An often asked question is just how much cash you can fly with, and the answer is really threefold.
How Much Cash Can You Fly With in the US (domestically)?
It may shock and amaze you but there’s no limit to the amount you can fly within the United States on domestic flights. While carrying a large amount of money in your carry-on bag may draw unnecessary attention from TSA agents, it’s not illegal to carry even billions in cash, though that would be one very large carry-on bag.
The Transportation Security Administration staff and local law enforcement may have questions that are relevant especially if they suspect the money is from nefarious sources or for malintent purposes such as drug trafficking or money laundering. But as the law is written there is no legal limit for the amount of cash a flyer can carry.
How Much Cash Can You Fly With Internationally?
Most countries will limit the amount of unchecked foreign currency traveling through their ports. Customs declarations are required upon landing in every country and usually limit the amount of cash or cash equivalents (money orders, traveler’s checks, precious metals, cash) to $10,000 (USD) without declaring it on a form. For convenience, almost every country specifies this limitation in USD or about the same amount in local currency.
A major misconception is that any amount over $10,000 will result in seizure by foreign governments. While some could have their money seized for not declaring it, there’s virtually no penalty (other than a very long interview and inspection process) for declaring any amount in excess of $10,000 USD or equivalent when traveling internationally.
The Gray Areas
When traveling with a large amount of cash internationally, the simple act of filling out a declaration form and opening yourself to inspection is enough to ward off many who may be using the cash for illegal activities. However, if you are suspected of traveling with a large amount of currency to carry out an illegal act, can’t give the provenance or purpose for the money, it may be unnecessarily detained while authorities like the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) investigate further.
If a person chooses not to answer questions regarding the money, carries it in a suspicious manner, they may not be in violation of any regulations but may be detained or separated from their assets temporarily anyway.
For example, there’s no law saying that you have to carry cash in your wallet or briefcase – if you want to tape it to your body in the fashion of a drug mule, that’s not illegal, but an agency may have reason to believe something wrong is taking place and pursue additional methods of investigation.
One such seizure in Tampa was done incorrectly, and many argued, illegally – but that didn’t mean the traveler had his money returned. There was no law broken by the traveler, Boris Nulman, nor in technically confiscating the money without cause according to Civil Asset Forfeiture practices.
Just how gray can this area be? Nulman filed a suit against the CBP (who shouldn’t have been involved in a domestic matter anyway) and the TSA for not returning the funds and changing the amount. However, after taking the government to court, his co-plaintiffs ultimately dropped the lawsuit without a trial. Perhaps this is because they were refunded the money, maybe they settled out of court, or perhaps there was more to the story.
Legally speaking, there is no limit as to how much cash you can fly with domestically. There’s no legal requirement to carry the funds in a particular fashion. If you choose to line the pockets of your jacket and conceal the money, that’s legally just fine. For international flights, many countries, including the United States, do not have a limit on the amount of money you can physically bring in – as long as it is declared for any amount in excess of $10,000 (or approximately the same in most countries.)
What remains ambiguous is the unchecked searches and seizures for which travelers may be subjected. Regardless of legality, the mountains of red tape to return legal funds transported in a legal manner is a substantial unwarranted hurdle.
What do you think? Are large amounts of money in cash, by nature, suspicious? If there’s no law allowing seizure of the cash, why do governmental bodies do it, and how do they get away with breaking the law?