Increase in Currency Seizures from Travelers Entering the U.S.

January 14, 2013

Recent news reports have indicated that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (Customs) has seen an increase in currency seizures from travelers entering the U.S., particularly travelers from China. Many entering travelers bring in large amounts of cash without declaring it, fearing that Customs inspectors are going to seize the cash when they pass through Customs at the airport or at a land crossing. These travelers are under the mistaken impression that it is illegal to import large amounts of cash into the United States.

Actually, there is no limitation to the amount of cash that a traveler can legally can bring into or out of the United States. The only requirement is that when the traveler is transporting more than $10,000, he or she must declare the exact amount of funds being transported. There are no duties, fees, or penalties for bringing more than $10,000 in cash as long as it is declared. This $10,000 requirement is not simply limited to cash but also applies to other types of monetary instruments such as foreign currency, travelers’ checks, money orders, bank notes, and securities or stocks in bearer form.

The failure to declare currency or other monetary instruments in excess of $10,000 can have severe consequences, including total forfeiture of the funds. However, Customs laws allow a traveler to file a petition for relief, requesting that the funds be returned. Often, providing that there are justifiable circumstances, most of the funds can be returned in exchange for paying a penalty. Customs will consider certain mitigating or aggravating factors in deciding whether relief should be granted, including whether there was a legitimate source and use for the funds and whether any criminal activity was involved. If relief is warranted, Customs will follow certain remission guidelines.

However, due to the fact that Customs has a very large workload, it often takes quite a while to obtain release of any of the seized funds. It is recommended that travelers who have had their funds seized at an airport or land border crossing consider consulting with a Customs attorney to expedite the matter and advise the traveler of his rights.

If you have any questions about this or other customs issues, please contact Steve Spraitzar at or at (415) 288‑0427.

Stephen S. Spraitzar is an attorney with the Law Offices of George R. Tuttle in San Francisco.


The information in this article is general in nature, and is not intended to constitute legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship with respect to any event or occurrence, and may not be considered as such.


Copyright © 2013 by Tuttle Law Offices. 

All rights reserved.  Information has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable.  However, because of the possibility of human or mechanical error by our offices or by others, we do not guarantee the accuracy, adequacy, or completeness of any information and are not responsible for any errors, omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of such information.


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