Importing Alcohol Into the United States

(Current as of 5/6/2011)

  1. Licensing:

    Under the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, a Federal Basic Permit must be held by any person or business enterprise importing distilled spirits, wine, or malt beverages into the United States. The Basic Permit is good at any port in the United States and must be obtained prior to the first importation. For further information on the procedure for obtaining a Federal Basic Permit, please contact the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) at 213-894-4815.

    Any importer holding a Basic Permit must comply with the laws of the state into which (s)he is importing alcoholic beverages. The California Alcoholic Beverage Control Act requires that anyone engaged in intrastate and interstate importation, transportation, manufacture, sale, purchase, or possession of alcoholic beverages in the state of California must hold a valid California State License. It is unlawful for any person without a Department of California Beverage Control license to import alcoholic beverages into the state. Limited exemptions apply to certain noncommercial importations. For further information on the procedure for obtaining a California State License please contact the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) at 213-897-5391.

    Importers entering alcoholic beverages in the state of California from a foreign port for transport to neighboring states (e.g. Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico) that are licensed to import in those states are not required to be licensed in California. Two permissible alternatives are provided for transportation to an out-of-state destination:

    1. The shipment may be transported via common carrier. When this method is used, the entry must contain the statement .MERCHANDISE NOT FOR SALE IN CALIFORNIA AND WILL BE TRANSPORTED OUT VIA COMMON CARRIER.
    2. The shipment may be transported under and I.T entry in a sealed container.

    Consumption or warehouse entries submitted without a California State License number or without either of the above prescribed statements are subject to rejection.

    Listed below are the pertinent types of California State licenses and the specific alcoholic beverages for which they are issued. No other licenses authorize importation of alcoholic beverages under the California Alcoholic beverage Control Act.


    1. License authorizes importation of beer and wine
    2. License authorizes importation of beer and wine
    3. License authorizes importation of brandy only
    4. License authorizes importation of all distilled spirits
    5. License authorizes importation of all distilled spirits
    6. No longer required by Customs Brokers, but required by the intended bonded or public storage warehouse.
    7. License authorizes delivery of all alcoholic beverages in the United States
    8. Internal Revenue bond or United States Customs Bond at the premises of a type .14. licensed public warehouse.
    9. License authorizes importation of undenatured ethyl alcohol only.
    1. Label Approvals

      Bottled wine and distilled spirits imported for commercial purposes shall not be released from Customs Custody for consumption unless there is deposited, with the appropriate Customs officer at the port of entry, the original or a Photostatic copy of an approved Certificate of Label Approval, BATF for 5100.31. Label approvals are not bondable and must be submitted prior to release of the shipment. Failure to submit proper label approvals could result in rejection of entries and/or clearance of cargo.

      If the original or photostatic copy of the Label Approval bears the signature of the Director of BATF, then the brand or lot of distilled spirits bearing labels identical with those shown thereon may be released from Customs custody. There are several items on the label approvals which may differ from the instant shipment such as: proof, vintage year, or fill. The exceptions are defined in Section 2 on the reverse side of the form. The form, after approval, may not be altered in any way without the approval of the BATF authorized Officer.

      Label approvals are issued in the name of the authorized owner of the brand in the United States. Therefore, importers entering shipments of alcoholic beverages must obtain copies of Label Approvals, and written permission to use them from the owner.. As long as the owner of the Certificate of Label Approval participated in the transaction which brought the product into the United States, he is considered as having given authorization for the use of the Label Approval by the importer of record. Therefore, a shipment of beverages may be released under Certificate of Label Approval not issued in the name of the importer of record when the person to whom the Certificate is issued is named in the sales-in transit invoice requires by 19 CFR 141.86©, or in other shipping documents (e.g., a bill of lading) acceptable to the Port Director. Alternatively, the owner of the Label Approval may authorize the importer of record to use his Label Approval by means of a letter. Such letters are required when there is no evidence that the owner of the Label Approval participated in the transaction that brought the product to the united States.

      It shall be unlawful for any person to alter, mutilate, destroy, obliterate or remove any mark, brand or label on distilled spirits held for sale in interstate or foreign commerce or after shipment therein. Imported wine in U.S. Customs custody which is not labeled in conformity with the certificate of label approval issued by the Director of BAT must be relabeled, prior to release, under the supervision and direction of Customs officers of the port at which the wine is located.


      All alcoholic beverages bottled on or after November 18, 1989, which are to be sold or distributed in the United States must contain the following health warning statement:

      Government Warning: (1) According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects, (2) Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery and may cause health problems.

      If the warning statement is not on beverages bottled on or after November 18, 1989, a redelivery notice will be issued at the time of release allowing the importer 45 days to bring the merchandise into compliance. Failure to bring the merchandise into compliance or redeliver within 45 days will result in the initiation of a liquidated damage case.


      Wine and distilled spirits imported for commercial purposes shall not be released from Customs custody for consumption unless the invoice is accompanied by a Certificate of Origin and/or Age issued by a duly authorized official of the appropriate foreign government. The Certificate confirms the identity of the alcoholic beverage and certifies that the alcohol has been produced in compliance with the laws of the foreign government regulating the production of such wines for home consumption.

      TTB understands that the government of France no longer authorizes or issues certificates of origin for standard French wines. As such, certificates of origin for French wines are no longer required.

      However, it is TTB's current understanding that the government of France does issue certificates of origin for French Cognac and French Champagne. Therefore, French Cognac and Champagne, imported in bottles, shall not be released from Customs custody unless the invoice is accompanied by either of these forms: (1) Documents d'Accompagnement Commercial (DAC); and/or (2) Document of Accompaniment (DCA 1 & DCA 2) stamped by French Customs.

      The French government authorizes the use of two types of documents to certify the origin of French wines:

      1. Aquit-a-caution/Document Commercial Agree (DCA)
        1. Aquit-a-Caution nr. 8102 2A/DCA1 for vins de table (table wines) with a geographic designation
        2. Aquit-a caution nr 8102 2AA/DCA2 for VQPRD with an appellation of origin.
      2. The DAA/DCC

        The "Document d' Accompagnement-Commercial" - DAC (e.g., the Commercial Accompanying Document).- issued by the EC Regulation Nr. 2719//92 dated September 11, 1992.

        Box number 23 of the DAA, which indicates an attestation of origin, must be filled out and certified by an official mark or stamp issued by Customs in box "A". To be official, these documents shall bear an official stamp issued by the Customs service of the country of expedition.

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