"Adult" is pretty subjective when it comes to "adult beverages" around the world. Drinking ages vary from nonexistent to illegal (no matter how old you are) and plenty in between. There are places where you can't drink, even if you're well over 21. And for travelers younger than 21, there are countries where you can imbibe just fine without legal issue. (Just ask Ariel Winter.)
Consider some illuminating data from this recently released map that depicts drinking ages all over the world.
1. There are countries where it’s just plain illegal to drink.
It doesn’t matter how old you are or if your parents are with you or if you’ve had an extra terrible day. It’s just not allowed. Period. Violating this law isn’t worth it: In some of these countries, like Afghanistan and Iran, drinking alcohol can be punished with lashes. With that said, connected locals do often drink behind the walls of private residences, but we wouldn’t recommend it to a traveler.
(It’s illegal to drink in Afghanistan, Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. If you’re Muslim, it’s illegal to drink in Bangladesh and Brunei. In Maldives, it’s illegal to drink unless you are a tourist.)
2. There are countries where (just about) anyone can drink.
In places where there is no minimum legal drinking age, the rules seem to be enforced by those with the alcohol. Generally, it seems as those bartenders, shopkeepers, and the link serve people who at least look 16 or older, but enforcement is loose if it exists, and varies from place to place.
(There is no minimum legal drinking age in Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Togo, Jamaica, Cambodia, Indonesia, Israel, Macau, Myanmar, Singapore, South Korea, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovnia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Georgia, Gibraltar, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Luxembourg, Moldova, Montenegro, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, and New Zealand.)
3. In some countries, drinking is perfectly legal for those under age 21.
Whether the legal age is 16, 17, 18, 19, or 20, the laws in these countries are more relaxed than others. This group contains most of the world’s countries because, as it turns out, the U.S.A.’s minimum legal drinking age of 21 is, in comparison, a bit extreme.
(Countries where the legal age is between 16 and 20 include Burundi, Western Sahara, Anguilla, Haiti, Antigua and Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Grenada, Palestinian Authority, Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Belgium, Cuba, Brunei, Cyprus, Malta, Canada, Qatar, Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of Condo, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Africa, South Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Cayman Islands, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Falkland Islands, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, United States Virgin Islands, Uruguay, Venezuela, Bhutan, China, Hong Kong, India (though prohibited in the states of Bihar, Gujarat, Manipur, and Nagaland), Iraq, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, North Korea, Philippines, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates (laws vary by state), Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Finland, Macedonia, Netherlands, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Tokelau, Vanuatu, Paraguay, Japan, and Thailand.)
4. A 21-plus legal drinking age is actually pretty rare.
Being allowed to drink at all sure beats an all-out ban. But laws in countries where only those 21 and over can legally drink are among the most stringent in the world.
(Countries where the MLDA is 21 include: Egypt, United States, Kazakhstan, Oman, Sri Lanka, American Samoa, Guam, Micronesia, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Samoa, Soloman Islands, and Tonga.)
5. Laws vary within countries.
Always be aware of the local laws related to alcohol — things can change a lot from one city, county, or state to another. Take the U.S.A., for example. Some places allow alcohol to be sold on Sundays, liquor to be sold in grocery stores, and legal drinking on the streets as long as folks aren't drinking from a glass container. Sometimes these localized laws impact the drinking age. For instance, minors are legally allowed to drink in some states as long as they are on a private residence. It's important you talk to locals and read up on the laws of the exact place you'll be, whether it's in the U.S.A. or elsewhere. Not only can varying alcohol laws affect the drinking age, they also can just be unexpectedly strange.
In El Salvador, drinking and driving can be punished by — wait for it — firing squad on the first offense. In Scotland, you cannot ride a cow while drunk. In Maharashta, India, you need an actual official license to drink. In France, it's illegal to not have a breathalyzer on you if you drive in any capacity after drinking. Try to ride a bike while drunk in Germany and you might end up with a psychiatric evaluation. And in Turkey, you can't buy booze on Election Day.
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