Customs Announces Expanded Filing of Joint Customs Declarations

Customs announced they recently took steps broadening the definition of who counts as a member of a family residing in one household for purposes of filing a joint customs declaration – form 6059B – when entering the United States. The news releases is HERE. That means the currency total is also broadened to include the aggregate amount of currency being transported by the household. A sample of the declaration form that this new definition applies to his HERE (see question #13).

This change is no doubt being brought as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor,  570 U.S. ___ (2013) (Docket No. 12-307). The news release from customs reads:

Washington— U.S. Customs and Border Protection sent today to the Federal Register a Final Rule designed to broaden the definition of “members of a family residing in one household” to more accurately reflect relationships for U.S. citizens, residents and international visitors who are traveling together as a family. The expansion of the term will include long-term same-sex couples and other domestic relationships which would allow more returning U.S. citizens, residents and international visitors to file a joint customs declaration for items acquired abroad. The rule will be effective thirty days after publication in the Federal Register.

The change in regulation will create less paperwork for people who are traveling together as a family and will result in increased efficiency for CBP by streamlining passenger processing.

“Domestic relationship” would be defined to include foster children, stepchildren, half-siblings, legal wards, other dependents, and individuals with an in loco parentis or guardianship relationship.

Also included within the definition two adults who are in a committed relationship including, but not limited to, long-term companions and couples in civil unions or domestic partnerships where the partners are financially interdependent, and are not married to, or a partner of, anyone else.

“Members of a family residing in one household” will continue to encompass relationships of blood, adoption, and marriage.

The joint declaration form is the one on which most passengers arriving into the United States use to complete a list of purchases made abroad and make a declaration as to whether or not they are transporting more than $10,000 in U.S. Currency, and of the need to file the Currency and Monetary Instruments Report on form FinCEN 105.

I anticipate this new definition is going to give customs a wider net to enforce the currency reporting requirement, and thus may result in more cash seized by customs. Why? Because any two people travelling together who are in a “commited relationship” will now have to pool their currency and assets together for purposes of filing this declaration. How do you know a committed a relationship when you see it for purposes of making the snap decision whether or not they are to be considered as being of one household? It’s kind of a squishy definition. It’s this kind of calculus that is going to put some travellers over the $10,000.01 threshold reporting requirement and result in, my guess is, more cash seizures by customs.

UPDATE 12/18/13: The above final rule was published in today’s federal register (HERE). In the actual regulations, customs makes clear that a committed relationship “does not extend to roommates or other cohabitants not otherwise meeting this definition,” meaning that they must be financially interdependent. 19 CFR 148.34. That leaves a little less wiggle room. There are some other changes and some good comments and responses from CBP, such as the following quote:

Many commenters shared their own personal experiences upon their return to the United States and outlined what they perceived to be inconsistent and sometimes rude behavior by CBP officers. These commenters expressed their expectation that when the rule becomes final, CBP would apply the proposed definition consistently at all ports of entry.

If you have had cash seized by customs and are contemplating what to do next, please make use of the other information available on this website or call our office at (734) 855-4999 to speak to a customs lawyer, or e-mail us through our contact page. We are able to assist with cash seized by customs around the country, including Chicago, Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Orlando and many other places, and not just locally in Detroit.

Please read these other articles:

  1. Seizure of currency and monetary instruments by U.S. Customs
  2. Seizure for bulk cash smuggling into or out of the U.S.
  3. Structuring currency imports and exports
  4. Is it $10,000 per person?  Under what circumstances is filing a report with Customs for transporting more than $10,000 required?
  5. Criminal & civil penalties for failing to report monetary instrument transportation
  6. Is only cash currency subject to seizure by Customs?
  7. Responding to a Customs currency seizure
  8. How do I get my seized money back?
  9. Getting money seized by U.S. Customs back while staying overseas
  10. How long does it take Customs to decide a petition for a currency/monetary instrument seizure?