Smuggling or Trafficking: Knowing the Difference

Media coverage of smuggling and trafficking often uses these terms incorrectly. They all involve movement of people, but have other important differences. Read on to learn how to tell the difference.

Smuggling or trafficking?


There are three crucial differences: location, consent and exploitation1.

  • Location

Smuggling crosses international borders.

Trafficking can happen across international borders, or within one country. It can involve movement between cities, towns, rural locations, or even from one street to the next.

  • Consent

Smuggling is a service a person asks for. It might be dangerous, but that person chooses to take on the journey.

Trafficking involves either forcing a person to travel, or deceiving a person into taking on a journey under false promises of jobs, payment or safety at the end of that journey

  • Exploitation

Smuggling is limited to one financial transaction in exchange for illegal entry to a country. Once the payment and border crossing is complete, the exchange ends, and the person is free to make other choices.

Trafficking uses threat, force, coercion or deception against a person for the purpose of exploitation. A trafficked person can be exploited at the final destination and/or during the journey.


What can you do?

The first step to stopping trafficking is spotting it. Learn how to Spot the Signs

Seen something suspicious? Report an incident

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, you should always call 999


1 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2017) “Trafficking in Persons and Migrant Smuggling





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