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How to Become a CBP Officer

By Lace Brunsden

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Becoming a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer is a noble and rewarding career choice for those who are passionate about protecting our borders, national security, and facilitating international trade. In this guide, we will walk you through the steps and essential insights you need to embark on this journey and make a real difference in the world of law enforcement and border security.

Career Summary

CBP Officer Salary

CBP Officer Salary

Your salary as a CBP Officer can vary depending on your roles and seniority. According to Glassdoor, a CBP Officer salary can be summarized as follows:

  • Entry Salary (US$42k)
  • Median Salary (US$50k)
  • Executive Salary (US$59k)

Compared to the average salary across the United States as estimated by the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, this is relatively low.

What Does a CBP Officer Do?

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer plays a crucial role in safeguarding the United States’ borders and enforcing various laws related to immigration, customs, trade, and homeland security. 

CBP officers work at various ports of entry, including airports, seaports, land border crossings, and international mail facilities. Their roles are critical in maintaining the security and integrity of the United States’ borders and ensuring the smooth flow of trade and travel.

CBP Officer Career Progression

  • CBP Officer Trainee: You’ll learn the basics of border security, customs enforcement, and immigration procedures.
  • CBP Officer: Your responsibilities will include inspecting travelers, vehicles, and cargo at ports of entry, enforcing customs and immigration laws, and ensuring national security.
  • CBP Supervisory Officer: You’ll oversee CBP officers, ensuring operational efficiency, and making crucial decisions regarding border security and enforcement.
  • CBP Port Director: You’ll be responsible for the overall management and administration of a designated port of entry. You’ll coordinate resources, oversee operations, and make high-level decisions to ensure effective border security and trade facilitation.
  • CBP Field Director: You will be responsible for setting regional strategies, managing resources, and ensuring uniform enforcement of customs and immigration laws.
  • CBP Executive Director: At the highest levels of CBP leadership, Executive Directors set national policies, manage budgets, and represent CBP at the federal level, contributing significantly to the nation’s border security and trade protection.
CBP Officer Career Progression

The Pros and Cons of Working as a CBP Officer

Pros: 

  • Job Security
  • Varied Work Environment
  • Opportunities for Advancement
  • Contribution to National Security

Cons: 

  • High-Stress Environment
  • Irregular and Long Hours
  • Exposure to Potentially Dangerous Situations
  • Administrative and Paperwork Burden

Useful Skills to Have as a CBP Officer

  • Attention to Detail
  • Communication Skills
  • Crisis Management
  • Cultural Sensitivity
  • Adaptability and Flexibility

Popular CBP Officer Specialties

  • K-9 Handler
  • Agricultural Specialist
  • Trade Specialist
  • Air and Marine Operations (AMO)
  • Intelligence Officer

How to Become a CBP Officer

CBP Officer 7 Steps to Career

Step 1: Meet Basic CBP Officer Requirements

You must be a U.S. citizen and should be under the age of 40 at the time of application, although exceptions exist for veterans and certain federal law enforcement officers. You should also possess a valid driver’s license.

Why Are There Age Restrictions in CBP Officer Requirements?

Age restrictions for becoming a CBP Officer exist for several reasons, primarily related to the physical demands of the job and the need for a lengthy career of service.

Here are some key reasons for these age restrictions:

  • Physical Fitness: CBP Officers must be in good physical condition to perform their duties effectively. They may need to engage in physically demanding activities, such as chasing suspects, conducting searches, and handling contraband. Younger candidates are generally more physically fit, making it easier to meet these requirements.
  • Long-Term Service: CBP invests significantly in training and developing its officers. They seek individuals who can serve for an extended period to maximize the return on this investment. Younger candidates are more likely to serve a full career with the agency.
  • Retirement Eligibility: Age restrictions align with federal retirement eligibility criteria. Federal employees can typically retire after reaching a certain age and completing a minimum number of years of service. By setting age limits, CBP ensures that its officers can meet these retirement requirements.
  • Career Progression: Age restrictions allow for adequate time to progress through various positions within the CBP, potentially reaching leadership roles and acquiring the experience necessary for more senior positions.

Step 2: Educational Qualifications

You need to have at least a high school diploma or GED to become a CBP officer.

Do I Need a Degree to Become a CBP Officer?

No, you do not necessarily need a degree to become a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer. The basic educational requirement for a CBP Officer position is a high school diploma or GED (General Educational Development) certificate. However, having a degree can be advantageous for your application and may open up additional opportunities within the CBP.

CBP Officer positions are often competitive, and having a college degree, especially in a relevant field such as criminal justice, law enforcement, or a foreign language, can make you a more attractive candidate. Additionally, a degree may qualify you for higher-ranking positions within the agency and can potentially lead to faster career advancement.

Step 3: Apply for a Position and Complete the Online Assessment 

Check the official CBP website or federal job listings for open CBP Officer positions. Apply online through the USAJobs portal. If your application is accepted, you will need to complete an online assessment.

What Will the CBP Online Assessment Entail?

The CBP Officer online assessment is part of the initial screening process for candidates applying for a CBP Officer position. The assessment is designed to evaluate your skills, abilities, and competencies that are relevant to the role.

While the specific details of the assessment may change over time, it typically includes the following components:

  • Situational Judgment Test (SJT): This portion of the assessment presents you with a series of work-related scenarios and asks you to choose the best response from a list of options. The goal is to assess your ability to make sound decisions in various job-related situations.
  • Personality Assessment: This part of the assessment measures your personality traits and characteristics to evaluate how well they align with the demands of the CBP Officer role.
  • Cognitive Assessment: You may encounter cognitive assessments that evaluate your reasoning, problem-solving, and decision-making skills. These assessments aim to gauge your cognitive abilities relevant to the job.

Step 4: Pass the Entrance Exam 

The difficulty of passing the CBP Officer Entrance Examination can vary from one individual to another, depending on their background, skills, and preparation. The examination is designed to assess a candidate’s aptitude for the position, including their logical reasoning, analytical abilities, and problem-solving skills.

For some candidates, the examination may pose a challenge, especially if they are not well-prepared or do not have a strong foundation in the required skills. However, with adequate preparation and study, many candidates successfully pass the examination.

Step 5: Background Investigation 

The background investigation for a CBP Officer position is a comprehensive process designed to assess the applicant’s suitability, trustworthiness, and qualifications for the role.

The investigation typically covers a range of areas, including but not limited to:

  • Criminal History: This part of the investigation looks into your criminal history, including arrests, convictions, and any outstanding warrants. A history of serious criminal offenses may disqualify a candidate.
  • Credit History: Your financial history and credit report may be reviewed to assess your financial responsibility and evaluate any potential vulnerabilities to corruption or bribery.
  • Employment History: The background investigation verifies your employment history, including checking references and confirming the accuracy of your work experience.
  • Character and Reputation: Investigators may interview acquaintances, colleagues, and neighbors to assess your character, reputation, and moral integrity.
  • Foreign Contacts: Foreign travel, foreign relatives, or contacts with foreign nationals may be investigated to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest or potential security risks.
  • Drug Use: A history of drug use, including the type and frequency of drug use, may be assessed. Certain drug-related activities may disqualify a candidate.
  • Legal and Civil Matters: Legal issues, such as civil lawsuits, restraining orders, or issues related to child support, may be examined.
  • Security Clearances: If you have held a security clearance in the past, the investigation may verify the circumstances surrounding your clearance and any issues or violations that may have occurred.
  • Education and Qualifications: Educational credentials and qualifications, such as degrees, certifications, and licenses, may be verified to ensure that you meet the requirements for the position.
  • Military Service: If applicable, your military service records and conduct may be investigated.

You might also participate in a polygraph examination to verify the accuracy of information provided during the application process.

Step 6: Complete the Medical Examination, Drug Test and Physical Fitness Test (PFT)

Is it Difficult to Pass the Physical Fitness Test?

The difficulty of passing the CBP Officer Physical Fitness Test (PFT) can vary from one individual to another, depending on their level of physical fitness and preparation. The PFT is designed to evaluate an applicant’s physical readiness for the demands of the CBP Officer role, which may include tasks such as running, jumping, and simulating physical confrontations.

The specific requirements and components of the PFT can vary over time, and the CBP may have its own established standards. Therefore, it’s crucial to refer to the most recent information provided by the CBP regarding the PFT requirements.

To increase your chances of passing the CBP Officer PFT, consider the following tips:

  • Physical Preparation: Regular physical conditioning and training can help you build the strength, endurance, and agility necessary to meet the PFT requirements.
  • Review the Standards: Familiarize yourself with the specific PFT standards, including the number of repetitions, time limits, and other requirements for each component.
  • Training Plan: Develop a training plan that focuses on the specific exercises and activities needed to meet the PFT standards. This may include running, push-ups, sit-ups, and other exercises.
  • Practice the Test: Take practice PFTs to gauge your progress and ensure that you can meet or exceed the requirements before the actual test.
  • Proper Warm-Up: Prior to taking the PFT, engage in a proper warm-up routine to prevent injuries and perform at your best during the test.

Step 7: Training at the CBP Academy 

Attend the CBP Officer Basic Training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia, which lasts for approximately 89 days.

Attending training at the FLETC is an essential part of becoming a CBP Officer for several important reasons:

  • Standardization: FLETC provides standardized training programs that ensure all CBP Officers receive consistent, high-quality instruction. This standardization is critical for maintaining uniformity and professionalism within the CBP workforce.
  • Core Skills: FLETC training covers a wide range of essential skills and knowledge areas, including immigration and customs law, defensive tactics, firearms proficiency, and operational procedures. This training equips officers with the foundational skills required to perform their duties effectively.
  • Legal Training: CBP Officers must have a solid understanding of immigration and customs laws, as well as constitutional and civil rights issues. FLETC training helps officers become well-versed in these areas, ensuring that they carry out their duties within the bounds of the law.
  • Firearms Proficiency: FLETC provides firearms training to ensure that CBP Officers are proficient in the use of firearms, as they may need to carry and use firearms in the course of their duties.
  • Cultural Sensitivity: Training at FLETC emphasizes cultural sensitivity and awareness, as CBP Officers often interact with individuals from diverse backgrounds and nationalities.
  • Operational Safety: FLETC training emphasizes safety protocols and procedures to minimize risks and ensure the well-being of officers and the public during operations.

After completing the academy, you will undergo on-the-job training at your assigned port of entry, which can take several months.

What Are Internship Opportunities for a CBP Officer?

Internship opportunities for aspiring CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) Officers can provide valuable experiences that help you gain a better understanding of the role and enhance your qualifications.

While CBP Officer internships may not be as common as other types of internships, you can explore several related opportunities:

  • CBP Explorer Program: Some CBP locations may offer Explorer Programs, which are designed for high school students interested in law enforcement careers. While not traditional internships, these programs provide educational and hands-on experiences related to border security and law enforcement.
  • Customs and Border Protection Student Internship Program: The CBP may offer student internship programs in various locations. These programs are typically designed for college students and can provide opportunities to work in roles related to CBP operations, trade compliance, and other relevant areas.
  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Internships: The broader DHS offers internship programs that include opportunities within its various components, including CBP. These internships may be in areas such as cybersecurity, homeland security, and emergency management, and can provide exposure to related aspects of CBP’s mission.
  • Law Enforcement Internships: Consider applying for internships with local or state law enforcement agencies to gain valuable experience in law enforcement, which can be relevant to a career as a CBP Officer.

What Skills Will I Learn As a CBP Officer?

As a CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) Officer, you will develop a wide range of skills and competencies to perform your duties effectively. These skills encompass law enforcement, customs and immigration enforcement, security, and interpersonal abilities.

Here are some of the key skills you will learn and develop in your role as a CBP Officer:

  • Immigration and Customs Knowledge: CBP Officers gain in-depth knowledge of immigration and customs laws, regulations, and procedures to process travelers, inspect goods, and enforce trade compliance.
  • Security and Inspection Techniques: You will learn how to identify potential security threats and employ various inspection techniques to detect contraband, illegal substances, and other prohibited items.
  • Crisis Management: CBP Officers are trained to handle critical and emergency situations, including potentially dangerous or confrontational encounters, and to respond with poise and professionalism.
  • Technology and Equipment Operation: CBP Officers are trained to operate and maintain various inspection equipment, including X-ray machines, scanners, and computer systems.
  • Report Writing: You will develop strong report-writing skills to document incidents, inspections, and other activities accurately and in compliance with standard procedures.
  • Firearms Proficiency: If armed, CBP Officers undergo firearms training to ensure they can safely and accurately use their weapons when necessary.
  • Trade Compliance: You will learn how to enforce trade compliance and facilitate legitimate trade while identifying and addressing violations of customs laws and regulations.
  • Problem-Solving: CBP Officers often encounter complex situations that require critical thinking and problem-solving skills to make decisions swiftly and effectively.
  • Teamwork: Collaboration and effective teamwork are essential, especially when working at ports of entry, with other officers, and alongside different law enforcement agencies.
  • Adaptability: CBP Officers must adapt to evolving security and policy changes, ensuring they remain up-to-date and compliant with the latest regulations and procedures.

What is the Work-Life Balance of a CBP Officer?

The work-life balance of a CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) Officer can vary based on several factors, including the officer’s duty location, assignment, and the operational needs of the agency.

Here are some general considerations:

  • Overtime: CBP Officers may be required to work overtime, especially during busy periods or to address emerging security concerns. Overtime can affect work-life balance, as additional hours may be necessary.
  • On-Call Duty: Some CBP Officers are on-call or standby for emergency situations. This may require officers to respond to incidents outside their regular work hours.
  • Holidays and Special Assignments: Holidays and special assignments, such as working at large events or responding to specific security threats, can affect an officer’s ability to plan time off.
  • Geographic Location: The work-life balance can vary by the geographical location of the port of entry or duty station. Locations with higher volumes of travelers and cargo may have more demanding work schedules.
  • Seniority and Career Progression: As officers gain seniority and advance in their careers, they may have more control over their schedules and assignments. Senior officers may have the opportunity to work in administrative or supervisory roles with more predictable hours.

What is the Career Outlook of CBP Officers?

According to the BLS, the projected job outlook of Police and Detectives, which includes border patrol and other CBP officer roles, is a projected growth of 3% between 2022 and 2023. This is about as fast as average.

CBP Officer Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities of a CBP Officer?

CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) Officers have a range of job opportunities and career paths within the agency. These opportunities can include various specialized roles and advancement to leadership positions.

Here are some of the job opportunities for CBP Officers:

  • CBP Canine Handler: As a Canine Handler, you’ll work with specially trained dogs to detect narcotics, explosives, and other contraband. This specialized role requires additional training and expertise in canine handling.
  • Agricultural Specialist: Agricultural Specialists focus on inspecting and safeguarding against harmful pests, diseases, and invasive species in agricultural products to protect U.S. agriculture and the environment.
  • Trade Specialist: Trade Specialists work in trade compliance and facilitate the flow of legitimate trade while enforcing trade laws, regulations, and customs procedures.
  • Area Port Director: Area Port Directors manage the operations of multiple ports within a region, making critical decisions to maintain regional security and trade facilitation.
  • Specialized Units: CBP offers specialized units and teams, such as the Border Patrol, Air and Marine Operations (AMO), and Special Response Teams. Opportunities may exist for CBP Officers to join these units.

What Type of Companies Hire a CBP Officer?

CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) Officers are primarily employed by the U.S. federal government and work within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). They play a crucial role in ensuring the security and integrity of the nation’s borders and enforcing customs and immigration laws. 

While CBP Officers are not typically hired by private companies, their work directly impacts and collaborates with various organizations and businesses involved in international trade and travel.

Should I Become a CBP Officer?

In conclusion, the decision to become a CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) Officer is a significant one that should be carefully considered. This profession demands dedication, a strong sense of duty, and a commitment to maintaining the security and integrity of the nation’s borders. As we’ve explored in this article, the path to becoming a CBP Officer involves a rigorous application process, extensive training, and the development of essential skills in law enforcement, customs and immigration enforcement, and security.

The role of a CBP Officer is not without its challenges, including shift work, the potential for overtime, and the need to adapt to an ever-evolving security landscape. Work-life balance can vary, but with dedication and effective time management, many CBP Officers successfully balance their professional and personal lives.

Becoming a CBP Officer can be a rewarding and fulfilling career choice for those who are committed to upholding the laws of the land, safeguarding national security, and ensuring the lawful movement of people and goods across borders. It offers opportunities for career progression, specialization, and the chance to work with various stakeholders in international trade, travel, and law enforcement.

So, should you become a CBP Officer? The answer lies in your own goals, values, and aspirations. If you are passionate about safeguarding the nation’s borders, enforcing customs and immigration laws, and are willing to meet the challenges of the profession, a career as a CBP Officer may be a calling worth pursuing. It’s a path that promises the opportunity to serve your country, protect your fellow citizens, and contribute to the vital mission of national security. Ultimately, the choice is yours to make, guided by your own sense of purpose and commitment to the responsibilities that come with this important role.

Careers Related to CBP Officer


Lace Brunsden

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