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Bringing foodie souvenirs home

Hello all!

If I were to go to Europe and buy food-related items like olive oils, wine, pates, etc (all jarred/sealed/unopened, of course), what would be the best way to get them home? Mail them from a post office (is that allowed, esp with wine?). Or just pack it home? (Not sure how customs and VAT all work.)

Thanks!

Posted by
8889 posts

There is no issue sending or taking food out of European countries. The issue would be in whatever country you send or bring them to (sorry, I have no idea where "Pasco" is).

You need to look up the customs rules for your country.
Posting heavy items would be expensive. I would not recommand posting bottles of wine unless it was packed in boxes designed for the purpose. Too much risk of broken glass arriving. Some tourist shops will pack and post goods you buy there.

There is equally no issue with food between EU countries, they have a common set of food regulations and checks.
If you are sending or bringing food (or other goods) out of the EU, you can claim back VAT as long as it is export unused and intact.

Posted by
157 posts

Hi Chris, thank you for your response! I live in the United States.

My last experience with all this was back in 2011. I know the rules are particularly strict regarding liquids on airlines, which is why I didn't carry-on wine, but I bought a pate from the airport in Nice (which was unopened and properly sealed in the airport-issued bag), and while stopping over in Zurich, they made me open it because of their concern it was a liquid (which it clearly isn't, plus it was the airport-secured bag).

Posted by
11676 posts

Wine and olive oil are allowed into the US, although there is a limit on quantity of wine for duty-free entry. Pate used to be restricted, but is now allowed. ALL food items must be declared to the customs inspector. Here is a pretty extensive list of what is allowed or restricted:

https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/3619/kw/food%20restrictions/session/L3RpbWUvMTU0NDg5NzQ0NC9zaWQvM0U3RzRtMm8%3D

Shipping is very expensive, and depending where you live, wine may not be eligible for shipment to your home. Packing glass bottle of wine and oils in your checked luggage is possible, but you will have a mess if the bottles break. European wines are so readily available here we do not bother bringing any home. You may fine some excellent fresh-pressed olive oils in Italy or Spain that would be interesting.

I like to bring back dried porcini from Italy, paprika or saffron from Spain, and tea from the UK. All are lightweight and easy to carry.

Posted by
157 posts

@Lola -- thank you for that information and tips.

Based on you and Chris' answers, if I buy any wine in Europe, maybe I'll just enjoy it there and not worry about the hassle of getting it back.

I'm considering the Adriatic tour, so I'm sure, however, there will be olive oils, truffled items, etc., I'd love to bring back to enjoy or cook with.

I believe the "liquids" issue is only in carry-on luggage. I remember that on my last trip, my wife and I got a small bottle of schnapps from Salzburg, but it was easy to properly pack in checked luggage, so it was no issue.

I forget, do all food items (alcohol, too?) need to be declared regardless of in checked or carry-on bags? Also, it's declared upon entry back to the US, right? (Sorry, I always get confused in this area)

Posted by
23258 posts

always declare all food items. Always. All. If it goes in your mouth at some stage, either as it comes or mixed with something else it gets declared.

If there is no issue with any of it you are fine. If you don't declare something even if it is allowed and the canine finds it (believe me, they are good, and even if something is wrapped in something else they will find it) you are looking at loosing the product and a huge fine.

If you don't declare something and it is not ok to bring in you are looking at a (wo)man with a badge. It is called smuggling.

Regarding the VAT reclaim, you need to have sufficient value to make it worth it for the store to cooperate in the program. You pay it as part of the list price at the store. At the point you are leaving the customs area you are in (the EU, or each non-EU country) you show receipts, the unused and unopened goods, and a claim form to the Customs official who certifies that those goods have left that is returned to the store who in due course send you a refund minus costs. There are agencies at airports who for a chunk of the refund will check the merchandise and do the legwork for you. You still need unused products, the receipts and the paperwork.

Posted by
8889 posts

The liquids limit is for carry-on only. I regularly carry bottles in my hold luggage as presents. Putting them in the middle of the case wrapped in used socks and other clothing is a good precaution (remove used socks before handing over to recipient).

Customs in European countries don't care what you are taking out, except you need to declare any cash over €10,000 (or equivalent) when leaving the EU.
Entering a country (in your case the USA), it doesn't matter whether it was in the cabin or the hold, when it enters the country if it is over their limits you need to declare it.

If sending by post, you have to fill in a customs declaration with a description and value which is stuck on the outside of the parcel. This is unfortunate if it is intended to be a Christmas present, no surprise if it says on the outside what it is. What customs do about collecting any duties (taxes) on incoming post varies by country.

Posted by
11676 posts

You declare all food and beverage items when you enter the US, after going through passport control and after picking up your checked bags. You declare everything whether it is in checked bags or carry-on. The purpose is to prevent disease organisms from entering the US. Formerly you filled out a paper form ( they hand you these on the plane) and check "yes" when it asks if you are carry food, plant products, etc. The inspector would then ask you what specific items you have.

Now if you go through the kiosks at immigration, you answer the question on the screen and are handed a slip of paper to give to the customs inspector.

There may be sniffer dogs patrolling the baggage claim area, and the queues waiting to see the customs inspector. These dogs with catch any food you have, so don't omit anything.

Posted by
2281 posts

When we were on our Spain tour we visited a small boutique olive oil mill. Very small production. At the end of our tour folks lined up to buy and carry or to have him ship. I went on Amazon instead and there it was. Moral of the story- most of what you would want is available here. Liquids are difficult to carry home and a broken bottle can really ruin your day. Enjoy what you can in Europe, take pictures of labels, shop when you get home. If you enjoy a particular wine and can’t find it later visit a knowledgeable wine merchant who can either get it for you or find something similar. As for imported olive oil-much is corrupted by lesser quality stuff. Some of the best olive oil around comes from Northern California. As far as the “best” imported olive oil, well, read this https://www.huffpost.com/entry/costco-olive-oil_n_5981e0abe4b09d24e9945c22. You can also get this on Amazon!

Posted by
2761 posts

Wine and olive oil are allowed into the US, although there is a limit on quantity of wine for duty-free entry.

That's legally correct, but as a practical matter US Customs doesn't care about wine because the duty is so low that it wouldn't be worth their time to do the paperwork. We've been bringing wine back from France for decades, anywhere from about 6 bottles to 12 (the higher amount was when we could bring them as carry-on). We always declare them, and have never had to pay duty. The last few times we were not even asked how many bottles we had. The major issue is with breakage, which has never happened but really worried us the first time. But my wife is great at packing.

Posted by
148 posts

@OP- the liquids in carryon rule is TSA - they couldn't care less if the liquid is legal in the US or if you need to pay duties, they just want to make sure it doesn't blow an airplane up. It's CBP (along w USDA, FDA, etc) that care about the substance of the liquid and/or food.. and they care about ALL of it, whether packed in a carryon or checked. Declare all of it...

Posted by
4865 posts

Justin, we bring home wine, oil, jams, cheese, cookies, coffee, etc each time we go. Anything liquid or gel (like jam) goes in the bag we check on the return trip. You can't tell if its pate or jelly on the X-ray, so thats likely why they look. We pack an empty duffle bag in my carryon for this purpose. There are protective bags for wine bottles that help keep them safe. That must cost a lot less than mailing home. As long as you don't exceed the dollar limit on all your purchases, its not a problem. The question you are asked is whether you are bringing any food back into the US. The answer is yes. They will ask you what it is, and then based on your answer, may waive you through, or ask to see it. Their interest is liquor over the duty-free requirement (one liter per person - two bottles of wine) or things like meat and fruit and cheese that may have a restriction based on known disease or insect risk (not duty). They will determine whether your stuff is potential problem. Not to be feared. Look at the CBP website if you want the real detailed explanation.

Posted by
1869 posts

Justin, A number of years ago I bought multiple bottles of Olive Oil in Italy and had it shipped. I don't recall what the charge was. That said, I really prefer the Spanish Olive Oil from Trader Joes! This past September we were in Ljubljana and I discovered Pumpkin Seed Oil. I call it "liquid gold." We had it at Julija's Restaurant. I wanted to bring some home, so I searched for 100 ml bottles. I found some at Gujzina's Restaurant. We wrapped a couple in bubble wrap, ziploc bags and tucked them in the back pouch of our checked suitcase. No problem.

Posted by
16745 posts

Lola's link is very good but I'm not sure where she's finding the info for her statement about pate - it seems like too broad a statement, especially if the pate contains pork. The meats most likely to be acceptable are commercially canned and shelf-stable, which is not the same as just cooked and vacuum-sealed, as you might find in a refrigerator case.

I would do most shopping for heavy items (especially in glass bottles and jars) or perishables (such as cheeses) at the end of the trip.

Posted by
1869 posts

Ah, to add to Lola's comment on "sniffer dogs" at baggage claim- After a 13 hr return flight from Croatia to Sea Tac the sniffer dog sniffed the smell of my ham sandwich that I had eaten in Dubrovnik. These dogs are good!

Posted by
278 posts

Janis, we also discovered pumpkin seed oil this past summer when traveling in Croatia. You're correct when you say liquid gold!

Posted by
4777 posts

I can't recall from my trip last year, but will pay attention in a couple weeks, but I think the question regarding food has changed, it used to be general "food" but as I recall it now just asks about Plants, Produce, Meat and Dairy. Of course the Immigration Officer may still ask about "Food" as part of their questioning.

Posted by
2855 posts

Is there VAT on food? In general, even if there is, you have to spend a lot even to get a shop to bother with the paperwork. €150 or more. Probably a non-starter.
The poster, above, who found his carefully schlepped product to be available on Amazon is steering you in the right direction. So much can now be found in the internet that it really isn’t worthwhile to ship large quantities. And don’t forget that California olive oil. That all being said, we often bring home small, novel items of food or drink. Examples: apricot liqueur from the abbey of Melk or rakimelo from Crete. We use wineskins for protection, then bury the items, wellpadded by clothing, in our checked bags. Have never had anything break.

Posted by
1869 posts

Jeanine, I am still "hoarding" my Pumpkin Seed Oil! I found a really good dressing that is wonderful. Nothing like dipping some great bread into this sublime oil. I recently read on another thread that someone had a Gelato made with Pumpkin Seed Oil. It might have been Vienna? I may need to try it. ;)