How to Become an FBI Agent

Holland Webb, MA
Updated May 17, 2024
Edited by
Are you looking to become an FBI agent? Find out more about this exclusive career, along with how to secure public safety and U.S. interests as a special agent.

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Agents for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) protect U.S. citizens’ security and the country’s political interests. Since the agency’s founding in 1908, agents have caught spies, infiltrated organized crime operations, and combatted global terrorism. These professionals investigate interstate crimes, support state and local law enforcement, and serve American interests abroad through U.S. embassies.

Agents may spend their days conducting surveillance, monitoring online activities, or carrying out arrests. Becoming a special agent for the FBI is a long and challenging path, but the financial, personal, and professional rewards can be significant.

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What Is the Federal Bureau of Investigation?

The FBI is the primary U.S. federal agency that oversees law enforcement and domestic intelligence. The agency can investigate specific crimes or support state and local law enforcement officials. FBI agents often investigate interstate criminal acts such as cybercrime, terrorism, public corruption, or organized crime.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the FBI maintains 56 field offices in major cities and 350 smaller offices across the U.S. The agency also operates in about 60 American embassies around the world. In total, about 35,000 people work for the FBI, including agents, IT specialists, scientists, and linguists.

What Are the Different Types of FBI Jobs?

The FBI offers various career paths, including those listed below.

  • checkSpecial Agent: FBI agents plan and conduct investigations in accordance with relevant criminal law by conducting searches, seizures, and arrests.
  • checkIT Specialist: As network administrators, these specialists take responsibility for all stages of the FBI’s computer technology.
  • checkBudget Analyst: These professionals formulate and analyze budgets to ensure operational continuity and maximize organizational results.
  • checkEvidence Technician: Evidence technicians process, package, and document the materials agents gather.
  • checkResearch Biologist: These professionals develop and use bioinformatic tools and techniques to conduct forensic microbiology analysis.

What Skills Does the FBI Require?

The FBI recognizes the following core competencies as necessary for success in special agent and other FBI roles:

  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Initiative
  • Interpersonal ability
  • Leadership
  • Organizing and planning
  • Problem-solving and judgment

What Do FBI Agents Do?

Depending on the day, FBI agents may conduct surveillance, gather and analyze data, monitor online activities, collect evidence, and conduct arrests. The FBI also operates branches around the world to keep tabs on foreign governments.

Daily tasks also depend on an agent’s specialty. One agent might focus on financial fraud, while another investigates cybercrimes. They often work with state and local law enforcement agencies to carry out their duties.

Where Do FBI Agents Work?

Many FBI special agents work at the official FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. Others work in regional offices around the country in cities like Albuquerque, Indianapolis, Seattle, and Miami. The FBI can call on agents to change locations at any time, requiring them to relocate.

Depending on their caseload, FBI agents may work late nights, holidays, and weekends. For one case, they might visit several locations — or even several cities and states — to gather information, interview witnesses, and make arrests.

How to Become an FBI Special Agent

The hiring process for special agents is long and challenging. Even after securing employment, you must complete an 18-week basic training program.

FBI Eligibility

You must meet the following criteria to join the FBI:

  • U.S. citizenship
  • No felony convictions
  • Be age 23-37
  • Have not used cannabis or marijuana within one year of application or any illegal drugs within the last ten years
  • Clean criminal record
  • Taxes and student loan repayments in good standing
  • Not behind on alimony or child support payments
  • Have not participated in an attempt to overthrow the government
  • Physically fit
  • Registered with Selective Service System, if assigned male at birth and not exempt

Education and Work Experience

Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree and two or more years of full-time work experience or an advanced degree and one year of full-time experience. Degrees must come from a U.S.-accredited college or university. Although the FBI does not require any particular field of study, a bachelor’s in criminal justice or a related field can help prepare candidates for this role.

The FBI does not waive the bachelor’s degree requirement for any applicant. The agency accepts applicants with various types of work experience beyond law enforcement and military work.

Field Training

For the first 18 weeks of their training, agents go to the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. This intensive, 800-hour experience focuses on four concentrations: academics, case exercises, firearms training, and operational skills.

Academic topics include law, ethics, leadership, interrogation, forensic science, and more. Operational skills training covers physical fitness, electronic surveillance, and tactical driving.

New trainees also spend 100 hours learning firearm techniques, such as marksmanship and safety. Real-life cases present scenarios that test new recruits’ skills in investigations, arrests, and presenting evidence in court.

FBI Employee Salaries and Benefits

The U.S. uses the General Schedule (GS) to pay some employees, which bases salaries on grade levels. Workers are assigned a grade based on their experience, background, education, and accomplishments. Grades range from GS-1 to GS-15. All new FBI agents are assigned to grade 10 and earn $81,000- $129,000 annually.

An agent’s salary depends on several factors besides GS pay grade, including their location, availability pay, and previous grade status in another government role.

Besides earning a salary, FBI agents can take advantage of many benefits. These include benefits that many other employers offer, such as a pension plan, 401K, insurance, and paid time off. However, FBI agents also receive other perks like opportunities to work abroad, relocation reimbursement, and sabbatical programs. Agents can retire after 20 years of service.

Frequently Asked Questions About FBI Agents

What’s the difference between an FBI agent and a special agent?

Anyone employed by the FBI as an agent is a “special agent.” Many federal and state agencies use the term “special agent” to refer to investigators or detectives who are not uniformed police officers. Some agencies may use “agent” instead of “special agent.” The FBI uses the two terms interchangeably.

Are FBI agents allowed to tell family?

Most FBI agents are allowed to tell their family members where they work but are not usually allowed to discuss specifics. Expectations may be different for agents working covertly. Some FBI agents who are parents and need extra flexibility can receive part-time assignments. The agency also offers 12 weeks of leave for the birth or adoption of a child.

Is it hard to get into the FBI?

The FBI is a highly selective employer. To qualify, you must meet strict standards of academic experience, moral conduct, and physical fitness. You must also be willing to conduct arrests and use deadly force when required. The agency accepts fewer than 20% of its qualified applicants.

Is being an FBI agent a risky job?

Being in the FBI can pose a significant risk, and some agents have even lost their lives in the line of duty. You must work a minimum of 50 hours per week, and the job can be tedious, lonely, or stressful, creating relational hardships and mental health concerns.

What disqualifies you from working at the FBI?

You may be disqualified from working as a special agent at the FBI if you have non-U.S. citizenship; a felony, sex crime, or domestic violence misdemeanor conviction; or wilfully engaged in actions that could overthrow the U.S. government. Other disqualifiers include failure to pay alimony or child support, defaulting on a federally funded student loan, and failing to file income tax returns.