5th st liquor store Traveling with booze: Policy clarifications and changes

Regular readers know how frustrated I have been with inconsistent liquid-ban enforcement and the subsequent confusion over duty free purchases that ensues, like the finger-pointing contradiction-fest I experienced in Munich a while back. Travelers changing planes on multi-leg international flights (say, flying from New York to Frankfurt and on to Johannesburg) were especially hard-hit, with several different layers of regulation hitting them and their liquid cargo.

For the traveler with liquids in tow, two items may be of interest.

First, the European Commission adopted new rules for travelers changing planes in the EU member states, plus Switzerland, Norway, or Iceland. If the airport where you purchased your duty-free liquor adheres to “the two ICAO state letters (1 December 2006 and 30 March 2007), which set standards for tamper evident bags and security levels for supply chains to airport retailing,” then your precious cargo will not be confiscated by European airport personnel or law enforcement authorities. This effectively means that the European Commission now recognizes the security procedures of other airports as acceptable and adequate.

Of course, the problem is, how do you know that your departure airport fits the bill? And it may take some time before the new rules filter down to the people who enforce these rules on the ground. Still: A step forward for common sense.

Second, a reminder from Upgrade: Travel Better contributor Tyler Colman on the rules regarding duty-free limits on wine (or other alcohol, for that matter.) Very often, airport and airline staff unfortunately tell passengers about the “limits” on liquor, when in fact they’re referring only to the duty-free limits. As if the duty free limit is all you’re allowed to carry into the country. Not so!

If you’re flying back to the United States, you can carry in several cases of wine if you like, assuming 1) that you check it as baggage, packed nicely in a padded wine box, 2) that you have receipts indicating the purchase price of the wine, and 3) that you declare the wine to the customs agents when you arrive, and on your declaration form. You can bring plenty back from your travels, if you are willing to pay the taxes, but you only get very limited amounts duty-free. And how much are those taxes? 3%. THREE! That’s nothing! And travelers report that customs agents can’t be bothered to fill out the paperwork on such small amounts, so you might get off with a duty-free case or two.

Of course, carrying that much back means you’re dragging boxes through airports and possibly paying the airline an excess baggage charge. But don’t let anyone tell you you can’t take it with you.


Reader Steve writes in to point out that I glossed over an important point in Dr. Vino’s post: The rules on how much alcohol you can bring into the country are also set by the state where you land. A snippet from Steve’s e-mail, with a story of zealous liquor enforcement, below:

Your posting on booze coming back into the US is true, but incomplete.

While it is true that the Feds place no restriction on the amount of alcohol you can bring in some states do (or at least used to). So if your first port of entry is NY and NY State only allows two bottle (which used to be the case) then you can be forced to throw everything out beyond that.

That is exactly what happened to me, however it was almost 20 years ago and it is likely (though not certain) that the rules have changed. But since states are still firmly in control of these laws if you intend on bringing in more than the federal limit it would be prudent to call the ABC of the state you will be clearing customs in and ask what the regulations are.

Thanks, Steve!


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