Skip to main content

FAQ: Bulk Cash Smuggling

Combating Bulk Cash Smuggling

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is the largest investigative agency in the Department of Homeland Security. ICE HSI enforces a wide array of laws, including those related to financial crime, trade fraud, counterfeiting and cash smuggling.

In recent years, the smuggling of bulk currency has become a preferred method for drug trafficking organizations and other criminal enterprises to move illicit proceeds across our borders.

Congress criminalized the act of smuggling large amounts of cash as part of the PATRIOT Act.

What is bulk cash smuggling?

Bulk Cash Smuggling is a reporting offense under the Bank Secrecy Act, and is part of the United States Code (U.S.C.). The code stipulates:

Whoever, with the intent to evade a currency reporting requirement, knowingly conceals more than $10,000 in currency or other monetary instruments on the person of such individual or in any conveyance, article of luggage, merchandise, or other container, and transports or transfers or attempts to transport or transfer such currency or monetary instruments from a place within the United States to a place outside of the United States, or from a place outside the United States to a place within the United States, shall be guilty of a currency smuggling offense.

Does bulk cash smuggling always occur at the border?

Not necessarily. The statute that governs bulk cash smuggling does require proof that a suspect intended to cross the border. However, criminal organizations rely on complex transportation and smuggling networks to move and launder their illicit proceeds.

For example, bulk cash intended for a drug trafficking organization in Colombia may begin its journey in Philadelphia, Pa., and travel through many locations, along several routes, before arriving at the border. Those same proceeds may then move through Mexico, Panama or other countries before arriving at their destination.

ICE HSI has broad authority to investigate these criminal networks, and may rely on other financial and criminal statutes, to prosecute violators and seize assets at the border, within the United States and internationally.

What authorities govern bulk cash smuggling offenses?

Title 31 U.S.C. § 5332 (Bulk Cash Smuggling) makes it a crime to smuggle or attempt to smuggle more than $10,000 in currency or monetary instruments into or out of the United States, with the specific intent to evade the U.S. currency reporting requirements codified in Title 31 U.S.C. §§ 5316 and 5317.

ICE HSI relies on other financial authorities granted under Title 31 U.S.C. (Money and Finance), specifically those related to violations of reporting requirements and structuring financial transactions, as well as criminal authorities, such as Title 18 U.S.C. § 1960 (Unlicensed Money Transporter/Transmitter), Title 18 U.S.C. § 1952 (Interstate and Foreign Travel or Transportation in Aid of Racketeering Enterprises) and Title 18 U.S.C. § 1956 (Money Laundering). These authorities allow ICE HSI to disrupt and dismantle criminal networks that move bulk cash, wherever they may operate.

What do I have to report when entering or departing the U.S.?

According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website, you may bring into or take out of the country, including by mail, as much money as you wish. However, if you are transporting more than $10,000, you will need to report it to CBP. Ask the nearest CBP officer for the Report of International Transportation of Currency or Monetary Instruments (FinCEN Form 105). The penalties for non-compliance can be severe.

What are monetary instruments?

Monetary instruments are financial instruments that can be used similarly to cash. Specifically, monetary instruments are defined on the second or reverse side of the FinCEN Form 105:

  1. Coin or currency of the United States or of any other country.
  2. Traveler’s checks in any form.
  3. Negotiable instruments (including checks, promissory notes, and money orders) in bearer form, endorsed without restriction, made out to a fictitious payee, or otherwise in such form that title thereto passes upon delivery.
  4. Incomplete instruments (including checks, promissory notes, and money orders) that are signed but on which the name of the payee has been omitted.
  5. Securities or stock in bearer form or otherwise in such form that title thereto passes upon delivery.

Monetary instruments do not include the following:

  • Checks or money orders made payable to the order of a named person which have not been endorsed or which bear restrictive endorsements.
  • Warehouse receipts
  • Bills of lading.

What are the penalties for smuggling bulk cash?

According to Title 31 U.S.C. § 5332, the penalties for bulk cash smuggling could include:

  • Imprisonment for a period of time up to 5 years.
  • Forfeiture of any property, real or personal, involved in the offense, and any property traceable to such property.

Why do criminal organizations smuggle bulk cash?

Criminal organizations smuggle bulk cash to keep their proceeds and related activities away from the scrutiny of financial regulators and law enforcement agencies.

The United States has the most advanced and comprehensive anti-money laundering and financial regulatory framework in the world. Financial transaction reports assist investigators with flagging potential criminal activity, identifying criminally derived assets and disrupting criminal financial flows.

How common is bulk cash smuggling?

Every year, hundreds of people try to smuggle more than $10,000 across U.S. borders in order to avoid reporting requirements. In fiscal year 2013 alone, ICE HSI special agents arrested over 520 individuals who were attempting to smuggle currency and seized more than $59 million in bulk currency or monetary instruments.

How does bulk cash smuggling affect our country?

Bulk cash smuggling damages our economy by removing billions of dollars from the commerce of the United States. Those dollars could otherwise be used to purchase goods, pay taxes, or invest in lawful enterprises.

It also diminishes the integrity of our financial system by promoting an unregulated, unreported and underground market for illicit goods and services.

It fuels criminal enterprises that traffic in illicit drugs, engage in violent crime against persons and property, fund terrorism and extremist groups, engage in human trafficking and smuggling and commit commercial fraud.

How can I report the suspected illegal movement of bulk cash?

To report suspected bulk cash smuggling or illicit currency transportation, individuals should contact the National Bulk Cash Smuggling Center (BCSC) by using the ICE Tip Form or by calling 1-866-DHS-2-ICE.