“Does my bum look big in this?”
“Yes, dear, it looks huge, because you’ve got two hundred thousand euros in cash stuffed down your knickers.”
This happened for real to a mother and daughter duo who were caught trying to smuggle cash in their underwear from Luxembourg to Germany. The ladies were on a bus that was checked by customs officials. (This is the EU remember? No border checks inside the EU? Don't you believe it. Happens more and more nowadays.)
How the customs people came to the conclusion that the women’s pants needed checking is a mystery to me. How does one even approach the question?
“Madam, is that nearly 200 000 euros in what used to be clean and crisp bank notes stuffed down your knickers, or did you just eat too much Strudel throughout the years?”
"It's just too much Strudel, big hips, runs in the family; we all like it, just look at my daughter here"
"Well, just for good order, why don't both you ladies just drop 'em and show us the cellulite?"
On a more serious note (pardon the pun), cash is no longer king as it has been demoted to more like cash is criminal. Banks don’t like cash, they don’t want you to bring it in, and they don’t want you to take it away.
I’ve been at this private banking game long enough to remember the days when people brought cash to the bank in bags. The money would be counted after which the client would be off on his merry way, safe in the knowledge that his money was now securely deposited in a bank at an offshore banking secrecy location. This is no more.
If you want to take cash in to your private bank, prepare to write an essay, and have supporting documentation. The mere mention of cash to your banker on the phone will have his palms sweating and throat drying.
In Europe, there are cash controls in place; if you travel with more than 10 000 euros in cash (or equivalent in other currencies or assets), you have to declare it to customs. Note that there is nothing illegal in transporting money across borders within the EU. You just have to declare it and show that you haven’t earned the money by selling some of Bolivia’s finest white powder. If you don’t declare the cash and are caught (with your pants down), then they might seize your money.
The official reason is anti-money laundering; apparently, these rules are in place to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. In reality and particularly during the past few years, there is a desire from governments to collect tax money by any means they can. These capital control rules will evolve and, in fact, are evolving right now, putting the burden of proof on you. You are guilty until you can prove you are innocent.
So that you are aware of these restrictions, if you haven’t already watched it, there’s a cute video thingy at the top of this post from the good folks at the EU, telling you how much fun it is for you to tell the authorities about your monetary circumstances.
If you are going to be transporting cash, then here are the official rules on European cash controls.