I’m back with a note on U.S. customs duties for wine

In case you got here through a search engine and are wondering how much wine you can bring into the United States from anywhere in the world my answer is this: As much as you can carry. The duty free allowance is one liter, which means one bottle. But, that is only the duty free allowance which means you have to pay no import duty on that amount. The thing is that US import duties on wine are very low, under $5 per gallon, which means less than $1 per bottle. So what you do is: Take as much as you can, declare it on your customs form, tell the agent that you have something to declare, and then they will most likely wave you through (we’ve brought 12 bottles per person many times and never had to pay anything). Good luck and safe travels! If you are wondering how to pack the wine, this is my post on how I do it. (Summary of 09/23/2013)

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We’re back in the States. I am kind of embarrassed that I have not written more over the last weeks, but it just felt right to take a break and enjoy our time in Germany. The current heat wave in Ann Arbor (and that our house was without electricity for way over 30 hours upon our return) makes me miss the “German summer” with way less heat even more.

Our trip was really good, as I indicated in my last post in June. We ended up with way more wine than we had meant to acquire, but I guess that always happens to us. The last day in Germany was spent mostly scheming how to get as much wine into our luggage as possible. Turns out that we were able to bring 22 750ml bottles and 2 375ml! That is a new record for us. It makes sense, because German wine usually costs between twice and four times in the US compared to what it costs in Germany. Also, it is quite the hassle actually getting the wines because often they are only available through big wine sellers online and then you have to buy a minimum of 12 bottles plus shipping, which would completely overstep our budget. (If anyone has good alternatives, let me know!)

Scheming and packing…

A friend will bring an additional 13 bottles over the course of the next months, and 6 750ml as well as 4 375ml bottles will be waiting with my mother to make their way here.

A lot of people keep telling me that you can only bring one bottle of wine per person into the United States. That is wrong. Correct is: Your duty-free customs allowance is 1 liter of wine, which usually brings you down to 1 bottle. That is only the duty free amount. Naturally, you can bring home more. You will have to declare it and potentially have to pay customs duty on these wines. What nobody knows, and I have not been able to find the information online anywhere, is that customs duty on wine is dirt cheap. How I know? We were stopped by customs this time around.

I always declare the number of bottles I am bringing (usually 8-9) and notify the customs agent that I have wine to declare. This usually leads to them waving me through without checking. This time around, we declared our wine together (23 full bottles), and that startled them. So we had to go to a booth and talk to a customs officer. After him checking one bottle and being satisfied that it was indeed wine and not liquor, he had to check his lists for quite some time until he found out that the customs duty on wine is a whopping $3.45 (not sure about the .45, might be a bit higher) for a gallon of wine. You read right, a gallon. That is almost 5 bottles…Another customs officer explained that they have discretion on whether to collect customs duty up to $20. And since filling out the paperwork probably costs more than they can raise, they decided to waive the duty.

So, please, on your next overseas trip: Go and stock up on wine that you cannot get or want to pay reasonable prices on. It is really easy!

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45 thoughts on “I’m back with a note on U.S. customs duties for wine

  1. […] bring as much wine as you want, and pay less in duty taxes than you would buying from an importer. A wine blogger once went on a trip to Germany, and managed to stuff 23 bottles of wine into a few checked bags on […]

  2. […] duty on wine is 3%, though it’s unclear how the value of the wine would be determined. For The Winegetter’s experience at customs, duty was determined to be $3.45 per gallon (which would be about 5 […]

  3. Gene says:

    I came back from Santiago Chile on Father’s day weekend with two bottles of wine, nothing exravagent. In Chile they wrapped the wine in a cardboard shipping box, put it in a duty free bag and taped it shut. When I got to Miami they confiscated the wine telling me it wasn’t packed properly. Its wine for goodness sake not pig feet. After a fruitless conversation I was forced to leave the wine. Is that normal?

    • Hi Gene, I assume you were trying to transport it as carry on luggage and not in your checked luggage. You cannot transport any liquids over a small amount in your carry on luggage. Duty-free items are only exempted until the first port of call in the US. If you enter the US and stay in the city you fly into, you are fine. The problem arises when you want to transport the wine onwards in your carry on.

      Stupid, but those are the rules. In your checked luggage, you would have had no problem.

  4. Jonathan says:

    Over the past twenty years, my wife and I have brought wine back from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and even Switzerland, usually three cases (36 bottles in luggage specifically designed for wine bottles) but more from Canada as we usually drive. In all that time, we have had to pay exactly ONE time at the Customs check, and even then it was for four+ cases of wine, but our total was about US$17! We make sure to note the wine on the form (as we have Global Entry and if you screw it up once, you’ve lost your privilege), but after that, we only answer the Agent’s questions – never lie, but never offer more than what they ask for. So when they ask if we have anything to declare or what is in the cases, we simply tell them, “wine” and not necessarily how much until they ask. Then we answer honestly and accurately. We also make sure to have all of the receipts out to show the value as I don’t want an un-(wine-)educated agent assuming that all wine from France is expensive and then charging me based on what he/she thinks the value of the wine is! Also, I will admit that part of the reason for all the receipts is to make the notion of the agent having to go through all those receipts (in a foreign language, no less!) very unappealing. And in the end, it simply comes down to the fact that my three cases of wine is not going to generate enough tax revenue to make it worth their while (I saw the booklet they research this in and for wines that were about US$12-15 in value in Europe, they were going to make about $.20 on the bottle!).

  5. Kailey Ekstrum says:

    Any Americans with experience in Canada? Coming home from Argentina we fly into Toronto and then drive down to New York. I’m getting super inconsistent answers about if we’ll be expected to pay Canadian duty if we go over the alcohol limit since we are only “passing through” Canada.

    • Hi Kailey, and thanks for commenting. I have no expertise on these matters, really, but I would assume that since you are landing and going through customs in Canada, Canadian customs rules apply, including the very hefty customs and liquor board fees that you probably have heard about. My wife once flew back from Europe into Canada and brought only the legal limit for exactly this reason. I am afraid you’ll have to pay Canadian customs if you are over the limit (but, as I said, am not an expert on this in any way or claim that I am).

    • Jonathan says:

      We live in the Delaware and frequently will bring wine back from our trips to Canada (we will even have wine shipped from a favorite winery in British Columbia to our hotel in Quebec or Ontario so we can bring it home). To date, we have NEVER had any problem driving across the border with upwards of five cases of wine! Have your receipts ready to prove value and NEVER lie to an agent, but ONLY answer what they ask. E.g. “Do you have anything to declare?” “Yes, we have some clothes and some wine that we bought while on vacation in Argentina.” Don’t tell them up front how much you have, wait for them to ask you and THEN tell them. Even with four or five cases of wine, the amount of tax they would generate is not worth the time it would take them to write up the report.

  6. Paul says:

    A very interesting article. Lazenne is a company in Europe that sells a specialized luggage and that enable you to check 12 bottles of wine on an airplane. They also have a guide on the rules, taxes, tariffs, etc. on taking wine and other alcohol back home from Europe: http://www.lazenne.com/pages/taking-alcohol-on-a-plane-101

  7. garner49 says:

    Wife went to Germany in June. While there, bought 4-bottles of wine to ship home from a shop that regularly ships to the U.S. After she returned home and almost 4-weeks after the purchase, the box arrived with adult signature required. I signed for it and set it aside thinking it was something for her. When she picked up the box, her first comment was how light it was and we had already noticed the green Customs tape on the outside. Lo and behold, the 4-bottles of wine had been removed with no note or otherwise reason for taking them – so we received and I signed for an empty box. Almost a month later, we receive a letter from Customs telling us we couldn’t do that and will have to pay much more than the cost of the wine (or other choices) if we want our wine back. Everything we’ve read on-line says it’s OK to buy and have it shipped. It was shipped by DHL, then transferred to the USPS (which may be the problem) for home delivery, but they do that often. We’ve cruised before and purchased on-board with no problem thru Customs, so we understand that. Our problem is why did they take our wine? At this point, we consider it a theft. We’ve contacted the seller and has promised to re-ship the purchase and file a theft report thru the shipper .
    Any comments or suggestions as to what to do? We are going to contact Customs and argue the point (pointless, I’m sure); but the wine is probably already gone. Sad.

    • Oh man, I am SO sorry to hear that. What a nightmare…you guessed right though, the problem lies with DHL. DHL is still the parcel arm of Deutsche Post, the German national postal service. It is privatized, but as Deutsche Post’s official carrier of packages, and having been badly burnt in the US market when it tried to be a separate carrier there, DHL, unlike UPS and FedEx, delivers its packages to USPS…and they are not allowed to transport alcohol by law. One of the most ridiculous and annoying remnants of prohibition and its repeal.

      I had that happen once in the 1990s with some wine I mailed, unaware of the law in the US, to a friend there with the normal postal service. Same thing except in that case they simply held the package and wrote a letter informing to either pick up or forfeit the wine.

      If your seller will resend, it is likely going to be held again unless it is FedEx of UPS. These, unfortunately, charge exorbitant fees for their trans-Atlantic “services”.

      I am afraid it cannot be considered theft since the means of transportation were illicit according to US law (however stupid that law is)…

      This insanity is the main reason why we go through such heaps transporting our wine with us personally. I wish it was different.

      Did they offer you to pick up the wine? Do you have someone in the area where it is held that could pick it up for you?

  8. Theresa says:

    I have traveled all seven continents and follow the same advice that you give. Declare what you have. Most time they won’t charge you duty. I once carried a wood coffee table home from New Zealand (some assembly required) and still, no duty. ;-)

  9. Extremely valuable information! Thanks a million!

  10. John Cesano says:

    I flew to Europe with a 24 bottles, each bubble wrapped and secured with strapping tape, inside a plastic tub. I brought a receipt for the wine showing some thrifty shopping skills. I declared the wine each time I went over, but was never asked to pay duty or custom although I was prepared to, I knew it would be cheap, I used the bottles from where I lived as gifts as I travelled. By the time I would return home, a different 24 bottles were in the tub, and I flew home with them, again claiming them, and again, never being asked to pay the duty or custom I was prepared to pay. I flew often and was allowed three pieces of baggage at 70 pounds each, but could always exceed weight limits with curbside check in and a tip.

    • You are one lucky man!! :) I am glad to hear that my experience was not singular. It is just not worth for customs to fill out the paperwork to collect the paltry customs duty. Thanks for sharing your experience here!

  11. […] I’m back with a note on U.S. customs duties for wine […]

  12. Well, then there’s the cost of the extra “luggage” by your airline, which can be $50-$100 +++ per item, up to 50lbs. I usually just ship it and avoid dealing with it. It works out to about $130 per case, depending on the exchange rate. Once, back in 2005, when I brought a case home from Piedmont as carry-on! (when you could do that!), I claimed it and the customs officer just gave me a lecture. But yeah, he didn’t want to do the paperwork so I got the case in for free. Thx for the info!

    • Oh, to be clear: I never use an extra checked bag, because you are right, that would inflate cost. No, I use my one suitcase, and have all my clothing in my carry on. And in your example, wouldn’t shipping be more expensive than checking an extra bag? Just wondering, I am really bad at math.

      • For me no, not really. I’ve been staying in Italy for 2-3 months at a time so I need to bring back 2 suitcases of “stuff”. By the time you get to a third bag on most airlines they start charging over $100 per bag. so avoid the hassle, I just pay a little extra and skip getting the luggage trolly, adding time at the airport, and dealing with customs. I seriously have to cram everything to bring only two bags. (That means I only pay $50-60 extra.) I usually ship 3 cases of wine back. So it ends up being way easier to ship. Crazy, I know.

  13. aglassofwine says:

    It’s good to know that duties are so cheap that they don’t bother stopping you!

    Have you used shipper boxes? Most wineries will have some lying around that they will happily give you. Those pack the wines pretty snugly too and you won’t need to pad the bottles with clothes. Our last trip, we just checked in the shipper box and had our clothes in the carry on

    • Yes, have definitely done that before, too. Sometimes they shipper boxes are bigger than the winery boxes (a 12 case of normal winery box is about the size of a 6 case shipping box), that is why we use winery boxes usually. Winemakers also have told me that they use shipper boxes as checked luggage. I guess for us it is just a way of combining clothing and bottles. :) Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  14. […] I reported on US customs duties and that we carried 23 bottles with us on the […]

  15. bravawine says:

    I am so happy to just have discovered this post! I’m just wondering where you put the wine, did you actually stick 22 bottles in a suitcase amidst your clothes? What did that do for your weight allowance?

    Thanks!

  16. katiehutton says:

    Thanks for this information! We often get questions about how much wine can be taken in the US from New Zealand and we stick to the duty free numbers provided. This is great that we can tell them more :-)

    • Glad to be of service! :) Given how expensive wine is in the US, it makes total sense to cram in as much as possible and then just pay the customs duty IF they decide to collect it…

  17. vawinepalate says:

    Thanks for the Customs info. I’ve always been hesitant so I’ve never done it. Enjoy all the wine!

  18. delpiero1234 says:

    Nice to hear that you enjoyed your trip to Germany :)

  19. Oliver,
    That is some great information, and I am looking forward to more of your accounts, once you get situated and comfortable. I just came back from Canada and returned with 15 bottles of wine that we found and enjoyed. I declared them at customs, and I was told “Enjoy” and waved on through. One of the Canadian wineries told me that the tax per bottle was about thirty cents. So you may be correct on the amount of duty versus paper work. I do agree that you should declare what you have.
    – John

  20. Cool. I just want to be on the safe side (I have been picked for random searches twice in the last 4 years), that is why I alert officers to the wine I bring.

  21. Great info! I never knew the limits although we bring back wine all the time. I usually just put “wine” no matter how many bottles and always make sure the declared value is under $400 (which it usually is). Even though I bring back over a case each time, I don’t have any issues.

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