Become a Customs Agent: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a customs agent. Research the requirements, qualifications and examinations you will need to start a career in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency. View article »

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Customs Agent?

Customs agents are presented with the challenge of ensuring that dangerous individuals or criminals are not able to come into the United States. The job can vary significantly in nature, depending on whether or not there is a valid security threat. Customs agents must be able to stay calm under pressure and have a demeanor that is both personable and firm. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a median annual salary of $60,270 for detectives and criminal investigators, including customs agents, in May 2015.

Career Requirements

Education Level Vocational training or associate degree
Training 15-week training program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center
Key Skills Patience; attention to detail; calm demeanor in high stress situations; firearms, languages (depending on the location), and communication skills
Salary $60,270 (2015 median wage for all detectives and criminal investigators, including customs agents)

Source: O*NET Online, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

To become a customs agent you need vocational training or associate's degree and to complete a 15-week training program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. You'll also need patience, attention to detail, and a calm demeanor in high stress situations, along with firearm knowledge, knowledge of foreign languages (depending on the location), and communication skills.

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Steps to Become a Customs Agent

Let's go over the steps you'll need to take to become a customs agent.

Step 1: Assess Your People Skills

Customs agents spend a great deal of time interfacing with travelers and must be personable and patient. They must have keen observation skills and the ability to work with various law enforcement agencies to prevent terrorism and smuggling.

Step 2: Meet Basic Requirements

Customs agents must meet a myriad of requirements in order to be employed. According to a 2012 job posting on USAjobs.gov, only existing CBP employees are eligible for the job of customs agent. Applicants must be U.S. citizens who have resided in the U.S. for at least three years, possess a valid driver's license and be under 40 years of age. They must pass a medical, drug and fitness test. Applicants are additionally required to undergo a background investigation and complete a polygraph test.

Step 3: Interview and Test for Your Position

CBP requires all customs agents to pass the Video Based Test (VBT) and an interview. The VBT is a half-hour examination that requires individuals to watch taped scenarios and record their responses. Situations involve agitated travelers and examples of people and items passing through customs. The interview portion includes questions about a candidate's experience in handling real-life situations that demonstrate the desired job skills. Interviewees are judged on their responses, compensation and presentation abilities.

Step 4: Complete Training

According to information posted on CPB.gov, customs agents are required to undergo training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, located in Glynco, Georgia. This paid training includes classroom instruction and hands-on training. During the 15-week program, agents learn firearms skills, inspection techniques and more. Additional training may be required for customs agents selected for posts in Spanish-speaking regions. These agents must pass a Spanish language test or undergo six weeks of additional training in Spanish language proficiency.

Step 5: Receive Your Assignment

After all of the training is complete, customs agents can begin working at one of more than 300 locations. Assignments are based on security needs and agents may be required to relocate.

Step 6: Accumulate Experience in Order to Advance

Customs agents, as federal employees, are part of a General Schedule pay system, which rewards employees with increases in responsibility and pay at regular intervals, usually annually, depending on job performance and longevity. Employees have the chance to progress through different steps, each one representing about a 3% increase in salary. Over time, with consistency and quality, customs agents are able to advance their careers to the next level.

To become a customs agent, you'll need to meet the basic requirements for the job and undergo various testing before finally being trained at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

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