What does a Customs Inspector do?

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  • Written By: Ken Black
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2019
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A customs inspector is an individual who inspects different people and products entering or leaving the country. Usually, the most intensive inspections are done for entry, but there could be cases when exit inspections are done as well. The job consists of knowing applicable federal law and applying that law, on a case by case basis, as needed.

Most people may only have contact with a customs inspector, or customs official, when they are at the airport arriving in a foreign country or back in their home country. International customs can sometimes be a stressful thing to go through as travelers do not know what to expect, what taxes they may be assessed or how friendly a customs inspector may be. However, in the vast majority of cases, the goal of a customs inspector is to get travelers on their way as quickly as possible.

In the United States, a customs inspector is responsible for several different duties. They may inspect documents to be assured of someone's identity. They may also inspect products being brought into the United States from outside the country to determine if any taxes should be owed. They may also confiscate contraband, such as agricultural products that should not be brought into the country or illegal products, which may also result in the owner being arrested.


While airports are one of the most visible places to see customs agents, it is not the only place in which they operate. They also inspect large shipping containers at various marine ports of entry into the United States. This, arguably, is more important than what is done at airports as this is the way the vast majority of imports come into the country. Inspecting these shipments more thoroughly was named a national security priority in the wake of the terrorist attacks on 11 Sept 2001.

In addition to these duties, a customs inspector may also need to testify in court about various issues. For example, if something illegal is discovered being imported into the country, the individual responsible will likely be arrested. That may necessitate the customs inspector going to court and explaining what was found, where it was found, and how ownership of the illegal product was determined.

Given what is at stake, a customs inspector, also known as a customs agent, must pay close attention to every detail of the job, with the understanding of what the law allows and does not allow. The inspector also needs to fill out each piece of paperwork as thoroughly as possible. While this may mean there is added time to the process, which can frustrate travelers and shippers alike, it is all part of what the inspector must do.


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