted or whether France is stretching the rules is a matter of interpretation but it's a fact that the original implementation of the Schengen area did make for even more open borders.

  • "between France and Italy": I've gone through the Mont Blanc tunnel in December and a couple of days ago, and I've seen very little evidence of this. (But, in the earlier days of Schengen I experienced several very regular-looking checks on international trains; typically officers asked to see IDs only of darker-skinned people, but the first time, traveling from the Netherlands into Germany, I was in a compartment with a dreadlocked and heavily pierced Polish woman whose bag was emptied by the German officer before he asked whether she had drugs, to which she of course replied "no.")
    – phoog
    Jul 31, 2022 at 15:31
  • @phoog Also didn't see any checks on the Petit Saint-Bernard last summer but every single time crossing by train and read multiple reports about this (mostly further south, especially in the Alpes Maritimes). I also remember a very funny TV broadcast in 2015 or 2016 where the local police commander explained that they are increasing the checks and the préfet thought it was important to add "non-systematic, non-systematic".
    – Relaxed
    Jul 31, 2022 at 22:23

Apart from random checks which can happen anytime, there are also temporary border controls throughout the Schengen area. The list of temporary border controls is on the official website and the list of notification includes France. It says the following:

France (1 May 2022 – 31 October 2022) Continuous terrorist threat, secondary movements; all internal borders

So currently they are having checks with increased frequencies from normal times.

You can check the notifications regarding that here:


  • 13
    France had these "temporary" controls for 7 years now. Nothing more permanent than a temporary government program :-)
    – JonathanReez
    Jul 30, 2022 at 21:52
  • 1
    (+1) I actually thought that France stopped bothering with notifying these at this point.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 31, 2022 at 10:40
  • 1
    Just as Jonathon says. Here we are in 1984 in 2022.
    – Fattie
    Aug 1, 2022 at 0:25

First, the Schengen Area only has an influence on immigration-related checks (passports, visas…). Anything related to goods is for customs, not immigration.

Next, even though in the EU systematic checks at the internal borders have been abolished, customs actually have extended powers at any international facilities (train stations etc.) and within 100 km of borders, where they can operate random checks as they please.

I do see regularly random customs checks in my local train station in Reims, which isn’t on any international route whatsoever, but is about 80 km from the border.

Of course they will more often target routes where they are more likely to find smuggling (of drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, cash, fakes…)

  • French law grants police and customs extensive powers but that's largely irrelevant. Either it's already allowed and would still be even if France was not making use it or it's simply against EU law but it cannot possibly (re)define what's allowed or not under EU law.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 31, 2022 at 10:30
  • 1
    Incidentally, where does this 100 km limit come from? As far as I know, both for customs (“rayon des douanes”) and police / ID checks, the relevant limit is 20 km. Checks are only allowed in the train station (but not elsewhere in Reims) because it's on an international train line and explicitely listed in legifrance.gouv.fr/loda/id/JORFTEXT000025577590 (not sure if any train from Germany or Luxembourg actually stops there anymore but that would be the only legal basis for a border check). Otherwise, it's a run-of-the-mill police check unrelated to the border.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 31, 2022 at 10:35
  • @Relaxed I have to admit I don’t know the details. I remember that when customs checks at the border were removed quite a while ago customs got an extended area for checks. My memory tells me it was 100 km from the border but I may be mistaken. The Reims central station is not listed in that Arrêté, only the TGV station outside the city (a different station) and the bus station (also a different place) are listed. There are no international trains going through Reims other than the occasional private hire Orient-Express to Venice, so there must be another reason for customs to operate there.
    – jcaron
    Jul 31, 2022 at 16:00
  • 1
    "My memory tells me it was 100 km from the border but I may be mistaken": perhaps conflated with the US 100-mile zone currently under discussion in another question? Also there are international trains at Champagne-Ardenne TGV -- does that count?
    – phoog
    Jul 31, 2022 at 16:10
  • @phoog whatever memory I have is really specific to French customs at the time border posts were removed, but either it changed or I’m mistaken, the current limit is at 20 km extensible to 60. I’ve seen customs agents waiting in the underground passage at Reims central station 2 or 3 times (last time it made the news because they caught something big). No idea if they operate at Champagne-Ardenne (which even though it’s on the high-speed line, I’m not sure actually has any international trains stopping there). Weird but I’m too lazy to try to find the justification for all this at this time.
    – jcaron
    Jul 31, 2022 at 20:42

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .