Can I Ship Alcohol Back From Germany?
by Becca Stewart - January 18th, 2022
Your time in Germany is coming to an end. You’ll certainly miss those hillside vineyards and Bavarian bier halls. And while you might dread saying goodbye to that €2 stein of Dunkel, you might be able to bring a taste of Deutschland back home with you.
Read on to learn more about shipping alcohol back from Germany.
Can I ship alcohol back from Germany?
You can usually bring alcohol back from Germany. However, the amount you can transport depends on which state you’ll be entering during your PCS. In America, each state determines its own alcohol laws. Therefore, before your PCS, check with the state alcohol regulation authority in the state where you will reside. Doing your research up front can save you headaches (and heartache) down the road.
Service members and adults over 21 may bring back a liter of alcohol in their personal luggage completely duty-free. Some states may allow additional amounts, but you may have to pay IRS excise tax on anything over one liter.
If your state allows military families to ship “personal collections of alcohol,” you will generally pack your collection in either your unaccompanied baggage (UAB) or your household goods (HHG) shipment. We explain this process in more detail below.
The information here may not apply when moving from Germany to another OCONUS location. Check with your gaining installation for the country’s alcohol rules and regulations.
Check your state’s rules
How much alcohol can you bring back from Germany? The answer depends entirely on the state to which you are PCSing. In most cases, you can bring a “personal collection” of alcohol as part of your HHG shipment. To qualify, your collection must be intended for personal consumption and may not be sold upon your return.
As soon as you get orders back from Germany, contact your transportation management office (TMO). This office can help you understand the process and put you in touch with relevant contacts in the U.S. You may be required to obtain a letter from the state you’re entering, stating that you have permission to ship a personal collection of alcohol.
You should also contact the state’s alcohol regulation authority. Each state has its own laws regarding alcohol shipments, including taxes and allotted quantities. State laws can be more restrictive than federal laws. When it comes to alcohol, state laws supersede federal laws. Check the regulations for your gaining installation’s state here.
Some states have strict laws on how much alcohol you can transport, even if it’s a personal collection. Utah, for instance, is a “control state.” The Utah government strictly regulates the import of alcohol, even for personal use. However, Texas allows service members to “import an unlimited personal collection of malt beverages, wine, or distilled spirits along with their household goods when relocating to the state.”
Know before you go. Contact the state’s alcohol regulation authority to avoid any unpleasant surprises.
Get organized early
As soon as you get orders, it’s time to start sorting through your stash. German movers typically require a detailed list of all products you’re transporting. You may also need to complete other forms depending on your current location and the state you’re entering.
Alcohol shipments from Germany also require you to sign a power of attorney. This document allows the transportation company to clear your alcohol collection through U.S. customs. The transportation office at your current location can assist you with completing a power of attorney.
One way to keep everything organized is to create a spreadsheet detailing every bottle in your collection. Note the type of alcohol, the country of origin, alcohol content, quantity, and estimated value. This information will determine your total tax burden upon entry into the U.S., if any.
Counting and organizing your collection also helps ensure you don’t go over the state’s allotted limit. Exceeding those limits can cause shipment delays, additional fees, and even confiscation of your collection.
Packing your shipment
There are essentially three ways to ship your alcohol collection from Germany to the United States.
First, you can carry a small amount in your personal luggage. German and American laws allow travelers to carry up to a liter per person, duty-free. However, one liter of Riesling or Belgian Trappist beers probably won’t do for most people.
Your second option is the most popular with service members: pack your German alcohol collection with your HHG shipment. Talk with your local TMO for advice on preparing the bottles for shipment.
You can protect the rest of your belongings by providing a waterproof container. Heat and pressure changes can cause bottles to burst, and as much as you love that local pilsner, you probably don’t want it leaking all over the crate. Consider purchasing several plastic storage bins with lids. Then, wrap each bottle in bubble wrap or packing paper and arrange them snugly inside. Some movers will wrap and pack each bottle for you. Ask your transportation office for clarification before packing day.
Keep in mind that your collection will count against your weight allowance. Anything over your allotted weight will incur additional charges.
Finally, you can hire a third-party company to ship alcohol back from Germany in a climate-controlled environment. While this is a costly option, most of which is not covered under your moving expenses, it will protect your collection from damage.
Extreme heat or cold, in addition to pressure changes, can compromise the alcohol. High summer temperatures could change the flavor, damage the bottles, or spoil your collection entirely. Third-party transport keeps your alcohol in a climate- and pressure-controlled environment, therefore preserving the integrity of each bottle.
You may be able to get a portion of this private transport reimbursed under a personally procured move (PPM, formally a DITY move), but that’s not always the case. Again, talk with the TMO before going this route.
Be prepared for taxes
Some states waive duty and excise taxes for military service members. Oklahoma, for instance, allows military members to bring 180 liters of alcohol into the state without paying excise tax. Other states will require members to pay taxes on the entire shipment. Each state has different guidelines. Check with your state’s alcohol regulation authority for more information.