The Gibraltar custom is located in the city of Gibraltar, a small península in the south of Spain, inside the province of Cadiz. This custom is very important for its strategic position and for the control of the Mediterranean Sea. It is formed by a natural fortress, known as the Rock, attached to the rest of the Iberian Peninsula by an isthmus. During the 19th century, this territory was occupied by the British, which eventually opened the border and the Gibraltar custom with Spain in 1909.

Since then, Gibraltar is part of the United Kingdom, although it is located within the Spanish territory. However, it is not an integral part of the United Kingdom, but a territory under British sovereignty, and the United Kingdom assumes its foreign relations. Therefore, according to Article 355.3 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, the Treaties and laws of the European Union are applicable.

The Gibraltar custom

The main question is, if Gibraltar belongs to the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom is part of the European Union, in which there are no border barriers, then why is there a border here?

In the municipality of La Linea de la Concepción (the Spanish town located on the border of Gibraltar), there is one of the busiest customs that exists in Spain: the custom of Gibraltar. According to the customs administration, Gibraltar is not part of the customs territory of the community, so this affects the imports in this territory.

Gibraltar, Tax heaven

Gibraltar can export any merchandise as long as the laws imposed by the EU are applied as in the rest of Europe. Exports are exempt from VAT, so this tax should not appear on the sales invoice and the buyer will not be obliged to pay this tax upon receipt of the merchandise.

However, this is different for the imports. Many Spanish companies have found in Gibraltar a place with various finance and business opportunities, since it is a territory denominated tax haven, which means, it is tax free.

Due to this, the law establishes rules and restrictions when importing a series of products to Spain, because  Gibraltar is a tax haven, many products such as tobacco or alcohol are sold at a significantly reduced price. In Gibraltar, a conventional carton of tobacco can cost half of the price than in Spain, and the same with alcohol. This has caused many people to start illegal businesses and take advantage of the situation. This has led to trafficking and smuggling which is now on high vigilance alert by local police-force .

Limits to imports into Spain

To prevent smuggling, the United Kingdom government, in agreement with the Spanish government, establishes limits related to the exit of tobacco and alcohol across the border. These limits are established per person and are: 200 cigarettes (or what is the same, a conventional cardboard) occasionally, that is, for people who do not live in the vicinity of the territory (up to 15 km away), and one liter of alcohol. The situation changes for residents and workers in Gibraltar and nearby municipalities (up to 15 km away), which can only bring 80 cigarettes (ie 4 conventional packs) per person.

Special safety controls to prevent smuggling

For this reason, there are several controls to get out and to enter in Gibraltar. In particular, there are two controls: the Spanish one and the British one. The first is the Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil Española), followed by the National Spanish Police (Policía Nacional). Once you passed these two controls, there is the Gibraltar Police (Gibraltar Defense Police).

The Guardia Civil carry out random inspections to vehicles and pedestrians at the entrance and exit of this custom. This registration is made with a mobile scanner to check if the person carries more products than those that are set in the limits. These controls collapse the borders. Controls focus mainly on tobacco and alcohol, the main objects of contraband.

However, the authorities only consider smuggling when the tobacco or alcohol is hidden. If it is hidden, just a single pack can be considered infringement. It is considered a crime if the total amount of product passed through customs exceeds € 15,000, but below that, only an administrative penalty applies.

Maritime export

On the other hand, the access to Gibraltar can also be done by boat. The Gibraltar custom in the sea is controlled by  customs surveillance patrols for all types of boats. The process of exporting to Gibraltar is not the same as to the UK. The legal status of Gibraltar makes the process more complex than to the rest of the European countries.

Among other requirements, it is usually necessary to demonstrate the appropriate documentation between Spain and Gibraltar, a document that allows the customs transit, called DUA (Single Customs Document), issued by the Tax Agency through the customs office. This document gives information about the product, serves as the basis for the tax return and must accompany the merchandise to comply with customs formalities. Similarly on the British side, these processes are carried out by the Marine Section of the Royal Gibraltar Police.