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I live in Vancouver, BC, Canada. I am planning to buy bottles of sparkling wine, decorate them (to the point where it won't be possible to read the label anymore) and cross the border to the Washington state (USA) by road. I have not quite decided on the number of bottles but probably of the order of 10 bottles.

The bottles are meant to be gifted at Burning Man. They are not meant for commercial purposes but they are not for personal consumption either.

Additional info: I am a Swiss citizen, I am older than 21 year old and I have travelled to (and lived for 6 months in) the USA before. I will take the bill from the liquor store with me just in case.

How much trouble am I going to have? Because homemade wine are subject to same rules that store bought wine (according to this source), I am hoping that decorating the bottles won't matter too much. Are they going to believe me that I mean to gift and not sell all these bottles?

How much tax should I expect to pay? I think this source suggests that I will likely pay around 3% (on everything above the exemption; 1 liter is allowed if I am not mistaken) extra when entering the USA. Is it a realistic expectation?

Any general advice? Of course, I mean to declare them and I mean to be polite!

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    Can you bring them into the US and then decorate the bottles? – Michael Hampton Jul 9 at 6:43
  • Decorating will take a bit of time and equipment and I won't have much time in the US (and prefer not to carry painting and stuff) so I'd rather decorate back home if I have a choice. If I can decorate in the US, then I can also buy in the US and all the problems would be solved. – Remi.b Jul 9 at 7:34
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    The alcohol content affects the duty. Without reading the labels, how are they going to determine the alcohol content? – Patricia Shanahan Jul 9 at 7:52
  • If it seems tampered with, you risk it being seized for counterfeiting. Also if CBP officers cannot verify what's inside, you risk seizure of your sparkling wine. It's best to keep the original labels on when importing. A bunch of painted champagne bottles could raise suspicion that it's something else. They may even open one. – AussieJoe Jul 9 at 20:24
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The amount of taxes and duties varies greatly based on:

  • the exact product
  • the country or origin (not where you are importing them from, but where they were originally manufactured).

You can find the rates for duties in chapter 22 of the US Harmonized Tariff Schedule.

It can range from free to 23.5 cents per liter. As you can see in chapter 22, it depends a lot on the exact type of alcohol, both for taxation and reporting purposes (there are dozens of different codes).

So it's going to be important for them to be able to read the label. You might be able to pull it off by taking pictures of the bottles before decorating them, but probably only if the bottles have shapes that are specific enough they can be recognised from the pictures. It's probably better if the relevant parts of the label (type of alcohol, strength, country of production...) remain visible.

I'm not sure if CBP officers would also apply local sales taxes when importing in a state that has them?

Of course, there are plenty of other federal, state and local regulations regarding transport of alcohol in the US.

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