One of the best things about visiting France is sampling the excellent food and wine you find virtually anywhere you go. It's all, but impossible to get a bad meal in that country. And, of course, all that good food is accompanied by good French wine. Fortunately, unlike many French food items, you can take most wines home to the United States. However, before you start buying wine to take home, it's best to know the customs regulations and other logistic issues.
United States Customs Laws and Importing Wine
United States customs laws allow United States citizens who have not traveled outside of the United States (and claimed a duty exemption) in the last 30 days to import up to $400 worth of goods from overseas duty free. This includes one liter of wine for personal use for those age 21 and older. That doesn't mean that you can't bring more wine home with you, but be prepared to pay duty on it when you pass through US customs at the airport. The duty you pay is based on the value of the wine. Currently, it's just three percent, so those French wine bargains will still be a bargain even after the customs tax.
There is no limit on the amount of wine you can import for personal use, but the US customs Web site cautions that large quantities may cause the customs agent to think you are bringing the wine to the US for commercial reasons and require you to purchase a special permit. One case of wine or less is generally held to be for personal use.
Packing Wine to Carry Yourself
Customs rules and regulations aren't the only considerations when you've deciding whether to bring wine back from France or not. In addition, you'll need to pay attention to the airline checked baggage restrictions. (Currently, due to security concerns, you can only check wine; you can't carry it on board the airplane.) You'll also need a convenient and easy way to cart the wine without it breaking and without it being too heavy or awkward to handle. Most French wine stores and duty-free airport shops will pack the wine for transport for you. Many airport duty-free stores will even send the crate directly to the plane for you. Airline restrictions vary by air carrier and by class of service ( such as first class, business class, coach.) There really are no generalizations. It's best to check with your carrier before you leave the US.
One caution: I have carried back wine from France. If you are carrying wine, assume that the carton or whatever you've packed it in will weight twice as much at the end of the trip as it does at the beginning.
Shipping Wine Home from France
If carrying wine home from France is more than you want to deal with, you can have wine shipped from most French wineries and larger wine stores. This is a more expensive route than traveling with your wine. You'll have to pay the freight charge, the duty and likely a service charge to the winery or wine store.
Note that individuals are not allowed to ship alcoholic beverages into the US, only wine vendors can do so. Although the mail or overnight carrier will likely take your shipment in France, it is subject to seizure if the US customs agents inspect it when it arrives in the United States.
Why bring wine back from France? Not only do French wines make great souvenirs andgifts, but there are many vintages that are simply not sold in the United States. What's more: many bottles that are available in the US sell in France for a fraction of what they cost at home. So, don't be afraid to import your own wine. You'll have a reminder of your trip long after those pictures have faded.
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