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What is a Customs Officer?

By Ken Black
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A customs officer is a person who works to enforce laws and regulations at various ports of entry, like airports, seaports, or land ports. Most of the work these individuals do involves processing various paperwork for immigration documents. They are also heavily involved in the inspection of cargo or baggage for prohibited items, as well as collecting funds for taxable imported goods. Most of the general public will see these officers when traveling between international destinations.

The government employs customs officers, and they are under the guidance of a subdivision within the government. In the United States, this is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection. Those who are employed in this job must be on the lookout not only for violations in immigration, but also contraband and tax issues. For example, those bringing merchandise into the United States from other countries may be subjected to tax on that merchandise, even if it is for personal use.

This position requires the ability to deal with many different types of people. Those who are at airports and borders will have to deal with a variety of personalities, all the while maintaining a professional demeanor. After all, they will be the first representatives of the government that many visitors encounter. Those who are at seaports will deal with fewer people, but will have more extensive cargo issues to pay attention to. This could include detailed examinations of large containers.

While contraband can include products everyone knows are illegal, such as drugs and some weapons, there are other more routine things of concern as well. For example, those who are bringing fresh produce back on an airplane will find they are not able to pass customs with it. This is to help ensure that foreign diseases and pests do not gain a foothold domestically. The officer will confiscate such contraband and dispose of it properly.

Becoming a customs officer is relatively straightforward, especially in the United States. Those who have customer service experience, pass a background check, and can also pass a physical can qualify. Individuals who are applying must be referred for selection to an officer before the person's 37th birthday. In the United States, anyone interested in the job must be a citizen as well.

Customs officer jobs are found wherever there are ports of entry, so those who are near international airports, borders, or seaports may find more opportunities. Those who live in other places would likely need to relocate in order to become an officer in this capacity. Salaries are dependent upon experience, and some will be started out at a higher pay grade than others, depending on their qualifications.

Practical Adult Insights 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.
Discussion Comments
By anon272891 — On Jun 04, 2012

I'm 18 now. What should I do to become a customs officer?

By anon46581 — On Sep 27, 2009

"..this is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Patrol Division.." That would be U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

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