Customs officer job description

An exciting and challenging role, a customs officer’s job is to stop banned items from entering or leaving the country, on behalf of the Queen and Home Office.

Working for HM Revenue and Customs as well as the UK Border Agency, customs officers play an essential role in the controlling of imported and exported goods.


So, what will I actually be doing?

If you become a customs officer you’ll be assisting in the prevention of smuggling, and fighting illegal alcohol and tobacco trade by searching luggage, vehicles and passengers.

You’ll also be helping to detect drug crime and combat prohibited worldwide trafficking of endangered animals and birds.

When you suspect that someone is carrying a chargeable item for which duty has not been paid or secured - or if there are any banned items - you can detain and search them. This may involve inspecting their baggage, asking them to produce a passport and quizzing them about their journey.

Duties can involve:

  • Arresting and charging people
  • Preparing statements and reports
  • Working alongside police or the Home Office
  • Attending court

Your job might also involve boarding and searching ships, aircrafts or other vehicles at a port or aerodrome. You may break open, mark, seal or secure any items as well as obtaining access to vehicles to seize concealed goods.

You could even forbid aircrafts from flying without permission and stop ships in UK waters to check they have been approved to leave.

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The finer details...

Based at airports and seaports, you would work 36 hours, five days a week, as a full-time officer. Shift work is available in border protection roles, as 24/7 cover is essential. Part-time employment or job shares are also a possibility.

You would normally start as an assistant (administrator or officer) then get promoted to customs officer, though entry-level officer posts are sometimes available.

There is a clear promotion and grade structure within the civil service, although relocation may be necessary to progress to higher positions.

There’s also potential for becoming a specialist in this career, including being a dog handler or getting involved with surveillance work.


Money, money, money

  • Assistant officers start on around £16,000 per year
  • Officers earn between £20k and £26k
  • Salaries for higher-grade positions can reach £39,000

You get extra pay for working anti-social hours and London weighting may apply.

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The good points…

You get to feel like a gallant superhero, protecting Queen and country from any pesky baddies!

You can choose which specific areas you want extra training in, which can lead to effective professional development, better working relationships and good promotional prospects.


…and the bad

Customs officers’ work environments are often noisy, dangerous and dirty.

Searches may involve a rub down, strip or intimate search, which some people might find a strange, embarrassing or awkward work task to conduct.

Think twice if you are squeamish too, as often specimen ‘passengers’ from varying stages along the ‘animal to food’ spectrum are found.


Is there study involved?

On-the-job training is classroom-based and involves learning from experienced staff. It lasts nine months and can include residential courses. In addition, ongoing training is provided.

Officers are often expected to possess five GCSEs (A-C) including English and maths, and two A levels or equivalent.

To join as an administration assistant, you would require two GCSEs and assistant officers need five A-C grade GCSEs.

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OK, I’m interested… But is it really the job for me?

Vacancies are intensely competitive, attracting many applicants to a limited number of opportunities. Candidates with relevant work experience will therefore stand more chance of being successfully picked.

It’s also useful if you possess some of the following qualities:

  • Firm and fair
  • A good sense of judgment
  • Pays close attention to detail
  • Honest
  • An ability to question well
  • Confident in decision-making
  • No criminal convictions

You should possess the communication, interpersonal and negotiating skills of Jeremy Kyle but still be tactful and keep your cool in a crisis.

Be prepared to spend quite some time in a classroom too, because the learning is a big part of the job.

You must also meet civil service nationality requirements, which states that jobs are open to British nationals and often includes European Union nationals and Commonwealth citizens too.

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