Bringing cash to the U.S. – are you smuggling?

In June, a Chinese man touched down at Vancouver airport with around $177,500 in cash.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the cash was found stuffed in his wallet and hidden under the lining of his suitcase. The money was seized by an officer and eventually returned back to the man. The man faced up to $2,500 in fines for concealing and not declaring the money.

OK, you might think: this will never happen to me. But, for expatriates, who live and work in a country in which they are not citizens, it can. If you happen to be transporting a little more than $10,000 as your arrive in the United States from home–you could be putting yourself at risk!

So, what is the rule for bringing cash into the United States?

The rule is that you have to report high dollar amounts to U.S. Customs with the form called FinCen 105. Any cash over $10,000 must be declared by travelers landing in Canada or in the U.S; otherwise, cash will be seized and you will be fined.

You can look up the form here.

In essence, the $10,000 threshold applies to the value of your cash, traveler’s checks, and securities (monetary instruments).

You must first declare that you have more than $10,000 on the U.S. Customs form; then, you will be directed to fill out the additional form.

What happens if you do not declare, or falsely declared the amount of cash you are carrying?

1) Cash is temporarily seized by Customs.
2) If the Customs agent thinks that the cash comes from illegal activities, you will have to prove that they are not. If you cannot offer proof, your cash could be permanently seized.
3) You will end up paying a penalty for the cash, but not taxes.

How much will I have to pay in fines?

The form states that there is a fine of not more than $500,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 10 years.

That being the case, I cannot find any formulas to calculate the fine. I think that each circumstance depends on the agent’s discretion. However, there are no taxes on cash amounts over $10,000.

Therefore, I would recommend that you accurately declare your cash. Why take unnecessary risks?

In fact, most countries have similar restrictions. For instance, China restricts private citizens from taking out more than $50,000 per individual, per year. Obviously, this is extremely hard to enforce. The point that I want to make here is to be sure to understand and comply with the rules. In other words, you may get away with not declaring cash 99% of the time, but once you get caught once, your money can be confiscated.

You also do not want to spend any more than the minimum required time at Customs, where you are not able to use your cell phone.

If you have questions, contact me and I will be happy to assist you.

Koh Fujimoto

Koh is the Principal-in-Charge of the International Practice. He concentrates his practice in the areas of financial statement audits, transfer pricing and internal audit services.
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