Fine dining, beautiful wine pairings, after-dinner digestifs; touring abroad you’ll be introduced to some of the finest wines and spirits in the world. After sampling and enjoying, you’ll more than likely want to bring home your favorites. From deep Tuscan red, fruity South African Pinotage, and flirty French Rosé, it’s true that certain bottles of wine simply can’t be found in America. The same is true for delicious and often rare spirits you’ll taste in other countries. Grappa brandy from Italy, Nihonshu wine from Japan, Peruvian Pisco brandy, and other exotic spirits will leave you wanting more.
We can think of nothing better than sharing your experiences with friends and family over a lovely meal paired with one of the bottles you’ve discovered. Bringing home wine and spirits, and enjoying it in your own home, can help the memories of your trip linger a bit longer. To help make the process a bit easier, we’ve put together everything you’ll need to know about bringing your exceptional finds home.
U.S. Customs Rules for Bringing Wine Back to the States
According to U.S. Customs law, travelers over 21 are allowed to bring one liter of any type of alcohol (except for absinthe) into the country without duty. Keep in mind, travelers can’t transport bottles with more than 70 percent alcohol content and can only take five liters of alcohol between 24 and 70 percent. Fortunately, wine mostly falls under 24 percent, so you can bring home as many bottles as you want. To keep your finds duty-free, and perhaps bring home more than the one liter allowed, try these tips we’ve collected for you:
Divide and conquer: Liquids aren’t allowed onto flights in carry-ons; they must be packed in checked luggage, so make the most of the space you have. If you’re traveling with your spouse, friends, or other companions, separating the bottles into each individual’s checked luggage minimizes U.S. federal excise taxation upon arrival, as each person’s bag is considered their separate property.
After discounting one bottle from each person’s baggage, every liter will be taxed at your port of entry, usually at three percent. However, if your foreign finds, including other products and souvenirs, are valued under $800, it’s not uncommon for customs officials to overlook several bottles of wine and decline taxation entirely. This isn’t always the case, so be prepared to be taxed on each additional liter.
It may help to know that there isn’t a federal limit on how much alcohol you can bring home as long as you pay tax on it. However, entering the U.S. with exorbitant amounts of alcohol could raise red flags at customs. If you’ve packed too much, agents could become suspicious that you’re doing so for commercial purposes without a permit. A good rule of thumb is to not exceed 12 bottles per traveler.
How to Pack Alcohol in Your Checked Luggage
To keep your bottles safe in your checked luggage, try:
- Use three to four layers of newspaper to wrap each bottle.
- Place wrapped bottles in a plastic shopping bag and tie it tightly; repeat twice more, so bottles now have three bags overtop newspaper wrapping.
- Place wrapped bottles in your suitcase between soft items. Ensure bottles don’t make direct contact with the top, bottom, or side surfaces of baggage to reduce the likelihood of breakage.
- Pack as many clothes and soft items as you can in your suitcase; this provides more padding and reduces the risk of breaking.
If you don’t want to wrap your expensive and delightful finds in clothes, worrying the whole flight if they’ll make it home with you, you can purchase several items to ease your mind!
Try WineSkin transport bags, VinniBag, or Wine Check cases. You can purchase and check in a case or container to keep your bottles safe. Instead of packing wine and spirits between shirts and socks, there are several cases and check bags that are designed specifically for wine and spirits. Look up IWA’s wine accessories for travel, or explore Amazon for travel cases that protect bottles. If you’re planning on bringing back more than can fit in your luggage, these can help keep bottles from breaking, making them worthwhile check-in additions.
Ship Alcohol Back to the States
Better yet, skip all the worry and ask the merchant or vineyard if they ship to the US and what the charges would be. Depending on where you purchase it from, they can actually be minimal and ease your troubles, knowing your new favorite finds will be waiting for you upon your return.