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By Bartosz Dzionsko, Esq.
WINHELLER Attorneys at Law & Tax Advisors
Frankfurt, Germany

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has decided: An obligation to declare any cash amounts of EUR 10,000 or more even applies to transit flights via an EU member state. This means that air travelers must declare cash even if they stay in the transit area of an EU airport for only a short time.

Customs Authorities Can Seize Undeclared Cash

A man travelling from Benin via France carried amounts of EUR 3,900 and USD 1,607,650 in cash, which he had not declared. He thereby violated the obligation to declare cash when entering and leaving the EU stipulated in the Regulation of the Union (EC) No. 1889/2005. The customs officials seized the man’s undeclared money – which is the usual practice in these cases. The party concerned filed an action for damages. He argued that the seizure by the customs authority was unlawful because he was merely transiting from one non-EU destination to another. He thought that, after all, the obligation to declare did not apply in case of a short stay in an EU transit country.

Obligation to Declare Also Applies in an EU Transit Country

According to the ECJ’s decision, a travel of a natural person from a non-EU country to an EU country is to be considered as an entry into the EU. Even if the person concerned continues the travel by plane to another non-EU destination, the person is deemed to have entered and stayed in an EU country. Therefore, no exception is made to the obligation to declare cash. This means that the regulation is applicable. The obligation to declare is intended to have a deterrent effect and prevent money laundering.

Legal Advice Concerning the Obligation to Declare Cash

Air travelers should get adequate information about when an obligation to declare cash applies, so as to prevent the money from being seized by customs officials. In the event that your cash has already been seized or a penal procedure has been instituted, you should act immediately and in no case allow the prescribed period to expire without having sought prior expert advice. If you wish to get professional advice, please do not hesitate to contact our expert attorneys specializing in customs law.