Within the social sciences, we find two contrasting views on smuggling. For scholars working on borderlands, smuggling is a localised activity that happens on a border, is embedded in the borderland, and changes local societies and politics there. For scholars interested in global smuggling networks and in receiving-country markets, in contrast, smuggling is a global activity independent from any particular single locality. In this article, I argue that we only really can understand smuggling if we manage to combine both perspectives. Localising perspectives have unique strengths and are necessary to understanding smuggling systems, yet they also have blind spots that systematically limit our understanding of smuggling’s wider context. I suggest some practical ways of contextualising borderlands perspectives and of opening them up to a larger-scale analysis, and argue that we should combine the strengths of both perspectives through cooperation.