Customs Agent
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Customs Agent

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Career Overview

When it comes to national security, many of the threats our country faces come from outside our borders. Terrorists and criminals try to sneak in both themselves and dangerous contraband, such as drugs, weapons, or bombs. To protect us from these people, customs agents are positioned at nearly every entry point into the country to sniff out these security risks before they can do any real damage.Customs agents, sometimes called CBP Officers, are our first line of defense against these incoming threats. They actively work to protect our country against terrorist and criminal activities, from human trafficking to drug or weapon smuggling. As a customs agent, you must be very perceptive and observe any suspicious behavior that could be linked to smuggling or illegal activity. If you think someone might be up to no good, you'll need to investigate further and apprehend the person if necessary.Other than our shared borders with Mexico and Canada, airports and shipping ports are the only points of entry into the country. That's where you'll inspect all incoming luggage, cargo, and shipments, as well as the individuals who brought them. For every incoming passenger, you'll have to ask several questions to determine if they are a threat, such as, "where are you coming from?" or "what is the reason for your visit?" Whether they're tourists or even U.S. citizens, you still need to ask and inspect each person regardless of who they are.If you've ever returned from a trip out of the country, you might have felt that the customs inspection was unnecessary or inconvenient. And it may seem like a waste of time having to screen hundreds of people just for the sake of security. But without customs agents, terrorists might make it into the country and go on to hurt or even kill a lot of people. Chances are that you'd prefer to just screen a few people if it means keeping many others safe. If that's the case for you, then there's something you can do to help.

Salaries and Job Outlook*

2013 Median Annual Pay
Number of Jobs in 2013
Projected Growth Rate
1.2 %

Education and Training

Degrees Required:
Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice or related fields

Considering how important customs agents are to our national security, it makes sense that the requirements are strict and application process is complex. After all, you wouldn't want just anybody to be hired for our country's first line of defense, right? First off, you need to be a U.S. citizen no older than 37 years old. You also need to have physically lived in the U.S. for 3 years before the time you apply, and you'll also need to have a driver's license. Got all that? Good, because then you'll also have to pass a medical exam, drug screening, background check, polygraph test, and two physical fitness tests as well.On top of all of that, you'll also need at least a bachelor's degree to qualify. Even though a degree in any subject will do, it's better to choose criminal justice so you can familiarize yourself with the legal system and law enforcement. It could also give you a slight advantage over an applicant who has an unrelated degree, so there's that to consider as well.If you are selected to be a customs agent, you'll have to start with 15 weeks of paid training at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Academy in Glynco, Georgia. This is where you'll learn all the skills you need for the job, including the use of firearms and complicated inspection techniques.

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Valued Traits & Abilities

Communication Skills
Analytical Skills
Decision-Making Skills
Detail Oriented.

Career Opportunities

There are 2 federal agencies that hire customs agents: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which are both departments of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Though your employment options might seem limited, there are many positions that need to be filled and these agencies hire new agents regularly. There are a few other career opportunities for customs agents, but the requirements vary depending on the department and the position itself. If you decide to pursue one of these roles, be sure to check all the minimum qualifications with its respective agency.

Immigration Enforcement Agent

These agents work for ICE and focus specifically on immigration cases. They are uniformed officers responsible for investigating, identifying, arresting, and deporting illegal aliens.

Border Patrol Agent

Functioning as a part of CBP, border patrol agents protect 1,900 miles of the Mexican border and 5,000 miles of the Canadian border. They monitor activities surrounding each border and prevent dangerous people or substances from entering the country.

Work Environment

Your work schedule is pretty normal, but you'll probably have to work nights and weekends on occasion. You might also have to work a little overtime depending on the circumstances. Customs agents mostly work at airports and shipping ports, but may also work at entry points across the U.S. land borders.The job can be hard or even tedious at times, considering the never-ending line of people trying to enter the country. You'll need a lot of patience since you'll constantly be talking to people and interacting with them throughout the inspection process.

* Source: BLS Data - 2013