According to O*NET Online, the main role of a Customs Agent (aka Customs Inspector) is to investigate and inspect persons, goods, common carriers, and merchandise, arriving in or departing from the United States or between states to detect violations of immigration and customs laws and regulations.
Customs Agents work for the United States Department of Customs and Border Patrol, which is a branch of the DHS (Department of Homeland Security). A custom agent that works for the CBP is responsible for helping keep weapons and terrorists out of the United States. They are also responsible for preventing smuggling and illegal immigration.
There are some customs agents that have an extensive knowledge of immigration laws and specialize in working with immigrants. Other agents are trained in how to handle guns and narcotics and work exclusively in that department. Customs agents work all over the country at land border crossings and in airports. These individuals are the first line of defense against a number of risks to national security.
Education and Training Requirements
In order to become a customs agent a person will need to have at least an associate’s degree and preferably a bachelor’s degree. Most customs agents choose to get their degree in areas such as security management, criminal justice, or psychology. Liberal arts and humanities degrees are also ideal for working with the United States Customs and Border Patrol.
While it is not required, it is ideal for a person to study a foreign language, particularly Spanish, during their years as a student. This can create a great advantage when applying for a job as a customs agent. Law enforcement or similar official training of another variety can also increase a person’s chances of becoming a customs agent. However, this experience does not replace the education requirements.
Becoming a Customs Agent
After graduating from college, a person that wishes to become a customs agent will need to apply for an open position. There are a number of oral tests and written tests that a person must pass in order to be considered for a position with the United States Border Patrol. These tests include language, aptitude, and general reasoning.
Additionally, a person that is interested in working as a customs agent will have to go through a fairly extensive background check. This background check will be conducted before a final interview will take place. A medical examination will be required as well as a physical fitness examination before a person is approved for a position as a customs agent.
After a person goes through the initial interview, takes all of the required tests, passes the medical examination and physical examination, and goes through a final interview, they will then start a one or two year training program. The training program that a person goes through will be specialized to match the job that they have applied for. The training will include classroom hours as well as physical activities. For those specializing in immigration, courses about immigration laws will be completed. Individuals that are training to deal with guns and narcotics will take courses on how to appropriately handle these situations.
Individuals that complete the training program successfully will then be placed in a position as a customs agent in an airport, at a border crossing, or at a dock or seaport.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2013, the median annual salary for a Customs Inspector/Agent was $76,730. The projected job openings for the next 10 years is 27,700.