How to Ship Alcohol

While UPS, FedEx, and the Post Office don't exactly make it easy, you can ship alcohol — if you know how.

Shipping your favorite alcoholic beverage isn’t as simple as dropping it off at your local post office. The United States Postal Service does not allow the shipment of “intoxicating liquors” above 0.5% alcohol under almost any circumstance (though a bill introduced in the House of Representatives in 2021 aims to change that).

Even if you can figure out the rules and regulations of other carriers, you still have to follow municipal, state, and country regulations. Let us tell you — they all have different rules.

shipping box with wine bottles
Steven Heap / Adobe Stock

This complexity dates back to Prohibition, when alcohol was banned under the 18th Amendment. Although the 21st Amendment undid the ban, it did so with a caveat. It gave states the power to enact their own laws regarding the production, distribution, and sale of alcohol, resulting in a patchwork of regulations. Today, each state — and in some cases, each municipality or county — has its own regulations regarding the sale and shipment of all alcoholic beverages.

Perhaps that’s why the carriers willing to ship alcohol from state to state or abroad into the United States do not accept alcohol shipments from consumers. Both FedEx and UPS only accept alcohol shipments from those who carry a proper license to manufacture, sell, distribute, or otherwise import alcohol. FedEx’s alcohol shipping policies can be read here, while UPS’s alcohol regulations — much the same as FedEx’s — can be found here.

Some of the universal rules? You must advise the carrier that your package contains alcohol. A surcharge will be applied to the shipment. And an adult must sign for it.

If you plan on shipping beer, wine, or a specialty spirit, our experts are here to help you navigate the various policies and provide tips on getting alcohol from Point A to Point B.

How to ship alcohol in-state

On the surface, shipping alcohol within your state might seem like the easiest option since you won’t have to worry about another state putting a stranglehold on your spirits. However, local laws can still be tricky to navigate, warns Seth Weinberg, food law and policy professor at Columbia Law School.

Luckily, because you will have to ship directly from the retailer or distributor, “local merchants are expected to know their own rules, and can serve as a great source of quick answers when you are considering buying a gift for someone,” Weinberg says. For example, some states may prohibit the shipment of more than one bottle at a time or how many bottles of alcohol can be shipped to a person each year, says Mahesh Lekkala, owner of New York- and New Jersey-based Wine Legend. A good retailer will be well-versed in these rules.

If you’re sending alcohol closer to home, there’s another option to consider. Alcohol e-commerce sites, such as Drizly or Minibar, enable you to mail a friend a congratulatory bottle of wine or a thank-you six-pack of beer from local retailers by taking advantage of their local delivery options.

How to ship alcohol to another state

When shipping alcohol across state borders, “you need to consider the laws for both the shipping state and the receiving state,” says Weinberg. For instance, if you’d like to send a bottle of wine from a visit to an Oregon winery to a relative in Mississippi, you’re out of luck. While it’s perfectly legal to mail wine from Oregon, receiving wine shipments in Mississippi from outside the state is illegal. In other words, Mississippi is not a reciprocal state — a state where you can receive alcohol shipments from other states or countries, explains Lekkala.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to work around these complicated laws. Check the web first to see if you can find a retailer in-state that carries the beverage you're looking to ship, recommends Lekkala. Many alcoholic products that can be purchased in one state can be found somewhere in another. It’s much simpler to provide your credit card number over the phone than to try to ship the beer across state lines. “Even state-controlled stores realize they’re losing business to other states and are improving the range of inventories they’re carrying,” Lekkala says.

How to ship alcohol overseas

You’ve fallen in love with a Bordeaux produced at a small French winery, and you can’t imagine life without it. Unfortunately, “once you’re changing countries, [shipping alcohol] gets exponentially more difficult,” says Weinberg. To start, you must “make sure the product can be legally shipped into the destination without a permit.” You can check your state’s official government website to see individual regulations. If you don’t, your “product could be seized, quarantined, or destroyed,” warns Weinberg.

Shipping out of the U.S. into another country will require navigating state and federal export rules, the import rules of whichever country you’re sending it to, and possibly to be licensed accordingly. Once again, Weinberg advises purchasing “from a reputable dealer who knows the ins and outs of laws and ideally has experience shipping to your destination of choice.” Weinberg also recommends that you confirm with the retailer or distributor if any taxes or duties need to be paid, what they will cost, and how to pay them.

In short, as much as you might like to personally pick up, wrap, and send a special bottle overseas, this task is better left to professionals.

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