Customs agents generally work in airports and seaports. They make sure that people crossing borders follow the rules about what goods can be brought into or taken out of the country, a function called border control.
They protect society by preventing people from introducing illegal items, which may be dangerous (such as offensive weapons or drugs) or obscene, or items that are prohibited for health reasons, such as meat products or plants from certain countries, or merchandise illegally copied, such as fake designer items or pirated DVDs.
Customs agents advise travelers on the rules and inform them about issues such as what goods to declare, or VAT and personal limits for the importation of tobacco and alcohol.
If a person claims they have goods to declare, the customs broker determines the value of the goods and charges a customs duty where appropriate, as a payment must often be made on goods brought into the country. Sometimes when he comes across goods that are unusual or difficult to value, the customs broker must seek the advice of specialists.
Customs officers prevent people from passing more alcohol or tobacco than allowed. In addition to passengers, they must control the passage of ship and aircraft crews, giving them a form that they must complete to indicate if they are carrying any items that must be declared.
Customs agents act on the information received, as well as on their own observations. If a customs agent has suspicions about a passenger, they will ask a series of questions about their trip, such as the purpose of said trip or the place where they have stayed.
If the agent is still suspicious of a passenger, they can open the passenger’s luggage or their vehicle. If a passenger tries to avoid paying taxes, customs agents can confiscate the goods and / or vehicle. If the passenger is carrying an illegal item without a license, such as a pistol, customs agents are also responsible for confiscating the item.
Agents have the power to search any drug smuggling suspect and keep them in their custody for up to 36 hours, pending the arrival of a trained agent to arrest the suspect. In these cases, the agent must prepare reports and may have to go to court to testify.
Customs officers often work as a team and act on the information they receive about suspected illegal activity. Some of this information is obtained through the confidential customs telephone line.
Customs agents can search planes and ships for undeclared or illegal imports, such as alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and drugs. Sometimes they search cars, vans and trucks, and can use large X-ray scanners to visualize content. Some customs officers work with sniffer dogs or use equipment such as fiber optic cameras. Some work on patrol boats.
Records, especially on board a ship, can be a messy and physically demanding task. Customs agents can also register airplanes to enforce health regulations.
In cargo control, customs agents verify documentation related to the import or export of commercial goods. They can also collect trade statistics and prepare reports (for example, on the value of seized assets). Some customs agents are in charge of checking the content of international mail in postal warehouses.