Legal drinking age explained

The legal drinking age refers to the minimum age when a person is legally allowed to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages in his/her home country. Drinking ages vary greatly around the world, from countries in Europe where people may consume alcoholic beverages as young as 16 or 17, to states in India where the drinking age is as high as 25. Many nations heavily populated by Muslims prohibit alcohol consumption by people of that religion.


rowspan=2Country / Regioncolspan=2De jurerowspan=2Notes
Drinking AgePurchase Age
Algeriaalign=center colspan=218[1]
Botswanacolspan=2 align=center16
Egyptcolspan=2 align=center18, 21[2]
Eritreacolspan=2 align=center16
Ethiopiacolspan=2 align=center18
Ghanacolspan=2 align=center18[3]
Kenyacolspan=2 align=center18
Libyacolspan=2 align=centerillegal
Malawicolspan=2 align=center18
Mauritiuscolspan=2 align=centernone
Morocconone[4] 16
Namibiaalign=center colspan=218
Nigeralign=center colspan=218
Nigeriaalign=center colspan=218
South Africacolspan=2 align=center18
Swazilandcolspan=2 align=center18
Sudancolspan=2 align=centerillegal
Ugandacolspan=2 align=center18
Zambiaalign=center colspan=216
Zimbabwealign=center colspan=216


rowspan=2Country / regioncolspan=2De jurerowspan=2Notes
Drinking AgePurchase Age
Antiguacolspan=2 align=center18
Argentinacolspan=2 align=center18[5]
Bahamascolspan=2 align=center18
Barbadoscolspan=2 align=center18
Belizecolspan=2 align=center18
Bermudacolspan=2 align=center18
Boliviacolspan=2 align=center18[6]
Brazilcolspan=2 align=center18
rowspan=2Canadacolspan=2 align=center18in Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec. Underage drinking by 16-17 year olds under parental supervision is permitted in Manitoba. Underage drinking by minors, under parental supervision in a residence or a temporary residence, is permitted in Alberta.[7]
colspan=2 align=center19in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut. Underage drinking under parental supervision is permitted in licensed premises in New Brunswick, and at home in the provinces of Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Ontario[8] and Saskatchewan.[9] (To be clear, in BC, only children of the supervising parents are allowed underage drinking, not any other minors or guests. Consumption of alcohol in another person's home is subject to other laws.)[10]
Cayman Islandscolspan=2 align=center18[11]
Chilecolspan=2 align=center18
Colombiacolspan=2 align=center18
Costa Ricacolspan=2 align=center18
Dominican Republiccolspan=2 align=center18
Ecuadorcolspan=2 align=center18
Guatemalacolspan=2 align=center18
Haiticolspan=2 align=center16
Hondurascolspan=2 align=center18[12]
Jamaicacolspan=2 align=center18
Mexicocolspan=2 align=center18[13]
Nicaraguacolspan=2 align=center18
Panamacolspan=2 align=center18
Paraguaycolspan=2 align=center20
Perucolspan=2 align=center18
Trinidad and Tobagocolspan=2 align=center18
Turks and Caicos Islandscolspan=2 align=center18
United States
(50 States and D.C.)
colspan=2 align=center21The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 states that revenue will be withheld from states that allow the purchase of alcohol by anyone under the age of 21. Prior to the effective date of that Act, the drinking age varied from state to state. Some states do not allow those under the legal drinking age to be present in liquor stores or in bars (usually, the difference between a bar and a restaurant is whether food is being served). Contrary to popular belief, since the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, few states specifically prohibit minors' and young adults' consumption of alcohol in private settings. As of January 1, 2007, 14 states and the District of Columbia ban underage consumption outright, 19 states do not specifically ban underage consumption, and an additional 17 states have family member and/or location exceptions to their underage consumption laws.
Federal law explicitly provides for religious, medical, employment and private club possession exceptions; as of 2005, 31 states have family member and/or location exceptions to their underage possession laws. However, non-alcoholic beer in many (but not all)states, some including California, Idaho, Texas, and Maryland, is considered legal for minors (those under the age of 21).[14]
Puerto Rico (U.S.)colspan=2 align=center18
US Virgin Islands (U.S.)colspan=2 align=center18
Uruguaycolspan=2 align=center18
Venezuelacolspan=2 align=center18


rowspan=2Country / regioncolspan=2De jurerowspan=2Notes
Drinking AgePurchase Age
Armeniacolspan=2 align=center21
Azerbaijanalign=center colspan=218
Bangladeshcolspan=2 align=centerillegal
Bruneicolspan=2 align=centerillegal
Cambodiacolspan=2 align=centernone[15]
People's Republic of Chinacolspan=2 align=center18Introduced in January 2006.[16]
Hong Kongalign=center colspan=218
Indiacolspan=2 align=center18–25 (varies between states).Consumption of alcohol is prohibited in the states of Gujarat, Manipur and Mizoram.[17]
Iraqcolspan=2 align=center18
Irancolspan=2 align=centerillegal[18]
Israelcolspan=2 align=center18
Jordancolspan=2 align=center18[19]
Japancolspan=2 align=center20
Kuwaitcolspan=2 align=centerillegal
Mongoliaalign=center colspan=218[21]
Pakistancolspan=2 align=centerIllegal (21 for non-Muslims)
Philippines[22] none18
Saudi Arabiacolspan=2 align=centerillegalForbidden by Sharia (Islamic Law, with qur'anic and other traditional legal inspirations). Offenders are typically punished with lashes.
Singaporecolspan=2 align=center18
South Korea (Republic of Korea)colspan=2 align=center19Anyone who will be over 19 by the end of the year can drink and purchase alcohol.
Sri Lankacolspan=2 align=center18
Taiwancolspan=2 align=center18[23]
  • It is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to consume alcohol.[24]
  • Parents, guardians, and others taking care of people under 18 shall prohibit underage drinking,[25] or risk administrative fines of 10000 to 50000 new Taiwan dollars when the situations are serious.[26]
  • One shall not supply alcohol to anyone under the age of 6.[27] A violator shall be administratively fined 3000 to 15000 new Taiwan dollars.[28]
Thailandcolspan=2 align=center18
United Arab Emiratesalign=center colspan=2-Expatriate, non-Muslim residents may request a liquor permit to purchase alcoholic beverages; it is illegal for such holders to provide drinks to others.[29]


rowspan=2Country / regioncolspan=2De jurerowspan=2Notes
Drinking AgePurchase Age
Albaniacolspan=2 align=center18
Austriacolspan=2 align=center16, 18 for distilled beverages in some statesUpper Austria, Salzburg and Tirol prohibit the consumption of distilled beverages below the age of 18, while Carinthia and Styria prohibit drinks containing more than 12% or 14% of alcohol respectively in this age bracket. Carinthia additionally requires adolescents to maintain a blood alcohol level below 0.05%, while Upper Austria prohibits "excessive consumption", and Salzburg prohibits consumption that would result in a state of intoxication. Prohibitions in Vienna, Burgenland, Lower Austria and Vorarlberg apply only to alcohol consumption in public. Vienna additionally prohibits the consumption of alcohol in schools under the age of 18.[30]
Belaruscolspan=2 align=center18
Belgium(Bars etc.) 16 / 18 for distilled & strong spirits (>22%)none / 18 for distilled & strong spirits (>22%)
Bosnia and Herzegovinacolspan=2 align=center18 (the law is not really in practice)Around 5% of 13 year olds drink alcohol more than once a week,[31] less than half average rate across the European Union.[32]
Bulgariacolspan=2 align=center18
Croatiacolspan=2 align=center18
Cypruscolspan=2 align=center17
Czech Republiccolspan=2 align=center18[33]
Denmarknone16 (Stores) 18 (Bars)To buy alcohol in stores one must be 16, however some bars have a limit at 18. There is no drinking age, only a purchase age, and an adult can buy alcohol for a minor. By tradition youths are privately allowed to drink alcohol after their confirmation.Alcohol culture in Denmark If a shop or bar fails to ask for an ID-card and they are identified having sold alcohol to an underage, they are fined. A national ID-card can be obtained in the local town hall in order for the youth to verify their age in shops.[34] This card is rarely used though, since a passport or moped-licence can be used.[35]
Estoniacolspan=2 align=center18
Finlandnone18 (up to 22% ABV in stores and all alcohol in bars), 20 (all alcohol); alcohol may not be sold to intoxicated customers.
Francecolspan=2 align=center16; for drinking strong liquor on premises: 18[36] It is not customary to request identification, unless the person is manifestly of inappropriate age. It is, however, illegal to sell alcohol to a minor under 16.[37] It is illegal for someone under the age of 16 to be at a bar without an adult, even if drinking a non-alcoholic drink.
Germany1616, 18 for distilled beverages[38] Possession or consumption of alcohol by minors is not outlawed, but it is illegal to sell them alcohol or let them drink in public below the respective drinking age. "Normal" alcoholic beverages (not distilled beverages) may be consumed by youths between 14 and 16 in public when in presence of a legal guardian; drinking in private is not controlled. The restrictions on distilled beverages apply also to mixed drinks containing them.
Icelandcolspan=2 align=center20[39] Possession or consumption of alcohol by minors is not an offence but supplying them with alcohol is. However, law allows alcohol possessed by a minor to be confiscated.
Ireland18 in public, none in private[40] -- Bot generated title -->]18
Italynone in private or in stores. 16 in pubs and restaurants.16
Liechtensteincolspan=2 align=center16 for wine, beer and cider
18 for spirits & spirit-based beverages. eg. alcopops
Wine, beer and ciders as well as some other party drinks which may not contain spirits can be purchased by the age of 16. Spirits as well as alcopops can be sold only to people above the age of 18.[41]
Luxembourgcolspan=2 align=center16
Latviacolspan=2 align=center18
Lithuaniacolspan=2 align=center18
Macedoniacolspan=2 align=center18
Maltanone16 (17 as of 2009)
Moldovacolspan=2 align=centerNo minimum age (beer),
18 (wine and spirits)
Netherlandsnone16 (under 15% ABV),
18 (15% ABV and over)
Norwaynone[42] 18 (under 22% ABV),
20 (over 22% ABV)
Drinking age is often erroneously perceived by the public as being 18 even though minors consuming alcohol are never held criminally responsible.
Polandcolspan=2 align=center18
Portugalcolspan=2 align=center16 none in private
Romanianone18Usually not asked for an ID.
Sweden18 (bars and restaurants)20 (Systembolaget[43] stores) 18 (beer with 2.25%–3.5% ABV in normal shops)See also alcohol in Sweden. Bars/clubs often voluntarily choose to have higher age limits than 18, commonly 20 or 23.
Switzerlandcolspan=2 align=center16 for wine, beer and cider
16-18 (varies from canton to canton) for spirits & spirit-based beverages ie. alcopops
Turkeycolspan=2 align=center18
(allowed only in licensed premises)
Alcohol beverages are banned in many cafes and restaurants across major towns and cities in Turkey, and "drinking zones" have been created in some suburbs. Offenders could face maximum fines of more than TRY9,000, and in some areas licenses are required. The new laws were introduced since 2005, by the AK Parti government.[44] [45] [46] [47] A minimum of 16 years of age are allowed to drink non-distilled beverages while being accompanied by parents.
Ukrainecolspan=2 align=center18
United Kingdom18It is only illegal for those aged 5-17 to drink alcohol on licensed premises (e.g. a pub or restaurant); they may legally drink alcohol in private,
16 (liqueur chocolates) <
-- NB not 14, which keeps getting added here. The 2003 Act repealed the 1964 act, and raised the 'with meal' age from 13 to 16. -->16 (Beer/Wine/Cider in Pub/Restaurant if served with a meal and an adult orders it),Otherwise 18The legal age to purchase alcohol is 18. People aged 16 and 17 may consume wine, beer or cider with a table meal, provided they are with an adult and an adult orders it. (England & Wales only[48], Scotland no adult required to be present[49] [50]). The legal age for the purchase of liqueur chocolates is 16. Children under 5 must not be given alcohol unless under medical supervision or in an emergency (Children and Young Persons Act 1933, Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937).[51] [52]

Purchasing alcohol on behalf of a minor is illegal in England, Scotland and Wales.[53] [54]


rowspan=2Country / regioncolspan=2De jurerowspan=2Notes
Drinking AgePurchase Age
American Samoa (U.S.)colspan=2 align=center18
Australiacolspan=2 align=center18Liquor laws vary by state. It is illegal to buy, drink or possess alcohol if under 18 on licensed premises, but states allow drinking or possessing alcohol on private premises for people under the age of 18 (under the supervision of an adult[s]). In New South Wales there is no law against minors possessing or drinking alcohol on private premises, but there are laws against supplying or selling alcohol to a minor, as well as against minors "carrying away" alcohol from a licensed club.[55] [56] Minors may be on licensed premises accompanied by a parent or guardian (but not purchase alcohol) and parents can not provide alcohol with a meal on licensed premises. In Victoria, if a minor is caught with alcohol it will be confiscated and guardians notified of the offense, and a fine may occur. It is also illegal to provide minors with alcohol, and one can be fined by it if caught in the act. It is illegal to buy alcohol if already drunk, and to supply alcohol to such a person.[57] In all States, it is illegal to drink in a vehicle and drivers cannot operate a vehicle with a blood-alcohol concentration level higher than 0.05 when on their open license. Provisional and learner drivers must not drive with any detectable blood-alcohol present. Commercial drivers have a limit of 0.02 whilst working. (New South Wales)
Fijicolspan=2 align=center21Legal Drinking Age was increased from 18 to 21 in 2006 via the LIQUOR ACT 2006
Guam (U.S.)colspan=2 align=center18
New ZealandNone18Alcohol can be sold only by licensed premises, but there is no obligation to serve any person. It is illegal to purchase alcohol if one is already drunk. Drinking on public transport is prohibited unless the vehicle (e.g. ship, train) holds a liquor license. Minors can drink alcohol in a public place if they are accompanied and it is provided by their parent or guardian; this includes licensed premises, such as restaurants, and at private social gatherings, but excludes designated restricted areas in pubs and bars, where persons under the age of 18 are not permitted. ** Minors (under 18s) can be fined if they drink alcohol in public places, without a parent or guardian present. While there are extensive laws prohibiting alcohol purchase by any person under 18 years of age, to actually drink alcohol (without the element of purchasing) is NOT currently an offence. Usually any person under 18 without a guardian who is found consuming alcohol in a public place will have the drink removed and if intoxicated will be returned to their home, or be held by police until sober. On 8 November 2006 the New Zealand Parliament rejected a bill to return the legal age to 20[58] after significant lobbying by the Keepit18 group[59] and others.
Northern Mariana Islands (U.S.)colspan=2 align=center21
Palaucolspan=2 align=center21
Papua New Guineacolspan=2 align=centernone
Samoacolspan=2 align=center16
Solomon Islandscolspan=2 align=centernone
Tongacolspan=2 align=center18
Tokelaucolspan=2 align=center18
Vanuatucolspan=2 align=center18

See also

Notes and References

  1. Web site: Minimum Drinking and Purchasing Age Laws. 2007-09-17. February. 2007. International Center for Alcohol Policies.
  2. Global Status Report: Alcohol Policy, Egypt
  3. Web site: Global Status Report: Alcohol Policy - Country Profiles. World Health Organization.
  4. Web site: Minimum Legal Ages for Alcohol Purchase or Consumption Around the World. World Health Organization.
  5. Web site: Minimum Drinking and Purchasing Age Laws. 2007-11-03. 2002. The Deuce Media Ltd..
  6. Web site: Minimum Drinking and Purchasing Age Laws. 2007-09-17. February. 2007. International Center for Alcohol Policies.
  7. Alberta Gaming and Liquor Act
  8. Liquor Licence Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. L.19
  9. Drinking Age Limits
  11. Web site: Cayman Islands - Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, Travel and Tourism Site. 2008-03-05. 2008-03-05. Cayman Islands Department of Tourism.
  13. Web site: Mexico. 2008-02-08. U.S. Department of State. 2008-01-22.
  15. Global Status Report: Alcohol Policy, Cambodia
  16. China bans under-age drinking
  17. Web site: Alcohol Prohibition and Addictive Consumption in India. 2008-03-11. PDF.
  18. Global Status Report: Alcohol Policy, Islamic Republic of Iran
  19. Global Status Report: Alcohol Policy, Jordan
  20. Food and Drink
  21. Global Status Report: Alcohol Policy, Mongolia
  22. Global Status Report: Alcohol Policy, Philippines
  23. Article 2 of the Children and Youth Welfare Law (zh:兒童及少年福利法) of the Republic of China, effective since 2003-05-28 in Taiwan Area, defines children and youth as people under the age of 18.
  24. Clause 1 of Section 1 of Article 26 of the Children and Youth Welfare Law (zh:兒童及少年福利法) of the Republic of China, effective since 2003-05-28 in Taiwan Area
  25. Section 2 of Article 26 of the Children and Youth Welfare Law of the Republic of China
  26. Section 1 of Article 55 of the Children and Youth Welfare Law of the Republic of China
  27. Section 3 of Article 26 of the Children and Youth Welfare Law of the Republic of China
  28. Section 2 of Article 55 of the Children and Youth Welfare Law of the Republic of China
  29. Web site: International Drinking Guidelines. International Center for Alcohol Policies. 2009-02-17.
  30. information based on the respective state Youth Protection Laws, available at, as of December 11, 2007
  31. Web site: Health behaviour in school-aged children survey- Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina year 2002. 15&surveycode=101595a1. WHO. 2002.
  32. Web site: Report on alcohol in the WHO European Region. pdf.
  33. International Center for Alcohol Policies: Age Laws Table
  34. Web site: [ Lov om forbud mod salg af tobak og alkohol til personer under 16 år]. dk.
  35. Få unge har købt legitimationskort
  36. Code of public health: L3342-1 « [In all places providing beverages either for immediate consumption or not] and all public places, it is prohibited to sell or offer alcoholic drinks to minors younger than 16, either for immediate consumption or for carrying away. ». L3342-2 further restricts sales for immediate consumptions of certain categories of alcoholic drinks to adults over 18; these categories include mostly all alcohols stronger than cider, beer or wine, as defined in L3321-1. L3342-3 prohibits receiving minors younger than 16 in premises selling alcohol unless they are with a parent, tutor, or other guardian over 18, except that minors at least 13 year old can be received in places selling only nonalcoholic or nearly nonalcoholic drinks (< 1.2°).
  37. L3353-3
  38. German law for the protection of minors
  39. Practical Information
  40. <
  41. Jugendgesetz vom 19. Dezember 1979
  42. Proposition to Odelstinget rejecting the idea of holding minors criminally responsible for the purchase or consumption of alcohol
  43. Systembolaget - Rules on selling
  44. Turkey: Alcohol ban in government cafes and restaurants
  45. Secular Turkey is angered by spectre of alcohol-free zones
  46. Turkey's Islamist-rooted AKP to propose new bans on alcohol
  47. New alcohol law prompts fears for Turkish bar trade
  48. Consumption of alcohol by children
  49. Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976, section 68.
  50. Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005, section 105.
  51. Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (c.12) - Statute Law Database
  52. Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937 (c.37), section 16 - Statute Law Database
  53.|publisher= Department of Culture Media and Sport
  54. Web site: Alcohol: under aged drinking - law.
  55. Web site: LIQUOR ACT 1982 - SECT 115 Consumption etc of liquor by minor. 2008-02-08. State of New South Wales. 1982.
  56. Web site: Underage drinking offences. 2008-02-08. 2008-02-08. NSW Department of Gaming and Racing.
  57. Alcohol and young people
  58. Strong vote against bill to raise drinking age
  59. MPs back off from drinking age hike