Legal Drinking Ages around the World – You’ll be Surprised!

Legal drinking ages around the world vary greatly. Most such laws apply only to drinking alcoholic beverages in public. The only countries with a minimum legal age for consuming alcohol at home are England and Wales. They prohibit drinking below the age of six.

          1. Background
          2. World Legal Drinking Ages List
          3. Alcohol Prohibition
          4. Legal Drinking Ages in U.S.
          5. Resources

I. Background

The average (mean) minimum legal drinking age around the globe is 10.3. Ninety-six (96) countries/possessions have a minimum drinking age of zero. And of those that have higher legal drinking ages, the average age is 18.6.

The enforcement of minimum legal drinking ages also varies widely between countries. And often within countries. In many nations, officers generally don’t enforce the law in the absence of abuse.

World-wide, the average age at which drinking alcohol first occurs is 12 years. About 80% of young people begin drinking alcoholic beverages regularly by age 15 or younger. That’s according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Drinking Age Laws

legal drinking agesIt’s important to distinguish between two types of age laws. The first sets minimum ages for drinking alcoholic beverages.

Countries may have age laws for drinking under various conditions. For example, for drinking with parents, in public, on private property, with parental approval, etc. Or they may combine different conditions. For example, drinking on private property with parental approval without their presence. Or drinking in public with a parent. 

The second sets minimum ages for buying alcohol beverages. Again, laws may set conditions. For example, a person may legally buy low alcohol proof beverages but not those of high proof.

legal drinking ages
Standard drinks have equal alcohol.

However, this policy is based on an old myth. But it continues. It’s that some alcoholic beverages are “stronger” than others. Yet standard drinks all have the same amount of pure alcohol. It’s 0.06 of an ounce. They’re all the same to a breath tester.

Very commonly, countries set lowest legal alcohol purchase ages. However, they don’t set any minimum age for its consumption. In fact, many listings of drinking ages actually use purchase ages for drinking ages! That is, compilers falsely assume that purchase ages and drinking ages are the same. 

As a result, many compilers incorrectly list countries that have no minimum drinking age as having them. This leads to much confusion. Especially, when the lists carry titles such as “World Drinking Ages,” “Drinking Ages in Different Countries,” and so on.

II. World Legal Drinking Ages List

No Minimum Legal Drinking Ages

  1. Angola
  2. Anguilla
  3. Armenia
  4. Azerbaijan

  5. Bahrain
  6. Barbados
  7. Belarus
  8. Belgium
  9. Benin
  10. Bolivia
  11. Bosnia and Herzegovina
  12. Botswana
  13. Brazil (19 in  some provinces)
  14. Bulgaria
  15. Burkina Faso
  16. Cambodia
  17. Cape Verde
  18. Czechnia
  19. China
  20. Columbia
  21. Comoros
  22. Costa Rica

  23. Croatia
  24. Cuba
  25. Cyprus
  26. Denmark
  27. Djibouti
  28. Dominican Republic
  29. Ecuador
  30. El Salvador
  31. Equatorial Guinea
  32. Eritrea
  33. Ethiopia
  34. Gambia

    legal drinking ages
  35. Georgia
  36. Gibraltar
  37. Greece
  38. Guinea-Bissau
  39. Haiti
  40. Hong Kong
  41. Iceland
  42. Indonesia
  43. Israel
  44. Italy

  45. Jamaica
  46. Kenya
  47. Kosovo
  48. Latvia
  49. Lebanon
  50. Liberia
  51. Luxembourg
  52. Macau
  53. Macedonia
  54. Madagascar
  55. Malawi

    legal drinking ages
  56. Mali
  57. Mauritius
  58. Moldova
  59. Morocco
  60. Myanmar
  61. Namibia
  62. Nepal
  63. Netherlands
  64. New  Zealand
  65. Nicaragua

  66. Niger
  67. Nigeria
  68. Northern Ireland
  69. Norway
  70. Panama
  71. Peru
  72. Poland
  73. Portugal
  74. Romania
  75. Russia
  76. Rwanda
  77. Sao Tome & Principia
  78. Senegal
  79. Serbia
  80. Sierra Leone
  81. Slovenia
  82. Solomon  Islands
  83. South Korea
  84. Spain
  85. Switzerland

    Turks & Caicos Islands
  86. Trinidad and Tobago
  87. Timor-Leste
  88. Togo
  89. Turks & Caicos Islands
  90. Uganda
  91. Uruguay
  92. Uzbekistan
  93. Venezuela
  94. Vietnam
  95. Western  Sahara
  96. Zimbabwe

Minimum Drinking Age of 15

  1. Central African Republic

Minimum Drinking Age of 16

  1. Austria (18 in some areas and varies by beverage)

  2. British Virgin Islands
  3. Congo
  4. Dominica
  5. Germany (varies by beverage)
  6. Guyana (varies by beverage)
  7. Liechtenstein (varies by beverage)
  8. Lithuania
  9. Palestinian Authority
  10. Saint Lucia
  11. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  12. San Marino
  13. Wales (age 5 in private)
  14. Zambia (varies by beverage)

Minimum Drinking Age of 17

  1. Malta

Countries that laws for minimum drinking ages aren’t based on science. They’re based on cultural, religious, political, ideological, and other factors. But science remains the same around the world. So they clearly aren’t based on science.

Minimum Drinking Age of 18

  1. Albania
  2. Andorra
  3. Angola
  4. Antigua and Barbuda
  5. Argentina
  6. Australia (varies by state)
  7. Bahamas
  8. Barundi (any age with parent)
  9. Belize
  10. Bermuda

    legal drinking ages
    Standard drinks have equal alcohol.
  11. Canada (19 in many provinces)
  12. Chad (any age with parent)
  13. Chile
  14. England (age 5 in private)
  15. Estonia
  16. Falkland Islands
  17. Finland (varies by beverage)
  18. Fiji (lowered from 21)
  19. France (any age in private)
  20. Gabon
  21. Grenada (any age in private)
  22. Guatemala
  23. Guyana (varies by beverage)
  24. Honduras
  25. Hungary
  26. India (varies by state)
  27. Ireland (any age in private residence)
  28. Jordan
  29. Kyrgyzstan
  30. Lebanon (no enforcement generally)
  31. Lesoto
  32. Lithuania
  33. Mexico
  34. Mongolia
  35. Montenegro
  36. Mozambique
  37. Nepal
  38. North Korea
  39. Pakistan (for non-Muslims)
  40. Papua New Guinea
  41. Philippine
  42. Poland
  43. Puerto Rico
  44. Republic of Congo
  45. Samoa (any age with parent)
  46. Scotland (any age in private)
  47. Seychelles
  48. Singapore (any age in private)
  49. Slovakia
  50. South Africa (any age with parent)
  51. South Sudan
  52. Swaziland
  53. Sweden (none for low proof beverages)
  54. Syria
  55. Taiwan
  56. Tanzania
  57. Thailand
  58. Tokelau
  59. Tonga
  60. Turkey
  61. Turkmenistan
  62. Ukraine
  63. United Arab Emirates (varies by jurisdiction)
  64. U.S. Virgin Islands
  65. Vanuatu
  66. Zambia
  67. Minimum Drinking Age of 19
  68. Nicaragua
  69. South Korea

Minimum Drinking Age of 20

  1. Iceland
  2. Japan
  3. Paraguay

Minimum Drinking Age of 21

  1. American Samoa
  2. Cameroon (18 with a 21 year old)
  3. Congo – Brazzaville (18 with a 21 year old)
  4. Cote d’Ivoire
  5. Egypt
  6. Guam
  7. Indonesia
  8. Kazakhstan
  9. Kiribati
  10. Malasia
  11. Marshal Islands
  12. Micronesia
  13. Mongolia
  14. Nauru
  15. Nepal
  16. Northern Mariana Islands
  17. Palau
  18. Samoa (any age with parent)
  19. Sri Lanka
  20. U.S. (with many exceptions, see below)

III. Alcohol Prohibition

In addition, some countries prohibit alcohol for religious reasons.

  1. Afghanistan
  2. Algeria
  3. Bangladesh (no minimum age for non-Muslims)
  4. Brunei Darusssalem
  5. Iran
  6. Iraq
  7. Kuwait
  8. Libya
  9. Maldives (except for non-Muslim tourists)
  10. Mauritania
  11. Oman
  12. Pakistan (18 for non-Muslims)
  13. Qatar
  14. Saudi Arabia
  15. Somalia
  16. Sudan
  17. Tunisia

IV. Legal Drinking Ages in U.S

People commonly believe that the minimum drinking age in the U.S. is 21. However, people can legally drink below that age under many different conditions.

The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 went into effect the next year. It requires all states to raise their minimum purchase and public possession of alcohol age to 21.

States that did not comply faced a reduction in highway funds. However, the law does not prohibit persons under 21 from drinking. The law also strictly defines “public possession.” It does not apply to possession for the following reasons.

    • An established religious purpose, when accompanied by a parent, spouse or guardian age 21 or older.
    • Medical purposes prescribed by a licensed physician. Or by a pharmacist, dentist, nurse, hospital or medical institution.
    • In private clubs or establishments.
    • During the course of employment by a licensed producer, wholesaler or retailer.

Many of the states that specifically prohibit drinking alcohol by those under age 21 have a variety of exceptions.

Some states allow underage drinking when a family member consents and/or is present. States vary widely vary about which relatives must consent or be present. Also, in what conditions those under 21 may drink.

Some states permit underage drinking on private property. In some states those under 21 may drink in any private location. In others, it’s only in private residences, or only in the home of a parent or guardian. Sometimes underage drinking requires the presence and/or consent of a parent or legal-age spouse.

U.S. Exceptions to Minimum Legal Drinking Ages

The following map shows exceptions to the minimum age of 21 for drinking alcohol.

Note: This map is based on laws only. It doesn’t include exceptions created by case law, custom, etc. Also, Utah sets the law at 0.05.

The problem of identifying the optimum minimum drinking age to reduce alcohol abuse is a serious one. It involves issues of freedom, responsibility, parental rights, religion, politics and many other realms of life.

The minimum drinking age of 21 in the U.S. appears to be not only ineffective but actually counter-productive. Congress passed it with the best of intentions. But it has had some of the worst of outcomes.

Choose Responsibility

legal drinking ages
Dr. John McCardell

In reaction to these problems, the president emeritus of Middlebury College, Dr. John McCardell, took action. He created the non-profit Choose Responsibility.

Its goal is to promote discussion about how best to reduce alcohol abuse. As a matter of fact, MADD opposes any such discussion!

The group has suggested a number of ideas. Some of these are described below.

It believes Congress should not penalize states having pilot alcohol education programs. These would be based on a minimum drinking age of 18.

Thus, the organization believes the following.

    • A state should be able to present a plan for educating and licensing young adults age 18-20. The federal government should grant the state a waiver of the 10% highway penalty for five years.
    • States would collect data required to monitor the effects of the program.
    • States would submit these statistics to Congress. Also, they would submit an analysis of the effects of the program.
    • Individual state proposals would include the guidelines for eligibility and suspension of licenses.

Alcohol Education

Choose Responsibility also proposes a new approach to alcohol education. It would be similar to Drivers’ Education. The program would

    • Use certified alcohol educators. They would cover the legal, ethical, health and safety issues of drinking.
    • Give accurate alcohol education.
    • Consist of at least 40 hours of instruction. Most would be in the classroom. However, there would be enrichment. That might include attending DWI court hearings, safe ride taxi programs, community forums, etc.
    • Have a final exam that students must pass for licensing.

The alcohol education course curriculum would:

    • Be based on reality.
    • Involve collaboration between state, school, and home.
    • Create a basis for responsible choices about alcohol. Responsible behavior would be part of provisional licensing for 18-20 year-old adults.
    • Be developed and implemented on a state-by-state basis.
    • Provide accurate, truthful, and unbiased alcohol education. It would seek only to promote responsible choices about alcohol.


Upon successful completion of the course, each student would receive a license. It would provide all the privileges and responsibilities of adult alcohol purchase, possession, and consumption of alcohol.

A majority of states already permit those under 21 to drink alcohol. For example, most states allow parents to provide their children with alcohol in the privacy of their own homes.

But in others, parents may not legally provide their children alcohol until they’re 21. Thus, those state laws hamper law-abiding parents. They can’t introducing their young adults to alcohol in a controlled home environment.

This typically relegates drinking “underground” where there is no responsible guidance. And, worse yet, peer pressure to abuse alcohol. Parents should be able to provide their own young adults alcohol to teach responsible drinking.

Research suggests that these changes could reduce alcohol abuse. Of course, those with a vested interest oppose even discussing any of these proposals. But reducing alcohol abuse is in the public interest. So let the discussion begin.

V. Resources on Legal Drinking Ages

    • This site gives no advice. Always see a lawyer for all legal matters.