Exceeding federal personal exemption

I'm an American citizen returning to the United States from abroad, I'm planning on taking 3 liters of spirits back from my trip.

I know the United States Federal Government allows a "personal exemption" of 1 liter of spirits duty and excise tax free, so I understand I'll need to declare that I have more and pay excise tax and duty.

  • I'm not worried a few bottles would raise suspicions that I intend to resell them (which I won't).
  • I've found the excise tax rate here.
  • Where can I learn how much duty I'll need to pay?

State rules

Also, I know that there are laws about crossing state lines with alcohol that need to be respected and which can be enforced by customs officers. I am landing in Chicago, Illinois but have proof that I'm traveling onward to Wisconsin. Wisconsin allows residents returning from abroad to bring up to 4 liters of spirits into the state.

Can individuals bring liquor into Wisconsin?

No. By state law, you may not bring any liquor

Individual Exceptions Only (not applicable to businesses):

Individuals who have been in a foreign country for at least 48 hours may bring into Wisconsin no more than four liters of liquor in sealed original containers without payment of the Wisconsin liquor tax. The liquor must be in that individual's immediate possession and may not be sent, shipped or carried into Wisconsin in some other manner.

Is it correct that the Wisconsin law is applicable here and not the Illinois law?

  • How are you traveling to Wisconsin? By land or air?
    – miltonaut
    Dec 14, 2014 at 14:10
  • Land: I'm traveling by bus.
    – Carl
    Dec 14, 2014 at 16:09
  • 1
  • @mkennedy thanks that's the answer to the duty rates.
    – Carl
    Dec 27, 2014 at 2:27
  • "Wisconsin allows residents returning from abroad to bring up to 4 liters of spirits into the state." Is this true? It seems like that would interfere with the federal government's power to levy customs duties.
    – Max
    Jul 26, 2016 at 11:08

2 Answers 2


As I originally pointed out the quantity was with-in reasonable personal use, but still theoretically subject to tax.

I did declare the small overage but customs agents weren't interested in it and waved me through.

Here are the rates for excise tax and for duty that I'd have had to have payed, they amount to under $5 a bottle.


This is anecdotal, but the last time I returned to the US from abroad (Singapore), my brother in law unloaded a bunch of his liquor on me because he gets it for Christmas, Chinese New Years, etc., but he doesn't drink. I queried the US Customs site, and it basically came down to: as long as the Customs officer doesn't think you're bringing it back to sell, there's no real restriction. I think I brought back half a dozen bottle of high end cognac and whisky, declared them, and didn't even get asked about them on the way in. If you're only bringing 3 liters of booze into the country, there's little reason to be concerned. Bear in mind this was about four years ago (2010), and the rules may have changed, so, prudence would dictate that you check on their site, but I'd imagine you'd be fine.

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