Bringing Wine Home after International Travel

Bringing Wine Home after International Travel

I know it is getting to vacation season because I got an e-mail recently from a college friend who wanted to know if his 18 year old grand-daughter could bring home a few bottles of wine from Italy for him. First of all, it is not legal for travelers under the age of 21 to import alcohol- even as a gift.

Generally, one liter per person may be entered into the U.S. duty-free by travelers who are 21 or older, although travelers coming from the U.S. Virgin Islands or other Caribbean countries are entitled to more. (See the U.S. Customs booklet, "Know Before You Go" for additional information.) Additional quantities may be brought back, although they will be subject to duty and IRS taxes. Duty is generally 3% of value and the IRS excise tax is generally between 21-31cents per 750ml bottle of wine, 67 cents for champagne, and $2.14/ hard liquor. 

There is no federal limit on the amount of alcohol a traveler may import into the U.S. for personal use. However, large quantities might raise the suspicion that the importation is for commercial purposes, and a Customs inspector could require the importer to obtain an ATF import license (which is required for all commercial importations) before releasing it. If you do intend to travel with a large quantity of alcohol, I suggest you contact the entry branch of the port you will be entering the country through to discuss your situation in advance.

Although it may not be good legal advice I can tell you that U.S. Customs are
unlikely to want to fill out forms for the additional cents in revenue they would get
from your bottle(s) of wine. It comes down to the practicality of creating a mile
long traffic jam and wasting an agent’s time to collect such a miniscule amount. My
best advice is to declare your wine and let them decide to wave you through. Don’t
mess with the Feds.


Just a special word about Canada. If you bring wine back from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia expect to pay that nominal 3 % tax and 25-30 cent duty when you cross back into the U.S. If you take U.S. made wine into Canada you will pay up to 68% of the wine’s value in Canadian dollars. That means for a $35 of Oregon Pinot Noir, you’d pay almost $24 in duty. (We never charged the Canadians that much when we imported all their whisky during Prohibition so why is wine so steep?)

The total amount of alcohol you may enter the country with is primarily determined by the laws of the state where you will arrive back into the U.S. Each state sets the amount of alcohol a person may bring into the state without a license or permit from that state. In Montana, the number is technically zero. (Since the Montana Department of Revenue did away with the Connoisseur’s license the path is easier.) In all practicality, no one from the State check bags to see if you have a bottle or two in with your dirty socks. Other travelers must check with the appropriate state ABC board, as the amounts vary from state to state. I regret that I am unable to provide this information, but I am barely able to maintain Montana information much less each of the 50 State's various requirements.