By Bonnie J. Jackson, Shareholder
Most travelers on international flights do not bring a carry-on bag full of cash. However, some people transport large sums of currency when travelling, for example, to the country of their native origin for use as gifts, for spending, or for investment purposes. Simply carrying large sums of cash for travel outside (or into) the United States is not illegal. However, transporting currency or monetary instruments over $10,000 must be reported or you are in big trouble.
To report the currency or monetary instruments when travelling to a destination outside (or into) the United States, simply complete Form 105 obtained from the Department of the Treasury and/or the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection office. The completed form may be submitted to the U.S. Customs officer in charge at any port of departure or arrival.
Federal law imposes strict penalties against those who evade currency reporting requirements by knowingly concealing more than $10,000 in currency or monetary instruments and transporting or attempting to transport such currency or monetary instruments outside (or into) the United States. These reporting requirements were enacted to stem the tide of money laundering and drug trafficking, which are illegal activities commonly associated with international travel and the transportation of large sums of currency.
If a U.S. Customs agent has a “reasonable suspicion” that a currency reporting violation is occurring, then the agent may conduct a warrantless search. Just like a TSA agent has the administrative authority to temporarily restrict your movement and search for weapons and/or explosives that could result in harm to fellow passengers, so too can the U.S. Customs agent conduct a search for currency reporting violations. A reasonable suspicion to perform the search requires a “particularized and objective basis for suspecting” a violation of law.
This type of warrantless search is permissible under the Fourth Amendment provided that the agent does not exceed the scope of the search and it is no more intrusive than necessary to determine the existence of a violation. That is not to say that law enforcement may search all passengers as a condition of boarding a commercial aircraft, because the search must be calibrated to a risk or justifiable need. In other words, TSA cannot read the contents of the papers in your carry-on bag, but it may require an electronic scan of your carry-on bag for air traffic safety.
As a final thought, be sure to check the requirements of your destination country. Not all countries will allow entry to travelers carrying large sums of currency.
© Jackson Law International 2016