For those of us who are lucky enough to travel overseas (or have friends who do), bringing whisky back always begs the questions:
How much am I allowed to bring back duty-free?
What if I go above the duty-free allowance?
Can I carry whisky in my hand-luggage when transiting overseas before arriving in Australia?
The answer to the first question is simple:
Australian Customs allows up to 2.25 litres of alcoholic beverages (no matter what) to be important per adult duty-free.
Restrictions apply by airlines based on the percentage of Alc/Vol. For example, Qantas does not allow spirits higher than 70% to be transported on their aircraft. Qantas also has a limit of 5 litres per person of alcoholic beverages between 24-70% Alc/Vol that can be taken on board. So, if you have more than 2.25 litres (but less than 5), of course you can bring those into the country! What you need to consider is that you will then be taxed accordingly. And here comes the big one!
If you bring more than 2.25 litres, you don’t pay tax on the difference, but you pay tax and duties on the ENTIRE amount of liquor you import! In other words, if you bring 2.5 litres of liquor into the country, by law, NO part of it should be considered duty-free. During your flight you will be asked to fill in a customs declaration form where you need to state if you bring in more than the allowed duty-free threshold of 2.25 litres.
I regularly meet people who claim they managed to bring back 10-12 bottles without being ‘caught’! This may well be the case and sure – one can ‘get lucky’. Based on my experience I do not recommend going down that path. Failing to properly declare any amount you bring in above the duty-free threshold may get you in trouble. It’s not worth the risk!
I’ve brought in more than the 2.25 litres on several occasions, each time declaring this to customs. I was aware and prepared to pay the additional duties and taxes for the entire amount. My experience may be anecdotal so please don’t take is as a guide, but given that I was only 1-2 bottles over the limit, the customs officer in charge rather seemed to appreciate my honesty and let me off the hook.
If you do get asked to pay full duties and taxes, the same regulations apply as for those importing drams via post/online retailers. Further down below is a summary of what to expect.
The one other thing to consider when buying at duty-free shops in overseas airports are restrictions during transit. Air-safety regulations have made it increasingly difficult in recent years to bring liquor in carry-on luggage. The last thing you want to happen is for a security guard to take off your prized duty-free purchase that you managed to snatch at your departure airport. Upon purchase, you should always insist that the duty-free shop wraps your bottle and seals it in dedicated customs-bags that can be identified as such by other authorities. This increases the likelihood that your purchase won’t get confiscated at the next airport. Depending on where you travel, staff at your transit airport will pick up your bottle and return it when you board your next flight. This may increase your transit time, so you better plan ahead and adjust your timing. The risk remains that your transit airport doesn’t allow for any liquor to be brought in and there are no facilities to handle it for you. It’s best to always check first.