International Careers in Criminal Justice

Most students preparing to pursue a career in criminal justice have their sights set on domestic fields, such as local law enforcement, justice administration or forensics. However, for those with a flare for adventure, and the desire to experience a little bit more of the world, there are a myriad of international job opportunities in the field of criminal justice. Most Americans involved in international criminal justice, work for a federal agency of the US government or with an international oversight organization such as the United Nations.

International Jobs within U.S. Government

Within the US Federal Government, there are various job opportunities for criminal justice majors and professionals seeking career opportunities overseas. International criminal justice jobs can be found withing the CIA, U.S. Secret Service, Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), Federal Bureau of Investigation and Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
While not necessarily the most common, or easy to obtain, international job opportunities working with the CIA are definitely available. When most of us think "CIA" we envision the Hollywood version of 'CIA Agents' – the special agents and spys that work undercover for the National Clandestine Service (NST) in remote locations abroad. These agents, technically referred to as 'operations officers', are the front line of human intelligence gathering for the United States government.

The official duties of CIA Operations Officers, according to the official website, include: "Clandestinely spotting, assessing, developing, recruiting, and handling individuals with access to vital foreign intelligence on the full range of national security issues." In other words, the people who speak several languages fluently, blend in with the locals, infiltrate foreign governments, discover their secrets and help protect the national security of the United States of America.

There are two pathways for becoming an operations officer with the CIA: 1) Professional trainees (PT), for candidates with a college degree but no real experience to speak of; and 2) Clandestine service trainees (CST), for candidates who have both a college degree and substantial law enforcement and/or military experience.

U.S. Secret Service
Even though the U.S. Secret Service operates primarily in the United States, it also has overseas operations in 18 countries. This law enforcement agency has two primariy focuses: 1) protection of VIPs and 2) criminal investigations.

One of the primarily mandates of the U.S. Secret Service agent is to protect:

  • Foreign dignitaries and heads of state visiting the U.S.
  • United States Presidents, former presidents and their families
  • Vice Presidents
  • U.S. reprentatives working abroad
  • Presidential candidates

The secondary role of the Secret Service is to investigate financial crimes. Specifically, the U.S. Secret Service investigates fraud relating to institutions, fraudulent securities, telecommunications fraud, currency counterfeiting, access device fraud and indentity theft.

During their career with the Secret Service, special agents may have the opportunity to work overseas in one of the agency's 18 international offices providing protection and performingcriminal investigation services.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS)
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) is a federal law enforcement agency that has the mandate and responsibility to investigate felony offense that impact the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.

Even though the NCIS is a federal agency whose sole charge relates to Navy investigations, you don't have to be in the military, or even have military experience, to work for the NCIS. In fact, most personnel employed by NCIS are civilians. Over 90% of the agency's employees are civilians and nearly all (98%) of its special agents are civilians.

Within its purview as a criminal investigations agency, the NCIS focuses primarily on identifying and neutralizing threats to the Department of the Navy – specifically terrorist, intelligence and cyber threats. It is also tasked with neutralizing any other threats that present a risk to the security of U.S. naval forces located throughout the world.

Both the Airforce and Army have criminal investigation units similar to the NCIS. These include the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) and U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, respectively.

You can learn more about the Naval Criminal Investigative Service at

Federal Bureau of Investigation (legal attachés)
Anyone seriously considering an international career in criminal justice and law enforcement, should consider a career working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI has agents, known as legal attachés – or "legats" in FBI circles – operating out of just about every U.S. embassy in the world. Legal attachés work hand in hand with local law enforcement in their host country to support criminal investigations that involve the interests of both countries.

The official mandate of legal attachés is to support the ongoing mission of the FBI to indentify and neutralize terrorist threats to the national security of the United States. Specifically, legal attachés cordinate the intelligence gathering efforts conducted by intelligence agents of both countries.

Duties of a legal attaché include:

  • Coordinating intelligence gathering efforts
  • Conducting investigations in cooperation with the host country
  • Facilitating the dissemination of investigative information and intelligence
  • Providing briefings to other law enforcement agengies that are counterparts to U.S. embassies
  • Producing situation reports that ensure culture protocols are following
  • Managing and getting country clearances for agents
  • Keeping a pulse of the policital climate of the host country and making security recommendations
  • Coordinating humanitarian assistance and relief efforts for victims

From time to time, legal attachés working for the FBI will coordidate U.S. based investigations where assistance from international partners and host countries is requested to thwart terrorist and criminal activity at home.

You can learn more about the international operations conducted by the FBI and a career as a legal attaché at

Bureau of Diplomatic Security
The Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) is the law enforcement and security division for the U.S. State Department. The agency is somewhat similar to the U.S. Secret Service in that their primary roles is one of protection. Diplomatic Security agents are responsible for protecting the (1) Secretary of State, (2) U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and (3) foreign dignitaries who visit the United States on official business.

DS agents also help embassies and consolutes of foreign countries based here in the United States with their security needs. They help foreign countries develop, plan and implement strategies to ensure their missions and personnel are well protected. As is the case with the Secret Service, DS also has an investigations roles in addition to their primary mandate to protect. DS conducts criminal investigations into visa fraud, passport fraud and issues relating to personnel security.

DS's mandate to protect, extends beyond domestic borders to almost every U.S. diplomatic mission around the world. DS develops and implements security programs, protocols and procedures to ensure the safety and security of U.S. personnel working through the world. In fact, DS has its finger in law enforcement efforts in just about every country world wide.

International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP)
The International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program, or ICITAP, is organized and operated under the direction of the United States Department of Justice. This program, not well known by most Americans, recruits U.S. criminal justice professionals and law enforcement officers to help foreign governments develop effective and transparent criminal justice systems and law enforcement organizations in their own countries. ICITAP seeks professionals with skills and knowledge in organizational development, terrorism and transnational crime, border security, tactical skills, criminal justice coordination, forensics, criminal investigations, corrections, information systems and community policing.

You can learn more about the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program at

Criminal Justice Jobs with International Organizations

In addition to the international career paths and job opportunities available working with U.S. based law enforcement agencies, there are several interntional career paths for criminal justice professionals interested in working with international organizations such as the United Nations and Interpol.

United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization that employs criminal justice and law enforcement professionals from various member nations in its ongoing effort to enforce international human rights laws and identify, apprehend and prosecute war criminals. From gathering intelligence to working in the international criminal court in the Hague, there many international career opportunities in criminal justice available through the U.N. As a law enforcement agent with the U.N. you can also assist with local law enforcement efforts to prevent kidnapping and human trafficking, border control, drug trafficking and more.

If you're really interested in combating illicit drugs, crime and terrorism on an international level, you may want to pursue a career with the United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime (UNODC). UNODC was estiablished in the late 1990s to fight crime on an international level through a global network of law enforcement agencies and offices. It is based in Vienna, has roughy 1,500 personnel and has regional offices located throughout the globe.

UNODC has a three fold mission:

  • Enhance the ability of U.N. member states and countries to fight illicit drugs, crime and terrorism internationally and within their own borders.
  • Perform empirically sound research and analysis to gain knowledge and improve understanding of issues relating to drugs and crime to support new policies and operational objectives.
  • Provide member states the assistance they require to ratify and implement legislation and treaties to counter the use and sale of illicit drugs, fight crime and neutralize terrorist threats.

UNODC employees also perform a variety of other tasks and services with include (1) monitoring and tracking trends in international drug abuse and trafficking, (2) helping UN members reduce the supply and demand of drugs and (3) and helping member states develop strategic partnerships and relationships instrumental to fighting human trafficking, money-laundering and smuggling domestically and abroad.

Anyone who has ever seen a James Bond movie, or any one of hundreds of international crime or spy movies, has heard of Interpol. Interpol is short for International Criminal Police Organization. The mission of Interpol is to enhance the communication of information and cooperation between disparate law enforcement agencies aross the world. While Interpol is involved in all sort of crime fighting activities, Interpol agents focus on criminal activities including cybercrime, art and antiquities theft, human trafficking, child sexual abuse, terrorism and drug trafficking.

People are often under the erroneos impression that Interpol is an actual law enforcement organization with its own police force. Interpol is not a police force. It is solely responsible for managing data and facilitating communication between law enforcement agencies and local police forces. Interpol personnel may work at a domestic location or from one of Interpol's many international offfices.

Even though Interpol technically doesn't have its own police force, with over 190 member countries, it's considered the largest police organization in the world. Within its purview of enhancing communication between policing organizations and managing data, it has specific responsibilities and imperatives which include:

  • Provide all 190 member countries with direction and instant access to crime-related data submitted by all other member countries.
  • Provide around the clock operational support and assistance – including emergency and crisis response – to member countries.
  • Provide member countries with tools, services and training to enhance their capacity to fight crime and enforce domestic and international laws.
  • Support and manage the world's largest and most powerful database of criminals and crimes.

Currently, Interpol employs over 650 full-time personnel from over 90 foreign countries. There are two paths to a career with Interpol. First, current law enforcement and criminal justice professionals can be nominated ("appointed") by their own nation to represent their police force with Interpol. Second, civilians and contractors with specific law enforcement expertise can be hired directly by Interpol.

Speaking two or more languages (Spanish, French, English, Arabic, etc.) proficiently is a good first step to landing a job with Interpol since they're always looking for personnel with the ability to communicate with regional bureau and liaison offices.

Preparing for an International Career in Criminal Justice
The best way to prepare for an international career in criminal justice is to gain as much criminal justice, law enforcement and international experience as possible. Many professionals who work in international criminal justice careers first worked for several years domestically in a law enforcement or criminal justice capacity. It is rare for recent college grads, with little real-world experience, to find international careers in criminal justice working with international organizations such as the U.N. or Interpol. However, there are a myriad of internship opportunities domestically and even with international organizations that can give students a foot in the front door. Learning to speak two or more languages fluenty is also a big plus when seeking international career opportunities in criminal justice.

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