Customs Currency Seizures

International travelers should remember that there is no limit on the amount of money that can be legally taken out of or brought into the United States provided that it is properly declared at the border.   If a person (or group) holds $10,000 or more in currency or negotiable monetary instruments, they must fill out a "Report of International Transportation of Currency and Monetary Instruments" FinCEN Form 105 (former CF Form 4790).

One of the most common mistakes is the assumption that persons/family members traveling together can divide currency between each other to avoid declaring the currency.  Persons traveling together are treated as a unit for purposes of the $10,000 limit, and should file a joint declaration (CBP Form 6059-B).   If the group fails to declare the monetary instruments and the total amount is over the $10,000 limit, then all funds may be subject to seizure and potential forfeiture.  For example, if a family is traveling together and a husband is carrying $8,000, his wife holds another $8,000, then together they hold a total of $16,000, and the currency, being well above the $10,000 threshold, must be reported.   

If assistance is required, one should ask a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer for their assistance in filling out the forms.  The FinCEN 105 is best obtained prior to traveling, but if this is forgotten, ask a CBP Officer for the form prior to attempting to pass through the Customs. checkpoint.

If currency is seized, Customs will issue a receipt, and somewhat later, a notice of the seizure case will be issued to the claimant by the Customs Fines, Penalties and Forfeitures Division from the local port.  The involvement of experienced customs counsel should be sought to obtain a release of the funds.  Even if eventually released, petitioners will at minimum be assessed a civil penalties for the violation.  If facts implicating attempted "smuggling" exists, then the case may be referred to the DOJ for potential prosecution and criminal penalties may be implicated for the crime of bulk money smuggling/laundering).