Customs officer: job description

Customs officers are responsible for helping to prevent the importation into the UK of illegal and/or dangerous goods including firearms, drugs, alcohol, tobacco and endangered animals.
It is estimated that approximately one in five cigarettes smoked in the UK have been illegally smuggled into the country.

What does a customs officer do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Customs officers are employed by HM Revenue & Customs and work in UK ports and airports. Typical responsibilities of the job include:

  • identifying people to question on the basis of prior offences/likely risk etc;
  • searching baggage and individuals for smuggled items;
  • making arrests of people suspected of smuggling;
  • seizing smuggled goods;
  • checking documentation relating to imported goods;
  • undertaking physical examinations of freight;
  • detecting and prosecuting drug smugglers;
  • collecting and supplying trade statistics;
  • writing reports; fighting the increasing problem of alcohol and tobacco smuggling;
  • helping to combat the worldwide illegal trade in endangered species of animals and birds;
  • dealing with revenue due on imported goods.

Customs officers can work in noisy, dirty or dangerous conditions, and they enforce legislation.

There are a limited number of opportunities that arise with HM Revenue & Customs each year. Vacancies attract intense competition and candidates possessing relevant work experience are often at an advantage. Job vacancies are advertised by careers services, via the internet, in newspapers and in online publications such as Opportunities. Information about vacancies is available centrally, although each Customs and Excise area undertakes its own recruitment.

Qualifications and training required

The minimum academic requirement for entry into the profession is two GCSEs or the equivalent. Graduates with an honours degree in any subject (2.2 or higher) can apply through the fast track graduate recruitment scheme, details of which are available from the HM Revenue & Customs website.

Experience of and/or a qualification in legal studies or European/non-European languages may be beneficial. A relevant postgraduate qualification and/or work experience may be required for some positions.

Key skills for customs officers

All candidates should be UK nationals and free from certain criminal convictions. Customs officers need to be calm, assertive and resilient, and must possess excellent communication, teamworking and interpersonal skills.