Wads of small bills at JFK Airport - how to change?
August 27, 2012 10:30 PM   Subscribe

This past weekend I had a huge moving sale, and ended up with about $1500 in small bills ($1s, $5s, $10s, $20s). Between cleaning my apartment and packing everything up today, I forgot to go to the bank and deposit the money into my account. Tomorrow morning I fly out of JFK (Terminal 4, specifically) to move to San Francisco, and since my flight is early there's no time to go to a bank. I feel weird traveling with these huge wads of cash, especially as it's all small bills. Right now it's all stuffed into a cigar box in my carry-on. I don't think it will fit in my wallet. Will the currency exchange places give me $100s (or better yet a money order) for my cash, and will I find one before passing through security? Will TSA steal from me, or give me a hard time for carrying these wads of bills? Is there possibly a Bank of America branch in JFK? What should I do? I don't think I'm comfortable depositing this much cash through an ATM, and anyway it would take forever.
posted by betsbillabong to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've carried cash and haven't had a hassle, $1500 doesn't really cross into the money laundering zone. I'm sure you could buy a money/passport belt at the airport, but if you're nervous 7-11's sell money orders. I think $500 is the limit, buy three and use them to open an account in SF.
posted by Marky at 10:49 PM on August 27, 2012

In terms of the bulk, you can try to exchange some of the 1s and 5s for larger bills at a bodega and with your taxi driver.
posted by spec80 at 11:07 PM on August 27, 2012

I don't understand why you'd be uncomfortable going to an ATM, or why you think it would take forever. You just stick the stack(s) in and the ATM counts it for you. Done.
posted by violetk at 12:51 AM on August 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

You might stop in at one of those Currency Exchange places. Granted, you'd be exchanging US currency for US currency, but I guarantee you, they'll have plenty of it. Even if you only drop down to $20s, you just saved a lot of space.
posted by valkyryn at 2:01 AM on August 28, 2012

I just deposited a lot of cash in an ATM yesterday, the first time I've ever done such a thing. Back when ATM's were first in use, the general wisdom was NEVER deposit cash in an ATM. Now it's a completely different process.

The ATM will scan the money, that you insert as a stack (up to 40 bills at a time) and give you a total amount recognized on screen that you then accept as correct. I had 2 bills out of 20 that were rejected, because they had folded corners. I straightened them out and inserted them again, with no issues.

Technology is an amazing thing!
posted by lootie777 at 2:41 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

In 2006, someone bought my car on Craigslist for a bit less than $3000 and paid me in $20 and $50 notes. Deposited in an ATM before the bank opened and the money showed up in my account within minutes. Didn't even need an envelope.
posted by mdonley at 3:25 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh god don't go to one of those currency exchange places, they will gouge you with fees. Just use an ATM on the way to the airport. It will take 5 minutes.
posted by moammargaret at 3:36 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

$1,500 is not a suspicious amount of cash. You are perfectly entitled to be carrying it. You can explain why you have it.

From a security pov it makes sense to bank it before you fly so you don't risk using it.

To put this in perspective: rich people carry cash too, and would not entertain the idea of having $1,500 on them suspicious. For reference, I give you Mario Balotelli, an Italian footballer based in the UK. When stopped by police after a car accident they were particularly interested in why he had £5,000 in cash on him. His response:

"Because I am rich."
posted by MuffinMan at 4:56 AM on August 28, 2012 [12 favorites]

If you want a money order, the easiest place to get one in NYC (unless you live in a really nice neighborhood) is a check cashing place, not a currency exchange place (which foreign atm networks have made an endangered species anyways.)
posted by Jahaza at 5:17 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to let you know that when I asked this question of a money exchange, they told me they are disallowed by law to give you change in the currency that you already have.

As others have said, this probably isn't enough money for security people to care about. If you really don't want small bills, try going to a corner store and asking if they'll give you a $20 bill for 20 ones.
posted by Phredward at 6:19 AM on August 28, 2012

There is a BofA at Jamaica Station, if that's useful to you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:27 AM on August 28, 2012

I dont know why people have this idea that carrying cash is a criminal offense. Flying domestically? I'd carry it in my pocket and never let it leave my side.

Flying internationally, you run the risk of getting the shake-down (that statement based purely on American ignorance) but you won't have to worry about it from U.S. TSA agents.

Really the only risk is of getting mugged or losing it.
posted by el_yucateco at 7:39 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I dont know why people have this idea that carrying cash is a criminal offense.

It's because we'd heard the story about the migrant worker who tried to take his life savings back to his home country in a duffel bag and had it all confiscated.

However, looks like the limit before you have to declare it to customs is $10K, so you're good.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 8:00 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seems to me the only issue is the bulk of the small bills. I know there is a Citibank branch just inside the perimeter of JFK. If you are taking a cab, he could easily stop there without losing more than 5 minutes of time. Here is info about Bank America in JFK
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:14 AM on August 28, 2012

Is there a bar/restaurant/coffee shop that you visit frequently, particularly one that only accepts cash? They might be willing to buy your small bills from you. Our neighborhood coffee shop owners are always looking to buy any small bills I might have on me. Same is true for some of our regular cash-only restaurants.
posted by jshort at 9:02 AM on August 28, 2012

Like MuffinMan says, this really isn't a lot of cash in the grand scheme of things; put it in your safest pocket or a travel belt and it will be fine.
posted by werkzeuger at 1:26 PM on August 28, 2012

In 2009, the TSA got something of a legal beatdown for interrogating a passenger about the $4,700 in cash he was lawfully carrying.

The TSA has since "clarified" their policies. If the TSA employees at your airport have been properly trained, they should not harass you about the cash.

Which leaves theft as your main risk, especially if you are required to submit to the full-body scan: you must empty your pockets before going into the full-body scanner, and your wallet, moneybelt, etc may have to go on the X-ray conveyor belt. To minimize the risk of having your money stolen while you are being searched, you can lock your wallet inside your bag, and then request that your belongings remain within your sight at all times (the TSA is supposedly obligated to honor such a request).
posted by Dimpy at 9:23 PM on August 28, 2012

Response by poster: Hey everyone, OP here. Thanks for all your answers! I got through okay in the end. I should have said this whole thing was complicated by the fact that I was traveling with five giant suitcases. I was not particularly mobile.

I was mostly worried about theft. I don't trust the TSA and was not wild about the idea of putting wads of money through security where anyone could easily just grab a twenty and I'd never notice. JFK usually makes you do full body scans, and then you have to empty your pockets of everything, including cash. And there was no way I could have fit it in my pockets anyhow.

I ended up leaving the $1s and $5s at my parents house to deposit at another time. Those were the bulkiest. Moneybelt was a good idea and I found mine but then was told by currency exchange (who would not change my $$ for hundreds, btw) that you could not walk through security carrying a moneybelt. I stuffed the $20s in my pockets and hoped for the best. Luckily, the TSA at terminal 4 doesn't seem to wave *everyone* through the full body scanner, so I was able to just keep the money in my pockets. But I really should have just gone to the bank the day before and saved myself some worry.

A couple of side notes that may be helpful to someone in the future:

(a) Travelex (the big airport currency exchange) won't do more than one money order for $500. I could not, for example, get three money orders for $500 nor one for $1500. They also said they were low on $100 bills and would not change them for my $20s.

(b) If you go through the full body scan you have to empty your pockets of all money and no moneybelts allowed. Luckily I didn't have to but that makes me nervous with a large-ish sum.

Anyhow, thanks. Depositing it in the bank the day before would have been the best option of all. And I do know about depositing cash, but my issue is that if there's a mistake, you have no proof of what you deposited. (Also, I didn't see a Bank of America ATM there).
posted by betsbillabong at 8:02 AM on August 29, 2012

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