How to Become a Customs Agent

A customs agent is a federal law enforcement officer that protects and secures U.S. borders. A customs agent job description includes the prevention of terrorists, illegal immigrants, drugs, weapons, and anything else posing a potential threat from entering into this country. This can involve patrolling our physical borders and monitoring travelers and cargo coming through international airports and shipping ports; apprehending, processing, detaining, and deporting violators; and seizing drugs and weapons. These professionals need to be perceptive and have strong communication and judgment skills. Customs agent employment opportunities can be found with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), or U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Please note, you must meet the minimum requirements before being considered for a position with these agencies.

Minimum Qualifications

The minimum requirements to become a customs agent include: being a U.S. citizen and a U.S. resident for at least three years, being younger than 40 years old, and having a valid driver’s license. You must also pass a medical exam, drug screening, background investigation, polygraph test, and physical fitness tests. In addition, you will need to meet the educational requirements and undergo training.

Education & Training

The educational requirements will vary for each position. For example, the CBP provides a customs and border protection officer application checklist showing that applicants need at least a bachelor’s degree. To become a customs and immigration criminal investigator with ICE, you will need to complete at least one full year of graduate-level coursework beyond a bachelor’s degree. In most cases, a degree in any field of study is acceptable, though completing a criminal justice degree program will familiarize you with the legal system and other areas that will benefit you in this line of work. Your criminal justice degree may even improve your chances of being hired over someone with an unrelated degree. Every position will require you to complete a training program or academy to ensure physical fitness and competency.

Career Statistics

Being hired as a customs agent requires more than simply submitting an application. You must undergo an extensive background check, medical testing, drug screenings, multiple interviews, physical fitness testing, and fill out several forms. This in-depth application process can last anywhere from three months to more than a year. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management provides a rate table for customs and border protection agents. This table shows two pay grades that depend on your qualifications and responsibilities: 12 and 13. There are also 10 steps, which indicate pay increases throughout your career based on performance and length of service. The starting salary for a level 12 pay grade is $71,726, and the starting salary for a level 13 pay grade is $85,292 a year.

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