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Career ProfileCustoms Inspectors

What They Do

Individuals who have good judgment, who are confident in their decision making and who are accurate with great attention to detail can make good customs inspectors. A customs inspector has the role of preventing weapons, drugs and illegal goods from being smuggled into the United States. They are also responsible for stopping the entry of harmful pests that might come into the country on imported fruits, vegetables and other plants.

Other duties of a customs inspector include studying shipping manifests to make sure imported goods do not violate U.S. regulations regarding the goods’ source, or the country of origin’s child labor stipulations. A customs inspector also examines declaration forms to make sure all passengers are claiming the correct amount of currency and goods obtained abroad, so that appropriate taxes can be collected. The bottom line is that they uphold laws governing imported and exported goods, and they evaluate and examine individuals passing through U.S. borders.

Salary Potential and Career Advancement

The salaries for customs inspectors vary depending upon location, experience, the size of employer and other factors. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not report specific data for customs inspectors; but the similar occupations of detectives and criminal investigators earned $79,870 in 2012. All detectives and criminal investigators can expect an average job growth of five percent by 2022.

Workplace Environment

Customs inspectors’ day-to-day duties are carried out at ports of entry to the United States — seaports, international airports, train stations and vehicle border crossings. Whether they work indoors or outdoors is dependent upon their station. For example, at seaports, inspectors will spend a lot of time outdoors inspecting cargo ships and aircraft entering and departing the country. On the other hand, inspectors who work for airports will work mainly indoors, alongside the airport’s baggage claim and passenger registration departments.

It’s pretty common for an inspector to be on his or her feet for long periods throughout the day, and they do not typically have offices. It’s the nature of the position for inspectors to move around a lot while investigating travelers, their bags and cargo. There are times when drugs and weapons are suspected; this makes the job of a customs inspector potentially dangerous. To ensure an inspector can efficiently handle unsafe situations, he or she will undergo specific training before beginning this job.

Education, Special Skills and Other Qualifications

A B.A. in Criminal Justice or an M.A. in Criminal Justice Leadership will best prepare a potential customs inspector to become employed and promoted quickly, though a GED or high school diploma is sometimes all the formal education that is required for entry-level positions. Applicants must pass a 15-week training course at the Customs Border Protection Academy: this entails the teaching of classroom and practical skills such as interviewing, search and seizure methods, threat assessment and legal regulations.

Additionally, customs inspectors must be U.S. citizens who can provide a valid driver’s license. Candidates must be under the age of 37, although some military veterans or law enforcement personnel older than 37 may qualify. They must pass a background check for security clearance, and be able to pass fitness, drug and medical tests. Finally, they must make the grade on a final, comprehensive exam at the end of their training.