Can You Ship Alcohol in a Care Package?


Almost everyone who has been through a deployment has a booze and care package story. They colored the water and made vodka look like mouthwash. They sent tiny airplane bottles stuffed in socks. One of the bottles leaked and the smell (and soaked box) made it obvious to everyone what was in the box.

The exact story doesn’t matter. No matter the story, the incident becomes a funny anecdote once deployment is over and is shared (usually, ironically–or not-so-ironically) over drinks.

I’ll be real honest: John and I do not have one of those stories. In all of the tons of care packages I’ve sent him, I’ve never, ever sent alcohol. Not even in a St. Patrick’s Day care package.

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Sending booze isn’t just about the bottles exploding in care packages and creating a mess. It’s also about company policies and state and national laws. (And there are a lot of them.) But let’s get to the questions that I get frequently from would-be care package creators. (Please remember, this is not legal advice in any sense; I am not a lawyer. If you have legal questions, contact a professional.)

Can I send alcohol in the mail?

I’m gonna give it to you straight: no. As a regular, ol’ person, you cannot send alcohol to someone else in the mail. It’s considered a restricted substance, which means that there are safe, legal ways to do it; however, because you’re an individual and not a licensed company, you can’t do that. Not only do state and national laws prevent it, USPS, UPS, and FedEx all prohibit people from shipping alcohol. Case closed.

But I’m older than 21!

Your age (and the age of the recipient) doesn’t matter when it comes to shipping booze. You can be super old, super young, or somewhere in between. When it comes to the mail and alcohol, it doesn’t matter about your age: it matters if you’re a licensed shipper. (And chances are, you’re not…unless you own a winery, brewery, distillery, or distribution center and are actively already shipping alcohol.)

But what about sending alcohol to a Muslim country?

There are currently 16 countries around the world that observe complete prohibition. (17 if you count India which has certain dry provinces.) While most of the countries are majority Muslim, not all are. Some of those countries have a U.S. military presence.

No, you should not send alcohol in a care package to your deployed sweetie when they’re in a dry country. But honestly, if you follow the rules, you shouldn’t send booze at all. It’s not just illegal to send it to a Muslim country– it’s illegal for you to send it within the United States too. (Seriously! And in some states, it’s a felony to do so!)

If you still want to send alcohol and your loved one is in a country that prohibits it, I think you need to take a deeper look at the situation. Why do you want to send a prohibited substance in the first place? What is the worst-case scenario for your deployed loved one if they’re caught? What are the consequences? Could not abiding by the rules of another country cause issues for your deployed loved one? Will you make their life harder?

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Should I send alcohol in the mail?

It’s true: lots of people send alcohol in the mail and simply do not declare it. I’m a rule-follower, so I can honestly say that I have never sent alcohol in a care package or otherwise. Ever.  I know something crazy would happen where the bottle would break or my box would be selected for a random customs screening.

I have a hard line when it comes to shipping things through the mail that aren’t allowable: I don’t do it and don’t advise others to do it either.

There aren’t any exceptions?

The USPS says that you can send cooking wine, mouthwash, and cold remedies that have trace amounts of alcohol.

What’s the best way to send booze through the mail?

If you want to ship alcohol to someone, do it legally through a third-party. There are plenty of companies that have licenses and infrastructure to ship alcohol and follow the rules. (And let’s be honest, they probably know exactly the right way to pack it so it doesn’t become a mess, too.) If you’re into supporting small businesses, check out the shipping options by wineries, breweries, and distilleries in your area. They may have a burgeoning business that you could help support.

There are also companies like Drizly and Saucey that are basically Grubhub for booze. You order alcohol, and they’ll hand-deliver it. For this option, you’ll want to make sure that your recipient lives somewhere that they can receive an alcohol shipment (and that is a service area) and that they’ll be home. (Saucey delivers within 30 minutes of ordering, and Drizly promises delivery within 60 minutes.)

Of course, no matter what method you choose, you want to make sure that the company can deliver to where your loved one is… and that your recipient actually wants you to send them alcohol. It would be a lot of wasted time and effort if you found out that they didn’t after the fact.

I still want to send alcohol. What can I ship?

If you’re more about the flavor or culture of alcohol than the actual alcohol itself, there are plenty of options for creating a care package with a boozy theme. If you’re making up an Ireland or St. Patrick’s Day-themed box, try these Guinness potato chips, which are seasoned with barley and hops. Jelly Belly makes beer-flavored jelly beans (which they also package in small beer bottles). There are wine-flavored lip balms and champagne-flavored chocolates. Of course, you can send fun items like engraved pint glasses or socks that say “If you can read this, bring me wine.” If your loved one has access to alcohol, you can always send them mixes, salts, and sauces for their own mixed drinks and concoctions.

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