How to Become a Customs Officer

Find out how to become a customs officer. Research the education and training requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in customs.

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Do I Want to Be 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.

Job Requirements

Customs officers typically earn bachelor's degrees and complete a training program prior to beginning work. The following table outlines the core requirements for customs officers:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree required by federal agencies*
Degree Field No specific degree field is required*
Experience 3 years experience is required for entry-level (GS-5) positions for applicants without bachelor's degrees; applicants with bachelor's degrees require no experience for entry-level positions**
Key Skills Communication skills, good judgment, leadership skills, perceptiveness, multi-tasking skills*
Computer Skills Customs officers may use database user interface and query software, such as Automated Manifest Systems, Law Enforcement Information databases, the National Crime Information Center database and Treasury Enforcement Communications Systems***
Technical Skills Ability to handle firearms and handcuffs, and to use x-ray examination equipment and radiation detectors***
Additional Requirements Physical strength and stamina*; customs officers are required to pass fitness tests**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **U.S. Customs and Border Protection, ***O*Net OnLine.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

With a bachelor's degree, aspiring customs officers can apply for entry-level positions without first gaining experience; typically, a student considering a career as a customs officer completes a degree program as the first step toward his or her career. No specific degree field is required, but students may consider programs in criminal justice. Criminal justice programs offer courses relevant to those interested in careers as customs officers; common courses include criminal law, criminology, criminal investigation, and police administration. These programs typically take four years to complete.

Success Tips:

  • Study a foreign language. Taking the opportunity to study a foreign language while completing an undergraduate program may be an asset for potential customs officers. Customs officers often interact with people from all over the world while working in airports. As such, proficiency in a foreign language could help with communication.
  • 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). While there, you can search through customs-related jobs. To be considered for a position, you need to follow the directions of the application, which includes proving eligibility, choosing a location, and position. 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.

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