Border Patrol Agent: Career Guide
Border patrol agents (BPAs) are law enforcement officers who enforce federal laws when people or goods travel into the United States. They work along the borders of Mexico and Canada as well as in the coastal waters of Puerto Rico and Florida to facilitate the flow of legitimate trade. Border patrol agents are also responsible for preventing illegal immigration, and protecting Americans from human and drug trafficking, terrorism, and agricultural pests. A border patrol agent works for US Customs and Border Protection. Standout agents may enjoy such career advancement opportunities as earning an assignment with the elite Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC), Horse Patrol, K-9 Unit, or Riverine Operations, in addition to other exciting career possibilities including supervisory positions.
Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks
Agents carry out their duties by using a variety of technological tools, such as infrared scopes, electronic sensors, low-light television systems, and aircraft. They are also involved in the legal field, as they offer input to the courts regarding immigration issues such as citizenship applications. Border patrol agents often deal with dangerous situations, such as coming into contact with armed criminals. While BPAs are similar to customs and border protection officers (CBP officers or CBPOs), and some job duties may overlap, their primary job duties are distinct. Border patrol agents typically patrol international land borders and points of entry to apprehend undocumented aliens and smugglers of aliens, while CBP officers focus on facilitating the flow of legitimate trade and travel, determining the admissibility of individuals into the US, and preventing the illegal entry of individuals and prohibited goods.
Steps for Becoming a Border Patrol Agent
First prospective BPAs must meet the following qualifications:
- Be younger than 40 years of age at the time of hire (unless qualified for an age waiver based on military or federal civilian law enforcement experience)
- Have a valid driver’s license
- Hold US citizenship
- Have lived in the US for three of the last five years, unless qualified for a military exception
- Be eligible to carry a firearm
- While not required, it is recommended that candidates possess a bachelor’s or master’s degree in criminal justice or Homeland Security OR have equivalent work experience (education and experience determine pay level)
The process for becoming a border patrol agent will be similar to the steps below.
- Acquire the necessary education and/or experience described above.
- Apply for an open position on the USAJOBS website.
- Take and pass the CBP Border Patrol Entrance Exam at a location of your choice. You can find study guides on this page. The entrance exam is waived for those entering at the GL-9 level or higher based on previous specialized law enforcement experience.
- Ensure your resume has been properly formatted and submitted to USAJOBS.
- Submit to a background investigation.
- Take and pass a medical screening.
- Take and pass a series of fitness tests.
- Complete a structured interview with a board of BPAs, who will evaluate your decision-making skills, interpersonal skills, and maturity level, among other qualifications.
- Take and pass a polygraph exam.
- Take and pass a drug test.
- Be hired as a border patrol agent.
- Receive on-the-job training once hired.
Border Patrol Agent Job Training
Every newly hired border patrol agent must successfully complete a minimum of 19 weeks of training at the Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, New Mexico. This residential training program covers law (including nationality law and immigration law), firearms use, and physical training. New agents must maintain a minimum 70 percent average to pass the program. Additionally, non-Spanish-speaking candidates must complete Spanish language training. Trainees will be required to pass a final fitness test in order to graduate from the Border Patrol Academy.
Other Helpful Skills and Experience
Successful candidates should be physically and mentally strong, financially responsible, and possess strong problem-solving and interpersonal skills. BPAs must be willing to work overtime in arduous conditions and change temporary and permanent duty stations when required. Border patrol agents are required to be proficient in the use of English and Spanish. Previous federal law enforcement and/or military experience may be beneficial.
Possible Job Titles for This Career
- Border Guard
- Border Patrol Guard
- Border Patrol Officer
- Patrol Agent
Border Patrol Agent Salary and Job Outlook
Border patrol agents’ salary is based on the General Schedule pay scale. You can view the current General Schedule pay scale at the US Office of Personnel Management website. BPA job salaries on the USAJOBS website range from between $40,000 to $83,000 per year. The base pay range for border patrol agents varies according to education, experience, and duty posting. BPAs have many opportunities to increase their base pay through overtime and other salary incentives, including premium pay for holidays and nightshifts and awards for outstanding performance. The United States has a great need for border patrol agents, as it is continually increasing security and inspection of people and goods that enter its borders. There are approximately 18,000 Border Patrol Agents and staff represented by the National Border Patrol Council (NBPC) labor union.1
Interested in a career similar to a border patrol agent? Check out these related careers:
- Customs and Border Protection Officer
- Police Officer
- Transportation Security Screener
- Security Guard
- Criminal Investigator
- Private Investigator
- Information Security Officer
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: What does the CPB exam assess?
Answer: The CBP Border Patrol entrance examination measures logical reasoning using several methods. Test-takers will be given 120 minutes to answer all questions on the test. Questions will measure candidates’ ability to make educated guesses, evaluate if-then statements, and reach valid conclusions. You can see review a practice test here.
Question: What traits might disqualify a prospective border patrol agent?
Answer: US Customs and Border Protection may disqualify candidates who have been arrested, use alcohol excessively, have been dismissed from previous employment, and have financial problems. Also, candidates with certain medical conditions may be disqualified.
Question: Is basic training a paid opportunity?
Answer: Yes. Successful candidates receive paid training at the Border Patrol Agent Academy in Artesia, New Mexico.
Question: What type of schedule does a border patrol agent typically work?
Answer: Aspiring agents should be prepared to work long hours, including overtime, weekends, nights, and holidays, often under difficult conditions.
- Border Patrol Supervisors’ Association – A non-profit professional organization that provides legal coverage for its members.
- US Customs and Border Patrol – The official website of the Department of Homeland Security, which includes career information for prospective border patrol agents.
- National Border Patrol Council – A union that exclusively represents the 17,000 agents and support personnel assigned to protect the border.
1. National Border Patrol Council: http://www.bpunion.org/
2. US Customs and Border Patrol: https://www.cbp.gov/careers/frontline-careers/bpa
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm#tab-2