Top 10 things to know after a U.S. customs (CBP) money seizure

U.S. Customs & Border Protection Officer's uniform, featuring the seal of the agency.

1. You should expect a CAFRA notice of seizure.

After a customs money seizure, you should expect to receive a CAFRA notice of seizure in the mail. This is different from the custody receipt for seized property you you should’ve received.

2. U.S. Customs is only required to “send” a notice of seizure in 60 days most of the time.

After the U.S. customs seizes money they must send a notice of seizure. In most cases, CBP is not required to confirm it was received, only that it was sent.

3. If CBP sends the notice of seizure and you don’t get it, or its late, your case will suffer.

Someone who has had customs seize cash usually has 30 days from the date on the CAFRA notice of seizure to respond to get money back administratively, or 35 days to take the case to court by filing a CAFRA seized asset claim form. If you do not receive the notice of seizure from Customs, the clock to respond and get your seized cash back from customs is still ticking. Waiting passively for CBP to send the CAFRA notice of seizure will jeopardize your case.

4. You can choose how your case will be handled through an election of proceedings form.

An election of proceedings form is enclosed with the notice of seizure. You must choose an option, sign and return the form as directed to contest your cash seizure case with customs. You should get a free currency seizure consultation before deciding how to proceed to get seized cash back from CBP.

5. Your case will go to court only if you or CBP seeks judicial forfeiture.

Typically the only way you can get your customs money seizure case before a judge is by properly filing a CAFRA seized asset claim form that is signed by you. The detailed instructions for this step are in the notice of seizure and the election of proceedings form.

6. An administrative petition for return of seized cash isn’t an apology letter or explanation.

If you choose to file an administrative petition for returned of seized cash it should not be in the form of an apology letter or explanation to Customs. A notice of seizure is a legal document and requires a legal response. If you admit to a crime or violation there is no way to take it back. If CBP chooses to criminally prosecute you, you will not be able to say you are innocent.

7. You must prove the money was legal.

Whatever election of proceedings option you select, you will have to prove the money seized by CBP was legal and came from a legitimate source. This is most typically done by including supporting documents like affidavits, tax returns, contracts, profit and loss sheets, bank statements, tax returns, business registration certificates, and proofs of employment or income with the administrative petition (if chosen as the option). Be careful not to undershare or overshare with Customs, or accidentally or unknowingly disclose other violations of the law.

Even if you prove the cash seized by CBP was from a legitimate source, you also have to prove that it was going to be used for a legal purpose. This can be a trip itinerary, proof of expenses, medical bills, leases, and other documents.

8. You must be patient; processing times vary by port, sometimes taking a year or more.

If you choose an administrative petition, offer in compromise, or claim, the process can take very long; sometimes a year or more. Doing everything right the first time helps prevent unnecessary delays.

9. Statements made to CBP can be used against you.

It is likely that when you were detained by CBP after the money seizure that you were read your “Miranda rights” and told that you had the right to remain silent. Any statements you made before you were detained and after you were detained and read your rights can be used against you.

10. You may be charged with a crime.

Failure to report cash to customs, structuring cash transactions, and bulk cash smuggling all carry with them civil and criminal penalties. You can be charged either civilly, criminally, or both.