How to Become a Customs Officer

Jan 06, 2021

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. Other titles under which these positions might be listed include customs agent, customs and border patrol agent, and customs and border protection officer. This work can be dangerous and stressful. Officers may feel rewarded, however, in knowing that they are working to help keep their country safe.

border agent at work

Requirements for Customs Officer

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 $60,757 (average 2019)

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

Qualifications Needed to be a Customs Officer

To become a Customs Officer, an individual must be aged 21 or over and a citizen of the United States. He or she must pass a physical exam and written skill assessment exams followed by a drug screen and authorized background check. These are the essential qualifications in addition to the following steps:

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:

  • formal interview
  • background check
  • medical examination
  • fitness test
  • drug test

Step 3: Complete Required Training

Custom officers are required to fulfill an 89-day training program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia. They receive compensation and benefits while completing this program. The custom officer course 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. Additional time may be added to the training period for language skills required for assignments in Spanish-speaking locations.

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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