Most countries have checks in place to control the amount of cash that travellers can bring in, and take out. The USA is no different, and has a legal requirement that travellers declare large cash movements, to prevent money being used for illegal or terrorist activities, and to stop money laundering.
If you’re going in or out of America with a lot of cash, you’ll be asked to explain where it’s from and where it's going, so the border police can check if it’s within the rules. The rules are pretty straight forward, but the penalties are harsh if you fall foul of the law.
So, if you’re headed to the United States soon it’s a good idea to understand the restrictions that are in place about how much cash you can take in or out. Use this guide to help you figure out how the rules might affect you.
The details about regulations and restrictions on taking currency in and out of the USA can be found online, at the US Customs and Border Protection website.
You can bring up to $10,000 - or the equivalent - into the United States, without needing to take any specific action. Carry in excess of that, and you have to complete a declaration when you arrive - more on that later.
If you bring more than $10,000 - or the equivalent - to the US, and don’t properly declare it, you can have the money seized by border control. There may also be criminal charges to answer if the police believe that the money has come from some form of illegal activity. In the most serious cases, fines can run right up to $500,000, and prison terms can be as long as 10 years. It’s definitely not worth risking getting it wrong. Make sure all your paperwork is up to date, and properly prepared and presented at the border.
It’s really important to note that the $10,000 limit applies whether you’re travelling as an individual or a group. So you can’t simply ‘split’ the allowance between yourself and others in your party, to allow you to get more cash through the border. Whether you’re travelling alone, with family or friends, the total amount that can enter the USA without having to complete the declaration form remains $10,000.
The definition of cash is fairly wide. For this purpose, cash and negotiable monetary instruments all count towards the amount you’re allowed to bring into the country. That means that as well as hard currency, anything that could easily be passed on or converted to cash, should be declared. The list of what counts is here, on the US Customs and Border Protection site.
Check out the details if you have any concerns - but here’s a basic round up of what counts:
- notes and coins of any currency which are in circulation currently
- gold coins - although bullion doesn’t count here
- bankers’ drafts or money orders
- cheques of any kind (including travellers’ cheques)
- some stocks and securities, if they're in bearer form and could easily be passed onto another individual
If you’re taking more than $10,000 into America, you’ll have to declare it using a form with the catchy name FinCEN105. You can get this online or as you pass through customs when you arrive. There’s quite a bit of small print on the back of the from - so make sure you take the time to read it all as you fill it in.
If you’re taking more than the equivalent of $10,000 out of the USA, you’ll have to fill in a declaration. The form is the same as if you’re bringing cash into the country - the FinCEN105. You can do it online, or ask a Border Officer to help you complete it as you pass through customs.
Depending on where you’re going, you might find that there’s further paperwork to complete once you arrive at your destination, too. For example, if you’re headed to Europe, you’ll have to complete another declaration upon arrival, with the exact form depending on the country. Make sure you know all the applicable laws before you travel.
For most travellers, there's no need to carry a lot of cash. It’s a hassle, and if can be unsafe. Walking round a new place with lots of cash in your pocket is a good way to make you a target for thieves. And you’re all the more likely to be a victim if you’re distracted or disoriented because you’re exploring, or sightseeing.
If you’re just taking a simple trip abroad, you can avoid unnecessary stress if you use ATMs to withdraw money when you need it in the USA
As well as the risk of theft, you could also be ripped off if you carry cash and exchange it for dollars when you arrive in the USA. More often than not, you’ll struggle to find a good deal because the most convenient exchange offices - those at the airport or your hotel, for example - offer poor exchange rates. That means you have to decide: waste your precious holiday time searching for a better deal, or pay a hefty premium to exchange your currency in a convenient location. Tough choice.
If you’re going to use ATMs to get the dollars you need while you’re in the USA, you can use TransferWise to change your money at a fair rate. If you, or a friend, have a US-based bank account, you could transfer your cash using the same exchange rate that banks use among themselves. That means you get the best available exchange rate, no matter what currency you’re exchanging. You only pay a small, upfront fee to make the transfer. Once your cash is in dollars, you can withdraw it from ATMs when you need it, and avoid the fees charged by exchange offices.
If you travel a lot, then you could avoid any unnecessary stress - and save yourself time and money with the TransferWise borderless multi-currency account. You can hold your cash in multiple different currencies all at once, including USD, and view your account balance at a glance. When you’re ready, you can move your cash between currencies using TransferWise. As with all international money transfers with TransferWise, you get the best available exchange rate, every time - with no hidden fees. Also, consumer debit cards will be available for borderless accounts from early 2018. Finally, your money can be as flexible as you are.
Make sure you know all the rules about carrying cash in and out of the USA before you set out. If you accidentally break the law, your cash could be confiscated, and the potential fines are huge. The result could be a ruined holiday - or much, much worse. Luckily, there are better ways to get your money where you need it. Using TransferWise is simple, secure and could leave you better off. So all you have to do is enjoy your trip to the USA.
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