How to Become a Customs Inspector

Customs inspectors play a very important role in national security. Whether they’re assessing who or what is leaving or entering a country, they’re enforcing laws that ensure safety. This job keeps you on the edge of your seat and puts you in a position to make a difference. If this sounds compelling to you, there are several things you’ll need to do to start on a career path. Make sure you meet the basic requirements, go through the application process, and make some impressive additions to your resume in order to become a customs inspector.[1]


EditMeeting the Basic Qualifications

  1. Be a citizen and resident of the United States. Before you can be eligible to work as a customs inspector in the United States, you have to be a U.S. citizen who has lived in the U.S. for a least the past three years.[2]
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  2. Wait until you’re at least 21 years old. Unfortunately, you can’t work as a customs inspector until you’ve reached the age of 21. If you really want to become a customs inspector but you’re only 18 or 19 years old, beef up your resume with relevant degrees, internships, or volunteer work and familiarize yourself with the application process in order to speed through it once you’ve reached the required age.[3]
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  3. Get a degree in criminal justice. While there are sometimes exceptions for those with a lot of relevant job experience, you’ll need to acquire a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college to make sure that you meet all educational requirements.[4] Any bachelor’s degree is acceptable, but getting one in criminal justice, law, or another related field will best prepare you.
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EditApplying for a Position

  1. Fill out and submit an application online. Since becoming a customs inspector is heavily related to national security, you’ll need to apply through the government. To get more information and apply for positions in the United States, visit[5]
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    • To have a complete application, you’ll also need to submit necessary documents, such as transcripts and your resume.[6]
  2. Take an entrance exam. You’ll be required to take an initial entrance exam, which tests whether or not you have the mental ability to become a customs inspector. The exam typically takes 4-6 hours and involves assessing your work style, arithmetic reasoning skills, logic based reasoning skills, and writing skills.[7]
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  3. Get a background check done. You’ll have to pass a thorough background check before becoming a customs inspector. Three elements typically go into making a final decision: preliminary vetting checks, a polygraph examination, and an investigation.[8] The purpose of this is to make sure that you are who you claim to be and don’t have a history of felonies.
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  4. Take and pass a medical exam. Customs inspectors are required to be medically and physically healthy enough to handle daily duties safely and efficiently without causing harm to themselves. You must meet the basic heath standards in order to move forward in the application process.[9]
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    • You must also meet specific vision and hearing requirements.
  5. Take and pass two fitness tests. Also as part of your application process, you’ll be required to pass two different physical fitness tests. These tests include running, sit-ups, and push ups. To pass these tests, you’ll have to:
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    • Complete at least 25 sit-ups in one minute.
    • Complete at least 17 push-ups in one minute.
    • Run 1.5 miles (2.41 km) in 17 minutes and 15 seconds or less.[10]
  6. Do well in an interview. Others who work in the field will interview you to determine whether or not you’re competent enough to be successful as a customs inspector. In this interview, the interviewer will ask you questions in order to get a sense of your judgment skills, emotional maturity, interpersonal skills, cooperativeness, and sensitivity.[11]
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    • For example, you may be given a specific dangerous scenario and then asked to explain how you’d handle the situation.
    • You’ll most likely also be asked typical interview questions about your strengths and weaknesses, your salary expectations, how you’ve prepared for the position, and more.
  7. Take and pass a drug test. As a customs inspector, you’ll frequently be exposed to illegal substances. At some point during the application process, you’ll have to take a random drug test. If you fail, you’ll be disqualified.[12]
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  8. Complete a specialized training program. Once you’ve passed all necessary tests and interviews, the final requirement is completing a training program in preparation for the job. These usually take place at state police academies and are typically 1-2 year programs.
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    • Training will entail both classroom instruction and hands-on exercises.
    • If you’re assigned to Florida, Puerto Rico or the southwestern U.S., you may be required to complete an extra six weeks of training to learn the Spanish language (unless you pass a fluency exam).[13]

EditIncreasing Your Chances of Employment

  1. Get a college master’s degree in a relevant field. While you only really need to have any bachelor’s degree, studying criminal justice, law, or security management will increase your chances of employment. Get a master’s degree in one of these fields to really stand out on your resume.
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    • Social science and language degrees such as French or psychology are also viewed as beneficial and useful in the customs inspection field.
  2. Study a foreign language. While it isn’t always required, you’ll really increase your value if you have decent knowledge of a foreign language. Those who work as customs inspectors interact with foreigners on a regular basis, so knowing another language is a major asset in the workplace.
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    • Definitely consider studying Spanish if you want to work in border patrol.
  3. Stay consistently active. Physical fitness is a necessity for becoming a customs inspector as well as working as one. Stick with a workout routine that incorporates both strength training and cardio.[14]
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    • Work up to jogging 2 miles at least three times a week.
    • Focus on strengthening your abdominal, chest, arm, leg, and back muscles by doing exercises such as: crunches, planks, bench presses, squats, bicep curls, and rowing.
  4. Maintain a clean record. Since you’ll have to do a background check during your application process, any indiscretions are going to come to light, whether you’ve gotten a parking ticket or done something much more serious. Stay out of trouble and keep your record as clean as possible. You don’t want to lose your opportunities because of one mistake you made a long time ago.
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