Job description

Customs inspectors investigate and inspect people, luggage, vehicles, aircraft and boats arriving to or departing from the United States. They search for banned goods, fraudulent documents and other violations of customs and revenue laws and regulations. Customs inspectors are federal law enforcement officers and can detain any individuals or transport and can seize any illegal or suspicious items.


    • Inspect people, baggage and cargo entering or leaving the US
    • Locate and seize any undeclared or illegal goods as well as any conveyance that contains those goods
    • Inform travellers, manufacturers and shippers of relevant customs laws and regulations
    • Assess duty and taxes to be paid on imported and exported items
    • Detain those involved in customs violations
    • Cooperate with other law enforcement agencies on prosecution
    • Document and report all activities, findings, violations and any other customs-related issues
    • Cooperate with other agencies and foreign entities to exchange information and facilitate compliance
    • Provide information and assistance to tactical operations as requested

Skills and qualities

Physical fitness and strength
Service orientation
Social perceptiveness
Attention to detail
Foreign language
Active listening
Critical thinking
Reading comprehension
Stress tolerance

Job outlook

Projected growth
The projected growth rate of employment in the US from 2016 to 2026, based on data collected through the BLS Employment Projections (EP) programme. The national average growth rate for all professions is 7%.


New jobs
The number of jobs projected to become available in the US between 2016 and 2026, based on data collected through the BLS Employment Projections (EP) programme.


Automation risk
The probability of computerisation, based on data published in ‘The Future of Employment’, a 2013 working paper by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne.


Career progression

As you gain experience as a customs inspector, you can advance to positions with more responsibility. This includes jobs with other government agencies, like the FBI. Opportunities include international roles, undercover work, special tactical operations teams and the canine (K-9) inspection unit.

Earning a master's degree in criminal justice or a related field can also help you qualify for a higher position and rate of pay.

Working conditions

Average hours

40h/ week

Typical schedule

Shift Work

On a rota, overtime

Most customs inspectors work full time, on rotating shifts as ports and borders operate 24 hours a day. Overtime may be required. You may work outside, in various weather conditions and terrain. International travel could be necessary for special operations.

Customs inspectors are responsible for thwarting criminal and terrorist activity. This can be dangerous, life-threatening work. Illness and injury are possible from working conditions, altercations and encountering hazardous materials. Inspectors are highly trained to deal with these dangers, and many find the responsibilities and challenges rewarding.


Bottom 10%




Top 10%


Annual salary estimates are based on percentile wage data collected through the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey of US workers.

Qualifications and training

Education level


BSc in Criminal Justice

Study time

4 years

Customs inspectors should have a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, though you can qualify with a combination of relevant experience and postgraduate coursework. Applicants can check requirements and apply for consideration at the US Customs and Border Protection website.

Qualification is extensive for a federal customs inspector position. You will need to pass an entrance exam, physical fitness tests and a medical exam. This is followed by an interview, a polygraph test and a drug test. The final stage is an 89–day training programme that includes classroom, firearms and tactical training. You will take part in interactive scenarios and must successfully pass all written and practical exams.

Once employed, you will also receive on-the-job training.

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 2, 2022

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