Alcohol is a restricted substance in the US. As such, its shipment has always been a complex process since the Prohibition, a constitutional move that banned it more than 100 years ago. 

Easy Guide for Shipping Alcohol Legally in the US

Today, without the ban, consumers are still legally barred from mailing intoxicating beverages, but the appropriate permits enable alcohol sellers to do so freely.

At enKo Products, we care about your shipping needs. If you’re thinking of opening an online liquor store or adding a delivery service to your local brewery, then this guide is for you. Here, we talk about the steps that small business owners can take to ship alcohol legally in America.

In a Nutshell: What Do You Need to Do to Ship Alcohol in the US?

Shipping alcoholic beverages is not as simple as mailing food or clothes. You do not need special permits for the latter, so even consumers can ship such items with few barriers. However, without authorization, they will have to depend on registered suppliers to send alcoholic beverages to family and friends.

How do you even get started with shipping alcohol in this country? Your task list is as follows:

1. Secure a liquor license. 

2. Obtain an alcohol shipper’s license.

3. Register as a licensed alcohol shipper with a suitable carrier.

4. Ship your product.

That is the bird’s eye view. Here’s the fun part.

When you register for a liquor license, you need to check various local government units’ requirements. Your state’s licensing board will give you a checklist, which can be pretty long in some territories.

The length of the checklist also depends on the kind of business you have, i. e. whether you are a manufacturer, distributor or retailer. When you file your application, its evaluation can take months. And you better hope that no one contests it because that will prolong the already painful process.

Your liquor license makes you eligible for an alcohol shipper’s license. When you apply for one, you must know that states require different applications for each beverage type. If you want a permit that covers all products, know that it will cost a lot more.

Additionally, some territories forbid direct shipping to consumers and allow only licensee-to-licensee shipping. This means that you have to make sure that you are sending to the right destination every time you send to a customer living out-of-state. The address could be the customer’s or that of a licensed liquor store nearby.

When looking for carriers, you may think of USPS as your first choice, as it offers very low rates to small and micro-businesses. However, the post office does not accept B2B and B2C alcohol shipments. Your choices then boil down to three privately-owned logistics handlers: FedEx, UPS and DHL. You need to open an account with any of them and provide your credentials as an authorized alcohol shipper.

Learn More:

When you ship your product for the first time, expect the process to be tedious because that’s also the time for you to create an account with your chosen carrier. However, the next ones after that will be easier as the paperwork becomes less.

So if you’re serious about expanding your alcohol business, you need to prepare for it far in advance and have access to larger funding.

Alcohol Licenses

What Are the Steps Involved in Getting Your Alcohol Licenses?

In general, you need to do the following to get your liquor and alcohol shipper’s licenses:

Check with Your State Licensing Board
Decide on the Appropriate License Types
Submit Your Application


Check with Your State Licensing Board

As mentioned previously, every state has its own alcohol licensing laws. Licensing boards have their requirements on their websites. If the information there is not enough for you to go on, you can visit their office personally or have a professional licensing specialist handle everything for you.

You should also check the TTB’s website for additional requirements, especially if you plan to export or import liquor.


Decide on the Appropriate License Types

For the liquor license, choose the one that applies to your business. The board may require you to show your local business permit, secure a zoning clearance, publish newspaper notices of your application, schedule a facility inspection, etc.

Once you have obtained your liquor license, you need to choose the appropriate shipping permits for your products. Some states issue authorizations that cover all alcoholic beverages. All territories issue separate shipper’s licenses for different product types.


Submit Your Application

Some territories let business owners submit their applications electronically, whereas others require paper submissions by mail or personal drop-off. Most state licensing boards allow access to forms online.

The fees vary widely as they depend on state requirements and the licenses you want to apply for. Hint: get ready to spend thousands of dollars even if you’re shipping only one product type. 

Processing takes at least two months for non-protested licenses. Expect the state to do more than eyeball your documents. Since the government is preventing the illegal distribution of alcohol in the country, it will investigate many aspects of your business. Approval can drag on if you cannot submit all the requirements on time or if another party contests your application.

Note that, in every step, you always have the option to turn the whole process over to a professional licensing consultant. You may have to pay more for their time and effort, but they can make things convenient for you. Alternatively, you may opt to buy another company’s alcohol licenses.

alcohol licenses

Which Carriers Can Reliably Ship Alcohol, and What Are Their Requirements?

As previously mentioned, USPS does not ship alcohol commercially, but private carriers do. Here, we recommend three names, as their wide networks can get your products to many local and international destinations. Here are their requirements:


1. FedEx

FedEx offers three shipping options for stateside deliveries: FedEx Express, FedEx Ground and FedEx Home Delivery. Only FedEx Express is available for international deliveries, whether B2B or B2C. The company strictly adheres to each state’s B2B and B2C restrictions.

For shipments within the US, the steps for shipping your products are as follows:

1. Open a FedEx account.

2. Call customer service at 1-800-GoFedEx. Ask to have an account executive assist you with shipment authorization.

3. Sign the FedEx Alcohol Shipping Agreement. Your account executive will help you here.

4. Create your shipping label online through FedEx Ship Manager or any FedEx-approved third-party online postage service provider. Make sure to select the correct alcohol shipment types. Use a 4 x 6 thermal label for printing. FedEx does not allow the creation of airbills.

5. Package your products securely. FedEx prefers the following packaging types:

    • Molded polystyrene packaging with a corrugated outer container
    • Molded pulp packaging with a corrugated outer container
    • Die-cut corrugated container assemblies
    • If you have none of the above cushioning materials, an acceptable option is bubble wrap. Pack each bottle with 2 inches of bubble wrap on all sides. 
    • Other packaging types not on this list must be submitted to FedEx Packaging Services to assess their fitness. They can also help you optimize your packaging strategy. Consults are free of charge. 

6. FedEx automatically signs you up for the adult signature service when you create a 4 x 6 shipping label. The government, as well as FedEx, requires that alcohol shipments are received and signed for by an adult who is at least 21 years of age. The service costs $5.75 per shipment. If no qualified individual can sign at the time of delivery, you may ask to reroute the package to an alternate destination.

7. You must place a FedEx alcohol shipping label on your package. It is a supplementary sticker that the company provides, notifying the handlers that the package contains alcohol.

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The process is similar for international shipments.

Because of the legal barriers preventing consumers from shipping alcohol, FedEx allows returns only under the following conditions:

  • The consumer is enrolled in the FedEx Alcohol Shipping Program.
  • The original shipper initiates the return.
  • The products are shipped back in their original packaging. 

The conditions are similar for international returns, but you, as the shipper, will shoulder the taxes and duties incurred during the original and return shipments.

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2. UPS


Sending alcohol through UPS involves processes very much like those when using FedEx services. However, the service classes differ because UPS allows ground delivery to Canada.

Here are the steps for sending alcoholic beverages within the US through UPS:

  1. Open an account as an approved alcohol shipper. A UPS expert will help you accomplish this task.
  2. Sign an alcohol shipment agreement. This is either the UPS Agreement for Approved Wine Shippers or UPS Wine Industry Fulfillment House Agreement for Approved Wine Shippers.
  3. Create your UPS 4 x 6 shipping label online using WorldShip or any UPS-authorized third-party online postage service providers. 
  4. Package your products properly. UPS’s alcohol packaging standards are similar to those of FedEx.
  5. Delivery confirmation also requires an adult recipient’s signature. UPS’s free service, Quantum View Notify, informs recipients of the delivery schedule so a qualified adult will be available to sign when the package arrives.
  6. UPS requires a wine shipping label—a sticker that identifies the package contents as wine—only for domestic shipments. In contrast, FedEx requires such labels for both domestic and international deliveries.

UPS allows recipients to have their packages delivered to a UPS Access Point instead of their workplaces or homes. This service is useful if no qualified adult can sign for the packages at the time of delivery. If your customer avails of this option, choose a destination that accepts restricted articles. Alcohol deliveries at these locations require added stickers saying, “Contains Alcohol Beverage Adult Signature Required.”

The procedures for sending international alcohol shipments through UPS are similar. Some countries served by UPS are different from those covered by FedEx.

3. DHL

DHL’s procedures for sending alcohol from a US origin also parallel those of FedEx.

You will coordinate with a sales representative to enlist as an alcohol shipper. You will sign an agreement form, the Agreement to Transport Alcoholic Beverages. You will be required to prepare the package using the appropriate materials and have an adult sign for the delivery.

Some international destinations that DHL serves are different from FedEx’s network.

international liquor

If you plan to engage full-time in international liquor trading, you should consider registering as an alcohol shipper with at least two providers. These three carriers cover different international regions. Since the approval process can take time, a break in the supply chain can delay your shipments. Enlisting with two providers widens your options and prevents shipment delay.


An alcohol delivery service is lucrative, though starting it requires time, effort and money. Alcohol is a restricted substance, so shipping it is a highly regulated activity in the US. The preparation for the first shipment can be long-winded and costly. It involves different government branches and requires enlistment with the right logistics provider. However, the succeeding shipments are easier because of lesser paperwork and expenses.

USPS does not accept commercial alcohol shipments. However, we recommend three alternative carriers here, namely, FedEx, UPS, and DHL, because of their broad networks. We also described their alcohol shipping requirements. Startup owners who wish to start an alcohol delivery service can use this guide to get them going. 

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