I am moving a large (for me) amount of money from a US bank account to a Danish one. Both are in my name. In order to even out the risk of transient exchange-rate spikes I'm planning to do it as a series of wire transfers on different days.

Balancing things between per-transfer fees and the exchange-rate swings I want to guard against, it so works out that I would ideally like to do the transfers in chunks of about $9,000.

However, I dimly remember something about people getting into trouble with the law if they do a series of similar transactions just below $10,000 each. In some tellings it sounds like this is only a problem for transactions with physical cash, but I can't find any hard information about this.

Do I need to change my plan to make at least some of the chunks larger than $10,000 (or even €10,000), such that it doesn't look like I'm trying to evade something?

  • You might want to ask your bank about this. They might have a process in place for making sure you don't trigger any automated flags.
    – Philipp
    Feb 22 '18 at 12:13
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    My experience is transferring GBP to EUR and CHF to EUR: For five figure sums like this, I would consult with specialist foreign exchange dealer. For large sums (like this) they can wait for a rate that you specify appears, and perform the transfer at that rate. Feb 22 '18 at 12:51
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    I definitely would not repeat NOT do "many chunks just under 10,000". That is literally the definition of structuring :)
    – Fattie
    Feb 22 '18 at 15:56
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    My honest advice would be forget this idea, for many, many reasons. Just call ofx and the others and get the best rate. Note that what you are doing is - very simply - trading the exchange rate. If you think you can do that profitably, then just do that! So: just make the exchange normally in one go for your house or whatever it is. Then, sometime in the next three months, make one currency trade. (Use options - whatever - forex gambling/trading is as ubiquitous as pornography.)
    – Fattie
    Feb 22 '18 at 15:59
  • @MartinBonner: A cogent point -- though I'm not particularly keen on doing the whole know-your-customer rigmarole with yet another service provider for something I'll probably never need again. And I wouldn't really have any idea which rate to specify. I'm not out to beat the market, just to manage my risk. Feb 22 '18 at 16:36

In the US, currency transactions of more than $10,000 require a Currency Transaction Report (CTR) to be filled out and submitted to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). Note than FinCEN is a sister bureau to the IRS, both of which fall under the umbrella of the Treasury Department.

A CTR is required only when dealing with monetary instruments, which are defined as:

3)“monetary instruments” means— (A)United States coins and currency; (B)as the Secretary may prescribe by regulation, coins and currency of a foreign country, travelers’ checks, bearer negotiable instruments, bearer investment securities, bearer securities, stock on which title is passed on delivery, and similar material; and (C)as the Secretary of the Treasury shall provide by regulation for purposes of sections 5316 and 5331, checks, drafts, notes, money orders, and other similar instruments which are drawn on or by a foreign financial institution and are not in bearer form.

The basic idea is that monetary instruments are "cash-like" since they can be transferred from one person to another without any form of tracking. This is why a CTR is required for large cash-like transactions.

Wire transfers by themselves are not considered a monetary instrument and therefore would not require a CTR. (Because they are already tracked by the normal banking mechanism.) Multiple wire transfers of under $10K would normally not trigger an SAR (Suspicious Activity Report) unless someone at the bank decided to report one for any reason.

However, if the source funds of the wire transfer are a monetary instrument, or if the recipient takes the wired funds in the form of a monetary instrument, then amounts over $10K would trigger a CTR just as it normally would.

  • I get what you're saying, but wow, that's a confusing use of language. Everywhere else the word "currency" means something like USD and DKK, which are what I'm dealing with here. Feb 22 '18 at 20:12
  • @HenningMakholm - I agree. It would be nice if CTR was short for "Cash Transaction Report" because that way it would prevent a lot of confusion about this issue.
    – TTT
    Feb 22 '18 at 20:15
  • This is not true. See 31 USC 5313(a) which requires such reports for transactions involving "monetary instruments" and 31 USC 5324(c)(3) which makes structuring to avoid such a report a crime. Per 31 USC 5312(a)(3), "monetary instruments" include much more than just currency. Feb 23 '18 at 0:17
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    @DavidSchwartz IMHO that's overly pedantic. Currency or monetary instrument are basically the same thing, but OK, I edited it to use the formal terminology. Regardless of what you call it, a wire transfer is already tracked under normal mechanisms and doesn't require a CTR.
    – TTT
    Feb 23 '18 at 2:56
  • @TTT Isn't this a draft that is not in bearer form, which is explicitly covered in the definition of monetary instruments? Feb 24 '18 at 5:07

The law in the United States is related to cash transactions. It doesn't include those transactions done electronically, by wire transfer, or by check. The structuring part of the law applies to those people trying to keep the cash transactions under $10K by making multiple transactions.

The law is designed to flag people that may be dealing in cash business that are not reporting their income. It is not used to flag the exchange of funds by legitimate methods.

The law does not just apply to traditional banks, it also is a requirement for those business that people with large amounts of cash might try and launder funds through. That is why you can pay for a car with a check, but you will run into problems if you bring a briefcase full of cash.

  • I observe that Transferwise will ask for additional details if you transfer more than $10,000. If you end up doing lots of transfers just under that limit, they may get annoyed. Feb 22 '18 at 12:52
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    This is (tragically) just not correct. The systems of the various powers that be look for precisely this pattern (no matter what method of sending). Note that, very simply, if you ask an experienced rep at ofx, t-wise or the like, they'll just simply say "no, don't do that". Indeed - simply - those companies own systems will flag it as structuring. (Because it is - structuring!)
    – Fattie
    Feb 22 '18 at 16:01
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    @MartinBonner - I would think any company can implement there own rules for requesting details at whatever threshold they'd like. But in this case they aren't mandated by US federal law.
    – TTT
    Feb 22 '18 at 19:34
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    Can't you just request the CTR be filed even for <$10k amounts?
    – JAB
    Feb 22 '18 at 19:42
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    31 USC 5324 seems to be much broader than just covering cash transactions. In particular, 31 USC 5324(a)(3) and 31 USC 5324(c)(3) seem to cover the structuring of non-cash transactions (per 31 USC 5312(a)(3)'s definition of "monetary instruments"). Feb 23 '18 at 0:15

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