I want to buy some cash.

enter image description here

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-45246409

These banknotes are so cool, they are worth much more as collectibles.

Is it legal to travel with a suitcase full of physical banknotes out of Venezuela?

  • 17
    I honestly don't think there's much value in these things, even as collectibles; a collector can get as many as they want for virtually nothing anyway, so anyone really interested in them has probably done so already. If there is any collectible value, it's in the notes that were made obsolete by the hyperinflation. For example, I have a pristene Zimbabwean $1 banknote from shortly before that currency went into freefall. That banknote is almost certainly worth a lot more as a collectible than a hundred trillion dollar note printed a few years later. – Spudley Dec 3 at 10:01
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    Wether it is legal or not, there will almost necessarily be a certain amount of complications. Large amounts of physical cash are very often tied to drugs, money laundering or other criminal activities. Any policeman or border agent would want to look deeply into why you have this money and where it comes from. – everyone Dec 3 at 10:39
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    @Spudley, there is a market. So there is value. The amount of people whilling to pay for box of Venezuela money is important. But the cost of those stack is incredibly high on the market. It's more about having a large stack of money than buying premium low denomination note for collection. The amouth of people that wish to buy a cubic meter of worth less banknote for the price of shipping is high. – xdtTransform Dec 3 at 10:49
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    Would make a neat replacement for monopoly money. Maybe they could even come out with a version of Monopoly that uses "Real Money" and Venezuelan landmarks? – Bill K Dec 3 at 17:08
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    Make sure you check out arielCo's answer below, he's from the country. Trying to leave with that money might land you in very serious trouble, no matter whether it's really worth anything or not. The authorities are out there to look for cases like this to use in their propaganda. You can easily end up on the front page of newspapers if caught. – Gábor Dec 4 at 11:22

It's a really bad idea, so much that I registered just to warn you (I live in Venezuela). When there was a severe shortage of cash the government blamed it on banknotes being extracted through the Colombian border for sale at a profit and "hoarding". Arrests were highly publicized, which additionally helped support the conspiracy theory of an "economic war" waged from abroad to destabilize the country.

Now imagine a foreign-looking type caught with a heap of cash: official news outlets are going to have a field day with the arrest photograph:

men arrested for having large sums of cash

Los tres hombres se desplazaban en dos vehículos por la carretera nacional San Félix-Upata. Los cuerpos de seguridad, en un trabajo de inteligencia, frustraron el presunto contrabando de extracción de esta cantidad de papel moneda.

The three men were traveling on two vehicles down the San Félix-Upata highway. Security forces, in an intelligence operation, frustrated the presumed extraction contraband of these many banknotes.

In a good scenario, you'll spend a few hours in "the little room" and be relieved of your valuables by the local authorities before they let you go.

I agree that the banknotes are pretty, but please take just a few of each denomination. If anyone asks, it's left over from your daily purchases.

General advice: don't come without a trusted local friend willing to accompany you everywhere, preferably in a car. I'm not exaggerating: Caracas has the 2nd-4th highest murder rate in the world, and $100 can feed a family of four for a month. There are official no-go "peace zones" for law enforcement where kidnappers take their hostages.

--

BTW, the photo in your question illustrates the amount of cash you needed to buy that toilet paper roll before the Bolívar was redefined so amounts would have 5 less figures (1 new "Bolívares Soberanos" = 100,000 old "Bolívares Fuertes").

  • 6
    Yes it is (those are old "Bolívares Fuertes", and the new unit is worth 100,000 of those). Another example: a stick of French bread costs BsS 60 = BsF 6,000,000. – arielCo Dec 3 at 18:53
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    The notes can be used as the paper. – Joshua Dec 3 at 18:55
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    They'd be pretty lousy as TP, but that's the implicit joke. Even with the new unit some bills aren't worth the paper they're printed on. Ever seen photos of cash being burned in stoves and fireplaces? Hyperinflation does that. – arielCo Dec 3 at 19:46
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    The people at the Caracas sewage plant would be like "darn it, the filter's clogged again. What is all this stuff?" – Harper Dec 4 at 3:16
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    Wait a minute. Wouldn't people acquiring paper currency and leaving the country be good for the local economy? You are removing a bunch of cash and creating a demand for the money, increasing its value. The case you cited is effectively the opposite of the current situation – OganM Dec 5 at 0:48

Yes.

Source (IATA):

Currency

Currency Import regulations: Local currency (Bolivar Soberano-VES) and foreign currencies: no restrictions

Currency Export regulations: Local currency (Bolivar Soberano-VES) and foreign currencies: no restrictions

(Though, given Venezuela's current situation, who knows what will happen in practice if they decide to check your suitcase.)

  • 5
    You'll also want to check for restrictions, limits, taxes, etc, imposed by your destination country. And if they have limits or duties based on the value of the money, you'll have to hope they agree with your estimation that it's "worthless". – Nate Eldredge Dec 2 at 20:28
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    @NateEldredge The stash of money in the picture is the price for the toilet paper roll next to it. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Dec 2 at 22:51
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    @Tor-EinarJarnbjo: Yes, I had gathered that. But it's possible that customs officials in the destination country may not value it accurately - e.g. based on an unrealistic standard or outdated exchange rate (with hyperinflation, the money may have had considerable value a short time ago). Venezuela has also apparently issued a new currency since that article was written, and customs officials may mix up the values of the old and new bolivars. Just a warning that even if everything is legal, there may still be hassle. – Nate Eldredge Dec 2 at 23:09
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    @Tor-EinarJarnbjo in reality or in theory? Many countries have an official exchange rate which is quite different from the real value of their currency. Wouldn't be surprised if that's the case with Venezuela as well. – jwenting Dec 3 at 4:59
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    It might be a huge problem if the customs officer thinks you are importing a lot of cash. In my country, italy, a guy was fined a million euro for having 3 billion of zimbabwe dollars. It was worth like 5 euro, but according to the customs agent, it was worth 4 million euro on xe.com. Can you trust the customs officer on the exchange rate? milano.repubblica.it/cronaca/2010/06/15/foto/… (sure, then the guy has proved back in court that the money was worthless, but it was long and expensive) – Magnetic_dud Dec 3 at 20:41

MastaBaba's answer addressed the legality of exporting currency.

This answer deals with importing currency. Most times you have to declare currency that you are bringing in. The limits vary. The USA says you have to declare more than the equivalent of US$10,000, for example.

The first problem is that a border agent seeing your suitcase of cash won’t know how much it’s worth and whether it’s over the limit. They might be forced to count it all even if you’re under the limit in order to file a report, which will delay you considerably. You might miss your connecting flight.

The second issue is that most paper currency has trace amounts of drugs on it. So large amounts of cash tend to get flagged by the drug sniffing dogs. So again expect delays and having to make explanations when this happens.

Finally, in the USA, large amounts of cash have often been seized by state and local governments under the doctrine of civil forfeiture. If you are driving around with a suitcase of cash and get pulled over and a drug sniffing dog finds the cash, you may find it seized by the local police and you have to defend the cash against the seizure in a local court.

TLDR: I hope you’re not bringing the suitcase of cash to the USA.

  • 18
    Judging by the pictures in the OP's linked article, $10000 USD in bolívars would be much more than a suitcase; several truckloads sound more in the ballpark. – ajd Dec 2 at 22:23
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    TLDR is usually placed at top to help avoid a long read 🙂 – Ravindranath Akila Dec 2 at 22:41
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    It's not clear that currency typically has enough drug residue for a dog to detect; I'm seeing many sources that suggest this is a myth. However, there are also sniffer dogs that are specifically trained to smell currency. – Nate Eldredge Dec 2 at 23:37
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    I found conflicting claims on the drug dog question, so I asked it on Skeptics.SE. – Nate Eldredge Dec 3 at 0:16
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    @ajd plus thanks to the inflation if you get 10k USD worth of bank notes, by the time you get the airport, you'll have less than 10k USD worth of bank notes! – corsiKa Dec 3 at 4:03

This is a big no-no, don't do it!

You would be going directly to jail, as currently any person with a lot of money in cash is a target.

https://www.lapatilla.com/2018/08/20/detienen-a-hombre-con-250-millones-de-bolivares-fuertes-en-efectivo/

https://www.lapatilla.com/2018/05/11/detienen-a-mujer-con-470-millones-de-bolivares-en-efectivo-en-anzoategui/

https://www.lapatilla.com/2018/06/07/pillados-detienen-a-seis-hombres-por-reventa-de-efectivo-en-anzoategui/

https://www.google.com/search?ei=RnQFXPqfNcag5wLJkoTADQ&q=la+patilla+efectivo+detienen&oq=la+patilla+efectivo+detienen&gs_l=psy-ab.3..0i71l8.39887.39887..40133...0.0..0.0.0.......0....1..gws-wiz.naOCWLEdqqk

I'm Venezuelan.

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    This clam needs to be backed up with evidence of some kind. – coteyr Dec 3 at 18:45
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    @coteyr Isn't every link provided evidence of some kind? I have some more in my answer. Please don't downvote lightly. – arielCo Dec 3 at 18:47
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    Usually, links are good references but you want to include the most critical parts of the linked content to help protect against link rot. But the links you provided (one of which is just google) don't seem to be about the bringing currency into another country, but about selling the currency for an inflated value. (I had to translate so that may not be 100% correct) – coteyr Dec 3 at 18:51
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    @coteyr Doesn't "These banknotes are so cool, they are worth much more as collectibles" imply that OP intends to sell the currency for an inflated value? – Lord Farquaad Dec 3 at 20:20
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    @coteyr: it's very irresponsible to act so with this question. Two Venezuelans have answered with dire warnings that leaving the country with larger amounts of cash, no matter whether it's really worth anything or not, is considered very seriously by the authorities in order to promote their own propaganda. Perpetrators are caught and widely publicized in state media. Please, allow them to be informed enough to warn other people and don't downplay their warnings. Do the exact opposite by all means you have available here. – Gábor Dec 4 at 11:19

Venezuela has a multi-tier exchange rate. According to xe.com the official exchange rate is 9.9875 VEF/USD as of May 2017. The black market rate is approximately 80,000 VEF/USD so anything over a US dollar or two at the black market rate will exceed $10K USD at the official rate. So better to proactively declare the currency at customs on entry unless the official rate is updated to something more realistic.

I would be a bit concerned about changing regulations on the export of currency.

In my experience, countries with capital controls tend to be sensitive about import and export of currency. For example Taiwan did not allow import and export of their currency, though they stopped short of actually inspecting wallets.

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    "countries with capital controls tend to be sensitive about import and export of currency." You are right, this used to be the case with China before 2009, and it is still the case in Cuba. – yms Dec 4 at 15:48

First: no restriction on currency export. So you can depart with any amount of Bolivares.

Second: most countries do not enforce a limit of import, but a limit on how much currency to import silently, without obligation to declare. Those limits are always defined in the destination country's local currency, e.g. 10K $ or €. Considering that the Bolivar is a hyper-inflated currency and that the picture clearly displays (qualitatively, not quantitatively) how worth is that currency. No offense to Venezuelans.

Then: in general, it's not illegal to bring cash abroad. You may move any amount of money as soon as you stop at customs and state "I want to declare cash". They will have you fill forms at very minimum. Europe does not apply taxes to declared currency.

Conclusion: a suitcase full of Venezuelan cash, is mostly legal, at least in major destinations. Please state your destination to let me modify the answer accordingly.

I don't know how big should a suitcase be to fit 10K€ equivalent of Bolivares. If the countervalue is below 10K€, you can proceed to the green area. In case you are stopped, you will be let go after counting the cash. If the total value exceeds 10K€ you are required to stop and declare.

Caveat: expect questions. Custom officers pick up people at random. Expect them to count the bills until it is proven that you are below the legal limit. They will start from assuming you are trafficking cash. You may want to volunteer for an inspection to ensure trust. This will cost you time.

Caveat 2: dogs are trained, and excellently effective, at detecting cash too more than drugs. Another reason to hail to a customs officer and volunteer.

  • 1
    Is there any harm in declaring it anyway? "I have 100 million bolivaras fuertas, valued at $345.” The first reaction of the agent will be "Fuertas!? Won't that fill a suitcase?" "Indeed it does..." – Harper Dec 3 at 19:26
  • Absolutely no harm. Personally, I have never had information, hint or evidence that a traveller volunteering for customs may be treated with suspect. If I was a customs officer I would either think 1) he is dragging my attention to have a smuggler pass the green line uncovered or 2) he is really too paranoid at the rules – usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ Dec 4 at 16:17
  • @usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ "If I was a customs officer" which, presumably, you're not. So your speculation about how you would react as a customs officer (possibly ignoring your training in the process) is exactly that: speculation. – David Richerby Dec 4 at 20:19
  • @DavidRicherby that may be true but the only other option is that someone is declaring the cash simply out of malice which couldn't make sense. Even if it were, what's the customs officer going to do? Arrest you for declaring something that didn't need declaring? – The Great Duck Dec 5 at 1:52

protected by JonathanReez Dec 5 at 19:40

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