You’re in the middle of an Italian vineyard sipping on all the Chianti you can manage and suddenly you resolve to bring back a bottle or two of the experience. When a wine-soaked suitcase meets you at baggage claim or you realize you’ve lugged back a bottle of banned booze that ultimately gets seized at customs, you’ll quickly realize that bringing libations from abroad is sometimes nothing to cheer about. In order to enjoy the fruits of your travels, we’ve come up with a handy guide of everything you need to know about bringing booze home from abroad…without shattered hopes and unpleasant surprises.
Know Your Limits
Just as you should know your limits when consuming alcohol, you must also know how much you can bring home before you start packing your bags. Technically, there isn’t a federal limit on how much you can bring back for personal use. However, if you decide to bring back three cases of wine, Customs and Border Protection will probably flag you. In this case, agents might suspect you of bringing back a massive amount of booze for commercial use (bringing back alcohol for commercial use requires an Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau import license). If you need a solid guideline, the Federal Aviation Administration does set a limit of 5 liters per person if the alcohol content is between 24% and 70%. If you plan on carrying on alcohol, keep in mind that the TSA will only allow you to bring 3.4 ounces or less unless you’ve purchased at a duty-free shop post security.
Know Your Types of Alcohol
While you can bring back 5 liters of alcohol between 24% and 70% alcohol content, it’s important to know what alcohol you can’t bring back. You can’t check alcohol that is more than 70% alcohol content, in other words no more than 140 proof. The TSA doesn’t allow it in checked luggage. You’ll also want to make sure that homemade wine you want to bring back has the proper labeling. While allowed, homemade wine must have the correct labeling to be allowed into the country. In addition, there are a number of regulations in place in terms of bringing absinthe into the US. If you do, make sure it is thujone-free, the word absinthe isn’t in the brand name or on the label, and there are no graphics on the item suggesting hallucinogenic, psychotropic, or mind-altering effects.
Know Your Duty Free and Taxes
Duty-free shops can be found in airports across the world. Essentially, products sold in these shops carry no local sales tax. You’ll find duty-free shops where governments don’t impose a tax on items leaving the country. For US-bound travelers, you can bring 1 liter per person of alcohol without paying additional taxes. If you do bring more than 1 liter, you may have to pay duty taxes. The amount you’ll have to pay will depend on a number of factors, including the cost of the additional liter of alcohol, the alcohol content percentage, and also where the alcohol is from (the US allows more than 1 liter of alcohol duty free from places like the US Virgin Islands and other Caribbean countries).
Know Your State Regulations
While alcohol coming into the US carries its own set of federal rules, you can’t forget about your state. State laws can place a limit on the amount of alcohol you can bring in without a license. Be sure you check with the state government at your destination to find out their limitations on quantities allowed for personal importation. Travelers should keep in mind that additional state taxes may apply.
Know How to Pack It Right
You go through all the work and research of figuring out just how much wine you can bring back, only to meet your suitcase at baggage claim and see that those bottles and all your clothes didn’t make it back in one piece. Generally, don’t place bottles on the sides of your bag. Side impacts will lead to broken glass. Instead, use items like shoes to build a perimeter around the inside of your bag. Next, you should wrap bottles in plastic bags. You can use hotel laundry bags if you don’t have anything on hand. Then, wrap each individual bottle with sweaters, coats, or any other bulky clothing items. Place lightweight clothing like t-shirts below and above those wrapped bottles. If you are still worried about breakage, ask your airline for “Fragile” stickers to place on your luggage when you check in. You also might want to consider a wine travel bag if you plan on bringing back a few bottles every time you travel.
Bringing back booze from abroad can be a bit more complicated than you might think. With a little bit of research and know-how, you can avoid any surprises when you touch down back home.
If a glass of wine in Paris or a pint of Guinness in Dublin sounds good to you, then why not start planning your next holiday?