Shipping your favorite boozy beverage isn't as simple as dropping it off at your local post office. (The USPS will not ship alcohol. Period.) Rather, mailing alcohol falls on the easy totem pole somewhere between sending a birthday card and shipping live cobras in chip cans. (Yeah, that's happened.) It's not impossible, but it's not obvious.
Even if you can figure out other carriers' rules and regulations, you've got municipal, state, and country rules to follow, too. Let us tell you: they've all got different rules.
Here's a little history lesson as to why shipping alcohol is so darn complicated: it dates back to Prohibition, when alcohol was banned under the 18th Amendment. Luckily, fast forward a few years, and the 21st Amendment undid that awful idea—with a caveat: it gave states the power to enact their own laws regarding the production, distribution, and sale of alcohol. 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 schlep alcohol from state-to-state—and from abroad back into the U.S.—don't accept alcohol shipments from consumers. That's right: don't even think about heading to your closest FedEx or a UPS with a bottle of wine or a specialty spirit unless you carry a proper license to manufacture, sell, distribute, or otherwise import alcohol. (And if you do, you probably wouldn't be reading this article anyway.) FedEx's alcohol shipping policies can be read here, while UPS's alcohol regulations—much the same as FedEx's—can be found here (though the latter is broadening its scope a bit).
Some of those universal rules? You must advise the carrier your package contains alcohol. A surcharge will be applied to the shipment. And an adult must sign for it.
However, there's more that you can do than brush up on these carriers' policies to get booze from Point A to Point B. (And no, we're not talking about sneaking it.) Our experts are here to give you tips on getting alcohol from state-to-state and overseas.
How to Ship Alcohol In-State
On the surface, this seems like the easiest shipping method. Without crossing state lines, after all, you won't have to worry about another state putting a stranglehold on your spirits. But there are still local laws to contend with, warns Seth Weinberg, food law and policy professor at Columbia Law School.
But 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 know these rules.
When you're sending something closer to home, you have one more shipping option: use alcohol e-commerce sites, such as Drizly or Minibar for example, to mail your friend a congratulatory bottle of wine or a thank-you six-pack of beer by taking advantage of their in-town delivery options, some free.
How to Ship Alcohol to Another State
When your booze crosses state borders, "you need to consider the laws for both the shipping state and the receiving state," says Weinberg. So, for example, if you'd like to send a bottle of wine from a visit along Pennsylvania's wine trail to a relative in Mississippi, don't waste your time or your money. While it's perfectly legal to mail wine from this northern state, it's also perfectly illegal to receive wine shipments in Mississippi. In other words, Mississippi is not a reciprocal state, a state in which you can receive alcohol shipments from other states or countries, explains Lekkala. You can read more about reciprocal states and other out-of-state shipment rules here.
Of course, there's an easy way around these convoluted laws, too. Most—though not all—alcohol that can be purchased in one state can be found somewhere in another, so if you're dying to ship your brother a new brew, hit the web first to see if you can find a retailer in his state that carries the beverage, recommends Lekkala. It will be much easier to provide a credit card number over the phone than try to send that brew between states. "Even state-controlled stores realize they're losing business to other states and 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 vineyard, and you can't imagine life without this fruity concoction. Unluckily for you, however, "once you're changing countries, [shipping alcohol] gets exponentially more difficult," says Weinberg. First, Weinberg advises, you will have to "make sure the product can be legally shipped into the destination without a permit." You can check this guide to see your state's individual regulations. If you don't, your "product could be seized, quarantined, or destroyed," warns Weinberg. And no one wants that, do they? Shipping out of the U.S. into another country will require you to brush up on state and federal export rules and the import rules of whichever country you're sending it to (and possibly to be licensed accordingly). Good luck. Once again, it's probably best to go through a retailer or distributor.
Weinberg also recommends that you confirm with the retailer or distributor if any taxes or duties need to be paid on the product you intend to ship. If so, they should be able to advise you on how to pay them, and how much they will cost you. Lastly, "purchase from a reputable dealer who knows the ins and outs of laws, and ideally has experience shipping to your destination of choice," Weinberg advises.
In short, as much as you might like to personally pick up, wrap and send a bottle of booze as a gift, this is one task better left to professionals.