Alcoholic Beverage Importers and Exporters in Florida

Italian exports imports. CC licensed. Credit Stefano Chiarelli on

Like alcoholic beverage manufacturers, distributors, and vendors, importers and exporters are subject to strict regulations and licensing by the federal government and the State of Florida.

What Florida Importers & Exporters Can and Cannot Do

In the alcoholic sales channel, importers play the role of getting products from overseas through US Customs and into the hands of distributors. Licensed Florida importers are permitted to buy alcoholic beverages from manufacturers and distributors outside Florida and sell those products to licensed Florida manufacturers and distributors. Importers are not permitted to take possession of the alcoholic beverages they buy and sell. Rather, the products that an importer purchases must be shipped directly to a manufacturer or distributor.

Florida exporters serve the purpose of getting Florida-manufactured products into the hands of wholesalers and other buyers outside the United States. A Florida brewery, winery, or distillery is allowed to export its own products (rather than working through a separate exporter), but the manufacturer still must comply with Federal and state export licensing and regulatory requirements.

Florida importers and exporters cannot make sales directly to vendors or retail customers, with only two exceptions.

Exception #1: a Florida importer that is also licensed as a Florida distributor can sell imported products to vendors.

Exception #2: a Florida exporter that is also licensed as a Florida manufacturer can sell its products to retail customers in a licensed taproom, tasting room, or gift shop.

When it comes to Florida’s Three Tier System, importers and non-manufacturing exporters are generally classified in the “distributor” tier. As such, they are prohibited from having a financial or controlling interest in either a manufacturer or vendor licensed in Florida (discussed in numerous other posts).

A question that is often asked: Can a Florida importer purchase beer, wine, or liquor from outside the United States and sell it directly to customers via the internet? The answer is clearly no.

Federal and State Licensing Requirements

Importers must hold a Basic Importer Permit issued by the federal TTB, and they must hold a Florida Importer or Broker/Sales Agent license. The federal Basic Importer Permit does not require paying a license fee or maintaining a tax bond. A Florida Importer license can be issued to a non-resident person or company, but a Florida Importer must have a Florida office address. The Florida Importer license requires payment of an annual licensing fee (currently, $500 per year) but does not require a tax bond.

In addition to holding a Florida Importer or Broker/Sales Agent license, it might be necessary for an importer to apply to the Florida ABT as the “primary American source of supply” (PASS) for an importer product (See Florida Statutes Section 564.045 and Section 565.095). Importers can only purchase wine or liquor products from the PASS, unless the importer is the PASS. The PASS is the manufacturer, bottler, or legally authorized exclusive agent that is the source closest to the manufacturer in the channel of commerce from which an American distributor can obtain the product. A foreign manufacturer or bottler can register as the PASS itself, in which case it will also be the brand registrant. Where the foreign manufacturer or bottler cannot or does not register as the PASS, the importer can apply to the Florida ABT to be designated as the PASS, in which case the importer will be the brand registrant.

Florida-based exporters must hold a Basic Wholesaler Permit issued by the federal TTB, and they must register as an Exporter with the Florida ABT. Florida Exporter registration involves essentially the same steps as applying for a Florida beverage license, but there is no registration fee. The federal Basic Wholesaler Permit and Florida Exporter registration are requirements even for a Florida manufacturer that wishes to export its products by selling directly to non-US buyer. Neither the federal Basic Wholesaler Permit nor the Florida Exporter registration requires paying a licensing fee or maintaining a tax bond.

Responsibility for Federal and State Regulations and Taxes

At the federal level, regulations for importers are mostly concerned with paying excise taxes, confirming the importer products’ country of origin, and complying with federal labeling requirements. Importers are responsible for paying federal excise taxes on imported products, which must be paid before products are allowed to clear US Customs. Wine importers are also required to comply with specific product certifications requirements.

Florida regulations that apply to importers focus on enforcing importers’ position in the Three Tier System. Florida importers are required to file monthly operations reports with the Florida ABT, but importers do not generally pay Florida excise taxes. Florida excise taxes on products that are sold to a Florida distributor are paid by the distributor.

In comparison, there are relatively few Federal and State of Florida regulations that apply to exported products. Under Federal regulations, exported products must be marked “Export.” Exported products are not subject to Federal or state excise taxes. Federal regulations provide specific requirements for export sales of taxpaid products and tax unpaid products.

Exporters must also pay close attention to the laws and regulations of the countries to which they are exporting. The federal TTB provides some guidance about the requirements of several countries.

Do you have questions about importing or exporting alcoholic beverages in Florida? Contact us at to schedule a consultation with a beverage attorney.

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