How to Become a Customs Officer

Watch this video to find out how to become a customs officer. Learn about the education, the training requirements and the experience you will need to advance your career in customs.

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Should I Become A Customs Officer?

Customs officers are federal law enforcement professionals whose focus is on border security. These professionals work for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This work can be dangerous and stressful. Officers may feel rewarded, however, in knowing that they are working to help keep their country safe.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree.
Experience No experience required for entry level positions.
Training An 18 week law enforcement training course required after hiring.
Key Skills Good judgment, leadership skills, perceptiveness, language skills very helpful, ability to handle firearms, physical strength and stamina; customs officers are required to pass fitness tests.
Salary $73,854 (median 2015).

Source: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (www.ice.gov/careers), Payscale.com July 2015

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Typically, a student considering a career as a customs officer completes a degree program as the first step. No specific degree field is required, but students may favor programs in criminal justice. These programs, which take four years to complete, offer courses relevant to a career as a customs officer. With a bachelor's degree, aspiring customs officers can apply for entry-level positions without first gaining experience.

Success Tips:

  • Study a foreign language. Customs officers often interact with people from all over the world. Proficiency in a foreign language helps with that interaction and makes the customs officer more valuable. Take the opportunity to study a foreign language while completing an undergraduate degree. This ability is a great asset for potential customs officers.
  • Enter an internship program. Some schools offer the opportunity to complete fieldwork in an internship program. Students may work in real-world settings and gain experience with state police, private detectives, and federal agencies.

Step 2: Apply for a Position and Meet Pre-Employment Requirements

Those graduates interested in customs careers should log onto the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (www.cbp.gov). There, you can search for customs-related jobs. To be considered for a position, you need to prove eligibility, choose a location, and apply. Pre-employment requirements include a formal interview, background check, medical examination, fitness test, and drug test.

Step 3: Complete Required Training

Custom officers are required to fulfill an 18-week training program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia. They receive compensation and benefits while completing this program. Training focuses on a variety of relevant areas such as firearm handling, anti-terrorism, and detection of contraband. Trainees also receive instruction on effective communication, training in interviewing, and cross-cultural communication.

Step 4: Advance Your Career With Further Education

New customs officers usually enter the federal employment system at the GS-5 level. Advancement will depend on satisfactory job performance and experience but your prospects will be enhanced by further education. Consider getting a master's degree in criminal justice or law enforcement. Additional language skills are also highly valued.

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