Many people wouldn’t dare cross international lines with a lot of cash on them.
The risks are just too great.
But if you’re traveling to a country where a U.S. debit card or credit card won’t work, bringing cash might be your only option for accommodations, transportation, and food.
Or, you plan to give that money out as gifts to family and friends abroad.
While it makes sense to travel with some cash, there are specific rules when you travel internationally with $10,000 or more in cash.
Here’s what you need to know to avoid running into problems, or worse, having your cash confiscated.
Rules for Traveling Internationally With $10,000
You have the right to withdraw your cash whenever you want; and if traveling internationally, you have the right to bring as much cash as you need for your trip.
With that said:
You must abide by government rules to keep your cash when going through U.S. Customs and Border Protection or TSA (Transportation Administration Security).
To be abundantly clear, it’s not illegal to travel with $10,000 in cash internationally.
The truth is:
You can travel with as much money as you like internationally. So if you want to stuff $1 million in cash or monetary instruments into your carry-on bag, there’s no law prohibiting this.
Reporting cash over $10,000
Just know that anytime you travel internationally with money, you’re required to declare any cash over $10,000.
You’ll have to fill out declaration Form FinCEN 105 and provide the exact amount of money on you.
Having to declare more than $10,000 in cash might seem a bit odd. But the reason for this rule is similar to why banks have to report withdrawals or deposits of $10,000 or more to the IRS.
Federal law requires financial institutions to report unusual or suspicious activity, which often includes large deposits.
A single deposit of $10,000 isn’t likely to raise too many red flags with the IRS. But if you make several large deposits, you’ll need to provide an explanation.
Similarly, traveling internationally with more than $10,000 won’t put you in handcuffs, but law enforcement may ask a few questions before letting you continue with your trip.
Basically, you’ll need to disclose the source of cash and provide a legitimate reason for having a lot of cash with you.
Bank Secrecy Act
The reason for disclosure has everything to do with the Currency and Foreign Transactions Reporting Act, also known as the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970.
This law was put in place to help detect and prevent drug trafficking and money laundering.
Money laundering is the act of disguising money generated by criminal activity, by making it appear as if it came from a legitimate source. Some people attempt to deposit illegal funds in foreign banks.
The bottom line:
Always be upfront about any cash over $10,000 on your customs form.
If you’re not honest, you could have your cash seized. And unfortunately, it takes time to get your money back, if you get it back at all.
As a side note, you’re only required to disclose amounts over $10,000 when traveling to or from the United States.
For domestic flights, you can carry as much cash as you like.
Dangers of Carrying a Large Sum of Cash on a Trip
But even if you have a legitimate reason for traveling internationally with $10,000 or more—or any large amount of cash—it isn’t recommended.
Unlike traveler’s checks or credit cards, you can’t replace cash. And anything can happen on your trip resulting in losing possession of your money.
For example, there’s the risk of theft when traveling to a foreign country. Some people look to take advantage of travelers. They may observe you, watch your activity, and steal your money when given an opportunity.
Even if you don’t run into criminal activity, there’s the risk of losing your cash.
So the less cash on you, the better.
If you must travel with a large sum of cash, here are a few tips to protect your funds from loss or theft:
1. Lock your cash in a hotel safe
If possible, book with a hotel that has a safe in each room.
In addition to storing your cash, you can also secure your passport, jewelry, and other valuable items during a trip.
You can set up a unique code upon checking into your room. When exiting the room, even for a short period of time, make sure the safe is closed and locked.
2. Separate Your Money
In the event that you don’t have access to a hotel safe, don’t keep all your money in the same place.
Find two or three different hiding places, and keep your money separated. This way, if someone finds a hiding spot and steals your cash, you’ll have some money left for the trip.
Avoid obvious hiding places like your suitcase.
Instead, stuff some cash inside socks within your suitcase or drawer, or perhaps within a toiletry bag.
3. Only carry what you’ll need
When enjoying outings in your destination country, only carry the cash you’ll need for the day. Keep most of your cash locked away in your hotel room, and travel with small bills.
Don’t put your wallet in a back pocket or an outside pocket of bags.
Invest in a security belt with a hidden pocket or other on-body storage.
4. Don’t let cash out of your sight
When traveling through an airport, it’s also important to never let cash out of your sight. The worst thing you can do is put your money in checked luggage.
Many people will have access to your bag before it’s returned to you, increasing the likelihood of theft. Keep your cash in your carry-on bag, buried near the bottom.
If you have to remove cash from your carry-on bag, do so discreetly and out of public view.
Safe Alternatives for Traveling With Cash
Given the possible risks of traveling with a large sum of cash, consider safer alternatives before heading out of town.
1. Open a worldwide checking account
Depending on how frequently you travel out of the country, it might be worth opening a checking account with a bank that offers global services.
Many financial institutions are able to accommodate international travel. You can deposit your cash at a U.S. bank branch. If you need to use an ATM in another country, the bank may reimburse your ATM fees.
There’s also a good chance that you won’t pay any foreign transaction fees when using your debit card worldwide.
Foreign exchange fees are typically charged when using a debit card internationally. On average, the fee is 3 percent of a transaction.
You’ll not only save money, but the ability to use an ATM or your debit card in another country also means you don’t have to convert your money at an airport, which comes with its own expensive fees.
2. Use a credit card without a foreign transaction fee
While it’s good to have some cash when traveling internationally for cab rides, subways, and tours, it’ll be safer to keep most of your cash at home and use a credit card instead.
But not just any credit card.
You’ll need a credit card that’s accepted worldwide, as well as a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
3. Send the money abroad, instead
Maybe you’re visiting friends or family members in another country and you want to bring cash as a gift for them.
Carrying cash in your carry-on bag might seem like the safest, simplest solution. But, it’ll be safer to use other methods that involve sending money abroad.
For example, you can ask your bank about international money transfers, or use money wire services like Western Union or Money Gram.
You’ll pay a fee to wire money and upload a prepaid debit card, and you might deal with exchange fees.
Compare your options to find the least expensive alternative.
Final Word: Should You Travel With A Lot of Cash?
Traveling with cash is risky, since there’s no way to ensure your cash will arrive to your destination safely.
To avoid having your money seized, make sure you understand the proper way to travel and declare your cash.
And once you’re at your destination, proceed with caution to keep your money safe and out of the wrong hands.