The minimum legal age for drinking alcoholic beverages varies widely between countries. It ranges from 16 years of age to the total prohibition. Join us for a tour around the world to get to know the minimum age for drinking alcohol in the main alcohol consuming countries of the world and to learn about some of its controversies.
The minimum legal drinking age in the world shown by countries
- The United States – The minimum age is 21 years. However, it causes a bit of a controversy because 18-year-olds can join the army and fight in a war yet they are not allowed to drink alcohol.
- Canada – The laws in this North American country vary by province/territory. Thus, in the provinces of Manitoba, Alberta and Quebec the minimum age is 18, while in the rest of the provinces and territories the minimum age is 19.
- Brazil – In the country of Cachaça, the minimum age is 18, however, you can vote at 16.
- Latin America – In all the countries of Latin America (Argentina, Peru, Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, Colombia, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Ecuador, Panama, Cuba, Costa Rica, Honduras, Bolivia, Puerto Rico and others) the minimum age for drinking alcoholic beverages is 18. However, there is an exception: in Paraguay, the minimum legal drinking age is 21. The age limit is higher in this country because it has a high rate of harmful alcohol consumption
- United Kingdom – Here, as in most countries, you can only buy alcohol from the age of 18, but the consumption of low-grade beverages such as wine, beer or cider is allowed from the age of 16 when it is in the company of an adult. It is also allowed to drink in public.
- Spain – In the country, which is the third largest producer of wine and other famous distillates such as marc, the law prohibits the consumption of alcoholic beverages until the age of 18. Although there is no national law that prohibits the sale of alcohol to children under 18 years of age, the regulation by Autonomous Community sets the limit of buying alcoholic beverages at 18.
- Italy – One of the other major wine producing countries, along with France and Spain, also sets the age of consumption of alcoholic beverages at 18 years.
- France and Portugal – Two countries that both have a long tradition of wines and good drinks; in both countries the minimum legal drinking ages are 18 years of age, although young people often start drinking from the age of 16 and it is not considered a crime.
- Belgium and the Netherlands – In the beer kingdom, Belgium, the law allows the purchase of wine and beer from the age of 16, and you can legally purchase all types of alcoholic drinks from the age of 18. In the Netherlands the rules are similar, however, the distinction is made by the percentage of alcohol: if you are older than 16 but younger than 18, you can buy drinks with an alcohol content of less than 15%; you must wait until you turn 18 years old to be able to buy drinks with a higher alcohol content.
- Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland – In the Nordic countries regulation makes a clear distinction between the types of alcoholic beverages that can be consumed based on age. Thus, in Denmark, young people between the ages of 16 and 18 can buy wine and other alcoholic beverages with an alcohol content of less than 16.5% and from 18 years of age, there are no limits. In Sweden, you can only buy alcoholic beverages in the Systembolaget (state monopoly) and you must be 20 years old to buy, although it is possible to drink in bars and restaurants from the age of 18. In Norway, the system is like that of Sweden, with the difference that people over 18 can buy wine and beer in state stores (Vinmonopolet). For beverages with a higher alcohol content, you must wait until you turn 20 years old. And in Finland, where wines, spirits and beers are also sold through a public shopping system (Alko), young people over 18 can buy drinks with a maximum content of 22% alcohol, and they must wait until they turn 20 before they can buy beverages with a higher graduation.
- Germany and Austria – In Germany you can buy wine and beer from the age of 16 and from the age of 18 you can buy alcoholic beverages with a higher graduation. In Austria, there are differences between the federated states, which means that in some places the consumption of lower-grade beverages is allowed from the age of 16 and in other places only from the age of 18. The distinctions can be made either by type of drink or by alcohol content.
- Eastern Europe – In the countries of Eastern Europe, the minimum age for drinking alcohol is also 18 years.
- India – The laws in this enigmatic country are also enigmatic; the legal drinking age varies between 18 and 25 years of age, depending on the province in which you are.
- Japan – Young Japanese people must wait until they are 20 years old to be able to drink good sake.
- Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran and other countries with a Muslim majority – The consumption of alcohol is prohibited in the Muslim world. The Koran uses the term Jamr (“wine”) to refer to any alcoholic substance that causes drunkenness and its intake is considered a serious offence against Islam.
- Sub-Saharan Africa – This is a territorial extension that is so coarse and politically diverse that one cannot speak of a minimum age in a generic way. There are countries like Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa or Nigeria where the minimum legal drinking age is 18 years old. However, there are other countries like Togo or Ghana where there is no known minimum age (or at least not from the western point of view).
Other curiosities about alcohol consumption
In addition to the minimum legal age for drinking alcohol, the consumption of wine, spirits and beers provides an infinity of curiosities and peculiarities. As we discovered in the post Rarest and most bizarre prohibitions against alcohol around the world, there are a number of peculiarities regarding alcohol consumption, such as the prohibition of riding horses after drinking, or not being allowed to sell cold beer.
As always, we take the opportunity to recommend drinking in moderation. If you are of legal age to consume alcohol, you can enjoy one of these drinks: