Navigating the CBP Polygraph Exam: A Detailed Guide

Embarking on a career with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) involves several rigorous steps, one of which is the polygraph exam. This exam is a critical part of the application process for positions such as Border Patrol Agents, CBP Officers, and Air and Marine Operations (AMO) Agents. Understanding the polygraph process can alleviate some of the anxiety associated with it and help you prepare effectively. Here’s an in-depth guide to help you navigate this crucial step.

What is the Polygraph Exam?

The polygraph exam is a tool used by CBP to measure the physiological responses of applicants as they answer questions about their past behavior, personal connections, and integrity. It involves the use of biometric sensors to record responses such as heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and skin conductivity. These physiological indicators help examiners assess whether an individual is being truthful.

Why Does CBP Use the Polygraph Exam?

CBP employs the polygraph exam to ensure that candidates possess the honesty and integrity required for roles that are vital to national security. This exam helps verify the information provided by applicants in their Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing (e-QIP) and during pre-screening interviews. By identifying discrepancies and verifying truthfulness, the polygraph helps maintain a workforce that can be trusted with sensitive duties.

The Scheduling Process

After you complete your e-QIP and a pre-screening interview, you will be contacted by a polygraph examiner to schedule your exam. This typically happens within a few weeks. The examiner will arrange a convenient time and location at a CBP exam center. Flexibility in scheduling aims to accommodate the applicant’s availability and ensure they are well-prepared for the exam.

Dispelling Common Myths

There are several myths and misconceptions surrounding polygraph exams, which can contribute to anxiety. It’s important to understand that:

  • Nervousness is Normal: The polygraph exam accounts for the fact that applicants may be nervous. Examiners are trained to differentiate between nerves and deception.
  • The Exam is Fair and Objective: CBP polygraph examiners are federally certified and operate under strict guidelines to ensure a fair and accurate assessment.

Former Polygraph Examiner Robert Lowry prepares his equipment before the arrival of an applicant.
Photo credit: Donna Burton

What to Expect During the Exam

The polygraph exam generally lasts about four hours. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect:

  1. Pre-Test Phase: This phase involves an introduction to the process, explaining the exam, and discussing the questions that will be asked. This helps in building rapport and reducing anxiety.
  2. In-Test Phase: During this phase, biometric sensors are attached to record physiological responses as you answer the questions. The actual questioning happens in several 10 to 15-minute sessions.
  3. Post-Test Phase: After the questioning, the examiner will review the preliminary results with you and answer any remaining questions. The examiner will then forward the results to a quality control board for further review and finalization, which typically takes a few weeks.

Preparation Tips

Proper preparation can significantly enhance your performance during the polygraph exam. Here are some essential tips:

  • Sleep Well: Ensure you get a good night’s sleep before the exam to help you stay calm and focused.
  • Eat Breakfast: A healthy breakfast can help maintain your energy levels throughout the exam.
  • Medications: Continue taking any prescribed medications as usual.
  • Snacks and Water: Bring snacks and water to keep yourself refreshed during breaks.
  • Dress Comfortably: Wear business-casual attire that you feel comfortable in for an extended period.
  • Time Management: Arrive on time and set aside the entire day to avoid any time constraints.

Key Do’s and Don’ts

  • Be Honest: Disclose any changes or new information related to your e-QIP before the exam. Honesty is crucial.
  • Follow Instructions: Listen to and cooperate with your examiner. They are there to guide you through the process.
  • Avoid Outside Advice: Do not follow outside advice on how to “beat the test.” Such actions can jeopardize your application.

Understanding the Results

After the exam, you will receive your preliminary results, which will be reviewed and validated by a quality control board. Here’s what to expect based on different outcomes:

  • Passing: If you pass, you will be notified and will receive information on the next steps in your application process.
  • Inconclusive: If results are inconclusive, you may be asked to return for a follow-up session to clarify certain responses.
  • Unsuccessful: If you are unsuccessful, you will have the opportunity to discuss the reasons with your examiner.

CBP Polygraph Questions

Applicants who apply for a law enforcement position with CBP are required to undergo a Tier V background investigation and must submit to a polygraph examination as required by the Anti-Border Corruption Act of 2010. Results of your polygraph examination, along with information gathered as part of the background investigation process, will be used to assess your overall suitability/eligibility to hold a law enforcement position with CBP.

Many of the questions you will be asked during your polygraph examination and your personal interview (part of the background investigation) will relate to your current situation and past actions/behaviors and will involve responses you previously provided to questions on your application and background investigation forms.

It is important to understand the polygraph examiners and the investigators conducting the personal interviews are trained professionals who are tasked with gathering the facts. A trained personnel security specialist will later review these facts and make a final determination regarding suitability/eligibility of employment to hold a law enforcement position. Therefore, it is important to be honest and forthcoming when filling out any/all application and background forms and when speaking with the polygraph examiner and investigator, even if it is uncomfortable.

Providing false or misleading information on forms or during the personal interview is an automatic disqualifier. Conversely, if you are honest and forthcoming with your forms and personal information, it may be possible to mitigate concerns and avoid automatic disqualification.

Illegal drug use is one area where applicants have a tendency to not fully disclose past actions/behaviors. Questions involving illegal drug use are asked multiple times throughout the background investigation process. Your responses on the Standard Form-86 will be compared to your responses during your personal interview and your responses during the polygraph examination.

To help you make an informed decision about whether or not you should continue with the application process, CBP is sharing the prior drug use guidelines used during the adjudication phase.

CBP conducts a “whole person” analysis in order to determine whether an applicant is suitable based on previous illegal drug use, considering both aggravating and mitigating factors such as frequency and recency of use, circumstances surrounding the use, the age of the person at time of use, contributing societal conditions, likelihood of recurrence, and/or a demonstrated intent to not use illegal drugs in the future.

It is important that you be honest about any/all previous drug use during the entire application process. Previous illegal drug use may be mitigated, whereas dishonesty and/or falsifying federal application or background investigation forms will not be tolerated and will result in a negative suitability finding.

Important Note: Due to federal reciprocity directives, CBP will share background investigation and/or polygraph information with future potential federal employers, if it is requested. For example, if someone undergoes a CBP background investigation and/or a polygraph and then applies for a job with another federal agency, CBP will share the results if the federal agency requests them.

List of Potential CBP Polygraph Questions

  1. Have you ever engaged in illegal drug use?
  2. Have you ever falsified any information on your application forms?
  3. Have you ever committed a crime that went undetected?
  4. Have you ever stolen anything from an employer?
  5. Have you ever lied to law enforcement officers?
  6. Have you ever been involved in any form of smuggling?
  7. Have you ever been terminated or asked to resign from a job?
  8. Have you ever received money or gifts for performing your job duties?
  9. Have you ever been involved in any form of human trafficking?
  10. Have you ever participated in any form of espionage or sabotage against the U.S.?
  11. Have you ever been a member of a group that advocates the overthrow of the U.S. government?
  12. Have you ever abused any prescription medication?
  13. Have you ever lied during any previous background investigations?
  14. Have you ever been involved in any illegal activities while serving in the military?
  15. Have you ever used your position to gain personal favors or advantages?
  16. Have you ever been involved in any activities that could be considered a conflict of interest?
  17. Have you ever been arrested or charged with any offense?
  18. Have you ever lied to protect someone else involved in criminal activities?
  19. Have you ever engaged in any behavior that could compromise your position?
  20. Have you ever withheld information about your criminal history during previous employment applications?

By being aware of the types of questions that may be asked, applicants can better prepare for the polygraph examination and ensure they provide honest and accurate information throughout the application process.

Final Thoughts

The polygraph exam is a vital component of the CBP application process, designed to ensure that applicants meet the high standards of honesty and integrity required for roles within the agency. By understanding the process and preparing adequately, you can approach the exam with confidence. Remember, CBP is not looking for perfect individuals but for those who are honest and trustworthy.

For more information about the polygraph exam and the application process, visit the CBP website. If you’re ready to take the next step in your career, join the CBP Talent Network or start your application at For further inquiries, contact the CBP Applicant Contact Center at [email protected] or call (855) 500-3722.

Applying for a position with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can be a rigorous process, and one key component is the polygraph exam. Many applicants feel anxious about this step, but understanding the process and preparation can help ease these concerns. Here’s a comprehensive guide based on recent insights to help you navigate the CBP polygraph exam smoothly.

CBP Polygraph Exam FAQ

What is the purpose of the CBP polygraph exam?

The CBP polygraph exam is used to verify the honesty and integrity of applicants for CBP law enforcement positions. It measures physiological responses to determine truthfulness regarding past behavior and personal integrity.

Are there any waivers for the polygraph exam?

While there are no post-examination waivers, CBP can grant waivers to certain veterans under section 1049 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017. To be eligible, veterans must meet specific criteria, including holding a current Tier 5 background investigation, a Top Secret security clearance, and the ability to access Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI). Detailed instructions for applying for a waiver are included in the applicant’s background investigation packet.

Is there an exception for current DHS employees or specific CBP roles?

Yes, the “Limited GS-1811 Polygraph Exception” allows current Criminal Investigators (Series 1811) within the Department of Homeland Security, seeking voluntary reassignment, to be exempt from the polygraph requirement. Additionally, the “It’s Time to Come Home Campaign” permits former CBP law enforcement personnel currently employed by DHS to return to frontline positions without a polygraph exam.

Can I withdraw my application during the process?

Yes, applicants can withdraw their application at any time by contacting their assigned Polygraph Examiner and following up with the CBP Hiring Center in Minneapolis, MN. Specific contact numbers are provided for different roles, such as CBP Officers, Border Patrol Agents, and Air and Marine Operations applicants.

Does the polygraph program make hiring decisions?

No, the polygraph program does not make suitability determinations or hiring decisions. The results are reviewed by the Personnel Security Division as part of the overall background investigation process.

How can I submit a complaint about the polygraph exam?

Applicants can submit specific concerns about their polygraph examination in writing to [email protected] or by mail to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Credibility Assessment Division, 90K NE, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20002. Complaints are reviewed and responded to within 30 days or forwarded to the appropriate investigating authority.

How should I prepare for the polygraph exam?

  • Follow the written reporting instructions provided before your test date.
  • Be available for the entire day as the exam duration can vary.
  • Get plenty of rest and avoid working a midnight shift before the exam.
  • Eat something prior to arrival and bring snacks and drinks.
  • Continue taking any prescribed medications.
  • Dress in neat, casual business attire.
  • Bring official photo identification.
  • Do not bring weapons or recording devices.
  • Leave your cell phone in your vehicle or ensure it is completely powered off during the exam.
  • Be truthful on all application forms and prepared to discuss any updates during the exam.

Can I reapply if I fail the polygraph exam?

Yes, applicants can reapply at any time. However, CBP polygraph examination results are valid for a two-year period.

How long does the polygraph exam take?

The average polygraph exam lasts approximately four hours, including short breaks. The actual data collection through the polygraph equipment involves intermittent periods of 10 to 15 minutes.

What happens if my polygraph results are inconclusive?

If your results are inconclusive, you may be asked to return for additional testing to achieve conclusive results.

Are polygraph exam results final immediately?

No, polygraph exam results are not deemed final until a Quality Control review has been completed. The Quality Control Team, consisting of experienced senior federal polygraph examiners, reviews the results to ensure accuracy.

Can I request a polygraph examination reciprocity?

Yes, applicants who have passed a previous federal pre-employment polygraph exam may apply for polygraph examination reciprocity. The CBP Credibility Assessment Division reviews reciprocity requests to determine eligibility based on specific criteria.

What should I do if I need to reschedule my polygraph exam?

Contact your assigned Polygraph Examiner, whose information is provided in your written reporting instructions, to cancel or reschedule your exam.

Will being nervous affect my polygraph exam results?

No, being nervous will not cause you to fail the polygraph exam. Nervousness is normal and accounted for in the testing process.

Is every polygraph exam audio recorded?

Yes, every CBP polygraph examination is audio recorded in its entirety for review by Quality Control and management.

Will I be informed of my preliminary results after the exam?

Yes, your examiner will inform you of your preliminary results before you leave the polygraph suite and provide an opportunity to ask questions.

Does the polygraph exam disqualify me from applying to other jobs?

No, failing the CBP polygraph exam does not preclude you from applying to other jobs. Other agencies may request the status of your CBP application, but the results are not shared.

Are all polygraph exams the same?

No, federal polygraph programs have different standards and training requirements than state and local agencies. Even within the federal government, agencies have different hiring standards and approved testing formats.

What happens if I withhold information during the polygraph exam?

Withholding information, whether minor or otherwise, can impact your ability to pass the polygraph exam. Most applicants who fail do so because they withhold information related to past indiscretions or attempt to manipulate the results.

What are the consequences of recent drug use when applying to CBP?

Any use of marijuana within 90 days, anabolic steroids or misuse of prescription drugs within two years, or other drugs within three years of applying will disqualify you from further consideration. It is crucial to be forthcoming about all drug use.

Who reviews my polygraph exam results?

The results are submitted to the Personnel Security Division, which adjudicates them as part of your background investigation. The polygraph program does not participate in the adjudication process.

For more information about the polygraph exam and the application process, visit the CBP website. If you’re ready to take the next step in your career, join the CBP Talent Network or start your application at For further inquiries, contact the CBP Applicant Contact Center at [email protected] or call (855) 500-3722.


Key Points to Remember

  • Honesty is Essential: Do not conceal or omit any information on your e-QIP.
  • Truthfulness: Answer all questions truthfully during the exam.
  • Cooperation: Work with your examiner and follow all instructions.

CBP is not looking for perfect individuals who have never made mistakes but values honesty and integrity. The polygraph exam is a tool to help assess these qualities.


Join the CBP Talent Network

Since 2010, almost every Border Patrol Agent, CBP Officer, and AMO Agent has taken and passed the polygraph exam. Despite their initial nervousness, they succeeded—and so can you. Join the CBP Talent Network to learn more about the opportunities available and take the first step toward your career with CBP.


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