For collectors attending coin shows on the national and international circuits, traveling can yield unique rewards and challenges. On the one hand, you are given chances to visit new locales, meet other collectors, and see lots of coins and bank notes in a single place. The travel can be fun, and as a dealer attending shows frequently I have been to cities and countries I probably would not have visited on my own. But there’s also risk involved with traveling large distances with valuables, and it’s important to consider your security in order to ensure these trips are as safe and enjoyable as possible.
First, when traveling across the country with valuables (even just your laptop), it is important to keep a close watch on your belongings. Most of us know that in an airport you don’t want to leave your bag alone near the gate while visiting the bathroom or a souvenir shop, but it’s always good to be reminded of this. Not only is there a chance your bag will be stolen by the time you get back, it is also possible that security will see your bag as a bomb threat and evacuate the entire airport as a result.
There is a myth that is regularly mentioned in online forums regarding air travel with cash:
- “It’s illegal to travel with large amounts of cash through TSA, and they can confiscate it.”
There is some truth to this, but not in the way that many people believe. First, you can take a million dollars in cash across state lines, and through the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint. But, if the TSA inspects your bag and suspects foul play they can refer the case to law enforcement, who can seize the money, pending an investigation. You don’t want this to happen, so if TSA asks what the cash is for, be honest and say you are traveling to a coin show to purchase coins, and that cash is preferred at such venues. Having a receipt showing withdrawal of the cash from your account also helps, and in my experience you’ll be on your way soon enough.
Now, travel with cash is different when you’re carrying over $10,000 across international borders. If you are over this amount and are leaving or entering the United States, you will need to declare the cash (or cash equivalent) to the United States Department of the Treasury by filling out form FinCen 105. This is a simple one-page sheet that requires you to list your personal information such as your name, address, social security number, and the amount of cash with which you are traveling.
You file this form with Customs and Border Protection, and generally it will not take more than a few minutes. This is not reported to the IRS or any other government agencies (as far as I know), but if you do not declare it and they find it upon a check, the money can be seized and you will be fined. Also keep in mind that other countries have similar rules, so you want to check on the appropriate regulations before you travel.
Finally, remember that collectible coins and currency do count, but only for their face value. Usually this is not much of a problem, but I have had instances where I came back from a show in Asia with $9,000 cash and bank notes from around the world that surely ended up being over $10,000 total in face value. I still declared it, as I know that if I was picked out for inspection and they found it, I would be in trouble. (On the other hand, it would have been fun seeing customs officials figuring out if a 1960s bank note from Jersey is still legal tender, but probably not worth the hassle).
Now, let’s discuss some other things to keep in mind when traveling to or from a coin show:
- Do not check valuables, but carry them on the plane.
This sounds like a simple tip, but recently there have been some complications when it comes to this golden rule. Airlines have found a money tree by charging most customers for checked luggage, and more and more people decide to carry their bags onto the plane in order to save $25. As a result airlines have become much more strict with the size of your carry-on bags.
Also — and this is more problematic with coins — some have become very stringent with the weight. It is important to check with your airline in advance what their rules are, and make sure you comply with them. If you get to the airport and they insist on checking your bag, make them aware that it is impossible for you do so, and give them a valid reason. Having status with any airline helps, but it is not fool proof. If you suspect problems prior to leaving for the airport, it might be best to overnight your inventory to the show instead of going through the hassle of taking it along. I expect this will become even more problematic in the future as new technology is developed to prevent travelers from taking oversized or overweight carry-on bags onto the plane.
- If the TSA wants to open your bag, ask for a private screening.
Many times TSA officers are unfamiliar with how coins show up on their screens, and they want to make sure you are not traveling with something illicit. Instead of opening your bag right there for everyone to see, immediately ask for a private screening. You (and your bag) will be escorted to a private room, and two TSA employees will be present in the room when they open a bag. It’s a little more secure and often leads to interesting conversations — like the one time I almost sold a Silver Panda to a TSA employee — but it’s also a simple safety issue.
- Don’t tell people that you are traveling to a coin show.
I run into this just about every time I fly to a coin show. Mrs. Talkalot next to you in seat 17B insists on knowing why you are going to Baltimore on a Wednesday afternoon. Tip: don’t tell her it is to sell the $75,000 coin in your right pocket. I always try to avoid the question, but if it does come up, I usually say I’m traveling for a wedding or seeing family. I’ve gotten creative, and it can be fun to come up with different reasons, but it’s a security issue I take very seriously as a dealer.
These are just a few simple things to keep in mind when traveling with valuable coins or bank notes. If you have any other tips or experiences, please share them in the comments section below so others can learn from them.