Roles of a Customs Officer

by Patrick Stothers Kwak

Customs officers are essentially responsible for regulating the flow of goods, and sometimes people, into a country. Customs officers can be located on the physical border between countries or in transportation hubs like ports, airports and railroad stations. The customs officer enforces the laws and regulations of his respective country regarding incoming goods, personal effects and animals, as well as imports and exports.

Incoming Personal Effects

Customs officers monitor the inflow of personal effects entering the country. It is the responsibility of the customs service to check all personal effects, such as bags, briefcases and packages, of individuals entering the country for any reason, though diplomats have separate screening. Certain incoming items, such as alcohol and cigarettes, are subject to duties, and it is the responsibility of customs officers to collect these.

Seizing Contraband

Personal and commercial items entering the country are also inspected to ensure they do not contain contraband materials. Contraband materials are any items outlawed by the territory in question and are typically things like drugs, weapons, explosives, hazardous or toxic substances, vectors for disease and agricultural products. As many of these substances are concealed upon arrival, it is the mandate of customs officers to thoroughly search individuals and ask relevant questions.

Regulating Imports

The customs officer is also tasked with facilitating international commerce and trade by enforcing relevant laws and regulation. Depending on the trade regime in place within a country, customs laws will allow a varying amount of goods to enter with and without duties. Hong Kong, for instance, is a free port and does not collect duties on imported or exported items, with the exception of liquors, tobacco, methyl alcohol and hydrocarbon oil. In the United States, the amount of customs duties paid varies depending on the country of origin.

Regulating Exports

Domestic firms must file appropriate documentation with the customs office when exporting goods overseas. Customs officers must ensure that the right documents are present with outgoing shipments, and that the content of goods moving across the borders matches the manifest.

About the Author

Patrick Stothers Kwak first began writing professionally in 2008 as a contributor to the "UBC Foreign Affairs Journal." His articles are centered around international politics and political economy. Stothers Kwak holds a Bachelor of Arts in international relations from the University of British Columbia and is pursuing his Juris Doctorate at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University.

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