What does a Customs Manager actually have to do in their day job?

Updated: Dec 29, 2019

Ever wondered what Customs Managers actually do? We looked at the requirements n job adverts around the world and the key requirements are impressive. Far from being a technical customs' geek, customs mangers need to do much, much more.....

We at Customs Manager build the worlds' largest community of EMPOWERED global customs managers and trade professionals. We say EMPOWERED because we recognize that today's customs managers need to be more than Customs geeks or - a better term - Subject Matter Experts (SME's).

Having looked through several adverts of what the ideal customs managers should do, here are our favourite bits:

What is a typical job description of a Customs Manager?

Here is what we read often:


- The Customs Manager will provide strategic & tactical leadership in the management of the customs compliance programming.

- The individual in this role will drive the ongoing development of our best in class trade compliance team, program, processes, & internal controls.

- The Customs Manager will facilitate compliant, reliable, efficient & expedient cross-border movement of goods, while helping to develop a team of subject matter experts, leveraging innovation to provide value.

Next, companies seek



  • Responsible for import & export internal audit processes to ensure practices & training programs are delivering on accurate classification, valuation, origin, reporting, export, & other customs compliance requirements

  • Primary liaison with government agencies through audits & compliance programs

  • Design & administration of operational compliance programs

  • Regular review, revision, & implementation of internal controls & compliance manual procedures

  • Work with government officials & internal partners to keep the company aware of & current to changing regulatory environments, trade agreements, & partnership programs

Professional & Managerial

• Promote collaboration mindset within & across teams

• Demonstrate leadership behaviours

• Provide leadership, guidance, & coaching to all direct reports

• Promote skill-building & capability development opportunities

• Collaborate with direct reports to establish clear & concise development goals & plans; evaluate progress regularly

From this description, we see that there are daily mandatory activities that need to happen and core skills to be developed for every Customs Manager to be successful:

CORE DAILY TASK: Legislative monitoring

In the outset, global trade processionals need to stay constantly up to date with ever-changing rules and regulations, often across multiple jurisdictions. This is mainly done through subscription to endless newsletters, reports and official registers, gazettes, legal journals etc. The amount of information that is being pushed to a Customs Manager is generic, lacks context and applicability to the business. What do I care about the latest Hilton beef quotas if I am in the electronics business? What I do then care about are the Section 301 tariffs of the US administration or the relevance of EAR or even ITAR. Customs Managers often do not have the time to analyse and check for relevance all the pieces of news that are being pushed to them. It is often "go, go, go" when they hit the office, fire-fighting and resolving issues without the time to actually think strategically. In short, legislative monitoring takes a lot of time and effort - time one can spent doing more productive work for the business, like reclaiming overpaid customs duty or setting up a customs duty relief scheme!

CORE SKILL: Thought Leadership through Continuous Education & Training

Up next, Customs Managers & Global Trade Professionals need provide thought leadership to companies, due to their subject matter expertise. Senior Management often calls upon them to explain complex customs & global trade matters and assess the impact to the business. This requires more than just awareness of customs procedures and processes, this requires deep knowledge and ability to connect the dots. A one-day ad hoc training course once a year simply does not cut it! Constant, ongoing training, must occur, without the hassle of having to organize it every time. Customs Managers need C&GT training should be relevant, efficient and not too overwhelming. It also must be delivered to the level of knowledge: An expert level training is inefficient to a beginner and vice versa. Finally, today's' customs managers require training to be delivered using modern technology, allowing them to train whenever and wherever they are - including in the palm of their hand! This is the only way to keep up worth ever lasting changes and new customs and global trade requirements.

But you see, while legislative monitoring and ongoing education and training are vitally important, they are expected and merely are fundamental requirements of a customs' manager. Customs Managers need to be project managers, people managers, auditors and finance managers as well. We need to me multi-talented!


What do you need to land a job as a Customs Manager or Global Trade Professional? Here is a selection of what we found as requirements:

  • Strong leadership skills

  • Understand & analyze current processes & recommend/define improved future state

  • Strong verbal & written communications skills including reporting, meeting facilitation, & presentations

  • Strong information seeking skills – Curiosity

  • Clearly articulate goals & objectives

  • Network, influence, & leverage internal & external resources

  • Recognize & work to understand challenges or underlying concerns, troubleshoot, & develop effective responses or escalate for resolution with recommendations as appropriate

  • Familiarity with statistical sampling & its applications to Customs compliance programming

  • Bachelor's degree in Business, Supply Chain, International Trade, or related field

  • For US jobs, current US Customs Brokerage license or CCS / CTCS / other Customs certifications & designations

  • 5 years of management and/or strong team building experience within customs & trade, finance, internal audit, or a similar function in medium to large companies

  • Experience working directly with U.S. or EU or national Customs & other government agencies

  • Experience in the customs & international trade industry, including but not limited to: import/export regulations, policy & procedure development, customs system automation tools, extended first sale, duty exemption, customs audit management, & preferential trade programs.

A superstar!

I don't know about you, but I think this is a long list of rather diverse requirement and skills! Being a CUSTOMS geek is no longer enough. The MANAGER portion of the job also needs attention and management skills are vital! To be a successful customs manager and global trade professional you need to be a superstar! And hopefully, this demanding skill set comes with the right pay check!

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