Criminal Defense

Fine from German customs for cash entering or leaving Germany

Money on entry into Germany: There is a duty to declare cash (and equivalent means of payment) when crossing the German border. If you enter or leave Germany outside the EU with cash totaling 10,000 euros or more, you must, in accordance with Article 3 of REGULATION (EC) No. 1889/2005, declare this amount in writing to the competent German customs office upon entry or exit without being asked to do so:

Any natural person entering or leaving the Community carrying cash of EUR 10 000 or more shall declare that amount in accordance with this Regulation to the competent authorities of the Member State through which he enters or leaves the Community. The obligation to declare is not fulfilled if the information provided is incorrect or incomplete.

Artikel 3 der VERORDNUNG (EG) Nr. 1889/2005

In the case of cash, a written notification is required upon entry into Germany; in the case of equivalent means of payment with a total value of 10,000 euros or more these must be notified verbally upon questioning during customs checks. Violations are punished with a fine, which can be considerable. But also at the internal border, i.e. when traveling within the EU, an obligation to report may arise upon questioning!

What are cash funds?

Cash means cash or securities, whereby cash is traceable banknotes and coins that are valid means of payment or can be exchanged for corresponding means of payment. Securities are all negotiable instruments, i.e. in particular

  • Savings bonds,
  • Checks or traveler’s checks,
  • Shares and
  • Change

Equated means of payment are

  • Savings books,
  • electronic money and
  • Precious metals and stones

Process of declaration of cash when crossing the border

The declaration must be unsolicited, for the written form there is a form of the customs, which should be filled out beforehand (strictly speaking, must!).

In the case of equivalent means of payment, you must pay attention to the fact that you are actually obliged to provide information in the event of an inspection and sometimes to support this information with documentation with regard to

  • Origin,
  • beneficial owners and
  • Intended use

This also applies if the value limit of 10,000 euros is not exceeded for cash or equivalent means of payment carried.

The notification must be made by the person carrying the means of payment. It does not matter to whom the means of payment ultimately belong or for what motive they are carried, the obligation to report exists abstractly from all these considerations. This is because the declared aim of this obligation to report is to prevent illegal movements of money, in particular to combat money laundering.

Geld bei Einreise nach Deutschland oder Ausreise. Rechtsanwalt Ferner zum Bußgeld vom Zoll wenn man Bargeld bei Einreise oder Ausreise nicht deklariert.

The fines in this area can be extremely painful – take the obligation to declare money when leaving or entering Germany seriously!

Money not declared on entry: fine from customs

If you fail to declare cash or equivalent means of payment that you are carrying in breach of your duties, or if you provide incorrect or incomplete information, you are acting in breach of the law. This administrative offense can be punished with a fine of up to one million euros in accordance with Section 31a (4) of the Customs Administration Act:

The administrative offense may be punished by a fine of up to one million euros in the cases of paragraph 1 number 2 letter b and paragraph 2, by a fine of up to fifty thousand euros in the cases of paragraph 1 number 1 letter b and number 5, and by a fine of up to thirty thousand euros in the other cases.

In practice, depending on whether there is intent or recklessness, different fines are imposed depending on the total amount present.

Why you need to declare cash when entering the country.

Anyone carrying more than 10,000 euros in cash must declare the amount in writing to customs. So-called “equivalent means of payment” must also be declared orally on entry when questioned by customs officials. The legal basis is found in §§31a, 31b ZollVG in conjunction with § 12a para. 2 p. 1 ZollVG for the internal border or Art. 3 para. 1 p. 1 or para. 2 of Regulation (EC) No. 1889/2005 in conjunction with § 12a para. 1 p. 1 ZollVG for the external border.

Must money always be declared upon entry?

If the amount of 10,000 euros is exceeded: Yes. In particular, it does not matter whether the money comes from an illegal or clean source, it is a general obligation to declare. This serves the control and prevention of money laundering and terrorism, for example.

What is meant by “Cash”

Cash are:

  • Cash, such as.
    • Banknotes and coins that are valid means of payment
    • Banknotes and coins that are not valid means of payment but can still be exchanged for a currency that is valid means of payment (e.g. German Mark, Austrian Schilling – exchange into Euro is still possible
  • Transferable bearer instruments, such as
  • Sola bills
  • checks and travelers checksTransferable bearer instruments, such asSola billschecks and travelers checkssharespayment ordersand
  • shares
  • payment orders
  • and
  • Transferable bearer instruments, such as
  • Solawechschecks and traveler’s checksShare payment orders
  • and Transferable bearer instruments, such asSolawechschecks and traveler’s checksShare payment ordersand
  • Gold in the form of
    • Coins with a gold content of at least 90 percent.
  • Unmined gold in the form of bars, nuggets or nuggets with a gold content of at least 99.5 %.

Foreign currencies must be converted into euros using the exchange rate on the day of entry. The calculation of the value of collector and investment coins (e.g. “Maple Leaf”, “Eagle”, “Vienna Philharmonic”) is not based on the nominal value indicated on the coin, but on the actual value. (Source: Customs)

How does the written registration requirement work.

For the declaration you must use the form “Declaration of cash” (form 040000 – German version (supplementary sheet 040050) – or form 040001 – English version (supplementary sheet 040051))You can fill in the form electronically or by hand. Please make sure that the copy is signed when you present it to the customs office. You can request an official copy.

When crossing the border, pay attention to the signs on site and ask for the counters where you can hand in the declaration. You have the obligation to hand in the cash declaration without being asked, even if customs officials do not stop you and ask you about cash you are carrying. (Source: Customs)

equivalent means of payment.

As equivalent means of payment are considered.

  • Savings books
  • Precious stones (rough or cut), such as diamonds, rubies, sapphires, or emeralds.
  • Gold in the form of
    • Coins with a gold content of less than 90 percent
    • Unmined gold in the form of bars, nuggets or lumps with a gold content of less than 99.5 percent
    • Other precious metals, such as platinum or silver

Equivalent means of payment must be displayed orally when leaving Germany upon questioning by customs officials. (Source: Customs)

What do the boundaries mean?

Both borders are affected: both the external border of the EU and Germany’s internal borders with neighboring EU countries. This distinction plays a role in the assessment of whether something must be declared (external border) or whether action must only be taken “on demand” (internal border).

What are customs officers allowed to do.

It applies with §10 ZollVG: Without prejudice to §§ 209 to 211 AO the employees of the customs administration can stop persons and means of transport in the border area (up to a depth of 30 kilometers, § 14 para. 1 ZollVG) for the execution of the tasks mentioned in § 1 ZollVG. The person requested to stop shall stop and identify himself at the request of the customs officers. Drivers of means of transport shall stop upon request and present the transport documents. Luggage, means of transport and their cargo may be inspected on the spot or at another suitable location in order to determine compliance with customs regulations (Section 10 (1) of the Customs Procedure Act).

May customs search?

Yes, no search warrant is required in border areas (see also “What are customs officers allowed to do”).

What to provide when questioned by customs.

With §12a ZollVG applies: At the request of customs officials, natural persons must declare cash and equivalent means of payment with a total value of 10 000 euros or more, which they bring into, out of or through the area of application of this law, according to type, number and value, as well as the origin, the beneficial owner and the intended use of these cash and equivalent means of payment. The total value within the meaning of sentence 1 is the sum of the cash and equivalent means of payment.

May customs seize cash?

Clearly yes, with §12a Abs.7 ZollVG applies: If cash or equivalent means of payment as well as the associated containers and packaging are brought into, out of or through the area of application of this law, the customs officials can seize these up to 30 days after finding and take them into customs custody to clarify the origin or the intended use.

Incidentally, the procedure, especially the explanation about the background of the money in the now repeatedly reformed §12a ZollVG is very complex and should not be approached by laymen naively. By the way: the seizure does not require a minimum amount of detected, undeclared means of payment!

Unique survey

The questioning must be unambiguous, a general blanket request by customs is not sufficient! One can also refer to acoustic or linguistic problems; at least on the level of intent, one can argue here.

What if multiple people are traveling?

In principle, the focus is on who exercised actual custody (possession), certainly also for reasons of simplification. Discussions about the actual ownership position are completely ignored.

What is the fine for not declaring cash upon entry?

It depends and the amount can be extremely painful: In our office, lump-sum fines of 20% or even 25% of the undeclared amount have become known (in case of intent). However, it is usually possible to obtain good reductions from the courts with good argumentation. Theoretically, the fine can go up to 1 million euros.

When is there a statute of limitations for a cash declaration violation

In the meantime, it is relatively simple: Since there is no special statute of limitations in the ZollVG, the highest fine framework is applied according to § 31 para. 1 OWiG and one arrives at 3 years statute of limitations.

Note: Should you read on the Internet something about “indefinite limit” and 6 months this is outdated since a previous reform of §31a ZollVG. 

Countering fine

In the event of an infringement, the fine will be imposed, but there will be plenty of room for debate about the appropriate amount of a fine in such cases. Due to the considerable amounts that can quickly be involved, it makes sense to tactically reconsider the strategy after inspecting the files.

German Lawyer at Law Firm Ferner Alsdorf
I am a specialist lawyer for criminal law + specialist lawyer for IT law and dedicate myself professionally entirely to criminal defence and IT law, especially software law. Before becoming a lawyer, I was a software developer. I am an author in a renowned commentary on the German Code of Criminal Procedure (StPO) as well as in professional journals.

Our law firm specialises in criminal defence, white-collar crime and IT law / technology law. Note our activity in digital evidence in IT security and software law.
German Lawyer Jens Ferner (Criminal Defense & IT-Law)