How to import your bottled alcoholic beverage into the US

How to import your bottled alcoholic beverage into the US

The US is widely regarded as one of the most important drinks markets in the world. According to a recent note from analysts at Bernstein, it is the single largest spirits market in the world in terms of value. It's also tightly regulated. Here's a basic guide to importing bottled alcoholic beverages into the US, with links to relevant pages on regulator the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau's (TTB's) website.

  • Definition

What exactly are you importing? You can find a list of category definitions, according to the US, here

  • Federal Basic Permit

When you have a clear definition of what you want to import, you will need a permit to import spirits, wine or malt beverages (including beer) into the country. You can apply for a Federal Basic Importer's Permit online, here. To get the permit, you must have a US office. If you're contracting an existing US importer, rather than setting one up yourself, then you do not need this permit.

  • Tax

Importers are responsible for all Federal excise taxes and duties that apply to their business. Importers must register as 'alcohol dealers' before doing any business. If you make changes to your operation or stop trading, you have to submit the details. Here's the alcohol dealer registration form.

  • Labelling

Next up, you need to get labels approved. Each product needs a TTB-issued Certificate of Label Approval (COLA). There's a form for this - which importers submit to the TTB's Advertising, Labelling & Formulation Division. You need to have a COLA before you start importing.

You may also need to get pre-COLA product approval, depending on what you are planning to import. This could entail a review of ingredients as well as laboratory analysis of your product. The aim of this is to establish that your alcoholic beverage doesn't contain prohibited or restricted ingredients. The type of pre-approval depends on the product's formulation and origin. You can find out if that applies to you, here.

  • Age and origin

A certificate to confirm the age of certain wines and spirits may be needed. You may also have to confirm the product's origin. For example, if you are importing Scotch, Irish or Canadian whiskies, the TTB requires a certificate of age and origin. The same rule applies for Tequila and Cognac. Age specification for rum is only required if the label contains an age statement. For beer, there are no certificate requirements for age or origin. For wine, the importer needs to obtain a certificate of origin when it has been requested by certain foreign governments - click here for the list.  For the TTB's full round up of age and origin requirements, click here. 

Besides the TTB's requirements, importers need to comply with state and local jurisdictions. For a list of US state contacts, click here.

Expert analysis

Consumer and Market Insights: Spirits Market in the US

Consumer and Market Insights: Spirits Market in the US

The US Spirits market is forecast to grow at a high rate in value as well as volume terms during more