Customs Officers – How unique are they!?

While sitting (and working) at the lobby of Hotel Russelior, Hammamet, Tunisia – waiting for the PICARD2017 Conference activities to start tomorrow Monday evening – an old question popped to my mind: “How many Customs officers there are totally in the world”?


Before elaborating on that question, I want to share this first: I had a fantastic experience yesterday when arriving to the Tunis-Carthage International Airport: I was first greeted by a Tunisian Customs Officer when exiting from the plane, then taken to a comfortable waiting room, served the strongest coffee like ever (which I really needed, after starting my Thun-Bern-Geneva-Zurich-Tunis train and flight adventure at 7am on Saturday morning) – before being kindly driven (escorted by police) to the Hotel Russelior here in Hammamet. Special thanks to the Tunisian Customs welcome committee, with whom we also pondered a bit on “how unique / common is customs officers job across the globe”.

Now, it is a fact that “every country has their customs” – sometimes even considered to be the “second oldest profession in the world” (tax collection function, I believe…). It is also a fact that counting the exact number of customs officers can be a tricky task, due to the different administrative and legal structures of customs, tax and border police/guard functions across the globe. We at Cross-border Research Association have, however, used a rough estimate since around ten years as part of our academic lectures (in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Latvia, China, US, Costa Rica and so forth), the magic number being 1 million active officers. I cannot any more recall which were the sources to estimate this one decade ago; but even in the best case, this has been just an educated guess…

Two weeks ago, I was lucky to join a World Economic Forum and Global Alliance mission to Morocco, where this question also popped up, that time with a top customs expert from France. He made quick calculations using “country averages” across 180 or so countries, and came up with – tadaa… – 0.5 million officers! And for me, the logic and reasoning sounded quite solid, though bit to the bottom-end of the spectrum. Maybe the truth lies somewhere between 0.5 to 1 million officers? I will of course check tomorrow night with the WCOs Research Unit whether they have a “latest & greatest” number available, let’s wait and see if the wisdom lies there…

In the meanwhile, I invite all CBRA Blog readers to send their own magic number, together with a justification and/or a source, to our email address:  cbra (at)  We will have a lucky drawing of a recent CBRA Book among all those who send their reply to us by 24.10.2017. And, in case we receive a “proven correct number”, we will offer this expert a nice dinner for two, in their hometown favourite restaurant..!  (terms and conditions apply, including an upper limit for the restaurant bill).


CBRA Blog on 24.9.2017 by Dr. Juha Hintsa


PS. In any case, Customs Officers form a unique global community: every country has them – just like police, firemen, nurses, accountants etc. – but all in all say maximum 0.013% of world population (7.5 billion people) work in customs. How unique is that – not common at all to be a Customs Officer!

PPS. The lucky drawing prize book is: Hintsa, J. (2017), “Supply Chain Security (SCS) Compendium: A Decade of SCS Research”, HEC University of Lausanne, Switzerland & Riga Technical University, Latvia.