International Trade Career Information and Education Requirements

International trade is typically an interdisciplinary field of study leading to a variety of potential careers. Continue reading for an overview of the education and training required, as well as career and salary info for some career options for graduates.

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The international trade profession is a multi-disciplinary field blending regulatory knowledge, processes and soft skills. Professionals usually enjoy working with other cultures and have an assertive nature to get things done.

Essential Information

International trade requires a background in economics, both domestic and foreign, as well as an understanding of the rules and regulations associated with international transactions. Whether dealing with imports or exports, international trade incorporates a number of fields, including agriculture, manufacturing, sales, distribution, transportation, finance, insurance, accounting and law.

According to, the median salary for international trade specialists in 2016 was $85,015. However, salaries vary widely depending on the specific job, the job location, education level and years of experience.

Career Import Agent Customs Agent Freight Forwarder
Education Bachelor's Degree
Master's Degree
Bachelors Degree High School Diploma
Projected Job Growth from 2014-2024 -1-1%* 5-8%* 5-8%*
Median Salary 2015* $62,220 $68,170 $41,870

Source: *O*Net

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Career Options

International trade encompasses a variety of jobs that play an integral role in the import and export of goods and services to and from the United States. Opportunities are available in sales, distribution, customs, and insurance, to mention a few. Featured below is a review of three common professions in the field, namely import agent, customs broker, and freight forwarder.

Import Agent

An import agent (or purchasing agent) typically works for an organization dedicated to the buying and re-selling of international goods. It is the agent's responsibility to study prospective suppliers and current sales trends, find the best deals, and negotiate contracts. Duties include interviewing and evaluating vendors, monitoring the quality of imported products, and maintaining detailed records of inventory and price trends.

Top-level institutions prefer a minimum of a bachelor's degree with coursework in business and accounting. Ideally, a candidate would possess a master's degree.

The number of purchasing agent positions is expected to have job growth from -1% to 1% between 2014 and 2024 (O*Net). O*Net also reported a median salary of $62,220 May 2015 if farm products, retail, and wholesale materials are excluded.

Customs Broker

A customs broker is similar to a 'middleman' in the process of international trade. They manage the requisite legal documentation, arrange and process payments for goods, and facilitate the clearance necessary to pass goods through customs and into the hands of clients.

According to O*Net, the majority of customs brokers possess only a high school diploma, though a bachelor's degree may confer an advantage. The median wage as of May 2015 was reported as $68,170, and job growth from 2014 to 2024 is predicted at 5-8%, which is average (O*Net).

Freight Forwarder

A freight forwarder handles the transport and shipment of international cargo. They work with clients in determining the best shipping options, and ensure proper documentation, packaging, and labeling. They may also assist clients in post-transport services, such as storage.

A high school diploma is a minimum educational requirement for the position. As of May 2015, the median annual salary for freight forwarders was $41,870 (O*Net). Job growth is anticipated at 5-8%, which is average (O*Net).

Education Requirements for a Career in International Trade

Associate's, bachelor's and master's degree programs are offered for those seeking careers in international trade. Often interdisciplinary in nature, these programs typically entail the study of countries, cultures, global issues, economics, mathematics and business. Many of these programs also require students to study abroad and become proficient in a foreign language, especially Spanish, Japanese or Chinese. Additionally, the international trade profession requires strong sales ability, organization and the ability to meet regulatory compliance.

Certification for International Trade Workers

The National Association of Small Business International Trade Educators (NASBITE) provides the opportunity to become a Certified Global Business Professional, also known as a CGBP. This credential demonstrates a professional's knowledge in areas of global marketing and business management, trade finance and supply chain management. Those seeking a CGBP credential must have two years of work experience in international trade or have completed at least two years of college-level coursework and pass a 150 question exam.

The International Import-Export Institute (IIEI) offers certifications in multiple trade specialties including exporting, logistics, marketing, documentation, finance, compliance, law and management. Each certification requires development of several distinct skills and learning about related treaties and relevant organizations.

Although numerous types of certification in international trade are available, rules on international trade vary, depending on the product. Specifically, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury provides a set of requirements for various kinds of licensing, labeling and tax considerations for importing and exporting various kinds of liquor.

International trade typically has less stringent academic requirements relative to salary prospects, and experience is very helpful. Practitioners can earn certifications to give themselves an edge in a specific area but should be careful in their choices as some jobs are expected to decline in number.

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