Sending money worldwide has never been easier — but what can you do when loved ones are in a country with sanctions?
Unfortunately, the world’s politics can stand in the way of your help to friends and family in sanctioned countries.
Sanctions take into consideration the political climate of a country, its human rights record and the people and organizations within it that the US government wants to avoid financially supporting.
The US currently has economic sanctions on countries like Iran, North Korea and Syria. While you may discover options to get around these sanctions to support friends and family, the US Department of the Treasury considers these options illegal.
A note on Myanmar and Côte d'Ivoire
After many years of sanctions against Myanmar (sometimes called Burma) and Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), the US officially announced that its long-standing trade sanctions against these countries would be lifted in September 2016.
That said, many banks and money transfers have yet to establish themselves in these countries. Before you complete your transfer, first confirm that your selected provider is able to fully deliver your funds.
With an easing of sanctions against Myanmar (Burma) and Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) in September 2016, four countries remain sanctioned by the United States:
- Cuba. The US originally placed economic sanctions on Cuba in 1962, when Fidel Castro came to power in a communist revolution. However, sanctions on Cuba have lifted to include sending money to family members by blood, marriage or adoption — with limitations.
- Iran. The US sanctioned Iran after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, further expanding economic sanctions when Iran refused to give up its uranium enrichment program for nuclear weapons.
- North Korea. The US has no diplomatic relations with North Korea due to that country’s lack of democracy, freedom and basic human rights.
- Syria. The US government has considered Syria a State Sponsor of Terrorism since 1979. Economic sanctions were put on the country as civil war swept throughout the nation and President Assad was accused of supporting terrorist groups and violating the basic human rights of Syrians.
Sending money to sanctioned countries — and the potential consequences
There are ways that people have chosen to get around these economic sanctions. But we stress that doing so is illegal and exposes you to severe legal and financial penalties.
If you choose to route your money through a country that doesn’t have sanctions against your intended destination — the UK, for example — you could be charged by the US with money laundering.
What is money laundering?
Money laundering is any activity that illegally obtains money and attempts to conceal the source, destination or identity of those funds. In the US, money laundering is illegal under federal and state laws. The specific laws about what constitutes money laundering and its prosecution may differ. However, if you’re convicted of money laundering crimes, you face years in prison and significant fines.
If you hold a bank account in another country as a resident of that nation, research the rules in place for sending money to a sanctioned nation from that account.
Note that the US has the discretion to grant you special permission to send money to family members in countries like Cuba and Iran. You must be able to prove that your funds are not for commercial purposes, and how much you send could be limited.
When in doubt
If you’re in doubt as to whether you can send money to a sanctioned country, always assume that transferring funds from the US to a sanctioned nation is illegal unless a lawyer tells you otherwise. As the US Treasury advises, “You cannot do something indirectly that you would not be able to do directly.”
For more information about sending money to these countries, look into your state’s laws on money laundering, the US Treasury’s updated list of sanctioned nations and the laws that dictate where your bank can make transfers.
Compare money transfer services here and see supported countries.