Here’s what tracking will say if a package has been seized:
If the package is on USPS, then there will be a tracking message that says the package has been seized by law enforcement.
With other carriers, it is more likely that you will receive a message requesting that you contact the carrier.
In that conversation, they will explain the situation in more detail.
So if you want to learn all about why seized packages happen, then this article is for you.
Let’s dive deeper into it!
What Is a Seized Package?
“Seizure” is a specific term when it comes to international shipping.
A seized package is not lost or stolen.
It is not marked as damaged (although the contents can be damaged by the seizure process).
No, the specific meaning of this term is that law enforcement has taken custody of the package.
This can happen for a lot of reasons and end in a lot of different ways.
One of the most common reasons for seizure is that a package isn’t cleared to get through customs.
Whether the contents are banned or improperly labeled, there are a lot of ways a package will be seized at customs.
But, seizure can happen outside of customs too.
I’ll get into the specifics in a bit, but the idea is that law enforcement has the power to take packages.
If they do, you obviously won’t receive your items on time, and in plenty of cases, you won’t receive them ever.
So, when that happens, what is going on?
How do you even know?
Why Are Packages Seized? (5 Scenarios)
Let’s start by fleshing out package seizure.
Why would law enforcement want to take your box?
What’s the problem?
I’ll go over the specific scenarios below, but there are really three possibilities.
The first is that regulations require them to seize the package.
The second is that the package contents are linked to criminal activity or some kind of investigation.
The third is that the contents of the package are deemed to be suspicious or harmful.
#1 Improper Labeling
This is more likely to happen at customs than anywhere else, but the idea is pretty easy to follow.
Packages require specific labeling so that they can be handled safely and appropriately at all stages of the journey.
If something is labeled incorrectly, it might get seized.
One clear example is agricultural products.
The movement of agriculture across borders is heavily regulated.
Countries are careful to prevent invasive species, disease vectors, and other problems from crossing a border via agriculture.
So, if you order raw food products, and they aren’t properly labeled, your food might get seized.
This one is also pretty easy to understand.
There are specific items and materials that you are not allowed to ship in a country.
This doesn’t just apply to customs, either.
A perfect example is marijuana.
Possession and recreational use of marijuana is legal in many states in the U.S., but it is still federally illegal.
Because of that, you can’t ship it from one state to another.
If the contents of a box are prohibited from shipping, then they are likely to get seized (assuming they are noticed).
#3 Trade Restrictions
In the case of trade restrictions, the contents of the package are not necessarily important.
Instead, it’s the country of origin and the destination that really matter.
We can use the U.S. as another easy example.
Cigars are legal in the United States, and you can legally ship them.
But, Cuban cigars are illegal, and you are not allowed to ship them within the borders of the U.S.
This is because of a trade embargo imposed on Cuba by the U.S.
If you order a box of Cubans in the U.S., it definitely can be seized, and it’s not because of the cigars.
The problem is that the contents came from Cuba.
#4 Criminal Use
In yet another case, your package can be seized even though there is nothing illegal or harmful in the box.
In this case, authorities can seize package contents because they believe the contents are pertinent to an investigation or prosecution.
As a simple example, if you and a friend are both under investigation, then the authorities can seize just about anything you ship to each other, as long as they can justify the suspicion.
Even a pair of shoes could be seized in this manner.
The tricky thing about suspicion is that the authorities really have all of the say here.
Even if you aren’t under investigation, they could conceivably find a reason to seize your package.
In a broader context, suspicion can be used to seize any package at any time.
There is a trick to it, though.
The authorities have to have reason to believe that the package contains something harmful.
If that is the case, then they don’t even have to tie the package to an investigation or legal case.
Instead, they can say that there was reason to believe that danger existed, and your package gets seized.
In theory, such a package would be released back to you once it is cleared of danger.
In practice, some methods of testing for dangerous substances can damage your package or even lead to an indefinite seizure.
Testing for dangerous chemical compounds is a good example.
Some tests damage the thing under suspicion, and other tests can even render the contents contaminated (ironic, right?).
How Will You Know If Your Package Is Seized? (4 Carriers)
Package seizure can get pretty complicated depending on the circumstances.
It might be a simple problem of mislabeled imports.
In that case, the items might not ever reach you, but you shouldn’t be in any kind of legal trouble.
With other types of seizure, you might be criminally culpable, and that’s a lot more complicated.
The thing to understand is that not all packages that are seized represent criminal activity.
It’s all over the place, and the most common case is that someone unwittingly shipped items that aren’t allowed in a different country for any of the reasons above.
But, because there are a lot of possibilities, the way you find out a package was seized won’t always be the same.
I’ll break it down by major carriers, but even then, the reason for seizure will matter a lot.
Interestingly enough, the USPS is one of the best shipping entities when it comes to protecting your package from seizure and notifying you when it happens.
This is because the USPS is a government entity, and it is subject to the many restrictions in place in the United States.
So, a USPS package can be seized, but it’s actually harder to do than with a private carrier.
If your package is seized, then USPS will automatically update the shipping status to “seized by law enforcement.”
You’ll know when you track your package.
This doesn’t mean that the story is over.
Depending on the nature of the seizure, you might have a long legal battle ahead of you.
Or, you might simply never see your package again.
There are a lot of possibilities, but I’m only covering the scope of knowing your package has been seized today.
As a private carrier, FedEx is not nearly as heavily regulated or restricted as USPS.
The irony is it means that authorities can enter a FedEx facility and seize packages as they see fit.
Now, this process is still subject to rules involving warrants or reasonable suspicion, but FedEx is not legally obligated to protect your property in the same way that the USPS is.
Because of that, things work differently.
If your package is seized, FedEx does not have a blanket statement that they will issue to you.
Instead, their communication with you will depend on the authorities.
Law enforcement will instruct FedEx as to what they can say and how they can say it.
FedEx will follow those instructions.
Essentially, how you find out about the seizure is very case by case.
This process will resemble the FedEx experience.
Law Enforcement has a lot of say in how it all goes, and UPS is going to follow instructions.
In many cases, you will not be explicitly told that your package has been seized for some time.
Instead, you’ll see that it’s stuck at some point in the shipping process with no updates.
Here’s the trick.
If the package was lost or stolen, UPS would probably tell you.
That’s the normal procedure.
The lack of information is what suggests the package has been seized.
Depending on where the package is seized, you might be entitled to a letter of seizure, but that varies by country.
Long silences are your indicator that the package might be in the hands of the authorities.
DHL is subject to the same rules as UPS and FedEx, but DHL internal policy is a little different.
DHL won’t automatically update your tracking information to tell you that the package has been seized.
Instead, they are going to send you a message to contact them.
When you do contact them, that is when they can explain that the package has been seized.
Once again, this is subject to the actions of law enforcement.
If you are under investigation, law enforcement might delay notification to you that the package has been seized.
If you aren’t under investigation, then DHL is usually free to tell you what happened and help you find a path to resolution.