Targeted Enforcement for Customs Money Seizure

How does customs target people for money seizures?

There are certain groups of people who are more likely to be transporting large amounts of money through airport customs. For example, people who come from largely cash based economies and people who for cultural reasons, do not trust banks or prefer to pay with and keep cash on hand. Walking around with more than $10,000 in cash is hard for a lot of Americans to understand because credit is easy and we are notoriously bad savers. I suspect many American’s would not think twice about having a $10,000 balance on their credit card, but those same people would be shocked to hear about someone walking around with $10,000 in cash.

Another example of people who are more likely to be transporting large amounts of money through customs are those travelling to the U.S. for an extended vacation or are staying for a long time to attend a university, work an internship, or immigrate from China, Korea, Iran or Indonesia, for example, and make a permanent residence in the United States . They might be carrying money with them to pay for tuition (which usually cannot be paid by credit card), books, expenses related to renting an apartment, buying car, purchasing health insurance, etc.

Why does customs target certain groups for money seizures?

From the perspective of customs, targeted enforcement of the more than $10,000 currency reporting requirement makes sense and any diligent customs officer who wants to make sure the currency reporting laws are enforced is going to target certain people de-planing from flights from certain countries or parts of the world.

Extended vacationers are easy to target by customs. Customs may review your itinerary (e.g., one way or return flight) and ask about the purpose of your visit to the United States. So when a customs officer asks, “How long are you staying in the United States?” and the response is, “A month,” one of the next few questions likely to be asked is going be, “And so how much money are you travelling with?” If you look nervous, or if they just do not believe you, there are likely going to search you and your luggage in a secondary inspection to verify whatever you tell them about how much money you are transporting.

What’s an example of a group targeted by customs for currency reporting purposes?

The Chinese New Year is coming up (1/31 to 2/6) and traditionally, Chinese people visit relatives and give cash gifts in red envelopes, called hongbao, during this holiday. You can read more about

Red Envelope (hongbao) Customs Money Seizure
Cash Filled Hongbao – Red Envelopes

this interesting cultural practice at Wikipedia. Chinese people living in the United States also celebrate the Chinese New Year. Chinese nationals travel to the United States to visit their family living here and bring with them hongbao red envelopes stuffed with cash from relatives back in China. It might be in certain “lucky” denominations, it might be for a wedding, a new baby, or just to help a young family out.

As a result, Customs might target flights from China for enhanced enforcement of the currency reporting requirement near and during the Chinese New Year and seize money for failure to report, bulk cash smuggling, or structuring violations (multiple red envelopes being transported on behalf of multiple relatives). Chinese nationals coming to the United States during the Chinese New year celebrations are probably going to be targeted by customs to make sure that they are reporting any amount over $10,000 in currency they are transporting into the United States, or if they fail to report, customs will seize their money and tell them to file a petition to get it back.

Customs seized my money! What do I do now?

If you have had money seized by customs 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, Las Vegas, Orlando and many other places, and not just locally in Detroit.

Please read these other articles from our customs law blog:

  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?