What you need to know about importing alcohol into the United States

What you need to know about importing alcohol into the United States

If you’re thinking about importing alcohol into the U.S., becoming familiar with the legal environment and accompanying rules and regulations is essential. Imported alcoholic beverages fall under the rulings of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP). Understanding the requirements from each of these agencies and the timeline for completing those requirements is vital for successfully importing an alcoholic beverage into the U.S. Here are the essential steps to take to prepare to import your alcoholic beverage into the U.S.

1. Get your permits

Anyone who wants to import distilled spirits, wine, or malt beverages into the U.S. must apply for a Federal Basic Importer’s Permit. To be eligible for a permit, you must maintain and staff a business office in the United States or contract with an existing U.S. licensed importer. You will also be required to present a Letter of Intent from Foreign Supplier. You can expect to wait approximately six weeks for your permit.

You may also need to apply for a Wholesaler’s Basic Permit if you plan on selling any beverages other than those beverages you directly import with your Importer’s Permit.

2. Obtain a COLA for each product

You must possess a TTB-issued Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) for each unique product/label for distilled spirits, wine, or malt beverages at the time of importation. COLAs ensure that distilleries, wineries, breweries, and importers comply with federal regulations when marketing and designing labels for their alcoholic beverages. Depending on the product, you may also need to obtain pre-COLA product approval. Pre-COLA product evaluation entails a review of a product’s ingredients and formulation and also may include laboratory analysis of the product.

3. Prepare funds for taxes and duties

Importers are responsible for paying all Federal Excise Taxes (FET) and duties to U.S. CBP as defined in the Internal Revenue Code. The CBP also collects all applicable duties. Taxes and fees vary depending on circumstances, but you can see an overview of fees by product category on the TTB’s website.
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4. Find out if you need a Certificate of Age and Origin

You will need to obtain a certificate of age or origin for certain wines and distilled spirits imported into the United States. The Certificate of Age and Origin Requirements for Imported Alcohol Beverages webpage provides a list of the certificate of age and origin requirements. If the alcohol you are importing is produced from products grown in more than one country, obtaining the certificate might involve further reviews from the TTB, FDA, or CPB.

Note that importers of natural wine must comply with additional certification requirements to ensure that the imported wine was produced using proper cellar treatment.

5. Provide prior notice to the FDA

An importer of alcoholic beverages is also required to provide prior notice to the FDA. The FDA must be notified in advance of any shipments of food that are imported into the U.S. unless the food is exempt from prior notice. Prior notice gives the FDA time to review and evaluate information before the product arrives, prepare resources for inspections, and help intercept contaminated products.

6. Prepare your paperwork for customs

The CPB will require that you have all necessary TTB permits and documentation as well as the invoices for each import shipment and an entry form and entry summary. Each invoice must have the name of the importer, exporter, port of entry, number, weight, and price and detailed description of the product you are importing. Without this information, customs may not permit entry of your product. Before your product is released from customs, you will need to pay the assessed taxes and import duties. Also, an Importer/Customs Bond may be needed to cover tax liability for the product being shipped into the U.S.

7. Make a plan for transloading

Each state has its own rules and regulations surrounding imported alcohol, and there may be additional requirements you need to meet before moving your product from point of entry. For that reason, it’s a good idea to map out the warehousing and shipping requirements necessary for each product to reach its final destination.

Importing alcoholic beverages into the U.S. can seem like a daunting process, but following these steps can help minimize surprises and avoid unnecessary costs and delays.


MyDrink Beverages and parent company, BevSource, offer customized solutions and support to help you develop the import strategy that makes the most sense for your company and product. Contact us to learn more.

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