Customs officers control, monitor and administer the entry and departure of goods, vessels and people to and from New Zealand.
Customs officers usually earn
$39K-$56K per year
Chief customs officers usually earn
$65K-$97K per year
Source: New Zealand Customs Service, 'Collective Employment Agreement', 2013-2015.
Pay for customs officers varies depending on experience, responsibilities and performance.
- Customs officers in training or with one year's experience can expect to earn about $39,000 a year.
- After two to three years they can earn up to $49,000 a year.
- With five years' experience, they can earn up to $56,000 a year.
- A chief customs officer can earn between $65,000 and $97,000 a year, depending on experience.
Source: New Zealand Customs Service, 'Collective Employment Agreement', 2013-2015.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Customs officers may do some or all of the following:
- inspect mail and imported and exported goods for illegal items
- patrol wharves and search ships and aircraft for prohibited and restricted goods
- check passengers' passports and travel documents
- check passengers for prohibited and restricted goods
- assess and collect taxes on goods coming into the country, and on alcohol and tobacco made in New Zealand
- gather import and export data
- gather intelligence and assess security risks
- carry out drug and commercial investigations
- administer computer-based customs declarations and enquiries.
Skills and knowledge
Customs officers need to have:
- knowledge of legislation relevant to customs work
- understanding of customs procedures and policies
- knowledge of border protection methods
- knowledge of search and investigation techniques
- skill in inspecting and evaluating people, goods and areas.
- do shift work, which can include nights, weekends and public holidays
- work in offices, ports, on ships, and in airport terminals and freight depots. When outdoors, they work in all weather conditions
- may work in hazardous, dusty or noisy conditions with heavy machinery operating
- may sometimes have to deal with tired, angry and upset people.
What's the job really like?
Fade finds out what it's like to be a customs officer with the New Zealand Customs Service - 6.05 mins. (Video courtesy of The Skills Organisation)
Clinton: There’s a whole lot more to working for the New Zealand Customs Service than checking out travellers and their baggage.
Renie: Hi Fade, how are you?
Fade: I’m good.
Renie: We’ve got lots to show you today, so let's go.
Clinton: From intercepting contraband, to collecting GST, from processing international intelligence or processing cruise line passengers, all told 1,300 customs officers work throughout New Zealand.
Renie: I think what it takes to be a good customs officer is to be able to exercise good judgment, with a very strong sense of human nature, because what we do is we’re dealing not just with people at the airport or at our counter, but we need to be able to deal with our external agencies.
Clinton: Customs work in conjunction with MAF, the police, and Foreign Affairs and Trade. It enforces import and export restrictions, protects against illegal trade, analyses intelligence information, and puts out alerts to its front line staff.
Fade: So Renie, what do you do?
Renie: My role in customs, Fade, is to administer and licence customs-controlled areas, and directly behind us is one of the main customs-controlled areas in Auckland, which is the Ports of Auckland.
Clinton: Around 2,000 containers pass through the Ports of Auckland each day. Detecting contraband like drugs or hazardous substances carefully hidden inside isn’t easy, but some powerful technology is at hand to help out.
Geoffrey: Well Fade, here we’ve got the pride of the New Zealand Customs Service. This is our big X-ray truck, which we use for X-raying sea containers. I would say a good piece of equipment – it cost $4 million – so it should be a very good piece of equipment.
Clinton: The powerful X-rays can shoot through the most dense of materials, even a car’s engine.
Geoffrey: And we can see right through, we can see the pistons in there, we can see the crank shaft, but best of all we can see through the rest of the vehicle. So if we go through it, rear seats, fuel tank, and you can see there’s definitely packages inside it. Now that was full of cocaine, and so was the other fuel tank. So that just proves the worth of having an X-ray machine.
Cinton: This container’s manifest claims it’s filled with furniture.
Fade: How do you know all that stuff is furniture?
Geoffrey: Well it comes down to, basically, experience. I’ve been doing this for three years now and you get to know exactly what you’re looking at.
Clinton: At the front of the container, Geoffrey’s spotted something which isn’t quite right.
Geoffrey: There’s some quite dark areas in there which could be the bolts that they assemble the furniture with, the legs, but yeah, I’m not too happy with it, so we’ll let the container inspections team have a look at it.
Clinton: In the corner there’s two boxes.
Clinton: Well that doesn’t look like furniture, does it?
David: Knives – as you can see on the knife we’ve got a sharp blade this side, and we also have a second blade this side. Under the New Zealand Customs Act, this would actually come under prohibited import, so we’ll be looking at detaining these knives at this time.
Clinton: On-job training like this is established in conjunction with Learning State, which is the state sector’s industry training organisation. Its key role is to support all state employers in upskilling their staff.
Angela: Customs have two group intakes a year, and what happens in your first five weeks is all the new trainees are put together, and get to meet each other and you’re all in the same boat so everybody feels a bit more comfortable. And within those first five weeks, you learn a bit more about customs and why customs is important to the New Zealand community and what they actually do. And you are then rotated around the different areas that customs work at, so you could be at the wharf, and then from the wharf you’ll move to the airport, and after that you would move to the International Mail Centre. And by doing that, you have already started your National Certificate in Border Management.
Renie: This is the International Mail Centre and it’s based down at the Auckland Airport, and this is where all international mail arrives into New Zealand.
Clinton: The airport mail centre is a joint operation between New Zealand Post, MAF and the customs service.
Renie: Fade, this is Holly Stringer and she’s a chief customs officer in charge of inspections officers here at the mail centre, and she’s going to explain to you what’s involved here in the examining area.
Holly: OK Fade, outside on the belts at the mail centre we have officers go outside and they’ll do profiling.
Clinton: Profiling is the selective screening of incoming mail. The parcels are X-rayed, odd addresses might be checked, MAF dogs check for food and customs dogs check for drugs.
Clinton: This drug detector dog has sniffed out something of concern. The dog gets a game for his efforts. All parcels of concern get a yellow sticker.
Holly: The officers will come into this lovely room, called our examination room, and then start examining the packages. And crossed-fingers we come out with a positive result, whether it be narcotics, medicaments, all that sort of stuff. If it’s going to go down, it’s going to go down here and we get really, really excited about that. It’s a really great place to work. I can honestly say I have never once been bored as a customs officer; love it, love it, love it!
Clinton: Well could you get better praise for a job than that? So how’s it been for Fade?
Fade: I just really enjoyed how every day is an adventure and it’s a pretty serious thing. It’s helping the community out, and making sure that everything’s OK.
Clinton: To be a customs officer you will need to go through a clearance with Customs Security Standard, and meet minimum education levels. Training starts with a four-month course, which involves a mix of residential and on-the-job tuition. Turnover is low and job satisfaction is high. Career progression is good and clearly defined by the ranking system.
To become a customs officer you need to be a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident, and hold a current driver's licence.
Applicants shortlisted for trainee customs officer positions attend an assessment centre for:
- one-to-one interviews
- written activities
- group activities
- cognitive (thought processes) testing.
Successful applicants are then formally interviewed and must pass a medical assessment.
If your interview is successful, you become a trainee customs officer and complete a nine-week training programme in Auckland, which includes a two-week residential programme.
All staff appointed to New Zealand Customs Service must pass a drug test and security checks.
There are no specific secondary education requirements for this job, but NCEA Level 2 English and maths are preferred.
Customs officers need to be:
- skilled at communicating
- skilled at analysing information and solving problems
- good at planning
- polite, patient and helpful
- firm when dealing with people, when necessary
- able to relate to people from different backgrounds and cultures
- observant, with an eye for detail.
You need to be positive, open-minded and have people skills, because you’re dealing with so many different types of people.
Useful experience for customs officers includes:
- customer service roles dealing with the public, handling complaints and dealing with conflict
- work involving legislation or law enforcement
- being able to speak and understand other languages.
Customs officers need to be reasonably fit and healthy, and have good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses). You must pass a medical exam for entry into the role, and ongoing fitness tests for some customs officer positions.
Find out more about training
- New Zealand Customs Service
- 0800 428 786 - email@example.com - www.customs.govt.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
There are not many vacancies for customs officers as they often stay in the role for a long time because they find the job rewarding.
Technology having an impact on jobs
SmartGate allows arriving and departing passengers who hold New Zealand, Australian, United Kingdom, United States and Canadian ePassports to self-process through passport control.
Twenty nine new SmartGates have been installed at Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown airports. SmartGates mean fewer customs officers are needed to process passengers at those airports than before.
High turnover at Auckland Airport
There is a high turnover of customs officers at Auckland Airport as some find is stressful working at New Zealand's busiest airport. However, even with more vacancies the chances of getting a job there are still poor due to strong competition.
Candidates face strong competition
There is usually one customs officer intake each year, depending on how many staff leave. Competition for positions is strong, with over 1,000 people applying each intake, but only 20 to 30 recruited.
You can improve your employment chances by having experience in:
- customer service roles where you are dealing with the public, handling complaints and dealing with conflict
- work involving legislation or law enforcement.
- Beehive website, accessed July 2016, (www.beehive.govt.nz).
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
- New Zealand Customs Service website, accessed July 2016, (www.customs.govt.nz).
- New Zealand Customs Service, 'New Zealand Customs Service Workforce Strategy 2012-2016', accessed July 2016, (www.parliament.nz).
Progression and specialisations
Customs officers may progress into managerial roles or other customs roles, such as criminal investigator or specialist dog handler, or other government roles.
Last updated 20 June 2017