Suppose one has $1,000,000 in a suitcase and they are flying to the US. Suppose they check the box in their customs form that says they're bringing more than $10,000 with them. They show the form to the CBP agent. What happens next?

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    Your car gets attacked on the highway by armed robbers and you lose it all? Seriously, carrying cash like this is stupid and backwards. Of course you can pay for private security guards and an armored vehicle to carry your cash, but it would be a lot cheaper just to pay the bank a few bucks for a wire transfer. Commented Oct 16, 2016 at 22:26
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    The answer to this will be a bit different for, say, $15k than it will be for $1 million. Either way, there are very few (legal) situations where you shouldn't just deposit the money in a bank instead, but your explanation to CBP would have to be a lot more convincing for $1 million that it would have to be for amounts that only exceed $10k by a bit.
    – reirab
    Commented Oct 17, 2016 at 4:10
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    @R.. - I get charged a few bucks for wire transfers that are under $100. I can't believe that a commision on a million dollar transfer would be "a few bucks".
    – Davor
    Commented Oct 17, 2016 at 10:53
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    And yes, @CodesInChaos has a good idea of who the most likely armed robbers would be. In the US, police can in practice seize cash they claim is related to criminal activity even without convicting or even accusing the owner of a crime, which makes it all the more risky to carry such cash even after crossing the border. Commented Oct 17, 2016 at 12:47
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    Realistically? They take it and you learn an expensive lesson in civil asset forfeiture. United States v. $124,700 in U.S. Currency. Worth noting that while the outcome in this case was not in the government's favor, usually the government keeps the cash. Between 9/11 and 2014, U.S police forces have seized over 2.5 billion dollars in cash without search warrants or indictments and returned the money in less than 10% of cases. Commented Oct 17, 2016 at 13:54

5 Answers 5


The US Customs and Border Protection website states that there is no limit to the amount of currency that can be brought into or taken out of the US.

There is no limit on the amount of money that can be taken out of or brought into the United States. However, if a person or persons traveling together and filing a joint declaration (CBP Form 6059-B) have $10,000 or more in currency or negotiable monetary instruments, they must fill out a "Report of International Transportation of Currency and Monetary Instruments" FinCEN 105 (former CF 4790).

The CBP site also notes that failure to declare currency and monetary instruments in excess of $10,000 may result in its seizure.

Further, the site states that the requirement to report currency on a FinCEN 105 does not apply to imports of gold bullion.

However, the legal website The Law Dictionary includes details of how money laundering laws may come into play here :

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.

So far, I have described the "official" position. However, reading between the lines, I think it is fair to say that in the current climate if you show up at an entry point with a suitcase full of a large amount of cash you would face considerable scrutiny, regardless of any supporting documentation you may present.

If you fail to present supporting documentation, then I think your cash would certainly be seized. If you are a US resident, then you would be given the opportunity to obtain satisfactory documentation. If you did present documentation, then I think your cash would be held for as long as it would take to verify the validity of the documentation. Failure to present valid documentation would result in money laundering charges being brought against you and the matter would rest before the courts.

If you are not a US resident, then failing to produce supporting documentation would mean your cash being seized and entry into the US would almost certainly be denied. You would then have to deal with the situation from outside of the US. If you did produce supporting documentation, then again I suspect the cash would be held for as long as it takes to verify the validity of the documentation. Whether or not you were allowed to enter the US would depend on what other documentation you possess.


Since all the other answers thus far seem to downplay the risk (likelihood) of the money being seized, I figure I may as well make my comment an answer.

Unless you happen to have your legal team travelling with you and your suitcase of cash, you should expect that you'll be questioned extensively, so that any sign of nervousness, inconsistency in your answers or anything you say that doesn't "make sense" to the officer will be used as an excuse to seize your money, and you'll learn an expensive lesson in civil asset forfeiture.

The government will file a complaint against your money, leading to a ridiculously named case, such as United States v. $124,700 in U.S. Currency. Worth noting that while the outcome in this case was not in the government's favor, in the vast majority of cases, the government keeps the cash. Between 9/11 and 2014, U.S police forces have seized over 2.5 billion dollars in cash without search warrants or indictments and returned the money in less than 10% of cases. That last link is kind of a long read, but contains cases where people with completely legitimate money and documentation for their money had it seized anyway, and were only able to recover it after months or years in court.

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    This answer is regarding risks of traveling within the US with large amounts of currency. The question is about carrying the money into the US in the first place.
    – Karen
    Commented Oct 17, 2016 at 23:23
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    @Karen CBP (and ICE/BCIS) gets in on the civil asset forfeiture game as well, which is mentioned in the linked Washington Post article. (And seizures are frequently posted at border crossings and points of entry.) It's far from just a risk in-country, it's a risk upon entry too. Commented Oct 17, 2016 at 23:27
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    @BurhanKhalid Seems like "the government will probably take your money" is a valid answer to "what happens next" (the literal question in the OP).
    – Joe
    Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 18:07
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    The civil forfeiture risk is real - good for you for bringing it up, with references.
    – Floris
    Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 23:48
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    The trouble is that there's effectively no way for your cash not to be suspect in the eyes of persons with badges who are likely to be rewarded for suspecting it. Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 7:19

The $10,000 mark is not a ceiling in importing cash, but rather a point where an additional declaration needs to be made (Customs Form 4790). At 1 million, I suspect you might be in for a bit of an interview and delay.

Here's an explanation of what happens when the declaration isn't made: https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/local-media-release/failure-declare-results-seizure-24000-arrest-two


Once you declare the amount, the CBP officials will ask you the source and purpose of funds.

You must be able to demonstrate that the source of funds is legitimate and not the proceeds of crime and it is not for the purposes of financing terrorism.

Once they have determined that the source and purpose is legitimate, they will take you to a private room where two officers will count and validate the amount (as it is a large amount); and then return the currency to you.

For nominal amounts they count it at the CBP officer's inspection desk.

Once they have done that, you are free to go on your way.

The rule (for the US) is any currency or monetary instrument that is above the equivalent of 10,000 USD. So this will also apply if you are carrying a combination of GBP, EUR and USD that totals to more than $10,000.


Bad plan. This seems like a recipe for having your money taken away from you by CBP. Let me explain the biases which make it so.

US banking is reliable enough for the common citizen, that everyone simply uses banks. To elaborate, Americans who are unbanked either can't produce simple identity paperwork; or they got an account but then got blacklisted for overdrawing it. These are problems of the poor, not millionaires. Outside of determined "off the grid" folks with political reasons to not be in the banking and credit systsm, anyone with money uses the banking system. Who's not a criminal, anyway.

We also have strong laws against money laundering: turning cash (of questionable origin) into "sanitized" cash on deposit in a bank. The most obvious trick is deposit $5000/day for 200 days. Nope, that's Structuring: yeah, we have a word for that.

A guy with $1 million cash, it is presumed he has no choice: he can't convert it into a bank deposit, as in this problem - note where she says she can't launder it.

If it's normal for people in your country to haul around cash, due to a defective banking system, you're not the only one with that problem, and nearby there'll be a country with a good banking system who understands your situation. Deposit it there. Then retain a US lawyer who specializes in this, and follow his advice about moving the money to the US via funds transfer. Even then, you may have some explaining to do; but far less than with cash.

(And keep in mind for those politically motivated off-the-financial-grid types, they're a bit crazy but definitely not stupid, live a cash life everyday, and know the law better than anybody. They would definitely consider using banks and funds transfers for the border crossing proper, because of Customs. Then they'll turn it into cash domestically and close the accounts.)

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    What's funny is that I had to pull out a thousand dollars cash to pay the government the taxes on a vehicle transfer as they would only take cash. Sigh... Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 14:26
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    You are conflating 'the norm' and/or 'what is expected' with 'what is allowed'. US currency has "this note is legal tender for all debts, public and private". There are other situations than 'criminal or terrorist related' where people do not use banks. Paranoia, living off the grid, to name two. Doing business in a country without trustworthy access to electronic banking, is another. The reasons you state are the reasons CBP has processes to document and investigate large currency movement. And they're the reason you should have good documentation for large amounts of currency.
    – Xalorous
    Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 19:22
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    @Xalorous Firstoff no offense intended to our fine off-grid citizens. I will amend my answer to give them some credit. Members of that particular club tend to rely a lot on the citizenry dismissing them as harmless kooks who do no harm. CBP won't, it'll be considered a blatant "cover story" abd earb them more scrutiny. It's out of the question for a foreigner, who could be denied entry if he seems to be on the lunatic fringe. Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 20:58
  • while u.s. currency is indeed "legal tender for all debts public and private", in practice large debts are created via contract, and the contract stipulates how the debt will be repaid (e.g. cashier's check, money order, wire transfer). use the banking system.
    – j__m
    Commented Oct 22, 2016 at 10:50
  • Currency is legal tender for debts, but the money-laundering laws still must be followed. Otherwise drug dealers could easily launder money by signing a binding contract to buy a house or jetliner (say, a Sukhoi Superjet), show up at closing with piles of cash, and flip it. Commented Oct 22, 2016 at 18:17

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