The Law Dictionary

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Is It Legal For Me To Ship Wine Home To The United States From France?

Many international travelers become enamored of specific foods and beverages in the countries they visit ? especially wines. Visitors to wine-producing countries such as France or Italy would like to know that when they are back to ?real life? ? at home in the United States ? they will still have access to their new favorite red or white. But what if your favorite is only available in France? You may be tempted to purchase a case or two of it, planning to ship it home ? as you might do with a piece of artwork or designer clothes ? but that may be much more expense and bother than it is worth, no matter how much you enjoy a particular make or vintage.

Importing wine from a foreign country such as France into the USA requires extremely complex and time consuming documentation, and can only legally be done by licensed shipper/importers. Even if you were to have a special connection with a licensed wine importer in your state, and could convince them to go through the shipping process for you, the cost and time involved in all of the bureaucracy makes shipping small quantities (such as for personal use) prohibitively expensive and inconvenient.

Some may be tempted to box a case of wine up and mail it to their home address as if it were a gift, but this is not a good idea. Although the French postal service may have no issues with accepting your package, it is absolutely against federal law to send alcohol through the US Postal Service. Confiscation of your package and heavy financial penalties, as well as the possibility of jail time, could be the result of trying to surreptitiously mail yourself a crate of your favorite Rosé. Shipping companies such as FedEx and UPS ? although they will transport shipments of alcohol ? have strict requirements for alcohol importers to be fully licensed, and will refuse all personal shipments of wine.

Making the issue even more complicated is that wine shipping laws vary from state to state. Every state has an Alcoholic Beverage Commission, with its own laws regarding the transport of alcohol ? whether from another state or another country ? across the state?s borders. Some states have even completely banned shipments of alcohol across their borders in either direction, regardless of who the shipper or recipient may be.

A traveler?s safest bet is to pack some bottles in checked baggage, declare them at customs, and be prepared to pay some fees. In the past (pre-9/11), it was possible to carry a few bottles in carryon luggage, but restrictions on liquids in carryons have taken that option away. Unfortunately, some airlines will not accept cases of wine as checked baggage, either.