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How do I Become a Customs Agent?

By Ron Marr
Updated Feb 13, 2024
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There was a time, not so many years ago, when the job of customs agent was considered a plum career. While criteria and qualifications for the job vary around the world, obtaining a customs agent position in the United States is no longer a simple matter. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of 11 September, 2001, and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the career of customs agent was integrated into a new organization called the CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection).

In fact, the CBP is now the largest law enforcement agency within the Department of Homeland Security, and encompasses over 53,000 employees. It no longer merely involves interviewing travelers, repairing border fences, or inspecting suitcases for contraband material. It is a job requiring rigorous pre-qualification, training, and testing.

There are four main careers available as a customs agent: Border Patrol Agent, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Officer, CBP Air and Marine, and CBP Agricultural Specialist. Of this quartet, it is the first two that are most available for those who would seek to join this service.

CBP Officers and Border Patrol Agents are trained to prevent terrorists, illegal aliens, many weapons, and a plethora of contraband from entering the United States; they are primarily employed on border areas and ports of entry. They must learn and enforce present trade and travel laws, seize contraband, and at times apprehend suspect individuals. They must analyze cargo and engage in myriad inspections. This is a uniformed position, and both Border Patrol Agents and CBP Officers are armed. The hours can be long and arduous, and conditions can at times be dangerous.

Basic requirements for either of these positions state that the applicant must be a United States citizen and resident, hold a valid driver’s license, and pass an extensive background check. Applicants must also be fluent in Spanish, or willing to learning Spanish in a reasonable time frame.

Furthermore, those wishing a career in this field may be rejected for reasons such as having a criminal record, having been fired at a previous job, excessive debts, and alcohol or drug abuse. Applicants will very likely also have to pass a polygraph test.

While some private colleges offer training to become a customs agent, as a point of fact the only way to obtain the job is via application to the CBP. If accepted for consideration as a potential Border Patrol Agent, the applicant must attend the CBP Border Patrol Academy and complete a nineteen-week course. To actually be hired, one must be under the age of forty, and pass courses in nationality law, immigration law, criminal law, statutory authority, physical training, firearms proficiency, driving, and Spanish.

To qualify as a Customs and Border Patrol Officer, the applicant must complete an interview, background investigation, fitness test, and drug test. An applicant can be rendered unfit under the same criteria utilized in the consideration of a Border Patrol Agent. One must apply for the position before reaching their thirty-seventh birthday, and attend a fifteen-week training school at the CPB Academy at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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