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Bringing back whisky

Does anyone have recent experience bringing back whisky in checked bags? What I am wondering about specifically is how tight they are on the 5 liter per person limit, and whether they require you to unwrap each bottle for inspection. Some of our bottles are in inflated plastic surrounds. To get the bottles out they would have to be deflated. When we have brought back wine we have not had any issues, but don’t have experience with whisky. Thanks.

Posted by
14647 posts

Alcohol is alcohol. No difference whether it is wine or whisky.

The FAA allows up to 5L per passenger of alcoholic beverages. You shouldn't have to unwarp anything. But if you are traveling from another country, you have to find out what their limits are. And, your arrival state in the U.S. may have their own stricter limits which U.S. Customs will enfore.

Almost all checked bags are now x-rayed behind the scenes. They will see what you have.

U.S. Customs allows you to bring as much as you like but only the 1st liter is duty free. Don't try to sneak the whisky in. Declare it and pay the duty. If you dont, and it is found, not only will you lose the whisky, but you will be fined and possibly subject to search each time you re-enter the country.
If you have TSA pre-check or Global Entry, you will lose it.

If you play by the rules, the whisky won't be unwrapped. Chances are, you wont' even have to pay any duties as the Customs agent may not want to do the paperwork. It's their discretion.

Posted by
6113 posts

Play by the rules, otherwise you risk having the whole lot confiscated.

I never check bottles into the hold, after bottles of port and olive oil (in inflated plastic surrounds) I was taking home burst and shredded the entire contents of my case.

Posted by
346 posts

Frank, I’m not trying to hide anything. I am aware of the rules, and am looking for anyone with actual recent experience to share what they saw. I fully intend to declare, and did not imply otherwise. Do you have relevant recent experience? And, the rules are different based on alcohol by volume — wine vs. whisky. So that does matter.

Posted by
7340 posts

While I am usually bringing back wine and beer, and the occasional liquor, rather than all liquor, I do not think you will have any issue. Have travelled last September and again in November, had alcohol each time.

To be honest, you really do not want more than 5L in a single bag, I can pack 6 bottles of wine fairly comfortable in a carry-on size bag, but that is about it. Liquor bottles are not as rugged as wine bottles, so a bit more packing will be needed (beer cans are the worst thing to try to pack).

As to the 5L limit, to be honest, I have not been asked, or to be honest was aware of it. Over the years I have exceeded that several times, TSA is the only one who would check if it is an FAA rule, Security in Scotland likely does not check, bags are scanned on arrival before you take them through customs, but not closely like at TSA, and do not know how many bags one person has, customs will enforce their limits not the FAA. My hunch is that it is more an issue if you were to drop a bag, containing more than 5L at an airport in the US for screening. Keeping under 5L per bag should reduce any risk.

As for unwrapping, any scanning and checking of checked bags by TSA would be done out of your view. Customs may flag you and check your bags, but not because of the 5L limit, it could be random, or in response to a question you were asked (They would have much more concern about that Haggis you have stuffed in the bag), but I have not been stopped by Customs in years.

Regarding duty, you technically may owe duty, but again, in a couple dozen trips and gallons and gallons of alcohol, I have never paid a cent, I always declare...though now I think it is only one box for food, alcohol, etc. that you check, I always have food as well, there is no place to write "10 Liters of Scotch", though Immigration may ask how much you have.

Pack carefully, hope you get some rare ones.

Posted by
243 posts

Mmm…. Single malt scotch, better than candy. I’ve never had problems bringing some home but do be aware it will most likely cost more in Scotland than what you can buy it for at home. Scotland’s high tax on alcohol significantly impacts the price you pay unless you’re grabbing it at the duty free store when leaving the country. Know your prices at home for the dram you intend to bring home to see if it’s worth it. For instance a bottle of Laphroaig 10 year is about $15 more in Scotland than it is at my local. They do have some specialty bottling at the distillery that I can’t get at home though.

My husband and I do have a little ritual when we open a new bottle of Laphroaig. We cradle the bottle between us, one holding the bottle as the other removes the seal, then we hold it to our noses as we gentle remove the cork, deeply inhaling the “air of Islay” as it escapes the bottle. Silly, I know but it brings back the best memories of good times.

Posted by
346 posts

Thank you Paul — that is exactly the info I was looking for. It lines up with our experience bringing wine back. And, Thenosbigs, thank you too. We are only buying things we can’t get at home. Distillery exclusives and the like.

Posted by
5424 posts

I’d never heard of this limitation, so I checked the FAA rule. The reason no one has had an issue with beer or wine is because the FAA rule applies to products containing more than 24% alcohol.

Below is info from the regulation:

In unopened retail packaging, containing more than 24% but not more than 70% alcohol by volume (up to 140 proof)
Quantity limits: 5 L (1.3 gallons) per packaging and 5 L total per passenger.
Must be in unopened retail packagings.
Beverages containing more than 70% alcohol (more than 140 proof) are forbidden in carry-on and checked baggage.
See the regulation: 49 CFR 175.10(a)(4)
Tip: Alcoholic beverages containing 24% or less alcohol by volume are not restricted as hazardous materials. This includes beers and most wines.


Posted by
1331 posts

My experience has been the same as Paul's. The US immigration agent asked how much alcohol we as a couple had total - not how much was in each person's bag. Their primary concern is the reselling of alcohol. As long as what you are carrying seems reasonable for personal consumption you should be fine. And we have never had our bags opened at all. Everything remained wrapped and stowed away behind the scenes where presumably someone sitting in front of an x-ray machine scanned the images.

Posted by
7340 posts

Yes, in reading more, I think the main point is that this is a TSA rule, not a Customs/Border Patrol rule.

So, check a bag in Scotland...they likely know nothing about it. Check a bag in the US on the way over, it would probably get caught. The rule has nothing to do with taxes, duties, reselling, etc. it is likely a safety rule, not wise to stick a bag in the hold with a couple gallons of high proof alcohol, that could then break and be a fire hazard. Much the same reason you cannot check many chemicals on a flight.

Posted by
6113 posts

Scotland has a minimum price for alcohol, so the same bottle is usually cheaper in England.