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Starfield can be an overwhelming experience for newcomers, and although the story does an admirable job of showing players around, there’s a lot to take in. Contraband isn’t the most complicated mechanic in Starfield, but there’s a lot to it and many systems that affect it.
In this guide, I’ll explain everything you need to know about contraband, including a step-by-step guide to finding your first contraband item and selling it without alerting the authorities. If you see yourself as more of a Han Solo or Malcolm Reynolds than a law-abiding space pilot, you’re in the right place.
Bottom Line Up Front
Smuggling contraband is a risky but fantastic way to amass mountains of credits. Starfield’s systems are fleshed out enough to make this high-risk activity viable at any point in your journey. Once you understand how contraband works, you can choose how much you want to invest in the art. If you’re up for earning some cheeky credits on the side or dedicating most of your time to smuggling contraband, there are options for both.
What Is contraband?
Just so we’re all on the same page, let me first explain what contraband is before we move on. Contraband is identifiable by a unique yellow icon and includes a wide array of naughty things from Xenowarfare Tech to Drugs and Organs. Most contraband is worth a ton of credits and is very desirable even if there’s risk involved in handling it.
Contraband cargo like this will be identified when you enter many star systems and will usually lead to an arrest if you’re caught with it. If you get arrested, you lose your hard-earned loot, and that’s where the risk vs. reward comes into it. Fortunately, there are ways to tip the scales in your favor or avoid detection entirely.
Where Can I Find Contraband?
Contraband can be found all over the galaxy but is typically found in abandoned buildings like research areas and derelict ships. Sometimes, you can discover contraband in built-up places, too, like Neon, which has a problem with drug smuggling.
When you land on planets, you’ll often see other ships land nearby. If the crew is hostile, they’ll likely have contraband. If you can get on board and deal with them, it’s all yours. Members of the Crimson Fleet can take missions from their quest board that tasks you with collecting contraband, although you may make a few enemies along the way.
How to Transport Contraband
You can transport contraband just like anything else, but if you don’t want to get caught, you need to get creative.
Most star systems will scan you for contraband when you enter. You’ll be arrested if you’re caught with naughty cargo on board. I recommend getting apprehended at least once, as this triggers a quest to join the Crimson Fleet. After that, consider modifying your ship to avoid detection in the future.
You can fit two parts to your ship to aid your smuggling endeavors. A Scan Jammer and a Shielded Cargo Hold.
These ship parts aren’t standard issue, but there’s an easy place you can go to buy them.
In the Porimma system, there’s a planet called Porimma III. If you travel there, you can visit the Red Mile, which sells the parts you’re after. When you arrive, head inside and speak to Lars in the room behind the counter. He’ll supply you with everything you need.
If you’re not into shipbuilding, you can even buy spacecraft with a pre-built Shielded Cargo bay. This ugly ship (pictured) isn’t the best, but it has the bay we need for under 90,000 credits. It’s a lot of money, but you’ll quickly make it back.
How Do Contraband Scans Work?
It may sound obvious, but as someone who’s been busted for this one, let me explain something vital. The Shielded Cargo Hold only blocks scans of any items inside it and doesn’t include your inventory. You do have a moment to throw things in your cargo hold if you’re being scanned and realized in time.
If you’re about to get arrested, another fun tip is to throw everything in your inventory on the floor of your ship as if it’s not in your pockets; it won’t get confiscated.
Even with all the fancy ship parts, you can still be caught red-handed, but they significantly lower the chance of detection. You can never 100% guarantee fooling a scan, but what is life without a bit of risk?
Where Can I Sell Contraband?
Finding contraband is only half the battle. Now, you must find someone to sell it to, as many vendors won’t accept it. Trade Authority buildings and Kiosks across the galaxy will buy contraband, provided you can get there without alerting authorities. The Den in the Wolf system is a popular place to sell illicit goods with good reason.
This system is right next to Alpha Centauri, making it a viable option for new players. The exact location of the Wolf system is pictured above. You won’t be scanned when you enter this system either, so you don’t need any special ship modifications. If you can get your contraband on board and get to The Den, you can sell it, no questions asked.
To stop at The Den, travel to it via the Starmap, then get within 500m of the station to dock onto it. When on board, go through the doorway straight ahead to your left, and you’ll be right next to the Trade Authority kiosk, where you can sell your wares.
In Starfield, vendors have a finite amount of credits, and as contraband is so lucrative, you can completely empty their reserves. Keep an eye on this number (pictured), as when it starts to get low, you won’t be able to sell contraband for its full value. Be careful, as although the game does warn when this is about to happen, you can ignore the warning and take whatever the vendor has left. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix for this.
If you sit down on one of the seats nearby, you can wait for as long as you want using the slider that appears. If you wait for 24 hours, the vendor should replenish their credit stock, although sometimes it takes 48 hours instead. The ‘wait bar’ does take a while to complete, but it’s worth it in the long run.
You can do this same trick with any vendor, and if you can’t find a place to sleep, you can always have a nap on your ship.
If you’re nowhere near The Den or a Trade Authority Kiosk, Trader Ships are a decent alternative. The only downside is they move around, and you’ll usually only find them by chance.
The Best Skills for Smuggling Contraband
Starfield has an extensive Skill Tree, which allows you to finely tune your character’s traits to your play style. Some of these are very useful if you’re smuggling contraband regularly, and if you want to lean into this occupation, here’s what I recommend:
The quintessential skill for all you naughty space pirates out there is Deception. You can find this skill on the 2nd row of the Social tree, and at max rank, it lowers the effectiveness of contraband scans by 50%. Needless to say, this is a massive buff if you’re moving illegal cargo around. Deception also has the added benefit of increasing the likelihood that ships will surrender to you. Whether you want to be a smuggler or fall into a life of hardcore crime, this is one of the best skills in the game to invest in.
Commerce is on the top row of the Social tree and pairs nicely with Deception. At max rank, Commerce lets you buy goods for 20% less and sell for 25% more. This skill increases the value of all contraband sold and makes our hard-earned credits go further. Commerce is also an effortless skill to rank up as it only requires buying and selling items.
The Payloads skill is on the 2nd row of the Tech tree and increases the capacity of your cargo holds. At max rank, your cargo holds will be 50% larger. Combined with Commerce and Deception skills, you can transport tons of contraband across the galaxy with relatively low risk, and you’ll get top dollar for it when you sell.
Your First Contraband Heist
If you’re unsure you want to fall into a life of crime (trust me, you do!), there’s a location near Alpha Centauri where you can try some relatively risk-free smuggling. You don’t need to worry about evading scans for this particular location. Head to the Olympus system. It’s just to the right of Alpha Centauri on the star map.
Look for a space station called the Almagest, dock to it, and head inside.
If you’ve not tried combat in zero gravity yet, take a few moments to get used to the movement in here before you head inside. The Almagest is an abandoned Casino and is overrun by Space Pirates. Fortunately, these guys are pushovers, even if you’ve got basic weaponry. Before you explore, I recommend killing every enemy on board so they don’t sneak up on you.
Space Pirates aren’t too dangerous, but they can throw grenades. Without gravity, it’s hard to know where to hide from the blasts, so use caution until all the red ‘hostile’ markers are gone.
Once the coast is clear, you’re looking for a small entrance next to a vault door (pictured above) and a computer terminal in a manager’s room. The latter is optional, but if you interact with the screen inside, you’ll be given a list of numbers to enter into a computer later on for even more credits.
Head into the small opening by the vault door, and you’ll find a contraband chest inside. The contents are worth a small fortune, so grab everything you can. The lack of gravity means you can safely over-encumber yourself, so feel free to steal everything that’s not bolted down. You can enter the code onto the panel in the same area if you get the code from the computer terminal.
With your hard-earned contraband, return to your ship and open the star map. Choose the Wolf system (the one we covered earlier) just above and right of Alpha Centauri and travel there. Don’t worry; even though the map says you travel through Alpha Centauri, you won’t stop there and will avoid the scans.
Travel to The Den, sell your loot at the Trade Authority Kiosk using the vendor trick we went through earlier, and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
The scenario we’ve covered should give a taste of life on the wrong side of the law without the skill or credit investment. If you’re planning on transporting illegal cargo around space in the future, I highly recommend the skills and ship changes outlined above. Now, get out there and smuggle yourself a fortune.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Are stolen items the same as contraband?
Answer: No. The act of stealing may be illegal, but stolen goods are treated differently if you get away with the crime. No matter what you’ve stolen, if it’s not contraband, it won’t trigger scanners when you enter a new system. If you get arrested, the fate of your stolen loot is the same as your contraband, and is lost forever.
Question: Why won’t the vendor buy any more of my contraband?
Answer: Vendors have a finite amount of credits. This amount replenishes daily and is a big reason why the seat trick I outlined above works so well.
Question: Is there a quest board for contraband/smuggling quests?
Answer: Yes, there is, although your companions may disapprove. When you get arrested for the first time, you can start a quest line to join the Crimson Fleet. Once you’ve been recruited by the Fleet, you’ll have access to the quest board that allows you to go on a host of illegal missions, including smuggling.