Carrying Gold into a Foreign Country. What are the Rules?

Carrying Gold into a Foreign Country. What are the Rules?

A common misconception is that carrying gold into a foreign country is illegal.

There may be the odd jurisdiction where this is the case. However, for the vast majority of countries it is perfectly legal to bring gold into the country with you. Generally even without paying any import duties.

From the US customs website:

“There is no duty on gold coins, medals or bullion but these items must be declared to a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer.”

However a reader posed a slightly different question recently on carrying gold into a foreign country.

Let’s say I’m traveling internationally. For the sake of example, let’s say I’m traveling between NZ and US, with more than $10k cash; I’d be required to declare it. Same thing if I’m traveling with more than $10k in gold bullion, I’d have to declare it.
But what if I’m traveling with ten “legal tender” gold coins, with a face value of $50. Am I traveling with “only” $500 “cash” (legal tender!) which does not have to be declared? Or am I traveling with $12k(US)/$16k(NZ) worth of gold, which does have to be declared?


What is a Legal Tender Gold Coin?

Carrying gold into a Foreign Country - how are legal tender coins like this Gold Maple affected
When carrying gold into a Foreign Country – how are legal tender coins like this Gold Maple affected?

First up let’s clarify, just what is a legal tender gold coin?

These are simply coins usually (but not always) issued by government mints. They have a face value on them such as $5 for a silver coin or maybe $50 for a gold coin.

They are also known as legal tender coins. Although more correctly they should be called non-circulating legal tender coins.


What is a Non-Circulating Legal Tender Coin?

A non-circulating legal tender coin is a coin where, in its country of issue, it is able to be used to buy goods and services, like a standard government issue banknote or coin. But they are designed more to be collected (or hoarded!).

However holders of these coins would have to be horribly uninformed to try and use one at its face value in a transaction. As the coins actual metal content value is much higher than the face value they are legal tender for.

(See this article for more on Legal Tender gold and silver coins.  Including if they have any advantages or not: What to Make of Legal Tender (Face Value) Gold and Silver Coins?)

Now back to our reader’s question…


When Carrying Gold into a Foreign Country, Do You Have to Declare Legal Tender Gold Coins Face Value or Metal Value?

In his example we were entering the USA with 10 x 1 oz gold legal tender coins with a face value to $50 each. Let’s say they are American Eagle 1 oz Gold Coins.

Can we avoid declaring them on the customs entry form as they are “only” US$500 legal tender value?

Or do we have to declare them as per their metal content value? Currently around US$13,000 in total, so above the US$10,000 limit?

Let’s go to the US Customs site and see what we can decipher from there:

There is no duty on gold coins, medals or bullion but these items must be declared to a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer. Please note a FinCEN 105 form must be completed at the time of entry for monetary instruments over $10,000. This includes currency, ie. gold coins, valued over $10,000. The FINCEN definition of currency: The coin and paper money of the United States or any other country that is (1) designated as legal tender and that (2) circulates and (3) is customarily accepted as a medium of exchange in the country of issuance.


Interestingly the US Customs and Border Protection website specifically mentions “gold coins, valued over $10,000”.

So clearly gold legal tender coins then have to be declared if they are valued over $10,000.


Now the Question is, Does “Value” Refer to Face Value, or Metal Value of the Gold Legal Tender Coins?

We’d say that the first line of the paragraph from the US Customs and Border Protection website is key (emphasis added is ours):

“There is no duty on gold coins, medals or bullion but these items must be declared to a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer.”

That would infer that even gold bars would still need to be declared regardless of their value.

So we’d say it’s best to declare any gold or silver bullion being carried or imported into any country.

Also we reckon it’s definitely advisable to declare the current metal value of the gold coins rather than just the face value. Even though the excerpt above is not clear as to what value means when it says “gold coins, valued over $10,000”.

You may well be able to argue your case for the value being the face value.

But given there is no duty to import or carry gold into the US, it would be safer to just declare the gold coins at market value. As there is really nothing to be gained by “sneaking” them into the USA.

This is generally the best bet in most countries. Canada, Australia and New Zealand all have the $10,000 local currency or equivalent requirement to declare when entering.

Again it could be debatable whether gold bars or non legal tender gold coins are a monetary instrument or not, as far as these customs declarations are concerned. But again it is still safer to declare, than not to and be caught out.


Before You Try Carrying Gold into a Foreign Country

Carrying Gold into a Foreign Country. The Rules Differ in each country so check first
Carrying Gold into a Foreign Country. The rules differ in each country so check before you travel

1. Check before you fly.

The specifics differ country to country. So you should definitely check in advance.

Usually this can be found on the customs website of each country. Although they are not all as clear as the US regulations. If unsure phone them before you travel and ask for the specifics in writing.

2. Be sure to have the documentation to prove the purity of the gold or silver you are carrying.

Why? Because in some countries (like New Zealand and Australia), there is no GST on gold with a fineness of not less than 99.5%, silver with a fineness of not less than 99.9% and platinum with a fineness of not less than 99%. (See here for the NZ IRD specifics).

3. Carry gold with your personal items not in checked baggage.

For security reasons obviously and also for ease of declaration.


What is Safest Course of Action When Carrying Gold into a Foreign Country?

A bit like when bringing home souvenirs made of wood or organic material. If in doubt declare it!

Bottom line is it’s safer to declare whatever gold or silver bullion or coins you are carrying on you. The US Customs and Border Protection website also says the same thing:

“If you have doubt whether your gold/gold coin is considered a monetary instrument it is in your best interest to declare the item(s) with a CBP Officer, so you do not give a false declaration.”

We have no first hand experience, but have heard of others trying to get away with not declaring gold coins based upon their face value. They have had mixed success. It may well depend on the knowledge of the customs officer you strike.

But there is nothing to be gained either. With generally no duties payable on gold, there is little point in risking the possibility of a fine or even confiscation of your gold coins.


Bonus Tip on Carrying Gold to Foreign Countries:

As we say in this article, having a 1 oz PAMP Gold bar or a Canadian Gold Maple 1 oz Coin is a very handy “travel insurance policy”. In case you lose your cash or credit cards when travelling, a PAMP gold bar or Maple are readily exchangeable almost the world over. So they can be a good source of emergency cash. Plus they take up very little space and can be easily hidden. (American Gold Eagles and South African Krugerrand’s are not 99.9% pure. So they will have GST added if bought in New Zealand, so are not recommended).

Or you can watch the video version here: Choosing Between PAMP Suisse Gold & Silver vs Local NZ Gold & Silver Bars: Video 

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