When I bring a bottle of French wine back to the USA for family and friends, their faces light up with excitement and appreciation. It’s a cherished gift for someone special. But all you need is to have one bottle of red wine explode in your suitcase to never want to try to transport wine on a long-haul flight ever again. So how can you bring wine back from France so it arrives in one piece? Is it even legal? How much wine can I bring back from France? Let’s talk about bringing wine back from France.
How to bring wine back from France
Every time I visit the USA, I successfully bring several bottles of wine in my checked luggage. When packed correctly, the wine should make it in one piece. Knock on wood, I’ve never had an issue. If it’s a reasonable number of bottles for personal use, you should have no problem bringing some liquid France back with you.
Why would you want to bring back wine? WHY NOT? Seriously though, it makes a nice gift for someone else or treat for yourself, not to mention it’s way cheaper to bring back French wine than to buy it in the USA. I was shocked by wine prices last time I visited the US. France spoils me (both with the selection and price)!
How much wine can I bring back from France legally?
There’s a lot of confusion about bringing wine back from Europe on a plane, but it’s quite simple. First, federal law says you have to be at least 21 years of age. There’s no limit on the number of bottles of wine you can bring into the US for personal use although anything over the duty-free allowance of one liter (so one bottle) may be subject to a small duty, although this is rarely enforced for small quantities.
In my experience, I’ve declared my wine on the customs form and I’ve never had to pay a duty on it. Customs rarely bothers to collect the fee because it’s under $1/bottle.
Fodor’s explains, “Travelers can’t transport bottles with more than 70 percent alcohol content and can only take five liters of alcohol between 24 and 70 percent. Fortunately, wine almost always falls below 24 percent alcohol content, meaning there is no limit to the amount of alcohol allowed in checked bags.”
For information on bringing wine into other countries, you can read here.
To be safe, I wouldn’t pack more than 4 carefully wrapped wine bottles in a full-size suitcase. Anything more than 4 is pushing your luck unless you have a special wine suitcase. I wrote an entire post on that (plus a video) on how to bring wine on a plane the safe way. It’s a fabulous stress-free option if you do a wine tour and have 10 or 12 bottles you want to bring home.
What about shipping wine from France to US addresses?
Forget about shipping wine yourself. It’s illegal to ship wine from France to US addresses in the regular mail unless you have a license to do so. They will turn you away at the French post office if you show up with your carefully packed box of wine to send abroad. Some wineries and wine stores in places like Saint-Emilion will offer to ship it for you, but you’ll pay a premium for the service.
Depending on your budget, cost of the wine, and the importance of shipping it stateside, it might make sense to have a store ship your favorites for you.
Keep in mind smaller producers may not even offer direct shipping, though. If you want to bring a few bottles back for personal use, it’s super easy to pack them in your suitcase as I’ve proven to myself time and time again.
Remember that liquids over 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) aren’t allowed in your carry-on (unless purchased after security) so you’ll have to check your baggage.
Have you seen the way baggage handlers throw your luggage around? This is why careful packing is important and I’ve become an expert at packing wine your suitcase.
Here are my tips on how to bring wine back from France in your suitcase:
1 – No more than 4 bottles in one large suitcase. If you bring any more than this, you risk breakage and/or going over the baggage weight limit. Be sure to weigh your suitcase before you head to the airport or you might be looking at a hefty oversize baggage fee. If you plan on bringing more than 4 bottles back, split it between 2 suitcases. There’s no way you’ll clear the baggage weight limit and you’re pushing the breakage limits if you pack more than 4 bottles.
2 – Wrap bottles well and insulate with clothing. Use a product I mention below to protect the wine bottle or just use bubble wrap and an extra layer or two of clothing around each bottle. Do not skimp on insulation. Make each bottle look like a giant projectile and wrap it tight. Cotton t-shirts work well as wrapping material. Some people pack the bottles in a cardboard box after wrapping them. That’s up to you. I’ve done it both ways and as long as #3 is followed, you’ll be fine. Pack them in the middle and not up against the walls of the suitcase if you can avoid it.
3 – Make sure your suitcase is full so everything is packed in tightly with no space. I can’t stress this point enough. Movement in your suitcase is not your friend. You don’t want anything to shift around, so if there’s even a small pocket of extra space, try to fill it with socks or anything else you have lying around. You don’t want the bottles to move around in a half-full suitcase when baggage handlers load it on and off the plane. Have you seen them wing it off the plane from 20 feet in the air? If the bottles can slide around, they will most definitely break, so the key to safely bringing wine back from France in your luggage is making sure the bottles cannot move at all.
Some handy products for bringing wine back from France:
Depending on the cost of an extra bag or your airline’s baggage allowance, it might make the most sense to get specialized wine luggage. This is especially useful if you make frequent trips and want to transport 12 bottles at a time. Looking for something even fancier? This wine carrier suitcase is easy to maneuver and 100% polycarbonate.
Bubble wrap protectors
If you‘re not much of a DIY bubble-wrapper, grab a bunch of these Wine Skins before your trip and just slip your bottle inside for easy, protected transport. To be on the safe side, I’d still wrap the bottle in clothing as well on top of the skins.
Jet Bags are great for transporting not only wine, but other glass containers such as perfume, olive oil and more. They’re reusable, made in the USA, and absorbent, so if something breaks, your clothing stays clean and dry. Another plus? They’re biodegradable.
What are your best tips for bringing wine back from France?
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