What Are the Necessary Skills for a Customs Officer?

Tara Barnett

The exact necessary skills required for a customs officer depend on the country employing the officer, but all countries have the same general requirements. Personal traits like confidence and respectfulness are always desirable, and skills that relate to detecting suspicious individuals are valuable. Generally, good judgment and attention to detail are the skills specified by countries hiring customs officers, but the way in which a person detects suspicious individuals may be outside of these categories. Other skills required include effective communication skills, the ability to use a computer, and a thorough understanding of all relevant policies and laws relating to customs.

In the United States, customs agents are stationed at all border crossings.
In the United States, customs agents are stationed at all border crossings.

Many of the skills required for a customs officer are personal traits. These are important because much of a customs officer's job involves dealing with travelers who may be stressed or who may be concealing a secret. Desirable personal traits are usually identified as emotional maturity, confidence, and honesty, but in general what this is intended to convey is that the person should be likable but firm. A customs officer must be personally pleasant enough to put travelers at ease while being firm enough to make the seriousness of the situation clear.

Customs officers may have to check incoming luggage.
Customs officers may have to check incoming luggage.

Interpersonal skills are highly valuable in this position and extend beyond likability. A person must be able to communicate effectively in order to solve most customs problems. Understanding a person's speech is important, and negotiation skills can also prove valuable. Making oneself understood even to people who are not fully fluent in the customs officer's language is a very valuable skill to have in this position.

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In terms of professional traits, a quick mind and a relatively coherent understanding of human behavior are often required. These skills are often improved by customs officer training programs, but it is important for a person to demonstrate aptitude for attention to detail. Problem solving is also a skill often prized in this position, although it is important for an officer to be a team player as well as an independent thinker.

Some countries require physical skills as well as mental skills for this type of position. Good hand-eye coordination is usually valuable, as is physical strength. While many customs officers stand or sit for the majority of the day, there are cases in which physical prowess might be valuable.

The specific skills required for a customs officer depend on the country, and most countries list those skills on a government job website. In addition to the required qualities, it is usually a good idea to identify any additional traits that might be considered desirable. Skills are not the only requirement for becoming a customs officer, and it is usually a good idea for an applicant to make sure that he or she has the appropriate background and experience as well.

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