The U.S. market is notoriously strict when it comes to alcohol and every single bottle of alcohol that is imported or sold must be approved and accounted for by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). However, there are many reasons you may want to ship a beverage alcohol product into the U.S. before taking the leap to officially enter the market as a supplier. For instance, you may first want to send samples to competitions, trade publications, events, presenting to potential wholesalers, formula analysis by the TTB, and more.
Before any type of sample shipment can take place, beer, wine, or liquor products must go through the proper procedures and have the appropriate documentation to make sure they can be shipped into the U.S. The Park Street University team put together a comprehensive breakdown to guide your brand on how to ship alcohol samples to the U.S.
Beverage Alcohol Importing Checklist
Obtain a COLA Waiver
The fastest, most effective, and compliant way to import sample bottles to the U.S. is by obtaining a Certificate of Label Approval waiver, also referred to as a COLA waiver. This temporary single-use waiver is issued by the TTB and it’s required by U.S. federal law and customs for all beverage alcohol products that have not yet received a formal COLA approval. The waiver allows you to import your desired beverage alcohol product in a container with minimal required information on the bottle’s exterior.
COLA Waiver requests submitted to the TTB must include:
- The specific type and quantity of each alcohol beverage
- The country of origin of each product
- The brand name of each product
- The purpose for importing the samples (events must include dates and location)
- The Federal Importer’s Basic Permit number
- The importer’s name and address, as shown on the Federal Basic Permit
- The physical signature of an individual authorized on the importer’s basic permit with signature authority for the importer
Each COLA Waiver is only eligible for one-time use and products imported must exactly match the description on the waiver. Prior to shipping your products, be sure to place a copy of your COLA Waiver approval in its respective shipment container, Each container should have a “Sample Only – Not for Resale” sticker attached, along with the standard U.S. Government Warning.
More Resources on Compliance Documents:
- TTB on Importing Alcohol for Trade Shows
- The Most Common COLA Mistakes to Avoid
- Requirements to Obtain a Federal Basic Permit
Secure an Importer
Before shipping an alcohol product into the U.S., you must secure an Importer of Record that is licensed to import alcohol into the country. Your designated courier, such as DHL or Fedex, must then be aware of your Importer of Record in order to ensure all parties are kept up to date during the shipment’s progress through customs.
Create a Commercial Invoice
Your shipment should include a commercial invoice, which is a document that clearly lists the information for your Importer of Record and describes your product in full detail. This includes the brand, type of product, alcohol percentage, bottle size, number of bottles per case, and commercial value. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will not accept $0 as a value.
Submit a Prior Notice to the FDA
A prior notice must also be submitted to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration before shipping. Upon a shipment’s arrival in the U.S., it is reviewed for entry approval by the FDA and CBP. You must work with your courier and Importer of Record to ensure all necessary documentation is completed. Once all required documents and information are in place, the shipment will be submitted to Customs and the FDA for release.
More Resources for Shipping:
How Park Street Can Simplify The Process
If your brand has signed on for Park Street’s full suite of importing and distribution solutions, the process is simplified even further. In this case, Park Street can act as your Importer of Record. The Federal Compliance team will assist in requesting the waiver from the TTB on your brand’s behalf as part of Park Street’s compliance solution. The team at Park Street can also consult your brand on the process in order to minimize any potential constraints during the process.
“Suppliers often make the mistake of starting the COLA waiver process and shipping too close to the event deadline,” advised Johann Cabrera, Park Street Implementation Manager. It’s best to begin this process at least one month or more before the event takes place to avoid any delays.
The Freight Department at Park Street also guides brands through the process once your product is ready for shipping. The team will continuously track the shipment to ensure proper flow of events and contact any necessary parties in the event of a hold to request or provide the necessary documentation. Without Park Street, your brand must monitor this on their own, making for a much more time-consuming process.
Free Guide to Getting Started in The U.S. Market
Before launching your brand in the US, make this download your first stop for understanding how the US alcohol system is set up and the initial steps required to begin selling your alcohol product here.