TTB regulates the importation of beverage alcohol products into the United States for commercial use. Under the Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA Act), any person engaged in the business of importing beverage alcohol products into the United States for commercial use must have an importer's basic permit and obtain a Certificate of Label Approval (COLA). Under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, the importer must also pay a federal excise tax and any applicable duties to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
When a person imports beverage alcohol products into the United States on a one-time basis for personal use, an importer's basic permit is not required, nor is it necessary to obtain a COLA. However, ALL federal, state, and local taxes must be paid, and other state, local, or CBP requirements may apply.
In exceptional cases, individuals who import beverage alcohol products for personal use on a repetitive or continuous basis may be required to obtain an importer's basic permit and possess a COLA for these imported shipments.
As a practical matter, it is usually at the discretion of the CBP District Director at the port of entry to make the decision of whether or not a particular importation is, in fact, for personal use only. In certain unusual circumstances, TTB may exercise joint jurisdiction with CBP in making this determination.
As noted above, certain state, local, or CBP requirements may apply to personal importations. State laws, for example, may limit the amount of alcohol that may be brought into the state without a license. If you arrive in a state that has limitations on the amount of alcohol you may bring in without a license, that state law will be enforced by CBP, even though this may be more restrictive than federal regulations.
Some states prohibit the direct shipment of beverage alcohol products to individuals. We recommend that you check with the state government before you go abroad regarding their personal importation policies and additional state taxes that might apply. Individuals interested in importing alcohol for personal use should contact their State liquor control board.
If the beverage alcohol products are to be given away as personal gifts to friends, neighbors, relatives, etc., or are to be similarly distributed, the Federal Government health warning label requirement is applicable. A gift of beverage alcohol products connected with the solicitation of orders for (or the sale of) such products is considered to be for commercial use and may only be conducted by a federally licensed importer.
If you intend to bring back a substantial quantity of alcohol for your personal use, you should contact the port through which you will be entering the country, and make prior arrangements for entering the alcohol into the United States. It may also be useful to contact the carrier you plan to use, as many have strict guidelines regarding the shipment of alcoholic beverages.
For information on CBP requirements, please visit the CBP homepage.
Additional Resources (from CBP.gov)