Customs agents are federally employed professionals who monitor the importation of illegal contraband like drugs and weapons. Daily activities include searching airplanes or ships, as well as individual passengers. You will be responsible for evaluating the behavior of international and American citizens as they land in the United States to determine whether or not they appear on wanted lists, terrorist lists or are suspected of importing any illegal devices or materials. Customs agents need to have a lot of street smarts and should be able to think quickly on their feet, but they also need to be well-trained and have specific knowledge of the systems and technologies that are relevant to law enforcement and customs. During a career as a customs agent, you may come into contact with international visitors, terrorists, suspected criminals and of course, regular passengers. You must be able to determine which passengers are responsible for attempting to smuggle illegal materials into the country or to bring products into the country which have not been declared. These undeclared items need to be taxed, and some customs agents will be responsible for investigating these cases. In addition to being constantly vigilant for terrorist activity and illegal imports, customs agents search cargo and collect duties and fees. Depending on your exact position and your location, you may also work with immigration and border patrol personnel, local or federal law enforcement officers, legal teams, pilots, ship captains and more. You may work in a port city inspecting ships, or at a busy international airport.
The median salary range for customs agents, as reported by Florida International University, is between $23,000 and $44,000. Depending on your experience, education, geographic location and exact job description, you may be eligible to earn a higher salary. Customs agents receive a federal benefits package that includes health insurance, life insurance, a retirement system, paid training, 10 paid holidays per year, tuition assistance and more.
Customs agents that expect to find good jobs need to have a college degree. Those who want to become managers and increase their salary potential should consider pursuing a Master’s degree in a field like criminal justice or legal studies. This course of study will give you in-depth knowledge of how the criminal justice system works and will cover topics like criminal behavior, terrorism and homeland security, and other concepts that will be useful in your job.