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How to Become an ATF Agent

Learn what an ATF agent is and how the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives agents share similarities with police officers.

alcohol tobacco and firearm agents at crime scene

The job of an ATF agent is a challenging one with risk, physical and mental demands, and substantial travel. It’s also a career that can be rewarding for those looking to fight crime at a federal level. Do you have what it takes?

What You’ll Do as an ATF Agent

Agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, or ATF, work under the umbrella of the U.S. Treasury Department. A job as an ATF Agent involves investigating violations of laws governing the possession and sale of alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and explosives. An ATF Agent works closely with local, state, and other federal law enforcement agencies.

The ATF Agent career is similar to that of a police officer because their duties include:

ATF Qualifications and Education

Applicants must be U.S. citizens and at least 21 years of age, and complete physical and written testing, background checks, and drug screening.

To be eligible for an entry-level ATF position, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in any field, but a criminal justice or law enforcement focus can often help your chances. A certain amount of work experience can substitute for a degree, but this can take longer for advancement.

You’ll also want to earn a four-year degree if you plan to further your education in the future. Having a master’s degree in areas such as sociology, criminal justice, or political science can help you advance to higher grade (and pay) levels.


Once hired as a new ATF agent there may be a significant amount of law enforcement training. First, you’ll spend nine weeks in Glynco, Georgia, where new agents are instructed in surveillance, arrest techniques, firearms training, and other skills. New agents then spend 13 weeks at FLETC where they learn about explosives, bomb scene investigation, and other similar areas.

ATF Special Agent Salary and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2022 Occupational Outlook Handbook, which classifies ATF Agents under Police and Sheriffs, the average annual salary is $65,790.

Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience, and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth.

Employment of police and sheriffs is expected to grow 3.3% through 2032, which is slower than average growth, however qualified applicants for ATF careers will always be in demand, especially as older agents retire.