Carrying Gold Into Foreign Countries: The Simple Truth
“Can I carry my gold and silver across the border?” is a question I’m often asked by clients who are either planning to buy metals in a foreign country to bring home with them, or planning to hand-carry metals to an offshore location for long-term storage.
There is a common misconception that it is illegal or problematic to carry precious metals across the border into a foreign country. I believe this misconception is based primarily on the fact that travellers are asked to declare any currency or financial instruments above a certain threshold ($10,000 in Canada and the United States). Coupled with our human instinct to assume the worst whenever we lack understanding of something, most people assume it’s wrong to do so, and would rather avoid it or worse, fail to declare it.
FACT#1: It is not illegal to carry precious metals into a foreign country.
FACT #2: It is MUCH worse to fail to declare that you are carrying precious metals than to actually declare them. As the old adage goes, ‘you can never go wrong with the truth’. It’s when you lie to a Customs officer that the trouble begins…
A Customs officer’s primary activity is to collect duties on behalf of their employer, the Government. They may advertise that their raison d’etre is to protect our borders, which they do, but their hard-line of questioning often aims to determine if the person being interviewed is simply telling the truth or not. If you are telling the truth, they will generally be courteous and professional and promptly approve your entry or determine if any duties are owed for the goods you are carrying.
If they suspect you are lying or hiding the truth, they are likely to take you aside for further questioning, which may include a physical search.
To quote the Canadian Declaration Card:
“Each traveller is responsible for reporting currency and/or monetary instruments totalling CAN $10,000 or more that are in his or her actual possession or baggage. Under the law, failure to properly declare goods, currency and/or monetary instruments brought into Canada may result in seizure action, monetary penalties and/or criminal prosecution.”
In other words, you MUST report cash or monetary instruments totalling above $10,000. Failing to do so is asking for trouble. It does NOT say that any currency or monetary instruments above $10,000 will be seized. Again, it is completely legal to carry sums of cash or precious metals across international borders, so long as you declare it and have a reasonable explanation as to why you’re carrying it into the foreign jurisdiction.
Although carrying 50 gold coins may attract some additional attention from Customs officers, it isn’t illegal and they most certainly don’t have the right to seize them based solely on the fact that it equates to over $10,000 in value, or whatever the jurisdiction’s stated threshold may be (the Cayman Islands is $15,000 for example).
Side note: I do consider gold and silver bullion the equivalent of a monetary instrument and when determining the value to declare, I base it on the current market value of the metal content, not the coin’s face value. It’s debatable, but again, better to declare its full value and be told that it is not correct, than to hide it and incur penalties or risk seizure.
I have often travelled internationally with precious metals valued well above $10,000. My general remark is that the Customs officers I’ve encountered are more fascinated with what I’m carrying than giving me any problems about it.
The only time I experienced a setback, I was travelling to a conference and carrying approximately $100,000 in gold and silver bullion. Because I was travelling for business, the bullion was considered ‘commercial goods’ and I lacked the proper documentation in order to enter the United States. The officer informed me that I would not be able to enter the US at that moment and provided me with the documents I would require to complete if I wished to re-enter later on. She did NOT seize the bullion, nor did she place me under arrest. In fact, she was quite pleasant (aside from being a bit nervous herself).
Now, you may be unlucky and run into a hard-nosed Customs officer who feels the need to give you a hard time, or simply has no clue about gold & silver. My advice is to remain calm, be patient and work with him or her until the issue is resolved and they send you on your way (with your gold & silver in hand). At the end of the day, they are governed by strict protocol and cannot seize (at least not permanently) just for the sake of seizing.
Here is some other practical advice to follow if you plan to travel internationally while in possession of gold & silver bullion:
Bonus Tip: If you are travelling by air, chances are you will be stopped by TSA/airport security when they x-ray your carry-on items (gold & silver are dense and show up as black holes on their screens). Remain calm and inform them that you wish to be taken to a private room for inspection. Not only will they treat you professionally, their faces will light up with fascination when they realize you are carrying gold & silver.
Mark Yaxley is the head of Operations & Client Services for Strategic Wealth Preservation (SWP). He first began working with gold and silver at the age of 26, when he joined Kitco Metals. There, he specialized in product development and served as Kitco’s Product Marketing Manager. A decade later, he joined SWP, a Cayman-based precious metals storage company that specializes in the storage of gold and silver bullion, graded and rare coins. Mark can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.