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What Happens When You Declare Money at Customs?

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Is your credit card going to be accepted by overseas merchants? Can you make money with contract jobs in international locations and bring the cash back with you into the United States? These are just two of the many questions you might ask related to dealing with money when you’re traveling in and out of a nation. Before you decide how to handle financial matters when you travel, make sure you know what happens when you declare money at customs.

Is There a Maximum Amount of Money You Can Bring Into the United States?

When you’re traveling to and from the United States, there’s actually not an official limit on how much of your money you can carry with you. Note that cash in this case includes actual cash bills and coins as well as instruments that are deemed equivalent to currency. It also refers to cash in the currency of other nations.

If you're carrying currency equivalent to $10,000 or more, you have to report the money to customs.

While there aren’t rules on how much money you can carry in or out of the United States, there are requirements for reporting the cash. If you’re carrying currency equivalent to $10,000 or more, you have to report the money to customs.

That limit isn’t per person if you’re with your family or another organized group, either. If you’re traveling together with two other people and you’re each carrying $5,000, that totals $15,000. The total is above the threshold, so your group would have to report the cash to customs.

What Counts as Cash, Exactly?

Okay, but what’s a “cash equivalent”? Can’t anything be converted to cash if you sell it, and does that make your diamond necklace a cash equivalent you need to report?

While you might need to report other types of items and valuables to customs under different rules, cash equivalents are limited to currencies and financial vehicles that are deemed equivalent to currency. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, that includes:

  • Money in U.S. dollars and coins
  • Coins from other nations
  • Paper currency from other nations
  • Gold coins
  • Traveler’s checks
  • Checks or money orders that can be cashed, including those that are made out to someone else but endorsed to be cashed by you
  • Certain types of stocks or securities

Declaring Money at U.S. Customs

Before you attempt to carry more than $10,000 into or out of the United States, you’ll need to complete a FinCEN Form 105. That’s the form that lets you appropriately declare the currency to customs.

For convenience, you can complete the form online via a computer or mobile device. The form requires you to answer some questions and identify yourself and the currency in question. It also asks if you’re a professional money transporter carrying the money for someone else. Money reported via FinCEN Form 105 is reported to the IRS to help cut down on money laundering.

Typically, if you are carrying money for legitimate, legal reasons and you complete FinCEN Form 105 truthfully before you arrive at customs, you should be able to get through with your money in short order.

Typically, if you are carrying money for legitimate, legal reasons and you complete FinCEN Form 105 truthfully before you arrive at customs, you should be able to get through with your money in short order.

Potential Penalties to Look Out for

However, not reporting cash or cash equivalents over the amount of $10,000 can come with serious consequences. U.S. Customs notes that consequences can include:

  • Forfeiture of the money you’re carrying—that means they take the money at customs and you don’t get it back
  • Civil penalties such as fines
  • Criminal penalties, including prison time if you’re convicted of a crime related to illegally transporting money

Declaring Money in Foreign Countries

You don’t just have to declare money when you’re carrying it into and out of the United States. Other countries have declaration requirements and rules too, so always ensure you know the rules of all countries you plan to travel through. Some forms you might need when traveling with large amounts of money include:

To find similar forms for other nations you might be traveling to, simply search online for cash declaration requirements for the country you’re traveling to or from. Doing a bit of research before you travel or go through customs can save you a lot of time and hassle.

Prepare for Travel in Advance

Sometimes, you can’t get around carrying cash in or out of a country. For example, if you sold a large property somewhere and the transfer fees would be exorbitant, it might be cheaper to fly the money into the United States yourself.

But when you’re planning a vacation or business travel abroad, you probably don’t need to carry $10,000 or more in cash with you. After all, carrying that much negotiable currency puts you at risk for getting robbed. And if you simply misplace a good chunk of what you’re carrying, you could also be out a lot of money.

Instead of carrying cash, consider funding your travel with a credit card. Credit cards don’t have to be declared, and if your credit is good enough, you might be able to get a travel rewards credit card with no foreign transaction fees. That means you can pay for goods and services in international locations while building points that let you cover travel expenses or splurge on free dining experiences.

Start planning for international travel as far in advance as possible. That way, you can check your credit and see if you might qualify for these types of credit cards. If your credit is lackluster, consider looking into services from CreditRepair.com, which are designed to help you take action to potentially positively impact your credit score.

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