Traveling with Coins, Cash and Precious Metals – Beware the TSA

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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 In this piece Pat mentions a link to the TSA website that is no longer active.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.

traveling with coins, cash or precious metals

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:

    1. 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.
    2. 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
    3. 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.
    4. Do not put such valuables in your checked luggage.
    5. 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.)
  1. 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.

Screen grab of TSA guidance on Currency, Coins, Precious Metals, or Valuable Jewelry.
Screen grab of TSA guidance on Currency, Coins, Precious Metals, or Valuable Jewelry. Revised in 2013, active through 2016.

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.

10 COMMENTS

  1. TSA is not law enforcement, and as such, I would not turn over any item not already on the banned list. I would also privately sue the tsa person who steals my property.

  2. I like your fourth suggestion to, “not put such valuables into your checked luggage.” I think that many people put anything that they don’t want to bring through security into a bag that they will check. However, with valuables like coins, it is important to read the regulations, know your rights, and keep them on your persons.

  3. First of all that’s U.S. currency coins legal tender and you have the right to carry them. You are under no legal obligation to show any paper work of ownership of your coins. TSA tried to seize my coins and I told the TSA officer that I would arrest him for theft and unlawful seizure. He backed off when I told him that. You have the right to make a citizen arrest, but you better be right doing so. I asked the TSA supervisor is it policy to steal currency from passengers. He didn’t answer my question. When you are at the airport know your rights or you don’t have any. TSA just can’t take anything they want from you that is not on the banned list. Plus you have the option to leave with your items. Stand your ground if they try to take your money. Let’s say you bought an American Eagle for $20 from a reputable coin dealer. You are leaving the country, do you declare $20 dollars that you paid the dealer or the face legal tender value of $1 dollar on the coin. You can declare the $1 instead. It’s my understanding that you must declare $10,000 dollars whenever your leaving the country not traveling within the country. However I heard rumors that they want you to fill out a form if your carrying $2,500 worth of coins, I don’t know if this is true, Also know the other countries laws carrying your coins. If it ever gets real nasty at the airport with TSA about them trying to take your coins then demand police to come on the scene. Be polite and calm and explain to the officer about the situation. Believe it or not the police at the airport are not big fans of the TSA either. If they happen to take your coins by force then demand a receipt and tell them that you want to file a complaint of illegal seizure of legal tender money. I’m willing to bet had If i allowed TSA officer to take my coins it would have disappeared and made his Christmas a very Happy Christmas. Go ahead and put your coins in unchecked baggage, I’m willing to bet that you will never see them again.

  4. Why do we have to provide a receipt proving purchase of US coins? I don’t provide TSA a receipt for my phone, my laptop or my shoes for that matter. What if you bought 5 rolls of silver eagles and you show a receipt where you bought 12 rolls. How would anyone know the receipt relates to *those* 5 rolls? And when did gold and silver become so lock-down-and-confiscate by the “thugs-with-a-badge if you can’t show them proof of purchase on the spot? Because they want to take anything they possibly can under any possible pretense. Who walks around with receipts for things they bought? If the coin shows “United State of America”, then it’s legal tender, just as if you had 5 rolls of silver dollars or a bag of junk silver. Shouldn’t we be also able to declare a role of 20 silver eagles, each with a face value of $5 each stamped on them, as $100 in US currency?
    Another question might be what happens when you go through airport security on the other end, arriving in Europe with those US coins. Would European authorities make a big stink or just ignore the coins?

    • American Silver Eagles have a face value of $1. Canadian Silver Maple Leafs have a face value of $5. So a roll of ASEs would have a face value of $20, not $100.

    • Kurt, what is shameful is the abused practice of Civil Forfeiture being used as a slush fund for law enforcement organizations. I stand by the publication of this piece.

      – Charles

      • By the way, I agree that forfeiture is abused. But I’m FAR MORE WORRIED about my municipal and state police than anything TSA has ever DREAMED of.

  5. Pertaining to this line:
    “As I understand it, the police in Philadelphia are extremely aggressive at seizing property.”

    That doesn’t even come CLOSE to the worst of the Philadelphia PD, arguably the most corrupt one in the entire nation, if not the world. And yes, I’m aware I’m including 3rd world nations. The horror stories that reached us in the Judiciary Committee would curl your teeth.

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