10

I was reading this question and @Mikaveli's answer regarding a list of things not to bring, including money.

So my question is, what if I bring my laptop across borders and its hard drive has a bitcoin wallet file containing more bitcoin (value-wise) than the maximum amount of currency allowed to bring across the border. Am I legally required to declare it?

What if that wallet file isn't on my laptop, but is stored in the cloud somewhere (setting aside the security risks of that)? Then I get to my destination and download the wallet onto my laptop (presumably deleting it before crossing another border) and maybe do some transactions (such as exchanging bitcoin for the local currency, or paying for things). Does that change the legality? If not, am I legally required to declare all bitcoin I own every time I cross a border?

What if I email the wallet file to a friend (highly trusted friend obviously) in the destination country before leaving? Then nothing except my knowledge of the password has crossed the border with me, though the wallet file did cross the border before me.

Finally, for all three cases (and especially the two where the file crosses the border at a different time than me), what if the wallet file is encrypted with a strong password that only I know? Does that change anything?

EDIT - For the purposes of this questions let's say I'm travelling from the US to France (or another Schengen Zone country)

  • 20
    This question is equivalent to asking "I have 1 million dollars in my bank account. Can I cross the border with a credit card tied to that account?" – JonathanReez Supports Monica Aug 19 '15 at 20:22
  • 1
    Generally I think it's a great question, but just too broad without naming specific countries. Though, as a general rule I wouldn't declare Bitcoin unless I needed to use it to prove access to funds, and I wouldn't mention it at all if traveling to one of the three or four countries which has gone backward and outlawed it. – Michael Hampton Aug 19 '15 at 22:45
  • Bitcoin is no weapon, no food, no drug, no money, no animal, no plant. How the linked question would apply? – Rg7x gW6a cQ3g Jan 31 '17 at 8:15
  • 1
    @JonathanReez It's not equivalent at all. A Bitcoin wallet is stored value, a credit card is not. A Bitcoin wallet is presumptive property of the bearer. A credit card is not. This puts the two things in entirely different categories. – David Schwartz Feb 27 '17 at 2:08
  • You could be carrying say $11k worth of bitcoin, but by the time you present yourself at customs, the value could go down to $1k or 0. It will be interesting the day crypto has to be declared. – happybuddha Oct 1 '18 at 23:31
15

At the moment, the general consensus is that Bitcoin is not a currency (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitcoin, under 'Economics').

For the US and Canada, this page is pretty clear on what you need to declare when entering. Though a similar text for the UK explicitly states that the maximum amount refers to 'currencies', the US and Canada page refers to 'cash like instruments', which (though IANAL) could fit as a description of Bitcoin.

However, as a bitcoin wallet doesn't hold any bitcoins itself (but your access details, so to speak) a seemingly sensible interpretation would be that moving wallets across borders is comparable to moving a credit card across borders; your credit card is not the money you can spend on it, it's a tool to get access to the money.

(I Don't see how encrypting your wallet, when moving it across borders, would have any relevance. Neither would it matter, in relation to having to declare the move of the wallet, whether you move the wallet yourself, or you mail it to a friend.)

This would leave actually spending sufficiently large amounts of money abroad. Just like physically taking large amounts into a country needs to be reported, and just like transferring large amounts of money by bank, the implication is that converting bitcoins into sufficiently costly tangible goods would need to be reported.

(IANAL, but this would also imply that converting enough of them in your home country would need to be reported.)

  • 4
    Some Bitcoin clients support regenerating the wallet key from a list of simple keywords, which means you can carry Bitcoins in your head :) – JonathanReez Supports Monica Aug 19 '15 at 20:44
  • 1
    ezbordercrossing seems to say if you ship the items then your shipper will calculate duties and taxes. I wonder if emailing a wallet to a friend counts as shipping it. The thing about bitcoin wallets is that they don't actually contain bitcoins - just a cryptographic key that allows you to sign a message stating that you are reassigning ownership of the bitcoins. So if you are so inclined, you could memorize the key and destroy all physical copies. I have to wonder how that would count in general. – CPomerantz Aug 19 '15 at 20:47
  • 2
    @A.Human: With international bank transfers, money is often actually not moved, just ledgers adjusted, which to me sounds rather similar. Yet, large transfers need to be reported. – MastaBaba Aug 19 '15 at 20:52
  • 1
    @MastaBaba That is exactly how bitcoin works. So what you're implying is the wallet file doesn't matter, but a large transfer must be reported. Is that correct? EDIT to clarify - you can bring the wallet file across the border any number of times as long as you don't actually spend any bitcoin. Then it's governed by money transfer laws and not customs laws. That's what you're saying? – CPomerantz Aug 19 '15 at 21:07
  • 1
    The EU regulations (including UK) place a restriction on the amount of cash, more specifically notes and coins, you can bring undeclared when entering and leaving the EU, making it obvious that the physical representation of the money is relevant. Since a bitcoin wallet is only a security token allowing you access to a monetary value, and as Jonathan Reeze pointed out is more similar to a credit or ATM card, I doubt that makes any difference wether the bitcoin wallet is physically moved across the border, if it is encrypted or if it is accessible in a cloud. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Aug 19 '15 at 22:20

protected by phoog Jul 11 at 21:15

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.