By Robert Szostek, U.S. European Command Customs Public Affairs
WIESBADEN, Germany (June 21, 2017) — Many Americans start a wine collection while stationed in Europe. With some advance planning, wine connoisseurs can still enjoy their favorite European vintages when they move to their new stateside homes.
“First contact your transportation office for shipping options and procedures, and how to get reimbursed for the transportation costs,” said Tim Sellman, director of the U.S. European Command’s Customs and Border Clearance Agency.
He added that each military service allows for the importation of alcoholic beverage shipments; however, their methods of importation vary and you will have to pay any customs duty or tax due on the wine.
Actual taxes vary from state to state as Customs & Border Protection generally determines the admissibility of wine according to the regulations of the state where the shipment first enters the U.S.
Depending on the shipment options offered by your branch of service, military transportation officials may recommend you not pack wine in personal property shipments for fear of damage if bottles break.
Transportation offices also maintain lists of wine merchants and moving companies that ship wine at personal cost or if your service provides it as a paid option.
“The company will tell you about state restrictions on alcohol and how to pay any tax that needs paying,” said Sellman.
While the only federal regulation governing the importation of alcohol for personal use requires the importer to be 21 or older, a federal permit is needed to import alcohol for commercial or resale purposes.
If your wine collection is really large, a CBP officer might suspect that you are importing it for resale and require you to get a permit from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (U.S. Department of the Treasury).
If you think this could be a concern, call the port where your goods will enter the U.S. and ask what proof they will need that the shipment is for your personal consumption.
Many states, but not all, will allow you to enter with up to one case of wine without requiring you to get a license from that state’s Alcohol Beverage Control Board.
Some states make a distinction between personal and commercial importations, and will grant a license for one-time importations, while others will not. The fee for such a license can vary from state to state. Some states simply will not permit the importation of more than a specified amount.
As a general rule, the carrier handling your shipment will make arrangements for a customs broker to handle all the paperwork. If your collection is large enough that you do need a license to import it, the broker will need a copy of it, preferably before your wine arrives at the port of entry.
Wines that were in your collection that were shipped abroad will be subject to duty when they return to the U.S., although American-made wines may be entered duty-free as “American Goods Returned.” Shippers should be cautioned that the inspection process to verify this claim might be hard on fine wines.
Customs will work out the duty and tax and stamp the customs clearance. Customs officials report that the duty on wine is currently $1.59 per liter but can be as little as 33 cents for specific wines such as vermouth, tokay or marsala.
Federal tax depends on the alcoholic strength of the beverage concerned and works out to around 21 cents for a 0.75-liter bottle of wine with 14 percent alcohol or less; however, these rates of tax and duty are subject to change.
As for other shipping options, Sellman pointed out that the U.S. Postal Service does not allow mailing wine, and express shipping companies are usually unwilling to ship wine. Some airlines, however, will allow small collections to be checked as excess baggage for a fee.
Follow these rules and you can enjoy the best products of Old World vineyards at your new stateside home.
Contact your transportation office to find out more about shipping liquor products to the United States, and visit the following websites for additional information:
State wine laws: www.wineinstitute.org.
Personal importation of alcoholic beverages: www.ttb.gov/importers/personal_importation.shtml.
Alcohol Beverage Control Boards: www.ttb.gov/wine/state-ABC.shtml.