Tax Planning

Moving Precious Metals Internationally—the Essentials

Recently, I've received a number of questions from readers about moving gold and precious metals internationally. It's been awhile since I've discussed this topic, so I thought this might be a good time to address it.

Q. Why should U.S. citizens or residents consider storing precious metals overseas?

A. Depending on your personal circumstances, and the manner in which you hold the metals, keeping them outside the United States may provide significant asset protection if you are named in a judgment. In addition, if the U.S. government were to order the confiscation of gold and silver, as it did in 1933, metals kept offshore might be better protected than those held domestically.

Q. What is the best way to move metals overseas, especially if you own large quantities?

A. I like the idea of using a company like ViaMat. They take care of everything including the customs and tax declarations, if any, both out of the USA and into another country. If you move it yourself have to be very careful because no matter what the law is and no matter what spoken or written assurances you have, there's no guarantee that you won't be harassed either leaving the United States, passing through an airport in another country, or gong through Customs when you get to your final destination. However, with careful preparation this is possible.

Another option in certain cases is a like-kind exchange under Sec. 1031 of the U.S. Tax Code. A 1031 exchange may be appropriate if you're converting from physical possession to allocated storage to overseas storage, from coins to bars to exchange traded funds, from gold to silver, etc. The major issue is that you cannot make a direct conversion from a domestic asset to an offshore asset, or vice-versa. However, there are some workarounds possible to deal with this issue.

Q. Do you recommend any particular shipping agents?

A. Brinks or ViaMat are both bonded and in the business of shipping metals worldwide. ViaMat offers secure offshore storage in Switzerland as well.

Q. What if you want to transport the metals yourself?

A. There are no guarantees. For large quantities, it's best if you appoint an import agent to handle everything for you. You will generally post a bond through the agent payable to the customs agency in whatever country you are bringing the metals into. The bond covers whatever taxes are due (if any) plus the agent's fee. You bring in the metals, present the paperwork from the import agent to the customs inspector, and then take the metals to wherever you want to store them.

Or you can make two trips. Make your first trip with just one or two coins or bars. Declare the coins (if required) when you leave the United States and when you arrive in your destination country and see what happens.  While you're there, find out from the Customs officials themselves what the import requirements are. If necessary, find an agent to represent you when you bring in a larger quantity.

Q. I've heard from one source that metal detectors used at airports do not detect gold bullion coins. Is this true?

A. I'm not an expert on metal detectors but it is my understanding they identify metal by detecting electrical conductivity. Gold is one of the most conductive metals, so I don't see why airport metal detectors wouldn't be able to identify gold bullion coins or any other form of gold.

Q. Where are the safest countries to bring in gold? What is the maximum amount you can import without needing to make a declaration?

A. I would declare the gold no matter how much you are bringing in, but especially if it has a value more than $10,000 or the equivalent in foreign currency. Switzerland is one of the safest countries in which to import gold. There is no import tax on most forms of gold, near-zero corruption, and there are secure tax-free storage facilities at the Zurich airport.

Q. When you move bullion coins internationally, do you value them according to their face value or their market value?

A. It depends. When you export gold from the United States, for instance, you declare it on a Treasury form by face value (but ask a Customs agent to make sure he/she agrees) if that value exceeds $10,000 and on a Census form by market value if the value exceeds $2,500. Your metals may be confiscated and you may be liable to fines/imprisonment if you don't fill out both forms.

Reporting obligations and customs duties on imports of precious metals into a foreign country may be based on face value or spot value. There is no consistency. In many cases, you'll pay whatever value-added tax would apply if you purchased the metals in that country. Silver and platinum are subject to VAT by more countries than gold, and VAT on coins is imposed more often than on bars.

Q. Do you have any other suggestions?

A. Yes, the newly-updated fourth edition of my book The Lifeboat Strategy contains an extensive discussion on moving metals out of the United States. To learn more about this book, click here.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Nestmann

(An earlier version of this post was published by The Sovereign Society,

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