How to Bring Cash Legally Into the United States

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

Although there is no limit as to the amount of currency that travelers can carry when they arrive to the United States, there are certain procedures with regard to customs and taxation that must be observed. In general, travelers do not have to worry about carrying amounts less than $10,000; however, traveling with a lot of cash could pose problems.

Declaring Money to U.S. Customs

All currency and negotiable instruments that can be readily turned into cash must be declared at U.S. ports of entry and exit. Travelers who enter or leave the U.S. via airports, seaports or border crossing checkpoints must complete a Customs and Border Protection Form 6059-B and declare the exact amount of money they are carrying.

When filling out a form 6059-B, travelers must declare all U.S. and foreign currency as well as gold and silver coins. Highly liquid instruments such as cashier's checks and money orders are also subject to declaration. Travelers who pass through the U.S. in transit to another destination must also submit to this declaration, but they do not have to list checks or money orders that have not been endorsed.

People traveling together should add up their cash and instruments when making this declaration. Should the amount of currency and negotiable instruments add up to more than $10,000, travelers must complete a Finance Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) form 105, formally known as Report of International Transportation of Currency and Monetary Instruments. The Internal Revenue Service is notified of these declarations for the purpose of determining whether the funds are subject to income tax.

Anti-Money Laundering Measures

As part of the War on Terror and the War on Drugs, U.S. law enforcement agencies have significantly increased their vigilance over money laundering. To this effect, travelers who carry large amounts of cash without supporting documentation of its legitimate source may be subject to secondary inspections and seizure of funds. In some cases, law enforcement may confiscate cash in excess of $10,000 until supporting documents are produced.

Failure to declare currency or willful misrepresentation on form 6059-B could result in hefty fines or funds being seized. Travelers who carry just under $10,000 in cash in frequent trips may come under suspicion of structuring a money laundering enterprise. FinCEN is also working on a method to compel travelers to declare prepaid cards that are loaded with $10,000 or more.

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