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Within a couple of weeks I will be going to Belgium from Italy with Flixbus, and in the travel I may transit Switzerland, which is part of the Schengen Area but not part of the EU, which means that technically no passports checks are made to people (Schengen) but checks are made to things (non EU), such as baggage and cash.

I'll be traveling with my savings, which are a quite conspicuous amount of money in cash, and since the coach will definitely or almost certainly be stopped in Switzerland for checks on luggage and things, can I risk being seized all my money by Swiss authorities or will I have to give them something? Notice that it is only transit, so I don't know whether they'll let me go with money if I show them with the booked ticket that I'm heading towards a European country. I'm asking this because I've been told that Swiss authorities are quite ruthless.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Willeke Sep 29 at 15:28
  • When the comments have been moved to a chatroom, that is where you should post comments. All here will be deleted. Also read the answers, most needed remarks are already mentioned. – Willeke Sep 30 at 10:12
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Rarely does one see so many misconceptions in one question!

coach will definitely or almost certainly be stopped in Switzerland for checks on luggage and things, can I risk being seized all my money by Swiss authorities or will I have to give them something?
...
I've been told that Swiss authorities are quite ruthless.
...
but even if they are scrupulous about this thing and ignore this rule because of their meticoulousness in everything, that is the least of my concerns. The problem is that if they check all my luggage and find a locked box with my savings, they could make up any excuse to take my savings away, and in that case I cannot appeal, get justice or nothing.
...
No, I wasn't meaning that I want to bribe them, I was meaning whether they will ASK me a percentage of my money.

No, you need not fear that Swiss Customs will seize all your money

  • you don't even have to declare it

Switzerland Customs: Cash, foreign currencies, securities

Unrestricted amounts of liquid funds, i.e. cash, foreign currency and securities (shares, bonds and cheques) can be imported into Switzerland, brought through Switzerland in transit or exported from Switzerland. Furthermore, the funds do not need to be declared.


When traveling crossing over any European Union country border, on the other hand, you

  • may be required to declare any money amount >= € 10.000

Rules for carrying alcohol, tobacco, cash in the EU and leaving and entering the EU

  • Switzerland is not an European Union country
    • so must be declared when leaving Italy and entering Germany or France

Carrying cash
If you plan to enter or leave the EU with EUR 10 000 euros or more in cash (or the equivalent in other currencies) you must declare it to the customs authorities. Failure to do so could result in your cash being retained by the customs authorities, and you may receive a fine. Be aware that the customs authorities may carry out individual checks as well as checks on your baggage and/or vehicle.

If you want to travel between EU countries (in this case, the 28 EU member states) with EUR 10 000 euros or more in cash (or the equivalent in other currencies), you must check with the customs authorities in the countries you are leaving, entering and passing through whether you must declare it.


This means that you will have to properly inform yourself about each Customs authority in (depending on your route between Italy and Belgium)

  • Italy, Germany, France and Belgium
    • based on the IATA information seem to be the same for the 4 countries

Currency Import regulations:
Same regulations as for Export apply.

Currency Export regulations:
Local currency (Euro - EUR) and foreign currencies: no restrictions if arriving from or traveling to another EU Member State.

If arriving directly from or traveling to a country outside the EU: amounts exceeding EUR 10,000.- or more or the equivalent in another currency (incl. banker's draft and cheques of any kind) must be declared.

if you must report and possibly show the transported money upon

  • entry and exit to Switzerland from Italy and France/Germany

and what may happen if you fail to do so.

Be rest assured that the experiencing of Customs Officials (of any country) becoming quite ruthless will be the least of your problems if you are caught smuggling undeclared funds.

Unfortunately the IATA data is not correct as Customs pages of the individual countries show:

Travelling within the European Union (EU)

  • check referenced sourses below for any changes

Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finnland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Sweden does not require or does not meantion any declaration requirements when entering entering or exiting a European Union country.

United Kingdom (pre-Brexit conditions only) when travelling from another EU country

  • no declaration is needed

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, you’ll need to declare cash of £10,000 or more (or the equivalent in another currency) up to 72 hours before arriving in the UK.

Belgium, Germany and Lithuania require you, when travelling from another EU country

  • to declare sums >= € 10.000 when asked

Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Italy, Malta, Poland and Spain requires you to always

In the Italian version there is this friendly reminder of the possible sanctions, to encourage travelers to fill the form correctly.

Sanctions

In case of failure to produce the declaration or in case of incorrect or incomplete information, the person submitting the same declaration is punished with a sanction amounting to a minumum of €300 up to a maximum of 40% of the value of the transfer exceeding €10.000 (article 3 of Regulation 1889/2005/EC and article 9 of Legislative Decree n.195/2008) and the cash be subject to seizure (article 6 of Legislative Decree n.195/2008). Failure to indicate personal data of the person on whose behalf the transfer is made or the reporting of false data shall be punished - except where the act constitutes a more serious offence, by imprisonment from 6 months to a year and by a fine ranging from € 516,46 to € 5.164,57 (art. 5, c. 8 bis, of Decree Law 167/1990, transformed in Law 227/1990).

That law is probably what originated your misconceptions about Swiss Custom officers, while it is only an Italian matter. Also for small sums if you pay the fine on the spot you get a discount (to pay the higher amount between 200€ and 5% of the exceeding sum) and the remaining cash shall not be seized unless there are other issues.

I would advise making 2 copies of each and ask the Customs to confirm the second copy in case you don't receive some sort of confirmation directly.

These confirmations should be retained since they may be helpful in the future to prove that you did everything correctly.


References

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Willeke Sep 29 at 15:28
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    @Kat a bad habit from writing emergency instructions intended to find something swiftly. Look for condition, skip over what is not applicable, read inside bullit what do do when applicable. Here search for country, read result when found. – Mark Johnson Sep 30 at 8:52
  • Please post all further comments in the chatroom. All here will get deleted. – Willeke Sep 30 at 10:05
38

I decided to give my contribution here as I'm often crossing the border between Italy and Switzerland by train and sometimes by bus:

Border inspections both from Swiss and Italians authorities are very common (I would say between 50 and 70 per cent of the times); the typical question is whether you are carrying cash, valuables and securities, and they generally check your luggage as well.

Concerning Switzerland, it is true that officially you are not obliged to declare the money. However, if you are stopped you should be able to explain the origin of those monies. This ordinance from the Swiss federal council clearly states that they can seize your money if you refuse to provide information and/or there is a suspicion of money laundering or terrorist financing.

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Swiss authorities are not known to be especially concerned about large amounts of money. Travelling by bus adds another layer to this story, I assume customs officers are more familiar with Western European businessmen bringing cash than bus passengers carrying their savings and I have no idea how they might react to this situation.

Note that unlike (most) goods, money (including cash in local or foreign currency but also travelers' cheques and negotiable instruments and, in some countries, casino chips and gold bars) can need to be declared even when travelling within the EU. It's up to each country and perfectly legal under EU law. As an example, French regulations in this respect are very extensive (see also this page in English from the French customs). This page from the EU Commission is not about travel within the EU but if you look up the form for Belgium, you will notice that it also covers entry to Belgium from another EU country.

It doesn't matter at all that there are no checks on the border, it's up to you to seek the proper authorities to volunteer that information. If you do not, you might not be found out immediately but might have to account for the provenance of the funds when you use them, even years later (say when you put them on a bank account to complete a large transaction, which the bank typically has to report to the authorities).

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    Good point, carrying large amounts of cash is generally done by the very rich, or by criminals. The very rich don't take buses. Having huge piles of cash isn't enough to convict you, but it certainly raises reasonable suspicion, and they have every right to investigate. This would be compounded if you did not report it. You have no rights to enter the EU unless you are a citizen, so allowing you to enter from Switzerland is a gift. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Sep 29 at 15:19
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    From personal experience, unless you have more than 500K in cash, no one will bat an eye in Switzerland... – toto Sep 30 at 9:53
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    Why not just leave your savings in your bank account, and once you’ve established one on Belgium just transfer the money? Euro SEPA transfers are free. – Krist van Besien Sep 30 at 19:27
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    @KristvanBesien that was my thought as well. Either OP doesn't have the funds in a bank account now (for which there may be valid reasons in terms of not trusting banks) or they are trying something that will raise suspicion period. If my suspicions as a random Internet user are aroused by apparent avoidance of a fast, safe, and free (but traceable) transaction, it's a good bet the authorities will also be very interested. – madscientist159 Sep 30 at 20:50
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    How about Flixbuses from Belgium to Marseille and Marseille to Italy? How about almost any other route? I find it bizarre that you are comfortable paying hundreds of dollars to swiss authorities in fees, but not comfortable booking somewhat more expensive transport that keeps you 100% inside the EU. Doesn't make much sense, does it? – Harper - Reinstate Monica Oct 1 at 5:10
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The whole purpose of transporting the money eludes me. Here's how to avoid it, because you maybe overlooked that option.

A Belgian bank account can be treated exactly the same in Italy as elsewhere in the Eurozone (e.g., while italians often got charged to use an ATM in Italy, and elsewhere, you'd get it free 2000KM from your home). So if you're moving, just keep your bank change your address (I'm with my original bank and not even in the Eurozone).

If you want to open an Italian account with this cash, it's far better to use a (free!) Euro SEPA transfer, as you'll have traceability --- money from you to you. No questions at border, no questions when depositing. If you need to pay an Italian, the same SEPA transfer applies.

Now if the Italian insists on being paid cash (probably to avoid taxes), he's letting you run the risk/trouble for it all. You may be in a catch-22, you cannot secure a property until you have the cash, and you cannot open an italian bank account without proof of address... This bind you cannot get out unless you have a trusted italian contact (who either allows you to use their address temporarily as residence, or you trust to receive the cash to then take out as paper money).

If I'd receive substantial money, I'd like to either get it digitally (as I'm legit/tax-paying), or be there when it's paid out at the bank so I'm not holding a stack of counterfeit money. The other way around, I want the receiver to be there in the bank, so they don't swap out my real cash then claim I gave them counterfeit.

  • You are assuming that the OP is a legal resident in Italy. Not all countries allow visitors to open an account. Getting a certified cheque would be safer, but would still have to be declared. – Mark Johnson Oct 1 at 12:49
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    He says he's a EU citizen, that'd imply legit residency anywhere from Italy to Belgium – user61942 Oct 1 at 17:42
  • @GeorgeM, that's not how EU freedom of movement works. – Peter Taylor Oct 2 at 22:08
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How about taking a bus / train route that doesn't go through Switzerland? If you stay on the EU ground all the time you should experience no border checks whatsoever ⇒ problem sorted.

Even if it's a couple EUR dearer it's probably worth it comparing to the difficulties with crossing the Swiss border twice.

Am I missing something here?

  • As @MarkJohnson explains in detail, some member states have currency declaration requirements even when transiting between EU countries that may apply depending on the exact route traveled. – crasic Oct 2 at 0:11
  • @crasic That could be, but look at the practical side of it - how likely are you getting randomly stopped and luggage searched at the IT-FR or FR-BE border? Very close to 0%. On the other hand IT-CH or CH-DE border - well over 50%. I know which way I would go. – MLu Oct 2 at 0:18
  • @MLu The IT-FR border is notorious for frequent controls. I don't recall ever being checked on the CH-DE border (only in the other direction) but it's been several years since I stopped crossing it regularly. Checks on the FR-CH borders have always been very rare, in both directions. No matter which route you take, the main difficulty is leaving Italy. – Relaxed Oct 2 at 5:32
  • Note that even on routes where checks are rare, bus can be targeted. I travelled many times from Belgium to France over the years, I have never seen any police or border guards when crossing by car, I have never been challenged on a train (but police is sometimes present), I have been checked thoroughly twice on a bus. – Relaxed Oct 2 at 5:33
  • Because there aren't – abdul Oct 2 at 9:59

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