Similar Titles

Canine Enforcement Officer (K-9 Enforcement Officer), Customs Inspector, Customs Officer, Import Specialist, Inspector, Special Agent, US Customs and Border Protection Officer

Job Description

Travel, tourism, and trade play vital roles in our economy. But when people and cargo arrive from other countries, it’s important to ensure everything coming in is safe and legal. That’s why we have Customs Inspectors, more commonly known today as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officers!

Customs Inspectors (aka CBP Officers) work at airports, seaports, and border checkpoints to screen for items that may not be allowed, such as illegal weapons or drugs. They also make sure imported goods are properly taxed (when a tariff or duty is levied by the government) and check for counterfeit merchandise. 

In some cases, items may be banned due to international trade restrictions. CBP Officers performing inspection work also prevent the unauthorized entry of invasive species that could pose a threat to local ecosystems or that might carry pests or diseases. They serve as gatekeepers safeguarding our economic interests, the environment, and public health! 

Rewarding Aspects of Career
  • Helping to keep out illegal and harmful goods 
  • Ensuring international tariffs are collected, raising revenue for government spending
  • Protecting communities from invasive or disease-carrying species 
2023 Employment
2033 Projected Employment
The Inside Scoop
Job Responsibilities

Working Schedule

  • Customs Inspectors/CBP Officers work full-time jobs. Shifts may include working early mornings, late nights, and on weekends and holidays. They may work at an airport, seaport, or border crossing, sometimes in inspection booths or areas using specialized equipment and/or working with dogs. Some work outside inspecting containers and vehicles. 

Typical Duties

  • Inspect and process incoming shipments for customs clearance  
  • Verify the accuracy of import documentation; ensure compliance with applicable federal and state laws and regulations  
  • Examine cargo for prohibited or restricted items 
  • Inspect the personal baggage of arriving international passengers  
  • Confiscate hazardous items 
  • Accurately classify and estimate the value of imported goods  
  • Collect customs duties and applicable fees 
  • Check passports, ID cards, visas, and/or other travel documents
  • Conduct audits on importers to ensure proper duties are paid 
  • Intercept and detain shipments containing contraband or illegal items 
  • Detain persons in violation of regulations 
  • Conduct interviews and computer database queries; carry out random checks based on risk assessment profiles 
  • Collaborate with law enforcement agencies (such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and attorneys, as needed; testify in court regarding customs-related offenses
  • Review and process applications for import/export permits  
  • Coordinate with shipping agents and carriers on customs procedures  
  • Participate in fraud and smuggling investigations; write reports on findings and activities  
  • Offer guidance to travelers regarding customs regulations and declarations  
  • Manage and coordinate targeted enforcement operations  
  • Operate scanning and detection equipment to identify potential threats  
  • Ensure the protection of sensitive and proprietary information  
  • Review and approve cargo release or recommend further inspection  

Additional Responsibilities

  • Train and mentor new staff, including detection dog handlers
  • Respond to inquiries from the public, businesses, and government agencies  
  • Conduct outreach and education initiatives for the importing community  
  • Stay up-to-date on new technologies, violation trends, international trade agreements, and applicable laws
  • Help develop policies and procedures for inspections  
  • Liaise with foreign customs agencies to facilitate mutual compliance  
  • Offer aid in emergency situations at ports of entry  
  • Handle disputes or appeals 
Skills Needed on the Job

Soft Skills

  • Accuracy 
  • Adventurous
  • Attention to detail
  • Communication skills 
  • Conscientious
  • Customer service 
  • Detail-oriented
  • Efficient
  • Independent 
  • Initiative
  • Logical
  • Methodical 
  • Monitoring
  • Patience
  • Problem-solving
  • Reliable 
  • Sound judgment and decision-making
  • Service mentality

Technical Skills

  • Familiarity with inspection tools and equipment, including Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII) systems, Radiation detection equipment (RDE), metal detectors, and X-ray imaging systems
  • Knowledge of electronic customs clearance systems, customs processing, databases (such as the National Crime Information Center and TECS), and data analysis and risk assessment techniques  
  • Familiarity using Automated Commercial Environment, a “system through which the trade community reports imports and exports and the government determines admissibility”
  • Knowledge of customs regulations and laws, international trade agreements and tariffs, and familiarity with types of contraband and restricted items  
  • Ability to interpret and apply complex documentation requirements  
  • Safe cargo handling and storage procedures, including hazardous material (such as chemical and biological agents) detection and handling
  • Skill handling and training detection animals  
  • Proficiency in a second language 
Different Types of Organizations

Government agencies such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection 
May collaborate with:

  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
  • Department of Homeland Security 
  • Drug Enforcement Administration 
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation 
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement 
  • Airports and seaports
  • International task forces/collaborative units
  • U.S. Coast Guard
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture
Expectations and Sacrifices

CBP Officers must maintain a keen eye for detail and be ready to make quick decisions based on an understanding of regulations, laws, and international agreements. Our nation’s security and trade reputation hinge on their judgment.

The role comes with challenges, as these inspectors often work long hours at busy ports and airports. Night shifts, weekends, and holidays are all part of the job—a job that exposes them to health and security risks, particularly when handling hazardous materials or confronting illicit activities. A career in this field requires dedication, safety consciousness, and plenty of patience! 

Current Trends

Customs officials increasingly rely on technology to bolster security and simplify the whole clearance process. 

Advanced systems that use AI analytics and high-tech scanning can now identify threats and speed up inspections. Meanwhile, automated clearance platforms and digital documentation are replacing paperwork, accelerating transactions, and reducing human errors.

There’s also a strong trend toward better international collaboration, as customs authorities try to forge tighter bonds with overseas counterparts. Joint efforts, recognition of customs protocols, and unified databases help tackle smuggling and other illicit activities. This cooperation strengthens security and streamlines trade, which is good for everyone.

What kinds of things did people in this career enjoy doing when they were younger…

Customs officials tend to be strict rule-followers. In their younger days, they might have enjoyed activities that fostered attention to detail, curiosity, and a sense of justice. This could include hobbies like puzzle-solving, playing strategy games, or simply being involved in extracurricular activities in leadership roles.

Education and Training Needed
  • CBP Officers need at least a high school diploma or equivalent. A college degree is not always necessary, but one might be helpful to qualify for promotions!
  • Some positions may list requirements for either prior work experience, a bachelor’s, or a combination of experience and education
  • For those who do pursue a bachelor’s, common majors may include business, law enforcement, criminal justice, and international relations
  • Some workers may complete a certificate or associate’s in a relevant topic to boost their resumes
  • The requirements to work as a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer include:
  1. Be a U.S. Citizen
  2. Have a valid driver’s license
  3. Have resided in the U.S. for at least three of the last five years (Residency Requirement Exceptions)
  4. Be eligible to carry a firearm
  5. Be referred for selection prior to your 40th birthday (or receive an exception for veteran’s preference eligibility or previous service in a civilian law enforcement position)
  6. Be willing to travel
  7. Pass the application process 
  8. Note, part of the process includes passing the CBP Officer Entrance Examination. There are study guides to assist! 
  9. You must also pass a background investigation, which may include a polygraph (aka “lie detector”) test
  10. Applicants must also pass a medical examination and “be found medically qualified to perform the position’s full range of duties safely and efficiently”
  11. In addition, there is an Officer Physical Fitness Test, which includes 20 Sit-ups in 1 minute; 12 push-ups in 1 minute, and a 110-step 12” step exercise in 5 minutes 
  • CBP Officer applicants may be disqualified if their background includes:
  1. Use of illegal drugs and/or the sale and distribution of illegal drugs
  2. Convictions, including misdemeanor domestic violence charges
  3. International harboring or concealment of undocumented noncitizens
  • In addition, USAJOBS notes the following requirements for some roles: 
  1. Males born after 12/31/1959 must be registered with Selective Service
  2. Primary U.S. residency for at least three of the last five years
Things to look for in an University
  • A college degree is not always needed. When it is, there may only be a requirement to have “a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university,” but not for a specific major. However, common majors include business, law enforcement, criminal justice, and international relations
  • Think about your schedule and flexibility, when deciding whether to enroll in an on-campus, online, or hybrid program!
  • Consider the cost of tuition, discounts, and local scholarship opportunities (in addition to federal aid) 
  • Take a look at graduation rates, job placement statistics, and what alumni are up to!
Things to do in High School and College
  • In high school, stock up on English, speech, communications, and computer classes
  • Participate in extracurricular activities where you can gain experience building teamwork and leadership skills
  • Play a sport or engage in physical fitness activities so you can pass the CBP Officer Physical Fitness Test
  • Pay close attention to the requirements and disqualification factors to be a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer
  1. If you have a potentially disqualifying event in your past, double check the CBP website’s FAQs to learn more or reach out to CBP to discuss your issue
  • Look for internships, part-time jobs, or volunteer projects related to imports, cargo, mail handling, or related activities. Any work experience you can get will be useful later 
  • Request an informational interview with a working Customs Inspector
  • Check out YouTube videos such as “How you can land a job with Customs and Border Protection
  • If you don’t want to go for a full bachelor’s degree, consider taking community college classes related to law enforcement, criminal justice, and international relations
  • You could also knock out some online courses from Udemy, Skillshare, LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, or other sites
  • Draft up a working resume to keep track of your work, volunteer, and academic accomplishments
  • Note, CBP offers Resume Aid to assist
  • Make a list of the names and contact info of people who might serve as job references
Typical Roadmap
Customs Inspector Roadmap
How to Land your 1st job
  • The website for U.S. Customs and Border Protection offers detailed instructions for applying to become a CBP Officer
  • Carefully review the eligibility requirements and make sure you do not have any potentially disqualifying factors
  • Job portals like and USAJOBS also list relevant openings, especially for workers who have prior experience in government jobs (such as prior military members or prior/current General Schedule, or GS, federal workers) 
  • If you’re a military veteran, be sure to take advantage of hiring preference and internship opportunities
  1. Veterans’ Preference
  2. Veterans’ Recruitment Appointment
  3. 30 Percent or More Disabled Veteran
  4. Internships (via SkillBridge)
  5. Check out CBP Veterans Internship Program Success Stories to learn more
  • Take note of important keywords in job postings. Work them into your resume, and use CBP’s Resume Aid for further assistance
  • Check out Customs Inspector resume examples and search online for sample interview questions
  • Consider relocating to where there are more job openings, such as near airports, seaports, and border entry points
  • Ask your college professors, former supervisors, and/or coworkers if they’re willing to serve as personal references. Don’t give out their personal contact information without prior permission
  • Do mock interviews with your school’s career center or with your friends, so you’ll feel prepared and more relaxed during real interviews
  • Dress appropriately for interviews and show your enthusiasm for and knowledge of the field 
How to Climb the Ladder
  • Focus on mastering your primary and ancillary duties, while demonstrating independence, integrity, and leadership on the job
  • Maintain a high degree of physical fitness, and take care of other aspects of your health and wellness by completing: 
  1. Resilience Skills Training
  2. Suicide Prevention
  3. Substance Abuse Prevention
  4. Domestic Violence training 
  5. HealthierCBP
  6. Heat Awareness
  • If you’re a military veteran, consider connecting with the CBP Veteran Support Program
  • Collaborate with other departments to exchange information 
  • Develop proficiency in software programs, databases, and equipment you use
  • Stay familiar with policies and regulations. Ask questions if something is unclear
  • Display a professional image at all times. Treat the people you encounter with courtesy and patience, and uphold civil rights and liberties of the public
  • Be prepared for emergencies. Ensure colleagues are trained on crisis response best practices
  • Let your supervisor know you want to take on additional responsibilities and are willing to undergo additional training, as needed
  • Ask if there are special skills or systems you should learn to benefit the mission
  • Keep track of your accomplishments and contributions!
  • Engage with professional organizations linked to your line of work (see our list of Recommended Tools/Resources > Websites) 
Recommended Tools/Resources


  1. Office of Trade
  1. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
  2. APHIS Trade
  3. Food Safety and Inspection Service 
  4. Agriculture Marketing Service 
  5. Foreign Agriculture Service 
  1. National Marine Fisheries Service/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 
  2. Enforcement and Compliance/International Trade Association
  3. Office of Textiles and Apparel
  1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
  1. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms 
  2. Drug Enforcement Administration
  1. Fish and Wildlife Service 
  1. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau


  • Export/Import Procedures and Documentation, by Donna Bade 
  • Import/Export Kit For Dummies, by John J. Capela 
  • The Basic Guide to US Tariffs, by Reginald Smith 
Plan B

The role of a CBP Officer may include other duties beyond customs inspection. In addition, there are many stringent requirements that must be met to be cleared for this line of work. Lastly, there are only so many geographic locations where you could be assigned! 

If you’re curious about a few related occupations, check out the below list! 

  • Agriculture Inspector
  • Air Marshal
  • Airport Security Screener
  • Customs Broker
  • Freight Auditor
  • Immigration Officer
  • Import/Export Specialist
  • International Trade Specialist
  • Port Authority Officer
  • Quarantine Officer
  • Trade Compliance Officer
  • Transportation Security Officer
  • TSA Agent
  • Wildlife Inspector


Online Courses and Tools