The legal drinking age in 21 popular destinations

International travelers must keep up with all kinds of sobering rules as they cross borders: Entry regulations, currency exchanges, customs reporting and such.

Younger globetrotters – at least those with a penchant to imbibe – have one extra thing to keep up with: the legal drinking age.

It’s not a uniform figure across the world. Some nations with a party reputation have a legal drinking age that might be a surprise as well as a buzzkill.

A couple of things to keep in mind about drinking while traveling abroad: Enforcement of laws is not always consistent. Just because a destination has a well-deserved reputation for “looking the other way” on underage drinking doesn’t mean that’s always the case. Also, laws for buying wine, beer and liquor might be stricter or different than for consuming it.

So, it’s best to learn about the alcohol laws and drinking customs of your destination before you eagerly quaff that adult beverage and perhaps land in hot water.

In that spirit, here’s a brief look at the legal drinking ages in 21 popular travel destinations plus some extremes in the laws.


Legal drinking age: 18

Don’t cry for an alcoholic beverage in Argentina if you’re 17 or younger. You must be 18 or older to have a drink. It’s also forbidden in public spaces or during sports and entertainment events in stadiums. However, you can drink up in restaurants, bars and nightclubs until 5 a.m. to fuel all-night tango dancing.


Legal drinking age: 18

Whether you want some local red wine in a tony Melbourne café, a shot of liquor before clubbing in Sydney or a refreshing beer in the blistering Outback, you must be 18 or older to enjoy it legally. Be aware that Australia has a mishmash of local laws about where and when you can drink in public. For instance, you can’t drink in many outdoor public areas on New Year’s Eve in Sydney.


Legal drinking age: 18


Legal drinking age: 18

You’re supposed to be 18 or older before you say olá to that caipirinha, the national drink of Brazil. The country does not have a reputation for enforcing that law very strongly – though the US State Department for one warns about the hazards of flouting overseas drinking laws. Brazil does have reputation for strict enforcement of laws against drinking and driving.


Legal drinking age: 19 (with notable exceptions)

If you’re looking forward to a Molson or a Labatt in the Great White North, you’ll need to be 19 or older. That’s unless you’re in Alberta, Manitoba or Quebec, where they’ll cut you a 12-month break. You’re legally OK to drink alcoholic beverages at 18 in those three destinations. In Canada, each province and territory gets to set its own rules.

Czech Republic

Legal drinking age: 18

The citizens of the Czech Republic consume more beer per person than any nation, according to stats from World Population Review, almost doubling their closest competitors of Austria and Poland. To legally join in the drinking of a Pilsner Urquell or other favorite beer, you must be 18. Be mindful of Prague’s public drinking laws; it’s illegal in most streets of the Old Town. Pay attention to the signs.


Legal drinking age: 18

Americans and others might still have the notion that French teens just grow up drinking wine like it’s no big deal. But things aren’t quite as laissez-faire as they once were. For example, France raised the minimum age from 16 to 18 in 2009. It’s not a total crackdown though. People 16 and 17 can drink in public venues if they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.


Legal drinking age: 16 or 18 (depending on the type of drink)

If you wish to explore your budding tastes in beer and wine, you can do so at 16 years old at Germany’s Oktoberfests, other festivals and bars. In fact, you can take your first sips at 14 if a parent or guardian is present. However, it’s verboten to purchase and drink the harder stuff until you’re 18. Neighbors Belgium and Denmark also allow 16-year-olds to buy and drink beverages containing less than 1.2% of distilled alcohol.


Legal drinking age: 18

Ghana has become a popular destination in West Africa, drawing in visitors with beaches and wildlife as well as cultural and culinary allures. The national spirit is akpeteshie (a traditional sugar cane alcohol). If you want to enjoy it legally, you must be 18.


Legal drinking age: 18

It’s a big part of Irish travel immersion: pub life! If you want to enjoy a Guinness or Baileys Irish Cream in the free and clear, you’ll have to be 18 or older. Younger folks can go to the pubs, too, if they can pass through a few legal loopholes. Parents are allowed to take their children into pubs if the owner consents. But there are time restrictions for how long a person can remain in the pub based on the child’s age and even the time of year.


Legal drinking age: 18

You must be 18 or older to drink alcoholic beverages there. Guidebooks advise you to be ready to present ID at bars, nightclubs and restaurants. Don’t expect alcoholic drinks to be available in Islamic and Arabic communities inside Israel. Known more for religious sites than roistering, Jerusalem nonetheless has drinking options. In party central Tel Aviv, you might be surprised that bars and nightclubs have the right to set their own minimum ages for drinking and for entry, which can run as high as 25.


Legal drinking age: 18

If you think la dolce vita involves buying fine Italian wines, Limoncello and other alcoholic fare at a café, then you’ll need to be 18 to do so on your own. You should have ID at the ready, though the age rules might not be strictly enforced. Italy is rather relaxed about alcohol in general. People 17 and younger can have a drink with their parents and no one will likely look askance. But the parents need to be the ones doing the buying.


Legal drinking age: 20

Japan has a reputation for a hard-charging drinking scene, but you’ll have to be 20 or older to enjoy a night of carousing for sake and shochu. (That’s the same minimum age you’re allowed to smoke and gamble, too). Alcohol is rather easy to find in convenience stores, supermarkets and chain restaurants as well as bars and izakaya (Japanese style pubs). You can also drink alcoholic beverages on the high-speed Shinkansen trains and other public spaces.


Legal drinking age: 18

The sunny, festive home of tequila permits legal drinking at 18 or older, and it’s rather easy to buy alcohol in many spots day or night. Despite its reputation as a party destination, some of Mexico’s laws around drinking might surprise you. Open alcohol containers in public are illegal, and drinking on public streets is prohibited. It’s against the law to be drunk in public, too.

The Philippines

Legal drinking age: 18

The Philippines – where the beaches come warm and the beer comes cold. If you want to enjoy an icy San Miguel legally, you’ll need to be 18 or older. Warning: This status might not last forever. In 2022, there was movement afoot to change the minimum drinking age to 21. And if you have thoughts of getting bashed on the beaches of Boracay, think again. They cracked down on that years ago.

South Africa

Legal drinking age: 18

Dramatic coastlines. Stunning wildlife. Epic hiking trails. Rich cultural offerings. If that wasn’t enough, South Africa is also making quite a name for itself in global wine circles. You’ll need to be 18 or older to legally share a vintage in the place where it’s made. Like the Philippines, there’s also been a movement in South Africa to make the legal age to drink 21.


Legal drinking age: 18

If you long for más sangría” while visiting Madrid, Seville or other popular spots, you’ll need to be 18 or older to order it and drink it legally on your own. Decades ago, the legal drinking age in Spain was 16, but the regional governments in the nation began raising it to 18. Be careful where you drink. People in Madrid, for instance, can’t consume alcohol on the street, except in outdoor cafés and bars and at tables placed by the doors of bars. Walking around with an open beer in Barcelona can get you a fine. There are no age-limit laws about drinking in the privacy of a home.


Legal drinking age: 20

Here’s another country where the reputation for revelry might not line up with drinking age expectations. The legal drinking age in Thailand is 20 or older. If you’re 19 and younger and banking on lax enforcement of the laws or tourist exemptions, just know this limit can be taken seriously, including fines and possible jail time. In the trendy resort of Phuket, venues were raided on suspicion of selling alcohol to people below the age limit.

United Arab Emirates

Legal drinking age: It depends on the emirate

One of the biggest tourism magnets of the 21st century, the UAE is a federation of seven emirates on the Arabian Peninsula. Each one has its own way of doing things – that includes age limits on drinking. According to the Australian government’s Smart Traveller website, “The legal drinking age in Abu Dhabi is 18 years. However, a Ministry of Tourism by-law means hotels can only serve alcohol to people aged over 21 years. The legal drinking age in Dubai and the northern Emirates is 21 years.” In the emirate of Sharjah, any alcoholic beverage is illegal for any age.

United Kingdom

Legal drinking age: 18

If you want to salute your visit to the UK (be it England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland) with a pint, you’ll need to be 18 or older. As with other places, there are a few exceptions: If you’re 16 or 17, you’re sanctioned to drink some types of alcohol – beer, cider and wine. But it must be with a meal, and you must be with an adult. If you’re 15 or younger, you may enter licensed premises such as pubs with an adult, but no drinking alcohol. And then Northern Ireland has its own set of additional, very specific rules if you go there.

United States

Legal drinking age: 21

The 16- to 20-year-old set in much of Europe and other places with more liberal drinking laws can have a sobering adjustment visiting the United States. The Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act of 1984 sets 21 as the legal age to buy alcohol. Every state currently follows the standard. And here we come with the exceptions again: A critical word is buying. States do have differing laws on consumption.

For instance, Wisconsin law says that “persons under age 21 may possess and consume alcohol beverages if they are with their parents, guardians or spouses of legal drinking age; but this is at the discretion of the licensee” of the bar. The word state is also critical. The legal drinking age in the territory of Puerto Rico is 18 (though you must be 21 to enter some bars and clubs.) It’s also 18 for the US Virgin Islands.

Drinking age extremes and oddities

According to a 2018 report from the UN’s World Health Organization, most of the world’s nations allow the consumption of alcoholic beverages. And most have 18 as their minimum drinking age. There are some noteworthy deviations from the norm in the report, however:

Early starts: If you think Germany has an early legal drinking age, then check out Burkina Faso, a landlocked nation in West Africa where on-premises drinking at bars and such is allowed at 13. In neighboring Mali (home of Timbuktu), beer and wine can be bought and consumed at 15.

Late starts: Another African nation offers another age extreme. In Eritrea, you can’t drink alcoholic beverages unless you’re 25 or older.

No age law at all: A few nations don’t even address the issue. That includes Cambodia, home to the ancient Angkor Wat city. However, there is a movement to set a minimum drinking age in this Southeast Asian country.

A real patchwork: India is another nation where the drinking laws vary by state. For instance, the legal drinking age in beach haven Goa and mountainous Sikkim is 18. For Uttar Pradesh (home of the Taj Mahal), it’s 21. Gujarat, known for its temples and White Desert, is officially dry. But news reports indicate the alcohol still flows.

Speaking of dry: If the easy flow of alcohol is an important part of your travel experience, it might be best to pass on places such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iran. They have alcohol bans for their citizens, and workarounds, if any, for foreigners and tourists are cumbersome and possibly expensive.

Males and females: There have even been laws that set different rules for males and females regarding alcohol purchases. In 1976, the US Supreme Court struck down an Oklahoma law that allowed women to make purchases of low-strength beers at 18 while men had to wait until 21. None other than future Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then the counsel to the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, helped argue against the law.

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