Cash and Carry
March 6, 2006 7:20 PM   Subscribe

What happens when you travel with a large amount of cash?

I'm going on vacation, and for unimportant reasons, want to bring about $25,000 cash with me. I'll likely return with a similarly large amount of cash. I know that means I'd have to report it at the borders, but what happens after I declare it? Paperwork? Interrogation? Worse?

The only viable alternative (that I know of) involves setting up a foreign account, and then wiring the money to it, and I don't really feel like setting up a foreign account from the United States.

(If it matters, the origin is the United States, and the destination is the UK)
posted by I Love Tacos to Travel & Transportation (36 answers total)
 
Yeah, the TSA isn't going to like that. You'll have to "talk to someone" at the airport when they find it on the way out. I don't really know what would happen after that, as TSA employee hubby is actually freakishly hush-hush on the stuff he's supposed to be hush-hush about, but it will raise a flag.
posted by ferociouskitty at 7:24 PM on March 6, 2006


Well, if you're white, you'll probably have to fill out a lot of forms and spend some time chatting with Customs.

If you're black or hispanic, you'll probably have it confiscated as suspected drug proceeds, and you'll have to file a lawsuit to get it back. Yes, this is legal.

I suggest traveler's checks. Or bringing your ATM card and doing a max withdrawal every day.
posted by jellicle at 7:40 PM on March 6, 2006


Why don't you just withdraw the money using your debit card at UK ATMs? There's hardly a place you can go to now where you couldn't do just that. There's also a lot less risk of your spending a chunk of your purported vacation being detained and questioned by the DHS.

Alternately you can buy a bunch of AMEX traveller's checks and cash them at AMEX offices in the UK. If your bank has a branch or office where you're going (some of the larger banks do) you might be able to withdraw the money there directly.
posted by clevershark at 7:41 PM on March 6, 2006


Yeah, this is a Bad Idea. Other than the Traveler's Checks and ATM ideas (good though they are), another idea is getting to get your bank to cut you a Foreign Draft. This is basically a Cashier's Check cut in a foreign currency. The only problem would be cashing it while overseas, but perhaps you have a co-conspira -- erm, friend over there to whom you could make it payable, and they could simply hand over the cashy money once they cash it.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:45 PM on March 6, 2006


IANAL, but I do believe you can transport under $10,000 without having to declare it (at least you could pre-9/11), or face a ton of scrutiny. That said, if you're carrying $9,999 in cash and it's discovered, it'll probably still raise questions.
posted by pdb at 7:46 PM on March 6, 2006


If I bring an ATM card, I'll get nicked about 1% on the exchange, in both directions. That's a $500 "afraid of customs" fee.

I assume that AMEX traveller's checks would end up with a 1-2% fee, as well. (and the same fee on the way back).

If I bring American currency, I have a way to get the exact same exchange rate going both USD->GBP and back GBP->USD, thus saving $500-$1000 or so.
posted by I Love Tacos at 7:47 PM on March 6, 2006


Depends on what it's worth to you to NOT be hassled by customs. Then again, when I was in Paris a few years ago, I hid a ton of francs in my extra shoes in my suitcase and never came up missing a single one (ah, francs, how I miss your seven-to-one-dollar exchange rate . . . .).

I don't know if there is some way to validate what pdb is saying or not about the amount -- but if you CAN validate it, I'd choose to carry whatever amount WON'T get you arrested, and if you have a travelling partner, maybe that person can carry some certain amount for you as well. If you go through different lines probably no one will notice. After that, I'd go with the ATM. We were in Britain in November, and really, we didn't see a huge difference with the fee. We withdrew inGBP, I estimated the ultimate translation into dollars, and I was never very far off at all, so the fee can't have been that much.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:53 PM on March 6, 2006


Traveler's Checks are also out, because customs considers them the same as cash.

Medieval, you make a good point that with two travelers, we only need to pay the surcharge on a relatively small portion of the money.

Now I'm wondering... if we got a USD denominated check cut before our return, if we could legally deposit that via the mail.
posted by I Love Tacos at 8:03 PM on March 6, 2006


Take fancy coloured diamond instead of cash.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:04 PM on March 6, 2006


According to Customs:

“Money” means monetary instruments and includes U.S. or foreign coins currently in circulation, currency, traveler’s checks in any form, money orders, and negotiable instruments or investment securities in bearer form.
posted by I Love Tacos at 8:04 PM on March 6, 2006


Call the TSA and ask?
posted by wolftrouble at 8:11 PM on March 6, 2006


I found it strange when you said "...[I] want to bring about $25,000 cash with me. I'll likely return with a similarly large amount of cash" and then the bell sort of rang: if you're going to meet a Nigerian gentleman who promised you those US$ 10,000,000 that his uncle, the former DIRECTOR OF THE NIGERIAN OIL COMPANY stashed somewhere, don't do it.

On the other hand, they will hardly search all your luggage on your way out of the country, unless you have unresolved issues with some government agency, so you could always declare the maximum allowed amount (as pdb said above, don't declare the maximum minus some insignificant amount, go for the top - anyone planning to spend a lot of money abroad would take all he/she could, not a dollar or two less). If you have a good, honest reason to carry all this money, declare the total amount at the UK customs - most countries like money-loaded tourists, so they won't take it from you or even tax you, unless they suspect you're up to some shady business.
posted by nkyad at 8:16 PM on March 6, 2006


wolftrouble: I trust random strangers on the Internet far more than I trust the people who answer the phones at two different customs offices, and the TSA to all give me the correct answer.

Right now I'm leaning towards Medieval's solution, using a combination of transported cash, and sucking up partial ATM currency exchange fees.

Tomorrow morning I'm going to call our hotel and see if they'd be willing to accept a wire transfer and provide cash, as a guest courtesy.
posted by I Love Tacos at 8:16 PM on March 6, 2006


if you're going to meet a Nigerian gentleman...don't do it

This is excellent advice.
posted by I Love Tacos at 8:18 PM on March 6, 2006


I just received a private response from somebody who has travelled with > $10k cash many times.

His advice was to just carry it and declare it immediately. He stated that all they do is to count the money several times, record the denomination of each bill, and then send you on your way.
posted by I Love Tacos at 8:22 PM on March 6, 2006


Though you say the reasons are unimportant, it helps to know how the money will be used. Your credit cards (or your check card if it's a Visa or MasterCard) will still work properly at any store that accepts them, and you'll get the actual exchange rate without any conversion fees. If having cash is important, then I would bring just under the amount that needs to be declared, but use a credit/debit card for every single purchase where that was possible.
posted by stopgap at 8:37 PM on March 6, 2006


Poker game, ILT? If so, let us know how it went.

I've been told that you need only declare it. As long as you're not trying to hide it, it's like declaring anything else of value. Just paperwork, no interrogation. They may ask you why you have so much money. I wouldn't worry.
posted by solid-one-love at 8:37 PM on March 6, 2006


I hate to ask, but I'm assuming the $25,000 has something to do with consuming a lot of tacos?
posted by billysumday at 9:04 PM on March 6, 2006


I've made my decision, and barring specific, new information I'm just going to carry the cash myself, and declare it.

I'll mark "best answers" in accordance with my actual results. Here's to hoping that solid-one-love, jellicle, the anonymous responder and billysumday get the thumbs up.

If it goes poorly, at least I'll have purchased some heaping spoonfuls of schadenfreude for the more cautious of the group.
posted by I Love Tacos at 9:12 PM on March 6, 2006


Let us know, if you survive the cavity search.

I've always thought a Breguet was a classy way of side-stepping this kind of annoyance, but then what do I know anyway?
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:24 PM on March 6, 2006


I really don't understand why you wouldn't just get something like this. You lose it, you just get the money back. If you're money gets lost, or stolen, or confiscated by the Police (and yes, that can happen, I don't know why you think it wouldn't happen to you.).
posted by delmoi at 10:18 PM on March 6, 2006


How unimportant can these reasons be if you're willing to lose $25k over them.

Oh, but what do I know, I'm Nigerian.
posted by delmoi at 10:20 PM on March 6, 2006


It might be worth noting that any bank transaction in the UK valuing more than £6,000 will be notified to the UK Authorities by the institution, by law. So a banker's draft or similar will still raise flags when you try and collect the cash...

(Value may have changed - experience from before 9/11 so things may be even tighter now, but I recall trying to pay eight grand in cash into my long-standing building society account after flogging a motor and ending up talking to two lovely Policemen for 20 minutes afterwards...)
posted by benzo8 at 10:48 PM on March 6, 2006


On a related note, I just stumbled across this page about structuring, and I thought it was really interesting and scary.
posted by knave at 12:01 AM on March 7, 2006


Look at this alternative.
posted by planetkyoto at 1:31 AM on March 7, 2006


UK banks are on high alert at the moment following our recent little robbery... if you make a large cash deposit, expect a lot of questions.
posted by blag at 4:55 AM on March 7, 2006


Have you considered how you will feel and behave if you carry $25,000? I once had to make a 15-minute journey by foot with £8,000 cash for work. I spent the entire time convinced there was an illuminated sign above my head saying "Mug me". You may find that carrying a large sum of money makes you behave in a neurotic and shifty-looking manner which in turn makes you appear suspicious to customs and other officials. And if, by very bad luck, you were to be mugged, you would have no chance of regaining the money.
posted by boudicca at 5:56 AM on March 7, 2006


Your credit cards (or your check card if it's a Visa or MasterCard) will still work properly at any store that accepts them, and you'll get the actual exchange rate without any conversion fees.

Oh, it works properly. But Visa/MC skims 1%. More info in the links provided in this thread.
posted by desuetude at 6:43 AM on March 7, 2006


On the other hand, they will hardly search all your luggage on your way out of the country

Yes, actually, they will. Nothing about it is illegal, unless of course, something about it is illegal. Simply carrying cash is not an issue, but you will have to declare it and it will raise flags.

You may want to consider finding a bank that has branches here and in the UK (like Citibank). Deposit the money in an account, withdraw it there. Deposit the other amount there, come home and withdraw it, badda bing, badda boom.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:03 AM on March 7, 2006


From US Customs:

Money and Other Monetary Instruments
You may bring into or take out of the country, including by mail, as much money as you wish. However, if it is more than $10,000, you will need to report it to CBP. Ask the CBP officer for the Currency Reporting Form (FinCen 105). The penalties for non-compliance can be severe. Failure to comply can result in civil and criminal penalties and may lead to forfeiture of your monetary instrument.

“Money” means monetary instruments and includes U.S. or foreign coins currently in circulation, currency, traveler’s checks in any form, money orders, and negotiable instruments or investment securities in bearer form.


I would guess that the IRS would probably be curious once they get a copy of the paperwork you need to fill out. If you don't fill out the Currency Reporting Form, you probably will be saying goodbye to your cash at Customs.
posted by JJ86 at 8:10 AM on March 7, 2006


I think to avoid problems you may want to take care of this in advance.

The site also states that to avoid problems and theft, you should do a bank transfer.
posted by JJ86 at 8:14 AM on March 7, 2006


BTW, find the appropriate form here.
posted by JJ86 at 8:16 AM on March 7, 2006


And here is the ominously named US Treasury Dept., Financial Crimes Enforcement Network's website with further information on the subject.
posted by Carbolic at 1:08 PM on March 7, 2006


I think your best bet may be to charter a private plane, no customs check is done. Of course the cost is expensive, but having the plane to yourself more than makes up for it. (Flew from AZ to Nebraska one time on a private jet.)
posted by CCK at 4:44 PM on March 7, 2006


btw, an unendorsed check doesn't need to be declared, because its not its not a negotiable instrument, only after its been endorsed does it become one.
posted by CCK at 4:57 PM on March 7, 2006


Follow-up: I filled out the forms, and declared the money. It turned out to be pretty much no hassle at all. I took $25k over, and $42k back, no problems.

I wasn't even asked why I had the money until I returned, and they accepted my answer without any issue at all.

One minor thing I did, was to play off of stereotypes. I dressed as though I was going to work (very nice suit, accessories, etc.).
posted by I Love Tacos at 10:39 PM on March 15, 2006


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