Pack, Ship or Duty-Free
What is the best solution for you?
Travelers struggle with the dilemma: how do we get all these bottles home?
The questions are basically two (with a few sub-questions...)
- How much wine/alcohol can we legally take with us?
- What is the most effective way to transport the wine?
We have compiled a quick guide which will help you navigate the murky waters of customs and respond to some of your doubts & questions about lugging it all back home.
How Much is Too Much?
In most cases, the question is: is there a limit to how much wine you can bring home?
What is a DUTY?:
Duty is a tax. It applies to imported items only & imported means (according to the US government) all things/services that did not leave the country of origin with you, including alterations or repairs on items that did leave with you.
The question is: how much wine you can bring home that is duty free!? For example, the United States says you can bring it all back... as long as it is for personal consumption (no re-sale).
Every country has its own limits and regulations, so it is best to double check before loading up on our trip. If you are looking for a general idea, here are a few sites:
When going back to the US, the Federal government has no problems with you bringing back as much as you want but your state will - and as far as limitations go, the State trumps the Federal when talking about limits. This link explains it a bit better, and it gives you a list of links for the individual states where you can check your duty-free limits.
In the UK, when entering in from a EU country (and Italy is an EU country), there are no limits, though if you bring in more than 90 liters you may be subject to questioning to prove that it is all for personal consumption. However, there are limits for duty-free and you can check with this site for more info.
Just a few other links that you might find helpful:
Airlines have Limits too
Did you know that the airlines and FAA actually have alcohol limits? Really, I am not joking! This is for safety reasons, too much alcohol can be a fire danger - so before you pack your luggage read:
The FAA limits quantities of alcohol permitted on board planes based on the alcohol content (proof). In general, there is no limit on the amount of alcoholic beverages containing 24% or less alcohol in checked baggage. You may take up to five liters of alcohol with an alcohol content that is between 24% and 70% per person as checked luggage if it’s packaged in a sealable bottle or flask. Alcoholic beverages with more than 70% alcohol content (140 proof), including 95% grain alcohol and 150 proof rum are not permitted in either carry-on or checked luggage.
Word of Caution: The only thing that doesn’t vary - wherever you call home - always declare how much you are bringing back to the country or risk fines (and other penalties). Know that: though many times family members traveling together can combine each of their personal duty exemptions into a single exemption, when talking about alcohol and tobacco, many countries do not allow minors to be included in the calculation of these items for duty-free purposes.
Why Buy Duty-Free?
Duty free means that the goods are exempt from the payment of certain local or national taxes and duties when sold to travelers who will take them out of the country. You find these items directly at shops at the airport, after you have gone through security clearance.
This is another one of those questions that is a bit tricky: do you know what “duty-free” means? And is it still duty-free upon entrance into your home country?
The answers will influence the final price.
It is to your advantage to be price savvy when you buy “duty-free”. Alcohol, tobacco, fragrances/cosmetics and high price items are normally the best deals at a duty-free shop but don’t grab your credit card without double checking prices and duty-free limits at your residence, which may jack up the final cost of the item.
For example, the US government will tell you:
Travelers often think that what they buy in duty-free shops won't be dutiable when they return home and clear Customs. But this is not true: Articles sold in a duty-free shop are free of duty and taxes only for the country in which that shop is located. So if your purchases exceed your personal exemption, items you bought in a duty-free shop, whether in the United States or abroad, will almost certainly be subject to duty.
Another important note when purchasing liquids duty-free: though you can board a plane with your bottles in a sealed bag, this is only valid at the departure airport. In most cases, the TSA requires that you pack the item in your checked bag at the next customs check. Think about whether this is possible if you have multiple flights and your luggage has been checked it at the first airport where you boarded to head back home.
To Ship or Not to Ship
Everyone will tell you that shipping is expensive. There is no way around it, depending on your final destination, it can cost an additional 10 - 20 € a bottle to ship it back home.
But.... yes, there is always a but...
Shipping home has its advantages, and these are all cost-related.
Price Savvy Shoppers
I will venture to say that those who are wine collectors or know their wine prices, will grasp rather quickly: shipping is (normally) still cheaper than purchasing the product back at home. Purchasing a bottle at home means paying shipping, taxes/duties and the distributors fees... and if there is more than one distributor, then you are paying for all of their fees. So when you ship, yes, you still pay transport and taxes/duties but you can avoid those costly (and sometimes inflated) distributor fees. Result: even when you ship, the cost is less expensive per bottle.
But don’t take my word for it. It would be wise to check out the prices of various types of wine at your local wine shop before you depart and come to Italy. Price out a few different labels for Chianti Classico, Brunello and Vino Nobile. Have these price averages with you when you travel the different regions of Tuscany. The numbers will tell their own story.
Sometimes it’s not just about being price savvy. Many times the small or local producers in Tuscany and their selection of wines are not even available on your home market. Do you really want to leave your newly discovered favorite wine in Italy, never to be savored again?
Baggage Weight Limits
Safely Packing your Bottles - do all of these
1. Wrap in sealable plastic bags
2. Wrap in bubble wrap/clothing
3. Place in center of luggage to limit movement
How many of us wrestle with the pounds, trying to slim down our luggage so it respects the weight limits? When you consider that a 750ml bottle weighs in between 2.75 and 3.5 pounds, you can see how this can definitely get a bit heavy, real quick!
So, if you are bound and determined to get those bottles home for your personal collection or to disperse as gifts to some lucky friends and family, then you need to do the math then ask yourself: How much is the penalty for exceeding your weight limit for your airlines and is it worth it?
If you do opt for travelling with your wine in your suitcase, remember it MUST go in the belly of the plane. It WILL be confiscated if you try to put it in your hand luggage. And re-read the note above about how much you can put into your baggage.
Wine producers have learned: if they want to sell, they need to be prepared to ship.
Not everyone (but several) will be prepared to help you with the shipping procedure and they have rather reasonable prices. Having worked in the sector, I will let you in on a secret: when you are touring their vineyards, the winery has no interest in earning money off of you for shipping. They make their profits selling their wines!
If shipping seems high, be assured they are not charging you extra for shipping home... actually, the more they can save you on shipping, the more money you have to buy their wines! So they do look to get the best rates from the shipping company they use to get you the best prices possible on shipping.
You will see: when you go to pay for the wine, you pay for the shipping separately and they will explain that the amount you are paying for the shipping will be deducted from your card at the time of shipping. The shippers will want to know when you will be re-entering your home country, so the wines arrive shortly after you do (and not before!) A bit of advice, use an address where you know there will be someone to receive the wine so as to minimize the travel time of the bottles: less temperature changes and moving about means less possible damage to the wine in general.
You can opt for a do-it-yourself ship home, but you will need to be aware of the import laws and regulations for your resident country or you risk just plopping it in a box and never seeing it again because of all the legal red-tape. You can take it to a professional shipper, for example Mailboxes Etc.
One last word of caution: Be sure to ask if the price includes ALL import taxes & duties! Otherwise you may get a (nasty) surprise when the delivery man shows up.