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Customs Inspector: Job Description and Education Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a customs inspector. Get a quick overview of the field as well as details about education and job duties to find out if this is the career for you.

A customs inspector oversees and enforces rules for the transport of goods and people across nation's borders. They generally work for a subset of the Department of Homeland Security.

Essential Information

A customs inspector enforces laws governing imports and exports, as well as appraising and inspecting individuals crossing U.S. borders. Typical requirements for the profession include U.S. citizenship, fitness and drug testing, background investigation, completion of a training course and competency testing. Academic qualifications may vary from a high school diploma to a bachelor's degree, depending on the agency or department.

Required Education High school diploma or equivalent, bachelor's degree may be required; 15-week training course at the Customs Border Protection Academy
Additional Requirements U.S. citizenship, proof of residency, satisfy age requirements, background check for security clearance, fitness, drug and medical testing, successful passage of a comprehensive test
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* -1% for detectives and criminal investigators
Average Annual Salary (2015)* $79,620 for detectives and criminal investigators

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description for a Customs Inspector

A customs inspector works under the Department of Homeland Security ensuring domestic security against terrorism, inspecting travelers and commercial transport, enforcing trade regulations and working with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Customs inspectors require sound judgment and critical decision-making skills for interviewing, inspecting and identifying potential threats, illegal substances and prohibited foreigners. Some customs inspectors may be trained as dog handlers or be proficient in a foreign language.

Customs inspectors may be required to carry and qualify for the use of a firearm. Events and investigations may necessitate interaction with other agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration or local law enforcement. Additionally, import inspections may require communication with freight and logistics companies, verifying documentation and visually inspecting cargo. Specialization in a particular product or material may be required to recognize hazardous or unlawful concerns.

Educational Requirements for a Customs Inspector

Academic Requirements

Typically, customs inspectors must at least possess a high school diploma or a GED with relevant work experience, though a bachelor's degree in an applicable field may be required. In addition, a 15-week training course at the Customs Border Protection Academy combines classroom and practical education required to become a customs inspector. Participants study interviewing techniques, search and seizure procedures, threat assessment and legal regulations.

For employment consideration, candidates must pass a comprehensive test which assesses an applicant's decision-making and communication skills. Work experience and professional accomplishments may be submitted, as well as a regional placement preference. During registration for the exam, a study guide is available for testing preparation.

Pre-employment Requirements

Applicants must be U.S. citizens, show proof of residency and are subjected to age regulations. An intensive background check is required for security clearance. Fitness, drug and medical examinations are also mandatory for employment as a customs inspector.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an average annual salary of $79,620 for detectives and criminal investigators. All police and detectives, including U.S. border control agents, could expect slower-than-average job growth of 4% from 2014-2024, according to the BLS. Criminal investigators and detectives, which include customs inspectors, will suffer a minor job decline of 1% during this same period.

Imports, exports, tariffs, and immigrations/emigrations are inspected by an officer in customs. These officers undergo thorough examinations and a background check. Since the job market is competitive, relevant work experience and/or professional training are crucial.


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