Do not carry large amount when traveling abroad


Riyadh newspaper

MOST of the countries ask from travelers to declare cash in their possession when they enter the country. Other countries do not ask tourists to declare the amount in their possession and just approve if they check the box in the ‘entry application’ that they do not carry more than $10,000.

That is why most tourists, including myself, declare that we do not have large amount of cash, even if we are carrying it. During my last visit to Panama coming from Los Angeles with my son Hossam, I checked the box in the ‘entry application’ that I carry more than $10,000. The custom official was surprised at my confession of carrying more than $10,000 and asked me if I confess that I carry more than $10,000. I told her yes and then she called a security official who was standing behind her and gave him our passports and asked us to follow him. We were detained in a small room for more than two hours before they came and started to search our bags. We underwent detailed personal search to the level that they took the small coins in our pockets that we carried from Los Angeles.

After they collected the entire amount from me and my son, the total amount was $21,000. The amount was confiscated claiming that I did not specify exactly the amount in numbers and only checked the ‘more than $10,000’ box. I told them that this was a clear theft in a legal way and that I will contact my embassy. I told them also that half of the amount is for my son’s education in Japan. I told them that I was carrying large amount because I will be visiting countries where credit card cannot be used. They refused all excuses and even refused to give a receipt that they took the amount. They told me that my lawyer will know the amount that will be confiscated. When I asked him who is the lawyer, they told me the lawyer that will be appointed to defend me, because now I was banned from traveling, pending the case. I was shocked, lawyer, banned from traveling, without money or even a Saudi embassy in Panama. Before we were kicked out from the detention room, one of the officers gave me the number of what he described as a ‘good lawyer’ who can help me. I knew then that there was some kind of a deal between them and I was left with no choice but to contact this lawyer. When I called the lawyer, he knew who I was and came to my hotel to explain everything. He was apologetic and told me that this cash problem happens to all tourists. He asked me for $4,000 in advance warning me that I may get half of the money only. I was laughing when I told him that his friends at the airport seized all the money I have including the coins, how can I pay him? He told me before he left that there will be two sessions at court and I need to come up with the money before that.

After he left, I contacted the Saudi foreign ministry and with our embassy in Washington. The embassy assigned Peru embassy, the closest to Panama, to look into my case. All of them contacted me within hours.

I was hoping to tell you the end of the story, but I am waiting for my court session then the date of my departure from Panama will be specified.

I am not sharing this story to talk about my personal problem or to expedite my case, but I am sharing it with you to learn from it and to be careful from carrying large amounts of cash in some countries, where confiscating this amount is seen as part of the tourism income. If you declare the amount, it will be taken away. If you did not declare the amount and they searched you and found it, then it will be taken away also for the charge that you did not declare it.

I have to admit here that I confess of making the mistake of carrying more than $10,000 because I did not know about it. I was told by the embassy that this happens a lot with Saudi tourists. This what motivated me to write about it.