Traveling with Coins, Cash and Precious Metals – Beware the TSA
Commentary on Traveling with Coins, Cash and Precious Metals Prepared for CoinWeek.com
By Patrick A. Heller …..
Note: In the interest of protecting travelers and collectors planning to attend the ANA’s World’s Fair of Money, CoinWeek is republishing Pat Heller’s 2015 article on civil forfeiture at airports. In this piece Pat mentions a link to the TSA website that is no longer active. At the bottom of this article, you will see a screen grab of that page. – Editor
A while back, a woman contacted me with a problem. She was preparing to take a domestic flight the next day carrying 15 U.S. $20.00 Double Eagles in her purse. Like many of you, she has seen the significant recent media coverage about government officials at federal, state, and local levels who have seized precious metals, rare coins, or cash from people traveling with coins, claiming that such assets might be derived from criminal activity. Further, she was aware that in about 80% of such instances, no charges were ever filed against the person whose assets were taken, yet the assets were never returned to the lawful owner.
She wanted to know what she could do to avoid the possible seizure of her gold coins when traveling with coins by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as she went through the airport security checkpoint. She was especially concerned as she had inherited these coins from her father’s estate, where the personal representative was unable find any documents showing her father’s purchase of these coins. She also did not have any paperwork to show that she had inherited these coins to be able to prove that she was the lawful owner of them.
After two emails to the TSA, reviewing their website, and adding a dose of common sense, here are the best suggestions I had to minimize the risk of having her gold coins seized when traveling with coins and going through airport security:
- Read the TSA website page for traveling with Currency, Coins, Precious Metals, or Valuable Jewelry at http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/currency-coins-precious-metals-or-valuable-jewelry.
- Since she had no paperwork of the purchase or inheritance, I suggested that she have another relative or the personal representative write a note stating that she was being given these coins as part of her inheritance, identifying each coin in the note. The woman should take the original of this note, but make sure that someone else who was not going to the airport had a photocopy. If there is any paperwork documenting that the traveler has proper possession of the valuables, it would be best to bring the original along
- She should also photocopy or take a picture of the front and back sides of the coins (if someone carries a large quantity of cash, they may want to get a picture of the currency showing each unique serial number) and make sure that another party not going to the airport also has copies.
- Do not put such valuables in your checked luggage.
- As suggested by the TSA, be open and aboveboard to them about your carrying of valuables. Such steps include calling the TSA office at the airport of departure at least 24 hours before flight time and ask for the TSA Customer Support Manager to notify him or her of the nature of items you will be carrying.At the checkpoint, ask for a private room search right away rather than having your bag opened in front of other passengers walking by. Ask to have another adult you trust go to this room with you as your own witness as to what happened in the room (this does not have to be someone who is also flying with you).When you are in the private room, explain what you are carrying. If you are carrying large sums of cash, it would help to have paperwork (an invoice, a receipt for withdrawing the funds from an account, a written statement documenting why you are carrying that much cash, etc.)
- About the worst thing you can do is to try to sneak your valuables through airport security. If they are detected, the fact that you did not declare the items to TSA personnel and that you had the items hidden rather than easy to find in the bag are considered suspicious. Also, being irate with TSA staff tends not to encourage cooperation from them.
There are additional restrictions for international travel, such filing a formal declaration if you appear to be carrying $10,000 or more in cash or having to fill out customs paperwork for transporting valuable items.
I suspect that there would be little chance of having your valuables seized by the TSA if you follow the above suggestions. These same suggestions may also make sense if you are traveling with such valuables by any other means.
As I understand it, the police in Philadelphia are extremely aggressive at seizing property. Records show that they take far more assets than all other law enforcement agencies in the rest of Pennsylvania combined. The above tips may come in handy if you are traveling to the 2018 American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in 2018 in Philadelphia.