Technicalities: How Much Whisky Can I Bring Back With Me?

Prompted by a recent comment to one of our postings I decided to quickly lay out some of the particulars for bringing in whisky from abroad.  How much whisky can I bring back to the US?  In my travels I have heard my fair share of urban legends disguised as educated answers to this very important question.

Most people are afraid to bring whisky back because they simply do not know what the law is.  I don’t blame them as I wouldn’t want to risk the ire of a federal agent after a lengthy international flight.  I have read through the rules and although I have not been able to verify my impressions with absolute certainty I believe this is how it plays out:

First, there is no restriction on the amount of whisky you can bring back to the US for personal use.  I stress personal use because the Customs and Border Protection agency (Part of the Department of Homeland Security) wants to prevent backdoor methods of importing alcohol for sale here in the US.

There are two factors for you to address when bringing whisky back to the US:

  • Independent of how much whisky you have, there is an $800/person value of goods exemption (duty free).  The $800/person is for returning from all countries except for U.S. insular possessions (e.g. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico) where it is $1,600/person.  A flat rate duty of 3% will be charged on the next $1,000 over your personal exemption.
  • Although you can technically bring back as much whisky as you want, only the first liter of whisky is duty free.  Anything more than one liter will be charged a flat rate duty of 3%.

Given the above factors, even if you have a total value of goods less than the exemption of $800 but have more than one liter of whisky you will still be charged the flat 3% duty.  Here is a link to the Customs Border and Protection agency’s site that helps to explain the rules.  Also, be aware that there might be an IRS service fee as well.  I haven’t completely figured it out, but it appears from this site that it might only be $2.14/bottle.

No one likes to pay a duty, but 3% isn’t all that bad if you are able to bring back some great whisky that is not available here in the US.  Just make sure that you keep all of your receipts and have access to them so you can verify the actual value of the whisky you are bringing in. – Chris

5 Comments

Filed under Imbibed Musings

5 responses to “Technicalities: How Much Whisky Can I Bring Back With Me?

  1. Dai

    Hey Chris, thanks for answering this question. This is great to know — sounds like every extra bottle you bring in will cost you less than $5 US, which is chump change.

    I wonder – since most bottles from abroad are 700 mL, if you brought 2 bottles, that would be 1400 mL. Would they prorate the 2nd bottle and only tax 3% of 400 mL? I wonder how good their math is…

    • Dai -It will depend on the value of the non-duty free bottle(s) and how much over the $800 personal exemption you might be. But either way it still isn’t all that much in the grand scheme of things.

      It makes logical sense that they would prorate it, but logical sense isn’t always the way things work out. Not saying that this is how it always will be, but experience has been that customs isn’t all that concerned with personal use bottles.

  2. Laura

    I am planning my first trip to Scotland and would like to bring two bottles back. Should I bring it as carry-on luggage? I am flying United Airlines, if that matters.

    • Hi Laura – I am not sure that they would even allow you to bring them as a carry on? The whole liquid restriction issue. But for more practical purposes I always prefer to put it in my check in luggage. Then I don’t have to worry about it when trying to get in and out of my carry on bag during the flight and I don’t have to lug around that extra weight to and from the gate. – Chris

  3. Dai

    Most international airports won’t let you take glass and/or liquids in your carry-on luggage. Which is weird because if you buy duty-free, they’ll let you have your bottles of alcohol on the plane with you.

    You should check on the airport website to see if you can get more info. I would stow it in my check-in luggage.

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