Requirements to import alcoholic beverages and energy drinks in the U.S.

Wine bottles in the wine store referencing import requirements of alcoholic beverages

Companies wishing to import beverages in the U.S. – whether they are alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages – must comply with federal regulations. 

Importing alcoholic beverages: what to do before manufacturing the beverages 

Companies should take the following steps before importing their alcoholic beverage to the U.S.:

  • First, you need to obtain the Federal Basic Importer’s Permit, which requires 1) maintaining and staffing a business office in the US or contracting with an existing U.S. licensed importer, 2) presenting a Letter of Intent from a Foreign Supplier, and 3) applying for a Wholesaler’s Basic Permit for drinks that are not imported with the Importer’s Permit. 
  • Second, you need to obtain a Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) for each product. This is issued by the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and is unique for each product. For some products, pre-COLA approval is required. 
  • Third, you need to obtain a Certificate of Age and Origin and Natural Wine Certificate for certain wines and distilled spirits. 

What to do before shipping 

Once all the authorizations have been obtained, and the company is ready to ship the beverages, the following should be done: 

  • Prepare funds for taxes and duties to pay for all Federal Excise Taxes. 
  • Provide prior notice to the FDA before any shipment. 
  • Prepare the paperwork for customs (including the required permits, authorizations, invoices with name of importer, exporter, port of entry, number, weight, price, and detailed description of the imported product). The importer will also have to pay the required taxes and import duties. An Importer/Customs Bond may be required to pay for tax liability for the imported products. 
  • Inquire about the requirements to transfer the shipment from one state to the other: additional paperwork and authorization might be required to ship the alcoholic beverages from the port of entry to the final destination.  

Importing Non-Alcoholic Beverages 

What to do before manufacturing the product 

Labeling requirements are just as important for importing non-alcoholic beverages as it is for alcoholic beverages. For example, energy drinks have different labeling requirements than other beverages.  The drinks must be labeled with Nutrition Facts panels and comply with the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990. Energy drinks on the other hand must meet the labeling requirements of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 and be labeled with Supplement Facts panels. 

Permit requirements

The company must also consider whether the products they use are subject to a permit requirement. For  example, if the beverage contains ingredients of animal origin, the FDA might require an APHIS permit: for the import, transit, and release of regulated animals, animal products, veterinary biologics, plants, plant products, pests, organisms, soil, and genetically engineered organisms. If the product is low-acid or acidified canned food (pH/water activity), additional process filings with the FDA may be required. 

What to do before shipping: steps to take with the FDA

The company should register the facility that manufactures the product with the FDA before importation. Failure to register the manufacturer can cause delays and unwanted expenses. 

The company should also notify each shipment to the FDA prior to arrival. Failure to comply can result in refusal of entry. Each shipment will require paperwork to give to customs upon arrival. In addition, the company will have to pay the required taxes and import duties. An Importer/Customs Bond may be required to pay for tax liability for the imported products. 

EPGD Business Law is located in beautiful Coral Gables, West Palm Beach and historic Washington D.C. Call us at (786) 837-6787, or contact us through the website to schedule a consultation.

*Disclaimer: this blog post is not intended to be legal advice. We highly recommend speaking to an attorney if you have any legal concerns. Contacting us through our website does not establish an attorney-client relationship.*

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Eric Gros-Dubois

Eric P. Gros-Dubois founded EPGD Business Law in 2013 and is the current head of the firm’s corporate, estate planning, and tax practice, and manages the firm’s Washington D.C. office. With a JD and MBA, and a specialization in finance, Eric is able to step back and view the legal world through a commercial lens while also acting as a trusted business advisor for his clients. He does his best to be solutions oriented, and tries to think like a business owner, not just a lawyer.


*The following comments are not intended to be treated as legal advice. The answer to your question is limited to the basic facts presented. Additional details may heavily alter our assessment and change the answer provided. For a more thorough review of your question please contact our office for a consultation.

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