My Austrian friend has offered me two bottles of wine to bring back to the USA. Am I allowed to do that or does all alcohol have to be purchased at the duty free shop?
You may not put the bottles of wine in your carry-on because of liquid restriction rules.
If you would like to pack it in a checked bag or padded box carefully, you may bring up to one liter duty-free, even if it is not bought at the duty-free shop.
Exactly what Emily said, although the 1 liter rule is rarely if ever enforced. I always declare my wines, up to 9 bottles one time, and have never been asked to pay the duty. Probably because it's not worth the time to collect it, since for standard (i.e., non-fortified) wine, I believe the duty is a flat 25 cents per bottle. (For hard liquor the duty is significant and is enforced). So pack your Austrian wines well and bring them home.
Neither of the above posts is exactly complete, but probably so for just a couple of bottles. There is no federal limit on how much alcohol you can bring into the country for personal use, although at a certain point duty payment kicks in. Each state, however, has its own absolute maximum limits which are enforceable.
Re Ed's comment. California used to be extremely restrictive- only the one liter allowded. This was engorced at port of entry into USA - even if that wasnt california. Havent had that question recently since the rsestrictions on liquids in carryon
As I mentioned re duty, it's about 25 cents per bottle, assuming the feds even bother, and they've never asked me to pay duty, on up to 9 bottles. As to state limits, California may be unique because it's the major US wine producer, but I suspect the limit in most states is very high; my state, Maine, is many cases. Plus, there is no state official at the airport to enforce it, and I don't know if US Customs deals with state regs at all. I've never had to worry, because I've only lived in or flown home to states with no significant limits. http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/vacation/kbyg/paying_duty.xml
For some reason I wasn't able to fully edit my last post, so here's the rest:
After posting my prior comment, I decided to check Customs on-line and see what the regs are, since I've never had to actually pay; besides wine, we usually bring home some tablecloths and chocolate from France, so we never come close to the allowed limit. But here's page that discusses duty and alcohol, as well as the enforcement of state limits. As you'll see, Customs does have the authority to enforce state limits; as to whether they actually do so, I have no idea. I do recall I was once asked how much I paid for my 8 or 9 bottles of wine, and I wasn't sure why I was asked. Now I realize it probably was to check against my overall dollar allowance, which I wasn't even close to] http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/vacation/kbyg/paying_duty.xml
Never have had any issues. We were in Austria last Christmas and I brought back 3 bottles Schnaups, and 3 bottles of wine in luggage plus 4 bottles wine carry on purchased at duty free. No problem at all.
Pack the bottles well. I usually wrap them with laundry, both around the bottle and the ends, then put in a plastic bag, just to hold everything together. Then pack the packed bottle(s) in the center of the suitcase, with padding on top and bottom, plus around the edges. While a liter or two is the limit without paying duty, rarely is duty collected on a larger number of bottles due to the administrative hassle. There is no Federal limit on how much you can bring back. Make sure you de clare the wine (and anything else) on your US customs form, it will also ask for the value. Items purchased in a Duty Free shop in Europe (or any foreign country) are still subject to US Duty at customs, the Duty Free refers to taxes charged by the host country, though one can argue whether Duty Free is really "Duty Free" or just a marketing ploy. States can impose additional rules on the importation of alcohol, though most who experience issues are in a case where their Port of Entry also happens to be their resident State. Many states have in-transit rules that exempt anyone "passing through" (as does California now) and a customs agent attempting to enforce 50+ sets of rules is unlikely to happen.
Paul has good advice and info. As to packing the wine well,the way we've packed it in the past is how he suggests, although there has recently been a post elsewhere here about wine packing products that sound pretty good. As to this: "though one can argue whether Duty Free is really "Duty Free" or just a marketing ploy." I'm not sure it's even arguable; it seems to be totally be a marketing ploy. Not that every marketing ploy is bad. Just don't think you're guaranteed of a great deal (or a great product) because it's in a duty-free shop. Although I did some great Spanish nougat a couple of years ago while passing through the Madrid airport on the way home.
I try to put the bottles in a non-leak bag first (while I've never had a bottle break, I have had a few leaks), then wrap them in soft clothing and pack them in tightly. If you have room in your bag, bubble wrap is nice.
In 12 European trips we have successfully brought several bottles of wine with no problems until the last trip. Lost one. Kind of a mess. We used most of the techniques described previous but the sharp broken glass cut the bag. As near as we can determine the bag had to be laying on its back and something with a sharp, hard edge landed on the bag breaking one of the four very well padded bottles. On a return flight, the first layer in the bottom or back of our bags is dirty clothes, mostly underwear, socks, etc. The wine goes on top and then the cleaner and better clothes go on top and the sides for padding. Only the dirty underwear on the bottom or back of the bag was socked. The bag was smelly and the custom guy just shook his head. Everything else was OK but some of my underwear still has a pinkish cast.
I expect that one day I'll have Frank's experience. So far it's been fine, but the first time we packed wine in checked baggage (we always carried them on when it was allowed), I was worried, so the last night before we left I opened a wine with dinner that really needed more age and I wanted to bring back, but I didn't want to risk it; I opened it 4 hours in advance, and it was possibly the best wine I've ever had (2006 Domaine Belle Hermitage Rouge). Everything made it through, so now I just take my chances.