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Is there a legal limit to the amount of physical cash a US citizen can possess when flying from one US state to another? I've heard that the United States government can and is seizing any amount of cash over a certain dollar amount at airports. However, I have not been able to get a definitive answer as to if these reported seizures are due to other illegal activity or if carrying cash over a certain dollar amount is in itself illegal.

Before anyone marks this as a duplicate, I am not talking about customs reporting, foreign currency limits or bringing money into or out of the United States. I'm only asking specifically about carrying good o'll US dollars from one state in the United States to another (NY to TX) on a domestic flight.

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    i recently saw an episode of Border Security where an American producer brought $400k in cash (hundreds and twenties) into Canada to pay crew etc during a shoot. They let him and the money in. Obviously in order to get to Toronto he first had to travel within the US and the TSA or other authorities did not relieve him of the cash first. He declared it to Canada; I'm sure he also declared it earlier in his journey. So that's one data point that says you can sell your house for cash and probably be ok flying with it. – Kate Gregory Sep 23 '14 at 14:45
  • @KateGregory - until they make you check your luggage. Baggage handlers have been known to look inside and steal from baggage. – smci Dec 17 '14 at 14:00
  • He had a backpack with all the money in it. I am sure he would not check something like that :-) – Kate Gregory Dec 17 '14 at 14:01
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    I retitled this "domestic US flights", because, amazingly enough, there are domestic flights in other countries than the US ;-) And they surely have their own regulations. cf. How much cash can you carry in a European Union domestic flight? – smci Dec 17 '14 at 16:56
  • In the U.S. law enforcement can seize assets including cash anywhere just by stating a probable cause without any proof, this is unfortunately not un-common. See reply to @reirab – zaph Oct 26 '18 at 17:08
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No, there's not a legal limit. However, TSA does recommend that you ask to be screened in private if you're carrying a lot of currency or other valuables in order to prevent drawing attention to items that could be stolen. This is probably good advice since you are separated from your luggage for a bit at the checkpoint, especially if you get stuck waiting in a slower-than-normal line for the scanner after placing your baggage on the conveyor.

I've heard that the United States government can and is seizing any amount of cash over a certain dollar amount at airports.

That is definitely not true. They may be curious why you're carrying $30k in cash and may ask you about it, but they will not (and, legally, can not) seize it unless they have probable cause to believe that you have committed or are about to commit a crime and that said cash is reasonably likely to be evidence of said crime. If they do have probable cause to suspect a crime, then they can refer the matter to law enforcement and keep you around until law enforcement gets there to question you. From the TSA Management Directive copied into page 19 of this legal proceedings document:

When currency appears to be indicative of criminal activity, TSA may report the matter to the appropriate authorities. For all flights, factors indicating that cash is related to criminal activity include the quantity, packaging, circumstances of discovery, or method by which the cash is carried, including concealment... TSA may also note any factors related to criminal activity for purposes of notifying CBP [for international passengers] and/or law enforcement, as well as request that the individual remain accessible pursuant to such notification.

Of course the best advice is probably to simply not carry large amounts of currency with you when you fly in the first place. If you carry it on, it could be stolen at the checkpoint either by a TSA agent or by another passenger. TSA doesn't keep track of whose bag is whose when they go through the conveyor. If someone grabs your bag or takes something out of it before you clear the scanner, they aren't going to know that the bag doesn't belong to that person until it's too late. For checked luggage, you are separated from it from the time you check in until you get to the baggage carousel at your destination. Airline agents, TSA agents, baggage handlers, ground crew, etc. at each airport you transit have access to your bags when you can't see them, so it would be nearly impossible for you to catch the culprit if someone decided to help themselves to some cash. If you do have to fly with large amounts of cash, this page has useful advice.

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I have not been able to get a definitive answer as to if these reported seizures are due to other illegal activity or if carrying cash over a certain dollar amount is in itself illegal.

It's not illegal but various law enforcement has a very strong motivation for invoking civil asset forfeiture -- they get to keep the money or part of it. You do not need to be even charged much less convicted of a crime.

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If you are on a domestic flight in the US, there is no limit to the amount of cash or monetary instruments that you can carry. However, the Transportation Security Administration may ask a passenger who is carrying a large sum of cash to account for the money. If the Transportation Security Administration suspects that the money is related to some kind of criminal activity such as drug trafficking or money laundering, they may turn the issue over to a law enforcement agency (the Transportation Security Administration has no law enforcement powers).

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    That still seems ambiguous to me and makes it appear that the person with the cash has to prove that they can have it. If the TSA says, "account for this money" to which you reply that you've been stuffing a fifty dollar bill in your shoe box every two weeks for 5 years, it seems like they would just take your money because you can't prove exactly where you got it. This doesn't seem legal (or ethical) to me. Is there some standard or do they (the TSA) just make it up as they go along? – Saren Sep 22 '14 at 21:47
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    @Saren Based on this CBC article, it's apparently entirely legal, but the ethics of it is very much up for debate, especially by those affected by it from north of the border... – Gagravarr Sep 22 '14 at 22:28
  • @Nit True, but that analogy was more for dramatic effect and $6500 really isn't that much cash as it's below the export declaration limit. I was thinking more like upwards of 10k, like say 15k or 20k. Where you would have to declare it if you were traveling out of the country. That said, there is no control (that I'm aware of) on the movement of cash inside the US. I just find it hard to believe that the cops can literally rob you (take your money without you committing a crime). – Saren Sep 22 '14 at 22:43
  • If TSA had reasonable suspicion that the money came from nefarious activity, then, yes, they could contact law enforcement. However, the money couldn't actually be legally seized by said law enforcement unless they could come up with probable cause to believe that you've committed a crime. Of course, what's legal doesn't stop some TSA agent or baggage handler from helping themselves to some of it, especially since you can't use reasonable locks on suitcases anymore. The law also won't stop you from missing your flight due to questioning by said law enforcement. – reirab Sep 23 '14 at 4:41
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    Which ends with the fact that "probable cause" can be anything under the current terrorism acts of the USA... so it's basically a free card. – Alban Lusitanae Sep 24 '14 at 20:36
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I do not believe there is a legal limit, but there is a practical limit. According to Jon Moy, a million dollars weighs about 20 pounds. It appears that you can not carry much more than a million dollars onto an airplane.

  • And consider if they make you check your luggage... major theft or loss risk. – smci Dec 17 '14 at 14:01
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    @smci Just use a TSA approved lock. I don't think any "bad people" have the master key. :) – emory Dec 17 '14 at 14:37
  • that doesn't solve the scenario of the case being lost or stolen outright – smci Dec 17 '14 at 15:26
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I've heard that the United States government can and is seizing any amount of cash over a certain dollar amount at airports.

Customs in many countries seizes undeclared cash over a certain limit, usually around $10,000 equivalent. You can arrive at JFK with a suitcase full of Benjamins, declare them, fill out a couple of IRS forms and be on your way in 20 minutes. If you don't declare the cash you're in a bit of trouble.

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    Right, but the amounts are stipulated at customs and you can declare when you clear customs. I'm speaking about domestic flights, so there is no customs office to declare the cash to. – Saren Sep 22 '14 at 21:33
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    @Saren And my point is the stories you may have heard could likely originate at customs, where this happens fairly often. As 3rd-hand stories frequently embellish themselves I can see it turning into "TSA grabs all cash over $50". Seriously, unless you are hauling around suitcases of used bills you have nothing to worry about. If you are hauling around suitcases of used bills on domestic airlines I would recommend you discover the banking system - cheques are a lot lighter. – Paul Sep 23 '14 at 3:14
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    This is about internal flights, not international flights. Different rules apply. – jwenting Sep 23 '14 at 6:41
  • @jwenting Correct. Specifically, in the case of domestic flights in the U.S., there aren't actually any rules. – reirab Sep 23 '14 at 14:01
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Think it through though - if you got the money through legal means, it will not be difficult to account for the money if the TSA asks.

Did you just sell something very expensive? Then you should have some kind of order form or copy of the receipt.

Did someone die and leave the money to you? Then you can have a copy of the death certificate, will, etc.

Did you just take your life savings out of the bank? You'll have a receipt.

Are you just a high powered executive that gets paid loads of money, or an heir to a fortune that's always walking around with tens of thousands of dollars? Then it's easy for the authorities to verify your identity.

I'm having a hard time coming up with a scenario in which you legally acquire enough money to pique the TSA's interest (would have to be at least a couple tens of thousands) where you wouldn't be able to account for it it to their satisfaction. Tell us how you acquired the money you're worried about and I'm sure we can advise you on how to convincingly account for it.

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    What about someone whose "savings account" is a safe in their closet? – alex.forencich Sep 23 '14 at 2:59
  • @alex.forencich: They would presumably have reported the income on their annual income taxes as it was acquired. If they failed to do so, well, ... – R.. Sep 23 '14 at 3:47
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    How are you supposed to provide documentation for $200 per month of your reported income that you stuffed in a personal safe over 20 years and happened to pull out all at once? – alex.forencich Sep 23 '14 at 4:05
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    @R Most people don't carry around years worth of tax returns with them when they fly. Furthermore, tax returns only show how much you made. It says nothing regarding whether you saved any of it or not, unless it was in a tax-advantaged retirement account (401(k), IRA, or the like.) – reirab Sep 23 '14 at 4:44
  • @Saren Think about it - when stores want to transport large amounts of cash they call an armored car manned by 2 shotgun wielding tough guys wearing body armor and helmets. Why would you even consider carrying what sounds to be a similar amount of cash by your lonesome in a carry-on bag? Sensible people generally don't do that unless they are trying to avoid having to tell their bank or someone required to report to law enforcement or the IRS just that they have this quantity of cash. – Marc Sep 23 '14 at 14:32
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Is there a legal limit to the amount of physical cash a US citizen can possess when flying from one US state to another? I've heard that the United States government can and is seizing any amount of cash over a certain dollar amount at airports. However, I have not been able to get a definitive answer as to if these reported seizures are due to other illegal activity or if carrying cash over a certain dollar amount is in itself illegal.

There is no limit to the amount of cash you can carry domestically or internationally.

However, traveling internationally you should declare any amount in currency or currency equivalents (like cashier's checks for example) that is above the value $10,000; this is because you need to provide the source of funds. For example, you could show a bank teller receipt.

In either case - there is no limit on the amount you can bring in or take out as long as you declare it properly.

If you cannot provide a source of funds for amounts above $10,000 - or you fail to declare that you are carrying above $10,000 and are then searched and discovered with the amount - then the government has the right to seize the entire amount (not just the amount above 10K).

In the US, this is not the job of the TSA to seize funds - this is a role for the CBP (Customs and Border Protection). The TSA is not a law enforcement agency (they cannot arrest you, for example).

protected by Community Apr 3 at 7:16

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