Dateline: Cancun, Mexico
The fifteen minute flight from nearby Cozumel was quite the exercise in freedom. My group of friends and I had the plane to ourselves and it proved to be a totally freeing experience.
On board, the crew couldn’t care less if we fastened our seat belt or used our laptops. We probably could have even smoked on board, as unpleasant as it might make the experience.
Today, I’m in Cancun taking a flight to Germany to investigate some banking opportunities before heading to eastern Europe. It wasn’t easy finding a flight that bypassed The Land of the Free, but fortunately I found a non-stop to Frankfurt.
Boarding the plane was an interesting example of governments’ War on Cash at work.
But first, let’s step back fifteen years…
When the Euro was being unveiled, Germans were naturally skeptical. After all, their former currency – the German mark – was among the most stable in Europe. It was far from the freak show that were currencies like the Italian lira.
Germans were long known for keeping high-value banknotes in cold, hard cash. They loved keeping cash on hand, and it’s a lot easier to store a few large bank notes than a lot of small ones.
When the Euro was coming into play, the bureaucrats in Europe ran their usual play: they wanted to issue Euro notes in denominations up to 100 Euros. For all the typical reasons (“fighting money laundering” and other blah blah blah), European officials didn’t want large value banknotes like the 1000 Deutsch mark note.
Ultimately, Germans prevailed in getting the European Union to issue a 500 Euro banknote so they could keep their savings in cash more easily.
Recently, European bureaucrats have once again tried to bring an end to the 500 Euro notes, calling them “bin Laden notes” and claiming their mere existence is supporting terrorists. It’s amazing how little shame these politicians have.
Even so, Germans still love holding cash.
Which explains why not one, but two, agents at our boarding gate were quizzing everyone getting on the plane about any cash that needed to be declared, and holding up cash declaration forms so as to make sure people with more than US$10,000 turned them in at the gate.
Out of only five parties in front of me in line, three turned in the cash declaration forms.
It made me think just how bad the War on Cash is getting in the world. It also highlights why you should consider a safe haven that appreciates someone like you carrying cash or precious metals; a safe haven that doesn’t automatically assume you’re a terrorist.
The basics of the War on Cash
To be honest, the Mexican authorities don’t care too much about security measures in the way the TSA and US Customs do. Security in most Mexican airports is remarkably easy.
But you can thank governments like the United States for pushing other, smaller governments to force people to declare their cash at the airport.
Technically, it is legal to carry as much cash as you like across almost every international border. If you have more than the limit, all that is required of you is to declare it.
Most countries around the world have currency restrictions when you enter and leave the country. Typically, countries have adopted the US$10,000 limit put in place by the United States. In most of Europe, the limit is 10,000 Euros.
Some developing countries place more strict limits on the amount of local currency you can export. China, for instance, limits the amount of renmibi you can take out of the country to about $3,500 per departure.
However, while carrying cash in any amount is technically legal, we must accept reality. The people in charge of enforcing currency restrictions and collecting cash declaration forms are nothing more than a bunch of uptight customs bureaucrats with a chip on their shoulder.
Would you want the average sticky fingered TSA agent to know you were carrying a large amount of currency or precious metals? Of course not.
For the same reason, I don’t particularly trust customs agents with the knowledge that I’m traveling with lots of cash. There are too many horror stories of people who complied with the law only to be accused of being a drug dealer and then had their money confiscated.
When the government confiscates your money at a border, you have to hire a lawyer and fight them to get it back. The government routinely denies requests to release cash taken by customs agents, even though their theft violates your constitutional rights.
Countries that don’t have currency reporting requirements
If you want to move large amounts of money in cash, you could consider countries that don’t have currency restrictions. In Europe, Switzerland does not require you to declare currency in any amount.
Similarly, Hong Kong does not impose currency restrictions. In fact, Hong Kong is one of the last places on earth I expect to see a War on Cash. To tell people there that someone is carrying a briefcase full of money would arouse little suspicion.
Singapore does require a currency declaration, however the limit is possibly the highest in the world at S$30,000 (about US$24,000). Considering that Singapore produces a S$10,000 banknote — the most valuable single banknote in the world — carrying money in and out of the country is easy.
And while Singapore does require declarations of large amounts of precious metals, it does not ask for information on the beneficial owner. Gold ownership is well respected there, as is cash.
When you consider that Hong Kong and Singapore are excellent places to store wealth, their lax currency restrictions are quite valuable.
Additionally, when you take into account that Switzerland is well placed within Europe, it also offers value for those wishing to take money to Europe. Austria next door, for example, is fighting the EU to retain its bank secrecy laws and is one of the only places in the world to store gold anonymously.
Of course, laws of this nature change all the time, so you should check before traveling. If you’re transporting very large amounts of gold, you’d likely be better off hiring a company like Brinks to handle all of the shipping and legal logistics for you.
However, cultures like Germany’s still believe in the value of holding some wealth in the palm of your hand. If you’re rightfully concerned about moving physical wealth out of your home country, you should know where to go to receive the best treatment.
Once you know that, all you have to do is focus on your own country’s rules. If you have wealth in the United States, I believe the laws (and enforcement of those laws) will only get more aggressive as the US government fights the never-ending “war on terror” and “evil drug dealers”.
The sooner you can (legally) get your money out, the better. Take it from the Germans: having wealth in a country that has declared a War on Cash is a bad idea; and it can be helpful to physically move that wealth as the banking system becomes more closely watched by the those in power.