Things to Consider When Bringing Alcohol Into the U.S.

By Jodi Thornton O'Connell

A vacationer's guide to bringing alcohol into the U.S.

Things to Consider When Bringing Alcohol Into the U.S.

There's no souvenir as sweet as bringing home a taste of your vacation. Closing your eyes and taking a sip of bubbly from Champagne, France, or Limoncello from Naples, Italy, transports you back. However, the dream of savoring sips can come to an end before you ever get home should it be confiscated. Learn the rules about bringing alcohol into the U.S. so you don't lose your treat.

How much liquor and wine can I bring into the U.S.?

  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection allows you to bring up to one liter of alcohol into the country duty-free as long as you're 21 years or older.  The amount goes up to 5 liters duty free when you're bringing alcohol from a U.S. insular possession such as Guam, Samoa or the U.S. Virgin Islands. However, you need to buy at least 4 liters in the insular possession and one liter must be a product of that location. 
  • TSA regulations allow for up to 5 liters of 48 to 140 proof alcohol to ride in your checked baggage as long as it's in its original retail packaging and unopened.  Any alcohol you bring on board the plane must be in 3.4-ounce or smaller containers, but you may not consume it on the flight.
  • State regulations limit how much residents can bring home. In California, travelers can bring up to 60 liters or roughly five cases of alcohol. Texas lets you bring 1 gallon of distilled spirits and 3 gallons of wine, but only 24 12-ounce beers. Check with your state's alcoholic beverage authority to find out the limits where you live.

I'm not checking any baggage. How can I bring alcohol home?

There's two ways you can transport a full bottle of alcohol in your carry-on luggage without having to pour it into 3.4 ounce containers and fit it in a quart-size plastic bag.

  • Buy it in a shop after you pass the security checkpoint. Any liquids you buy on the other side aren't subject to 3-1-1 rules.
  • You can carry on duty-free amounts of liquor providing the retailer puts them in a special, transparent, secure and tamper-evident bag. The bags show if anyone has tried to open them and must have no signs of tampering to pass through security. 

What types of alcohol are allowed on a plane?

TSA restrictions apply to products with 24 to 70 percent alcohol. Beer and wine have less than 24 percent alcohol and not restricted. You can check bottles of wine in special wine luggage that holds up to 12 bottles of the product or in any other airline-approved packaging, but you'll be subject to your airline's baggage fees. Alcohol over 70 percent alcohol, such as 151, isn't permitted at all on planes due to flammability.

What are the U.S. customs requirements?

U.S. Customs doesn't limit the quantity of alcohol you bring into the country as long as you pay the applicable duty and federal IRS excise tax. However, large quantities might raise suspicions that you're bringing it in for commercial purposes, requiring you to get an import license through the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). If you're stocking your personal wine cellar or bar, contact the entry branch of the port where you'll be entering the country with your shipment to discuss the situation ahead of time.

How much duty and taxes will I have to pay?

Should you wish to bring more than the duty-free limits set by U.S. Customs, you'll pay duty plus federal IRS excise tax. The duty you'll pay depends on the type of alcohol you're bringing into the country and ranges from a few cents to a few dollars per liter. Excise tax ranges from 2 cents per 12-ounce can of beer to a couple dollars for a 750-ml bottle of 80-proof distilled spirits.

About the Author

Indulging her passion for vacation vagary through the written word on a full-time basis since 2010, travel funster Jodi Thornton-O'Connell guides readers to the unexpected, quirky, and awe-inspiring.