Some people bring home classic souvenirs from their vacations...
My souvenir choices tend to come in bottles...and they are usually 750ml, to be exact.
Every time that I come home from a vacation and share with friends and family about how much wine I brought home, I usually get the blank stares or skeptical looks and questions such as...
Did you sneak them through?
I thought you were only allowed to bring back a few bottles?
It may be surprising to some (or many) but our Customs teams here in Canada and Ontario have a specific set of rules to how much alcohol you can bring across their borders - BUT it does not necessarily limit you to any particular amount...except if you are trying to import more than 45L in one trip. At that point, they don't look at you as a traveller with a love of wine, but someone who is possibly re-selling it at home.
The limits that are set (that you read on your customs forms on the airplane on your way home or at the border crossing) are referring to limits of alcohol that you can bring into Canada/Ontario based on a set duty free limit.
Currently, this limit is about 1.5 L of wine per person per trip over 48 hours. (Other types of alcohol and timeframes have different limits. Click here for the specific LCBO details.)
If you are traveling to a wine region and another country like I usually do, two bottles per person just won't be enough with all of the finds out there!
I made a point on this trip to document how I planned it out, what the costs were, and how I managed to bring everything home...
Here are my tips…
- Plan for the extra weight. Each airline has its own restrictions on checked baggage (since you can't take any bottles into your carry-on) and some have set costs for checking more than one bag. Do a bit of research ahead of time on what your flight will allow and pack accordingly. Sometimes I choose a larger suitcase and only fill it 1/2 or 3/4 full so that I have room for my wine finds on my way home. Other times, I have purchased an inexpensive suitcase at my destination and use it as an extra checked bag for on my way home. For this trip, we had an extra suitcase and my rolling carry-on that ended up being checked as well just to fit all of the bottles (A total of 4 suitcases checked between the two of us.) A collapsible and lightweight carry-on-sized duffel bag was purchased in the last few days of my trip to corral any fragile or slightly bulky items that I wanted to protect during the flight - like jewelry, hats, other souvenirs.
- Don't bother with shipping separately. Many wineries that you will visit have shipping contracts with specific carriers and will offer to ship a case home to you. As a reference point, to ship a case from Australia to my home in Ontario would have cost me $430 - and that's before the duty and other costs listed below!
- Protect your investments! Plain bubble wrap or the bottle-specific Wine Skins are lightweight and pack flat in your suitcase so you can be sure your bottles arrive home safely. In a pinch, however, I have cocooned bottles with clothing, shawls, tissue and layers of plastic bags.
- Don't buy anything you can get at home. I use my LCBO app on my iPhone religiously while I travel so I can run a quick search on which wines are available here in Ontario. I also ask the winery for their distributor information in Ontario in case I want to order in a case of a particular favourite that may be outside of the regular LCBO stock. Most wineries know what they export and can help guide you to only selecting the bottles that are worth the extra cost to bring home.
- For long trips, pack as you go - and make a list! As I moved from one wine region to the next (or country to the next), my wardrobe needs usually changed or there were many packed items that I no longer needed for the remainder of the trip. I moved all of these items into one of the large suitcases, wrapped the clothing around the bubble-wrapped bottles and filled the suitcase to the 23kg weight limit. AND as I pack the bottles, I make a list of the wine names and their price/value and tuck the sheet in a zippered compartment in my handbag for future reference (see number 6 below). Consider that suitcase packed for home and never look back! Continue with this pack-a-case-as-you-go and make lists right up until the last few days, if you can.
- Customs likes paper! Just as you don't want to have to try opening and re-packing a full suitcase to count bottles, Canada Customs doesn't either. Being honest and providing lists and receipts makes the whole cashier process easier for everyone. Gather those lists you made and any corresponding receipts and turn them in when asked. I even took an extra step and photographed each list for safe-keeping in case they wanted to keep the lists for reference later.
- Wine is cheaper! The percentage that the LCBO charges at the border for bringing home wine is considerably less than if you brought home vodka or other spirit. (39.6% versus 59.9%) For your lists, Customs will want to make note of:
- how many total litres you brought home
- the breakdown of red or white wines and
- the total value (after the duty free allotment is subtracted).
The extra costs at the airport for my haul on this trip (9 extra bottles after duty-free at 750ml each) totalled $219.31 for the duty, markup and taxes...but not including the cost of checking the extra bags on the way home ($70 per bag).
Total Duty: $ 5.84
Prov. Markup: $ 160.71
So, it isn't the duty or taxes that are the main costs to worry about, but the percentage of markup that the LCBO charges on top of it AND the extra weight to bring the bottles home.
I am happy with all of my wine purchases - and even with the extra costs, the per bottle price isn't unreasonable for the amazing wines that I can now enjoy at home.
I will be posting my wine purchases and the reviews of the wineries in the Wine section of this site - sometime in the next week or so, for those who are interested.
If you love wine, I bet you will pack a little differently for your next vacation!
P.S. For those who are nerdy like me who want to plan the costs ahead, Canada Customs now has a handy app for your phone to fill out forms in advance, calculate what you will owe and eventually file and pay as you go! (NOTE: I haven't used it yet, but I plan on it for my next trip...so stay tuned for my feedback!)