The department works with the powers vested under the Customs Ordinance (chapter 235). In addition to this it enacts several other related enactments. The major functions of the department includes the collection of government revenue as customs duty and other levies on behalf of several other government authorities, safe guarding the country at the entry point. It has limited policing powers, such as arresting suspects and confiscating contraband.
Formally known as HM Ceylon Customs from 1947 to 1972, the department can trace its roots to 1806. However the history of collection of customs duties in Sri Lanka dates far back as 2nd century BC.