What are the rules when carrying gold into a foreign country? In this post you’ll discover:
Table of Contents
- Is Carrying Gold into A Foreign Country Illegal?
- What is a Legal Tender Gold Coin?
- When Carrying Gold into a Foreign Country, Do You Have to Declare Legal Tender Gold Coins Face Value or Metal Value?
- Carrying Gold into The USA
- Do Legal Tender Gold Coins Have to be Declared When Coming in to New Zealand?
- Before You Try Carrying Gold into a Foreign Country
- What is Safest Course of Action When Carrying Gold into a Foreign Country?
- An Alternative To Carrying Gold Into A Foreign Country
- Bonus Tip on Carrying Gold to Foreign Countries:
There are not so many people crossing the borders at the moment. But there are still people trying to return to or even to immigrate to New Zealand and elsewhere.
We had a question just last week from someone who had a family member arriving in New Zealand and wanted to know about the best way to bring their gold into the country. So it is timely to look at this issue in some detail…
Is Carrying Gold into A Foreign Country Illegal?
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 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?
First up lets 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: Should I Buy 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?
Carrying Gold into The USA
In our readers example we are 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$19,700 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.Source.
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, rather than not to and be caught out.
Do Legal Tender Gold Coins Have to be Declared When Coming in to New Zealand?
What about the reverse journey? How about if you were bringing 10 legal tender gold coins into New Zealand? Would those need to be declared?
Let’s say you were bring in 10 Canadian Gold Maple coins which have a face value of CAD$50 each. (Note: As explained further below, there is a reason we are not bringing the American Gold Eagle coins into New Zealand. Because their purity means they will attract GST). Their total face value would be only CAD$500, but their metal value would be more like NZD$27,800. So do we have to declare these coins to New Zealand customs at the border?
Customs Rules for New Zealand
The rules for New Zealand are very similar to the USA. That being, cash, or cash equivalent of NZD$10,000 or more needs to be declared. From the NZ Customs website:
You must complete a NZCS 337: Border Cash Report (DOC 332 KB) if you carry NZ$10,000 (or foreign equivalent) or more cash or equivalent into or out of New Zealand.
– physical currencySource.
– travellers’ cheques
– money orders, postal orders, or similar
– bearer bonds
– a bill of exchange
– promissory notes
– any instrument prescribed by regulations under the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act 2009.
NZ Customs Intrepretation of the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act
Interestingly, (unlike the USA rules), there is no specific mention of gold coins. However the last item is key which mentions the regulations under the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act 2009 (AML and CFT Act 2009).
In the past year, when importing gold and silver, customs have required a Border Cash Report (BCR) to be completed only where the face value of legal tender gold and silver coins is above NZ$10,000. This was not required previously for any amount of gold or silver. NZ Customs rationale for requiring this is as follows:
In Section 5 of the AML/CFT 2009
(a) physical currency:
(b) bearer-negotiable instruments
physical currency means the coin and printed money (whether of New Zealand or of a foreign country) that—
(a) is designated as legal tender; and
(b) circulates as, and is customarily used and accepted as, a medium of exchange in the country of issue
For example, 2000 x 1 oz silver maple coins with a face value of CAD$5 each, totalling CAD$10,000. NZ Customs would argue:
The shipping documents indicate that the shipment contains cash in the form of physical currency, being coins that are designated as legal tender (for example silver coins minted at CA$5.00) and are used and accepted as a medium of exchange in Canada.
The sum total of the face value of the coins exceeds NZ$10000 which is where the requirement for a BCR comes in (the BCR itself explains how this ties in with the legislation). There are no exemptions for reporting investment grade bullion when it meets this criteria.
NZ Customs Interpretation May Seem Incorrect
The Act says:
and (b) circulates as, and is customarily used and accepted as, a medium of exchange in the country of issue.
To our way of thinking customs interpretation seems incorrect. As these may be legal tender coins that are accepted as a medium of exchange. BUT they are not customarily used as a medium of exchange. No one in Canada is going to use a coin with a face value of CAD$5 to buy goods and services when its metal value is north of CAD$40!
However, what we think makes sense is of no consequence! NZ customs requires a BCR completed for gold and silver coins with a face value total of greater than NZ$10,000.
Does This NZ Customs Interpretation Mean Gold and Silver Coins With a Face Value Less Than NZ$10,000 Don’t Need to be Declared?
So NZ customs only require a BCR if the face value of the gold or silver coins is over NZ$10,000. Therefore do we not need to declare when carrying gold or silver coins into New Zealand that have a face value of less this?
We think you could make a good argument now for that. However as we explain below, apart from filling in a form, there is no cost to you in declaring. So if there is some doubt, it is likely safer to err on the side of caution and just declare the gold or silver.
Before You Try Carrying Gold into a Foreign Country
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 Inland Revenue Department specifics).
For more detail on GST on gold and silver see: GST on Gold and Silver Bullion: Might the NZ Government Start Adding GST to Gold and Silver Bullion?
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.
An Alternative To Carrying Gold Into A Foreign Country
As noted at the start of this article, there are not so many people crossing borders currently. But there are still many people repatriating, particularly back here to New Zealand.
However, when carrying gold into another country there are more than just the rules to consider. You also need to think about the risks. Particularly if carrying a large amount of gold with you. You will find it very difficult to insure a large amount of gold bullion while travelling.
So many people may instead prefer to have their bullion shipped from one country to another. As explained already there is not likely to be any duties involved in doing this. Although, for the average person you will also find it very difficult to insure gold and silver that you ship yourself.
However, we are able to use our contacts within the industry to ship gold (and silver) across borders including insurance for relatively low cost. This is also generally cheaper than selling the bullion in the country you are leaving and buying again at your destination.
If you, or a family member or friend, are looking at travelling with or sending gold (or silver) overseas, then get in contact for a quote to have it shipped fully insured.
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 Gold Maple Coin 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).
(You can watch the video version here: Choosing Between PAMP Suisse Gold & Silver vs Local NZ Gold & Silver Bars: Video).
Editors Note: Originally posted 19 September 2017. Last updated 14 July 2021 with addition of “Coming in to New Zealand” and “Alternative to Carrying Gold into A Foreign Country “sections.