Customs Officer

Job Description:

Customs officers collect custom duties and taxes, and stop banned items being smuggled into or out of the country.

Job Category:
Government & Public Services

What you will do:

You’ll work in airports and seaports, collecting customs duties and preventing smuggling and illegal trade.

You day-to-day duties may include:

  • searching luggage, vehicles, and travellers
  • checking customs documents
  • questioning people found with illegal items or goods over the allowance
  • arresting and charging people
  • preparing reports and witness statements
  • taking on specialist roles like dog handling or undercover and surveillance work

You may also need to go to court as a witness, and work closely with other agencies, like the police.


You’ll need:

  • knowledge of public safety and security
  • excellent digital literacy skills for using databases and spreadsheets
  • to be able to carry out basic tasks on a computer or hand-held device

As well as:

  • patience and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations
  • the ability to work well with others (teamwork skills)
  • the ability to work on your own (drive)
  • the ability to accept criticism and work well under pressure
  • the ability to pay attention to detail, as you’ll be looking closely at lots of information
  • problem solving skills, so you can understand complex data
  • good critical thinking skills, to help you question information rather than making assumptions
  • to be adaptable, as you may need to quickly change location or work at short notice
  • to be naturally inquisitive and want to find out more about a person, crime, or situation
Illustration of employee looking at workspace

Entry Requirements:

To become a customs officer in the UK, specific GCSE subjects are not mandatory. However, certain subjects can provide a foundation of skills and knowledge that may be beneficial for pursuing a career in this field, such as:

  1. Mathematics: Basic math skills are important for handling calculations related to customs duties, taxes, and the valuation of goods.
  2. English Language: Strong communication skills, both written and verbal, are essential for interacting with travelers, documenting inspections, and writing reports.
  3. Foreign Languages (Optional): Knowledge of foreign languages can be advantageous, especially at international entry points, as it can help in communication with travelers from different countries.
  4. Geography: Understanding geography can be helpful in understanding trade routes and the movement of goods across borders.
  5. Citizenship or Government and Politics: Studying citizenship or government and politics can provide insights into the legal and regulatory aspects of customs work.

While specific GCSE subjects can be beneficial, becoming a customs officer typically involves other steps and specialized training. Here are the typical steps you would take:

Further Education

After completing your GCSEs, you may pursue further education, such as A Levels or equivalent qualifications. While specific subjects may not be required, subjects such as Law, Business Studies, or Foreign Languages can be relevant.

Joining HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC)

Customs officers are typically employed by HMRC. Check their website for specific entry requirements and job opportunities.


If you are successful in your application, you will undergo training provided by HMRC to become a customs officer. The training will cover relevant customs regulations, inspection procedures, and other essential skills for the role.



Working Hours and Environment:

You’ll usually work 36 hours a week over five days. If you’re in a border protection role, you’ll work shifts to provide 24/7 cover.

Depending on your role, you could be on your feet or sat in one place for long periods of your shift. You’ll be given a uniform to wear.

You will be having lots of face-to-face conversations and may deal with some angry or upset members of the public, so will need to remain calm but firm in these situations.

Career Path & Progression:

You’ll usually work your way up by starting as an administrative assistant.

To start as an officer, in some countries, you’ll either need to have a specific qualification or orto pass a test to prove your ability in skills like teamwork and communication. In some countries, you’ll also need to pass an entrance exam and a polygraph test, to pass a security background check, to pass medical tests, fitness tests, and/or drug tests, and to have a driving license

If you want to be an airport customs officer, you might also need an undergraduate degree or a year’s work experience in security.

Customs officers have opportunities for career advancement and specialization within HMRC, such as in areas like intelligence, investigations, or trade facilitation.

Wherever you work in the world, you’ll usually need to meet nationality requirements, which will vary depending on which country you live in.

With experience, you could move up within the civil service grade structure, but you may need to relocate to progress to higher grades.