Travel Tips: How to Pack Alcohol
If you're thinking of packing your own alcoholic provisions for your next flight, think again: The Federal Aviation Administration prohibits drinking your own alcohol aboard a plane. But if you're packing a nice bottle of wine as a gift for a friend, or bringing back some duty-free whiskey from an international destination, there's considerably more leniency in what you're allowed to pack.
Alcohol as a Carry-On
While you can't drink your own alcohol on board a plane, you can bring it in your carry-on bag with you, as long as it falls under the Transportation Security Administration's liquids rule for carry-on luggage. This limits you to only as many liquid items as will fit comfortably in a quart-size plastic bag; each bottle must be no larger than 3.4 ounces (100 ml), so it must be a mini bottle that is able to fit in a quart-sized bag or sealed bag according to federal regulations on its way back to your final destination.
There's just one exception to this rule: You are allowed to carry-on larger quantities of alcohol through airport security if they were purchased in an international duty-free shop or duty-free store on your way back to the United States going onto an international flight. The duty-free alcohol must stay in its unopened retail packaging from the retailer and have been purchased within the last 48 hours, and you must have the original receipt with you at the security checkpoint. This alcohol doesn’t need to be put in a zip-top bag if it’s in your carry-on baggage.
Alcohol in Your Checked Bags
The TSA rules are more lenient about what type of alcohol, and how much of it, you can put in your checked bags. But don't try to pack anything with more than 70 percent alcohol content; it's not allowed in your checked baggage. You can pack as much alcohol as you like if it contains less than 24 percent alcohol – think wine and beer. If your bottles have between 24 and 70 percent alcohol content, you can pack as much as 5 liters (1.3 gallons) in your checked luggage, as long as the bottles you're using can be sealed.
The regulations of your destination country may differ. Check the U.S. Department of State's country information pages for more information on restricted items; if you're still not sure how much alcohol is allowed (if any), contact the U.S. embassy in your destination country. If you're traveling with a local or regional air carrier abroad, it's a good idea to confirm their policies regarding alcohol too.
Declaring Your Alcohol
To bring bottles of alcohol back into the United States from an international destination, U.S. Customs and Border Protection imposes regulations on who can transport the alcohol and when tax and duty fees start accruing. Anybody "importing" alcohol, which includes bringing it back in your luggage for personal use or as a gift, must be at least 21 years of age. As a general rule, you can bring up to 1 liter (0.26 gallons) duty-free, although travelers coming from certain destinations, including Caribbean countries, are usually entitled to more. If you bring more than that duty-free quantity in, you'll have to declare it and pay duty and federal excise taxes.
Your state of residence may also have its own laws about importing alcohol, and they may be stricter than federal laws. When in doubt, contact your local Alcohol Beverage Control Board about local policies.