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What is a Customs Inspector?

Also known as: Federal Law Enforcement Officer, Border Services Officer, US Customs and Border Protection Officer, Customs and Border Protection Officer, Customs Officer, Customs Law Enforcement Agent.

A customs inspector works in law enforcement, enforcing the laws that governs imports and exports. They inspect those entering and exiting the border. They work to ensure security against terrorists and terrorist acts, inspect travelers for citizenship and passports, and enforce the trade regulations through local, state, city, and country law enforcement officials.

What does a Customs Inspector do?

In the United States, a customs inspector works for the Department of Homeland Security, which is a branch of the federal government. In other countries, customs inspectors work for the government under different program titles. They enforce the laws of the land that control the imports and exports that are allowed into and out of the country. They help to protect against terrorists and terrorist activities by the inspection of travellers coming in and out of the country and by inspecting cargo. The inspector works with all types of law enforcement agencies, both on the state and national level, to find potential threats, illegal substances, and even illegal travellers.

Customs inspectors work with many different law agencies including the FBI, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. When inspecting cargo, a customs inspector may work with freight companies and other types of agencies to verify the cargo contents before allowing them into the country. The inspector is responsible for inspecting all of the cargo, viewing the documentation, and clearing it for release. The inspector is also responsible for finding potentially hazardous materials or unlawful contents within the cargo, and to prevent anything from being brought illegally into the country.

All countries have their own form of customs inspectors and they all vary slightly in their responsibilities. Many countries require their customs inspectors to be armed to prevent threats that may try to invade the country.

What is the workplace of a Customs Inspector like?

Customs inspectors mainly work at airports, seaports, border crossings, and outposts. They may work indoors or outdoors, depending on where they are stationed. In airports, they work closely with the baggage claims and passenger registration departments. At seaports and outposts, the inspectors may spend a considerable time outside as they inspect cargo ships and planes coming in and out of the country. This outside work will expose them to many different weather conditions and temperatures.

Most customs inspectors do not have offices and are on their feet throughout the day. They also move around a lot while investigating travellers, luggage, and cargo. When drugs and weapons are involved, the customs inspector can at times be in the midst of a dangerous situation. Training comes into play at these times, preparing the inspector to handle various types of situations.

How can I become a Customs Inspector?

The requirements to become a customs inspector vary by state and country. While some countries only require the bare minimum of a high school diploma, some require a bachelor's degree. In the US, all potential inspectors must pass a fifteen-week training program course at the Customs Border Training Academy. It is through this course that an inspector will learn all that they need to know to protect the borders of their country. Students in this type of training will learn different key skills including interviewing, legal regulations, searching techniques, and threat assessment techniques.

It is important to note that all customs inspectors must be of a certain age, depending on the country they reside in. They must have proof of citizenship and pass extensive background screenings. An inspector must also pass regular drug, fitness, and medical examinations as a part of their pre-employment screening and ongoing employment testing.

Customs inspectors must have good judgment and critical thinking skills to carry out the responsibilities of the job. Many are required to be fluent in one or two foreign languages so that they are able to communicate with travellers who speak other languages. Inspectors may also be trained to work with K-9 dogs to understand how to give commands and use the dogs to inspect areas that they may miss or are unable to access. An inspector learns how to work with the dogs to gain the best advantage over illegal people and substances that may be entering into the country.

  • US Customs and Border Protection

  • Canada Border Services Agency

  • Videos


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    Further Reading

    • Stamp Duty

      Lisa Lea sees most nationalities troop through Heathrow, but not everyone gains entry – something she takes very seriously.

    • A Day in the Life of a Customs and Border Protection Officer at Brisbane Airport

      We work to a government standard requiring us to clear an average of one passenger every 45 seconds. In that time, I am required to verify the authenticity of the travel documents, match the passenger's identity to the documents, put the details into the computer system and deal with any irregularities.

    • Customs Inspector Job Description

      Customs inspectors work for the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and bear the tile of CBP officer. Although there is some overlap of duties with immigration officers, customs officers are typically focused on preventing smugglers from introducing weapons, drugs and illegal goods into the United States.

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