money transport across borders limits

Transporting Money Across Borders: What Are the Legal Limits?

How much cash can you carry into and out of Switzerland without having to declare it? What regulations apply elsewhere? Find out in this guide.

There is no limit to the amount of money you can carry into or out of Switzerland and you are not obligated to declare your money when you enter or leave Switzerland. This applies to money carried in Swiss francs and foreign currency. Securities like checks, shares and bonds can also be freely transported into or out of Switzerland without declaration.

It is important to note, however, that although you are under no obligation to declare currency or securities, Swiss customs officials have the right to perform routine controls. You are required to declare currency in excess of 10,000 Swiss francs if you are specifically asked to do so by customs officials.

If you are carrying the equivalent of 10,000 francs or more, you may legally be asked to provide information about yourself and some reference as to the origin of the money. If you are carrying money which does not belong to you, you should be ready to provide information about the money’s owner. Your details may be recorded by customs officials. You will normally only be questioned by Swiss customs officials if you are suspected of illicit activity.

Because 10,000 francs is not an unreasonable amount of money to carry with you on a long trip or even on a short but expensive vacation or shopping trip, a simple and honest explanation regarding how the money was earned and how you plan to spend it will generally suffice.

Limits applicable in other countries

Switzerland stands apart from many other countries which place tight limits on the amount of currency or securities which can be imported or exported.

For example, if you carry the equivalent of 10,000 euros or more into or out of European Union member countries, you must declare it at customs. Carrying the equivalent of US$ 10,000 or more into the U.S. necessitates a customs declaration. South Africa requires you to declare local currency exceeding ZAR 25,000 and combined foreign currency exceeding the equivalent of US$ 10,000. In Brazil, the limit on currency which does not need to be declared is BRL 10,000 or its equivalent in foreign currency. Russia places no limitations on currency imports, but currency leaving Russia must be declared if it matches or surpasses the equivalent of US$ 3000. China allows you to carry foreign currency worth up $5000 or local currency worth up to CNY 20,000 into or out of the country without a customs declaration.

In all of those countries you will be required to declare money in excess of these allowances and possibly pay some customs duties. In some countries, limits may include the value of prepaid cards, checks and securities in addition to currency. Before you travel to a country, it is important that you research limitations on money.

Confiscation of money

In Switzerland, if customs officials have good reason to suspect you of money laundering or other illicit activities, they have the right to confiscate your money. This holds true no matter how much or how little money you are carrying. If this happens, you will have to follow legal procedures to recover your assets.

How to prepare for customs declarations ahead of a trip

Although you will not normally have any difficulty taking money out of Switzerland, you should be prepared to make a customs declaration at your destination if you will be carrying substantial amounts of money. If you plan to carry large amounts of money or securities with you when you enter or leave Switzerland, you may want to consider carrying some proof of income (tax documents, for example). Receipts for cash withdrawals and foreign currency purchases may also be useful, as can banks statements (if you are willing to share these), salary slips or invoices to customers (if you are self-employed).

Alternatives to carrying physical money across borders

There are many reasons why you may need to carry money with you across borders. But carrying large amounts of cash has its disadvantages. In many countries, declaring currency is a fairly quick and simple procedure, but other countries (such as the United States) have more complex customs procedures which can be quite time-consuming. Additionally, if you are traveling to a country with a high crime rate, carrying a lot of money with you can pose a security problem. You can find advice in the guide to protecting your money while traveling.

While carrying some cash with you is always a good idea, you may want to consider using a banking service which lets you access money or make payments at your destination. Using a debit card to withdraw money from your bank account can, in some cases, work out cheaper than changing money with banks or money changers.

However, you will want to make sure that your debit card can be used at your destination. Taking time to research available ATMs which accept your card and to have your bank remove geoblocking limitations can help you avoid becoming stranded without money. You will also want to have your bank raise your monthly debit card limit to match your needs ahead of your trip.

A credit card provides a convenient (if somewhat expensive) means of paying for purchases abroad, but credit cards are only widely accepted in a limited number of countries. Read the guide to avoiding unnecessary fees when using Swiss credit cards abroad to find out how to use credit cards smartly while traveling. If you plan to spend a fairly large amount of money (more than would be convenient to carry in cash), you will need to make sure that your card has a sufficient line of credit. Contacting your credit card issuer to have your line of credit increased while traveling can be difficult, so make sure to do this before you travel.

If you do not use credit cards or debit cards, money transfer services like Western Union and Moneygram let you wire money to your destination and then collect it upon arrival. Depending on the country you transfer money to and the amount you transfer, the cost may be very low or very high. Read the guide to international money transfers for tips on transferring money internationally.

Another option is to write yourself a check drawn on your bank account after you reach your destination. This option can be expensive and is only a viable alternative if you are sure that you can cash the check at your destination without holding a bank account there.

More on this topic:
Credit card travel vacation trips
Sending money overseas
Foreign currency: Getting the best rates
Peer-to-peer money transfers explained

About Moneyland Magazine

The magazine provides accurate, unbiased information on topics related to finance and money. In addition to research and expert interviews, the magazine contains numerous financial guides.