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Saturday, May 25 2019 @ 10:55 AM UTC

Do I Have To Declare A Collection Of Gold Coins At The Airport Upon Arrival?

Money Matters By DON WINNER for - Today someone contacted me with the following question. A couple intends to move to Panama as retirees and to bring with them a collection of gold coins. The "face value" of the coins is less than $10,000 dollars, however the collection itself is actually worth much more, both as a collection of coins and in the raw value of the metal itself. The people who are moving to Panama simply don't want to declare the coins at the airport - primarily out of fear. They are afraid someone will learn about their collection and steal it from them. The logic they were using when talking to me was "well, the face value of the coins is less than $10,000 so I don't have to declare them, right?" Actually, no. According to Panamanian customs laws this collection of gold coins has to be declared at the airport upon arrival.

Straight To The Source: What matters is not the "face value" of the coins but the actual value of the items. In this case, the collection is worth more than $50,000 just based on the value of the underlying gold itself, about 42 ounces at about $1,200 per ounce. In order to obtain clarification on this question I called the Customs Office at the Tocumen Airport, and spoke to the lawyer who works there whose job it is to decide these types of situations. As she explained, there are two things at play here. First of all, the $10,000 thing on the customs form is for cash, currency that you will be spending in Panama. If you have more than $10,000 in cash you have to declare it to customs upon arrival. Since the newly arriving expatriates will not be spending this gold coin collection on the streets of Panama as cash, then customs does not recognize his gold coin collection as cash, so therefore the whole $10,000 thing goes right out of the window, and we move to part B.

Importation of Merchandise: Anyone can bring in merchandise, up to $2,000 in value, tax free, in their luggage when they arrive. This is normally applied to things like digital cameras, laptop computers, bottles of liquor, cartons of cigarettes, or what have you. Customs officials at the airport will see this gold coin collection as valuable merchandise. And, since it's a collection of gold coins weighing in total more than 2.5 pounds, it obviously has a value of more than $2,000 dollars. The Customs lawyer was perfectly clear - this collection is worth more than $2,000 either as collectible coins or as raw gold, so therefore it must be declared upon arrival. Period - no wiggle room.

What Needs To Be Done? According to Panamanian Customs Law, the newly arriving expatriate should fill out the customs form on the airplane and declare the coins as merchandise. He should put down the actual value of what he thinks the collection is actually worth. From there, when he goes through the customs screening, they will see what he's put on the form, take him aside, and ask him to fill out an expanded customs declaration. The customs lawyer explained that the form used on the airplane is just a tool used to filter passengers, and when someone comes in with more than $10,000 in cash or merchandise worth more than $2,000 dollars, this is the standard procedure.

Customs Broker Required: In this case the newly arriving expatriates are actually "importing" the collection of gold coins into the Republic of Panama. They will have to hire a Customs Broker in order to legally import the coins. The customs broker will have to obtain an actual value for the collection, which will be used to assess taxes. There are no import taxes for gold coins, but he will have to pay the 5% ITBMS tax (or 7% after 1 July 2010). So, if his collection is worth $50,000 he will have to pay $2,500 in taxes in order to get them into the country legally. He will also have to pay whatever the customs broker charges. Also, it was explained to me that much of this can be coordinated in advance if the people contact a customs broker and provide him with the information he needs to do all of the paperwork ahead of time. If this is not done, then there is a good chance that customs will seize the merchandise at the airport and hold it until all of the proper paperwork is done and the taxes owed are paid, at which time they will be released.

Try To Smuggle Them In And Not Declare Anything? The newly arriving expatriates have apparently "spoken to other people" who have supposedly already flown into Panama with similar collections of coins that they did not declare at the airport. They are trying to convince themselves that they don't have to declare the coins, based on the "face value" argument. I hope by now it's perfectly clear that the "face value" argument does not apply, and that Customs will see the coin collection as merchandise. If the newly arriving expatriate fails to accurately declare the coins on his customs form, and if Customs inspectors finds the coins in their luggage, they will confiscate the coins and arrest the traveler. There is also the possibility that they could be charged under the new Law 30 as money launderers, if customs makes the determination that they were trying to smuggle the coins into the country for that purpose. In any case, the outcome will not be favorable to the travelers. This is exactly what the lawyer from Customs just explained to me.

Make Your Decisions, Live With The Consequences: People do stupid shit frequently. Sometimes they get away with it, and sometimes they get caught. The situation for these people has now been clarified. If they decide to try to smuggle the coins in anyway, maybe they will get away with it. Or, maybe they will get caught. In any case, as grown men and women and responsible adults, they will have to live with the results of whatever decisions they make. I just wanted to spread the word in case anyone else might have a similar question.

Copyright 2010 by Don Winner for Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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Do I Have To Declare A Collection Of Gold Coins At The Airport Upon Arrival? | 6 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Do I Have To Declare A Collection Of Gold Coins At The Airport Upon Arrival?
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, June 18 2010 @ 04:27 PM UTC

If you are making multiple trips can't you bring it in portions? big question is where to store it.

Do I Have To Declare A Collection Of Gold Coins At The Airport Upon Arrival?
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, June 18 2010 @ 04:54 PM UTC

Don, do you know if the ITBMS is refunded if the merchandise is re exported at some future time? In some other nations with a similar consumption tax this is certainly the case.

Do I Have To Declare A Collection Of Gold Coins At The Airport Upon Arrival?
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, June 18 2010 @ 06:25 PM UTC

Why would you want to bring this collection to Panama? Not like you will ever show it to anybody for fear of someone showing up later to steal it. Put it in a safety deposit box in Miami or wherever. This way if you really want it in the country you can use the money that you would pay in taxes and brokerage fees to make multiple trips and bring back less than $2000 at a time. That $2500 in taxes would buy you about 6-7 round trip tickets to Miami. It's not really a nest egg in Panama because it would be quite difficult to sell that much gold at one time.

Do I Have To Declare A Collection Of Gold Coins At The Airport Upon Arrival?
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, June 19 2010 @ 01:48 PM UTC

OK, Don's/customs info makes sense....but if it's all US currency (currency being the key word), and can conceivably be spent as such, not call it a "collection" but spendable US dollars from the US mint. That means not bullion bars or Krugerrands etc. Then I would think simply declaring more than $10K currency and go through the customs long form process, that it wouldn't be a problem letting it through without customs tax, no broker. Especially if that person has receipt or receipts. The responses don't cover all scenarios.

Do I Have To Declare A Collection Of Gold Coins At The Airport Upon Arrival?
Authored by: Don Winner on Saturday, June 19 2010 @ 08:08 PM UTC

This Is Getting Old: You have no idea how many times people have contacted me, either on the phone or via email, since I posted this information. For some unknown reason, or at least for reasons I can't comprehend, there are apparently a whole lot of people out there who simply cannot get a really simple fact into their heads. The Customs Officials who work for the government of Panama do not consider gold coins to be "currency." It matters not what you think, what I think, or what the friggin' Queen of Sheba thinks for that matter. The only "vote" that matters is that of the customs officials. And they say gold coins are not recognized as "currency" for their purposes. Period. I mean, that's it - no room for additional discussion.

They Are Not "Gold Coin Virgins" As a matter of fact they told me they have had to deal with this exact scenario on dozens of occasions. They have already developed their standard answers and responses, and they had a ready answer for every question I could think of to throw at them. I asked about the "currency" and "face value" issue several times, from several different directions, and every time the answer was a flat "no." Many people have imported collections of gold coins, gold jewelry, bullion, you name it. The customs officials screen the millions of passengers who pass through Tocumen every year and they know what their answers will be to your questions. And the answer is - gold coins are not "currency" as far as they are concerned.

Denial - The Answer I Didn't Want To Hear: If someone asks a question and the answer is something other than either what they expected, or what they wanted to hear, then there is a natural tendency to ignore the answer, devalue the answer, or to try to rationalize some reason as to why the answer must be wrong somehow. The people who expected to be able to import gold coins at "fact value" without having to declare them at the airport are now upset. Sorry. Deal with it.

I'm Pretty Much Done With This Whole Issue: I have not heard anything new on this in the last couple of days. I have, however, spent way too much time on the phone, simply saying the same thing over and over and over again. Unless someone can come up with a new source of information, a law, a regulation, or a spokesman from the Panamanian Customs office who is willing to say that the information I'm putting out is wrong, I'm not going to spend much more time dancing around the flag pole on this issue.