French wine. Russian vodka. Italian prosecco. Japanese sake. These alcohol beverages are just a few of the reasons why you might want to import alcohol. Learn how to import alcohol to expand your palate and grow your business.
According to the TTB, those who seek to import beverages containing alcohol -- including wine, malt beverages and distilled spirits -- must file for an Federal Basic Permit. Sometimes referred to as an alcohol impot license, this document puts importers in compliance with the Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA).
Some of the most popular alcohol brands come from abroad. Beer, wine and distilled spirits from international sources fill glasses across the country. According to statistics from Vinepair, only one of the top 12 best-selling liquors in the world comes from the United States:
|4.||Jack Daniels||United States|
With so many popular beverages coming from outside of the U.S., distributors who know how to import alcohol will likely meet customer needs and demands.
This articles is about importing beverage alcohol to the U.S. Would you like to import rubbing alcohol? See "How to Import Isopropyl Alcohol."
You will find that the import of alcohol beverages into the U.S. is regulated by four federal agencies: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). There are several forms to complete before you can import alcohol.
You can apply for the basic permit online. The process is simple. To file online:
You can also use this tool to check the status of your permit application. You will need to create your own user account. It is prohibited by law to use anyone else’s Permits Online account. You can also submit a paper form. It can take up to six weeks to receive the needed permit.
To obtain the basic permit, you must have a business in the U.S. If you do not do business in the U.S., you must contract with an importer with a current license. Making an arrangement with an currently licensed importer gets rid of the need to get an importer’s permit.
You can also register for a Standard Wholesaler’s Permit through Permits Online. This is necessary if you plan to wholesale your imported alcohol. There is no fee to apply for any permit.
The FDA also has its own set of requirements for imported alcohol. The FDA mandates that foreign alcohol makers register under the guidelines of the Food Facility Registration Regulation. Many foreign companies that produce alcohol are already registered. Checking the registry for your alcohol producer can save time and lessen the burden of importing alcohol.
It’s also important to include the proper documents with your imported alcohol. You’ll need the following documents, in addition to other requirements:
There are also federal guidelines involving alcohol label approval. You must get a Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) to import alcohol. The COLA certificate is assigned by the TTB. This certificate allows you to comply with FAA guidelines under the TTB’s Advertising, Labeling and Formulation Division (ALFD). You may apply for the certificate through COLA online. The importer of alcohol must have a COLA when the alcohol is imported.
The COLA process might include pre-COLA authorization. This advance product approval depends on the type of alcohol imported. Pre-COLA evaluations for approval ensure that:
Rules for pre-approval apply to some wine, malt beverages and distilled spirits. If a pre-COLA evaluation is required for your imports, you must submit all documents with your COLA application.
It’s also important to note that your Permits Online username and password should work for COLA Online. There is no need to create a separate account. Also, there are no fees to apply for a COLA.
The TTB has additional guidelines for labeling alcohol. According to these guidelines, you must get a Certificate of Age or a Certificate of Origin for your imported alcohol. The TTB issues these certificates. The certificate you obtain must state:
The Certificate of Origin is used by CBP to determine several factors necessary for import. This certificate helps the CBP determine duty rates and preferences, U.S trade quotas, and whether or not sanctions are in place against a specific country.
The certification you need depends on the alcohol you intend to import. According to the TTB, certification requirements include:
If the alcohol you are importing is organic and claims so on the label, you’ll need to follow the rules of the USDA’s organic regulations. You must submit certification that the hops, fruit or other agricultural produce used in the alcohol beverage comply with the USDA organic regulations.
It’s also important to know that importers are responsible for paying all duties and taxes on imported alcohol. CPB and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) also collect excise tax on all imported wine, beer, and distilled spirits. Excise taxes are taxes paid on a specific product, like gasoline or alcoholic beverages. You can find a chart with fee and tax rates online.
Additionally, importers are required to register as alcohol dealers if they are importing for a business. This must be completed before you start doing business. You can register as a dealer by completing a form. The form is available online as a PDF.
Wine importing is big business. Connoisseurs and wine aficionados know that wines from around the world are popular among consumers and pleasing to the palate. According to information from Eating Well magazine, five of the most popular wines and their common countries of origin include:
Importers of wine produced after 2005 must comply with certain requirements. These requirements are outlined in the Miscellaneous Trade and Technical Corrections Act of 2004. These rules apply to wine made from sound or ripe grapes and ensure proper cellar treatment. To meet these guidelines, you must obtain a Natural Wine Certificate from the TTB. No certification is required if the country from which the wine is exported has an enological practices agreement with the United States. Enological practices are the scientific processes used in making and cellaring wine.
Wine containing 7-22 percent alcohol from the following countries are exempt from the Natural Wine Certificate:
The U.S. also has an enological practices agreement with the European Union. This means wine with 0.5-22 percent alcohol by volume imported from the following countries are also exempt from the Natural Wine Certificate:
These rules apply only to wines made from grapes. Mead and wines made from fruit and berries are not exempt and still require certification.
The certification must include an affidavit from the country’s government stating there is control over enological practices. This kind of certification should include a lab analysis report of the wine from an approved or certified laboratory. Under certain circumstances, an importer may “self-certify.” According to the TTB, an importer can self-certify if they own or control a winery that operates under a permit that certifies the winery produces wines under FAA rules.
Americans love their beer. And they don’t just love American beer. Imported beers are popular, too. Thirteen percent of all beer consumed in the U.S. is imported and this number is on the rise. The Beer Institute reports that the biggest exporters of beer are Mexico, Belgium, Ireland, Canada, Germany, Jamaica, Italy, and the United Kingdom.
According to information from Vinepair, the top 10 most popular imported beers in the U.S. are:
|10.||Newcastle Brown Ale||United Kingdom|
|6.||Dos Equis XX Lager||Mexico|
According to the TTB, importing beer and malt beverages follows the same procedures as importing alcohol. Those who seek to import beer must:
Many of the rules and regulations around importing alcohol are in place for businesses. If you are an individual who would like to import alcohol for personal use, there are a few different rules to follow.
According to CBP, you may not ship alcohol by mail through the U.S. Postal Service. This means you’ll need to arrange different shipping for your imported alcohol. Shipping alcohol through a courier is allowed. Duty will be collected on the entire shipment. Additionally, the courier will likely charge Customs Broker and handling fees. Working with Your Licensed Customs Broker can make this process simple.
It’s also important to note that there are state regulations in place that control how much alcohol an individual may import into the state. Each state has an Alcohol Control Board (ABC) that sets these rules. You should check with your state’s ABC to determine how much alcohol you may import before shipment.
There are no federal regulations regarding how much alcohol you can import for personal use. However, information from CBP indicates that importing large quantities of alcohol, you might be required to get an import license from the TTB. If you are having a large quantity of alcohol shipped to you for personal use, it might be wise to contact the port of entry and determine if a permit is needed in advance.
Importers of alcohol for personal use are required to pay duty rates and taxes on their shipment. Duty rates vary based on the percentage of alcohol in each liter of the imported beverage. Duty on beer and wine is generally low. You can expect to pay $1 or $2 per liter to import beer and wine. The duty on distilled spirits and fortified wines is much higher. You can find more information about duty rates in Chapter 22 of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule. The Federal IRS will also collect excise tax on your shipment.
Those importing a wine collection as part of their personal effects when coming to the U.S. will have to follow the same guidelines as those importing alcohol for personal use.
Vodka accounts for 34% of all spirits sold in the US, and sales are projected to grow an average of 2.8% every year for the next few years. This makes the business of selling imported vodka a profitable investment. However, if you want to import vodka from Russia, there are a few specific rules you’re going to need to follow so you don’t get yourself in trouble at the U.S. border.
Importing Russian vodka can feel like it’s impossible, but it really isn’t that difficult once you understand the process. Importing alcoholic beverages into the U.S. comes with its fair share of regulations, but once you know and understand those regulations, it’s really not as tough as it seems!
Vodka is the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage in the United States, and its consumption is on the rise. Americans drank 176.7 million gallons of vodka just in 2016 alone, and vodka sales revenue was a whopping $6.2 billion! With numbers like that, it’s no surprise that people would want to get vodka imported from Russia, the birthplace of the drink. In fact, many of America’s favorite vodka brands come from Russia, including but certainly not limited to:
If you're looking to tap into the tequila market, there's no better place to start than Mexico. The role that Mexico plays in the global tequila market can't be understated. In November of 2019, Mexico produced a record-breaking 330 millions liters of tequila.
Additionally, the majority of well-known tequila brands are based in Mexico. These brands include:
In terms of importing tequila from Mexico to the U.S., the process is a bit simpler compared to importing from other countries. Much of this can be contributed to the mostly positive trading relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. The USMCA, formerly known as NAFTA, is a joint trade agreement between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. This trade agreement outlines agreed upon trade policies between the three North American countries.
Because of the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico, importing tequila from Mexico typically expriences less scrutiny than importing from other countries. With that being said, all applicable rules and regulations are still in place. This includes obtaining an import permit and submitting all appropriate import documentation as well.
Buying alcohol from an international supplier isn’t like purchasing from a domestic supplier. In some cases, different payment methods are required. There are several common payment methods to consider when importing alcohol. Four common methods of payment when working with foreign suppliers include:
You might find that each of these methods of payment has its own benefits and risks. The most common method of payment depends on from where you are importing alcohol. Generally speaking, though, international wire transfer is a very common method of payment when importing alcohol from Europe. Additionally, it is important to be aware of changing currency exchange rates when paying the supplier. Even if the supplier gives you a quote in U.S dollars, the amount you pay might fluctuate based on exchange rates.
You may not ship alcohol through the U.S. Postal Service. Those seeking to import alcoholic beverages will need to find alternative methods. Other major shipping companies do ship alcohol internationally but with specific guidelines. Working with Your Licensed Customs Broker can make this process streamlined and simple.
Alcohol must be shipped in its original container with the original label. Additionally, the FDA must receive notice of any food product shipped into the U.S. The Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (known as the Bioterrorism Act) mandates the that FDA receives prior notice of food products shipped into the U.S. This mandate includes alcohol beverages. According to the FDA, this rule is in place to protect the nation against public health emergencies and terrorist acts related to the food supply. The FDA will assign a prior notice number, which must be provided to the shipper.
Alcohol must also only be shipped to individuals 21 years of age or older. Many shippers require a statement and signature from an adult over 21 for delivery.
Forty-four states allow direct-to-consumer alcohol shipments. States that do not allow alcohol shipments directly to consumers include:
If you are shipping alcohol for personal use, it might be wise to let your vendor or distributor handle shipping.
Customs bonds are a necessary part of importing alcohol. CBP requires that you use a Customs Bond when importing goods subject to regulations from any federal agency or valued at more than $2,500. Because importing alcoholic beverages involves several government agencies, a customs bond is likely required.
A customs bond covers the payment of taxes and duties to the U.S. government. A customs bond makes sure that your taxes and duties will be paid even in extenuating circumstances, like the closure of your business or bankruptcy. Customs bonds are required for shipments arriving in the country by sea and by air. You can face delays or fines if you do not have the proper customs bond when importing alcohol.
If you decide to work with a Licensed Customs Broker to import alcohol, the broker’s customs bond can likely be used to secure your transaction.
There are two main types of customs bonds: Single entry and continuous bonds. The bond type you choose will likely ultimately depend on how often you plan to import alcohol into the U.S. The differences between the bonds is easy to understand. A continuous bond is valid for one calendar year and covers all imports within the year. A single entry customs bond is valid for just one shipment into the U.S.
If you are working with a Licensed Customs Broker, it’s very likely that you may use your broker’s bond to secure your transaction. If you are handling the import of your goods on your own, you can obtain a customs bond through a surety company licensed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. You will find hundreds of surety companies located across the country.
The cost of a customs bond can vary. If you are working with a Licensed Customs Broker, they might include the use of their bond into the cost of doing business. If you are purchasing a bond on your own, you must consider that you are essentially buying an insurance policy for the taxes and duties on your imported goods.
Working with your Licensed Customs Broker is an essential part of importing goods, including alcohol. Your Licensed Customs Broker works with you to make sure your goods move efficiently across borders and arrive at the destination on time. Your Licensed Customs Broker will also ensure your shipment adheres to all customs laws and regulations. Customs Brokers work in the best interest of their clients.
Your Licensed Customs Broker can arrange services including:
Your Licensed Customs Broker is an expert at work for you, putting their experience and knowledge on your side.
You’ll find a few restrictions in place for alcohol imports.
These laws and regulations are in place to keep consumers and borders safe.
There are several government agencies that oversee the import and export of alcoholic beverages. You should learn about each agency and how it is involved, so you don’t encounter any surprises with import regulations down the road.
The main government agency to be aware of when commercially importing vodka is the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Their main goal is to ensure that any person dealing with the production, distribution, and sale of alcoholic beverages is registered and qualified. They also regulate the import and advertising of alcoholic or tobacco based products in the U.S.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for protecting the public health, by ensuring all products are safe for human consumption, kept in food-safe packaging, and stored in clean, temperature-controlled environments. Any location that stores or is intended to store food products is subject to inspection from the FDA. Failure to comply with the FDA’s basic safety regulations could have serious consequences for a business.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for overseeing the farming industry in the U.S., as well as encouraging international trade to enrich the global economy. Their mission is to protect the health and safety of the American public, through regulating the industry and conducting routine inspections of food quality. The import of vodka, and the ingredients used to make vodka, would have to pass inspection from the USDA in order to be allowed into the U.S.
The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The purpose of this government agency is to prevent acts of foreign terrorism by controlling what moves through the U.S. border, while facilitating fair and legitimate trade. It is the agency involved with getting your products safely through the customs process and into the U.S.
There are many important things to remember when considering importing alcohol into the U.S. With so many laws and regulations, it can be easy to make a mistake and end up in trouble. To help you out, here’s a rough guideline with some of the most important things you’re going to need to know about!
Anyone wanting to deal with the manufacture, import, or sale of alcohol cannot go on without a federal basic permit. Not having this permit would be a direct violation of the Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA Act) and could get you in serious trouble! It can be easily obtained by submitting information through the TTB Permits Online portal, or by mailing the paperwork to the TTB.
If you want to import, buy, or sell any alcoholic beverage at wholesale, then you’re going to need a Wholesaler’s Basic Permit. This permit can also be submitted through the Permits Online portal, or filled in on paper and submitted by mail.
In order to be allowed to deal with imported alcoholic beverages of any kind, you must maintain a staffed import company, otherwise some of the paperwork cannot be filled in completely or correctly. A federal basic permit is required to operate as an import business.
Once your company has been registered, you will need to submit an application for an Employer Identification Number to the IRS. This nine-digit number is used for identification and tax administration. It can be filed online through the IRS website.
You will also need to register yourself as an alcohol dealer, by filing the Alcohol Dealer Registration form with the TTB. All of the instructions can be found on the form, including where to submit it once it is filled in.
Each location in which the vodka will be processed, packed, stored, or otherwise handled must be registered as a food facility with the FDA. Detailed instructions for how to register the locations can be found on the FDA website.
Importers need to pursue a Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) for each product they intend to import. The label on the bottles of vodka will need to be submitted to the TTB for approval, to ensure that it meets all the requirements for importation. The application can be completed through the COLA Online portal, which also includes instructions for first time importers.
Before your vodka is even offered for import into the U.S., the FDA needs to be given prior notice. Doing this far in advance can help the FDA and the CBP process and inspect your imports as soon as they arrive at the U.S. port of entry. Information on how to file for Prior Notice can be found on the FDA website.
In order for the CBP to be able to determine the taxable value of your import, it must be labeled with the appropriate Harmonized Tariff Code, according to the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS). For vodka, that code begins with 2208.60, but the rest of the code is dependent on different factors, like the purity of the drink and how it is bottled. On the HTS website, there is a search function that makes it easy to find the exact product code for anything you might want to import!
Depending on which U.S. State you’re importing into, you may have to deal with additional requirements or restrictions. These State laws are often forgotten or overlooked, but they can get you in trouble if you don’t comply! The TTB has a directory that lists all the websites and contact information for the various alcohol regulation authorities, which makes it easy to find any State’s specific regulations.
All importers are required to keep a detailed record of all imports, including where they were exported from, where they were stored, how many bottles you import, when they were imported, how many bottles you sell, and who you sell them to. Of course, there are many other things you should keep records of, like all invoices and bills, just to be on the safe side. Failure to keep appropriate records could result in thousands of dollars in fines, or even imprisonment!
A Customs Bond is another important document that is required for importing anything into the U.S. It can be thought of as a sort of insurance for the CBP, that binds the importer in a contractual agreement to pay back the required duties and fees. There are two types of Customs Bonds to pick from, depending on the needs of the importer. The first kind is what’s called a Single Entry Bond, and as the name would suggest, it is good for only one import of low value. It is specific to a single port of entry, and a new one will need to be obtained for every new import you make. It is the most cost effective if you intend to import only a few times a year, but if you plan on importing more than four times, you should consider a Continuous Bond. A continuous bond is a year long coverage plan that can be used for any shipment made for a whole year after you purchase the bond. It can be used at any U.S. port of entry, and it can cover high-value shipments.
Many common, and a few uncommon, alcohol drinks rely on imported alcohol for a little international flair. Here are a few recipes using imported alcohol that you can make at home or at your next party:
A Kir Royale is a sweet, bubbly cocktail using French champagne and Chambord liqueur, which is also imported from France. You can make a Kir Royale by mixing:
Mix the drink in a champagne flute. You may garnish with a raspberry or lemon twist if you desire.
Tequila is one of the most commonly imported distilled spirits. Tequila, which is often imported from Mexico, is the staple in a margarita. To make a margarita, mix:
Add all the ingredients to a shaker with ice, then shake until chilled. If you desire, you may garnish with lime in a salt-rimmed glass.
A Moscow Mule might not have anything to do with the Russian city itself, but it does use imported vodka as a staple in the drink. To make a Moscow Mule using imported vodka, mix:
Add all the ingredients to a highball glass or a copper mug with ice. You may also garnish with a lime wheel.
You might not find any alcohol imported from Cuba on a bar shelf, but you can taste the island nation with white rum imported from the Caribbean. You can make a Cuba Libre by mixing:
Add both the ingredients to a glass filled with ice. Garnish with a lime wheel for a little flair and citrus burst.
This St. Patrick’s Day staple is a layered drink traditionally made using imported alcohol: Irish Stout and Irish lager. To make a Black and Tan, mix:
Pour the lager into a tall beer glass. Then, pouring over a tablespoon to create the layered effect, slowly add the stout to the glass. Be careful to pour the stout down the side of the glass in a slow trickle. Then let the drink stand for a few minutes so two layers of beer form in the glass.
Wines are imported from around the world. A wine spritzer is a great way to enjoy wine on a hot day, as it combines wine and fizzy soda for a refreshing sip. You can make a wine spritzer by mixing:
Mixed the chilled ingredients in a glass for white wine, which is usually shorter and has a smaller bowl than a glass for red wine. For an extra fresh taste, garnish with a lemon or lime twist.
Now that you’ve learned a little about how to import alcohol, you might be ready to get started or need more information. Though USA Customs Clearance does not handle the import of alcohol as it is a restricted commodity, you’ll find that working with a Licensed Customs Broker can make the process simple.
Do you have questions or are you ready to get started with importing goods? Open up the chat box in the bottom right corner of the screen and we’ll put you in touch with a customs specialist who can get you the information you need now.