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For tourists visiting the states, what kind of ID do you need to carry with you to visit bars or drinking age events? I understand the passport is the main piece of ID but do they accept any other forms of ID from other countries such as a driver's license with a photo?

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In San Francisco/the Bay Area, I've only been denied once when showing my Swedish driver's license. All other pubs, wineries and liquor shops have accepted it. Probably varies a lot though, and San Francisco has lots of internationals coming and going so bouncers are probably used to non-US IDs. –  Leo Aug 16 '13 at 18:03
    
A friend visiting from Mexico was denied entry to a bar in Kansas, when she presented her Mexican national ID. Admitedly, the bouncer was a jerk, and anyone else probably would have accepted her ID. –  Flimzy Aug 17 '13 at 2:25
    
Showing a driver's license in order to be allowed to drink alcohol always puzzled me. –  mouviciel Apr 14 at 7:10
    
It's because the driver's licence has your date of birth and photo on it. Any other ID that has those would work. In some states in the US, you can get a driver's licence which doesn't give you permission to drive, because you need a driver's licence for other reasons, such as getting into bars. You could use your passport, but it's a bad idea to carry that around. –  Jeremy Miles Apr 14 at 21:09

9 Answers 9

up vote 27 down vote accepted

There is no nationally, or even locally mandated standard. I've certainly seen friends have no issues using both Passports and Drivers Licenses from their home country. I've also seen people have issues - especially when their ID is written in a non-latin script, or when they have a DOB which can be misread by using a non-American date ordering scheme, (i.e. someone born on August the 10th, 1992, would have their BOD listed as 8/10/92 here in the states, and would be of legal drinking age. If their ID instead reads 10/8/92 a not particularly sharp waiter may give you a hard time - admittedly, an extreme edge case.)

Realistically, there's no single answer that can be provided here however, because there is no standard for what's accepted. At the end of the day, the acceptability of your proof of age is up to the merchant with whom you do business to evaluate. You'll have an easier time in more cosmopolitan cities like New York, but realistically, you can't do much better than your Passport, and I've almost never seen an issue with one.

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Many years ago I showed a student ID and they accept it.. –  MeNoTalk Aug 16 '13 at 18:12
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For what it's worth, I've personally seen someone turned down for using a passport. It actually happened frequently where I went to school. The argument was that the employee had no way of verifying on the spot that the passport was real and valid. This happened in a college town where there are commonly issues with fake Ids and underage purchase/consumption. –  roviuser Aug 16 '13 at 18:55
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I am almost never asked to show ID. I guess I am no longer youthful and beautiful. –  emory Aug 16 '13 at 21:27
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As an example of the lack of any standard, even some of the states don't recognize other states' IDs. Massachusetts, by law does not allow any ID except a Mass license/ID or a Passport. Nothing. In practice this is often ignored, for obvious reasons, but I've been denied at restaurants multiple times for being out-of-state. –  Amory Aug 16 '13 at 22:49

Generally bars have always asked me for my passport in the US. It's frustrating as you'd rather not take your passport out to town, but when I've tried to take my driver's license as ID, I've either been turned away, or had to really ask nicely and still get told to bring my passport next time.

In New Zealand, they're as strict - you either show a NZ driver's license, or a foreign passport. Everywhere. No exceptions (well they're not meant to). And similarly in the US, although with all the various states and their differences in IDs, sometimes you can talk your way out of it.

However, getting turned down WITH my passport? Never happened, and I've never seen it happen. If in doubt, take your passport.

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It's frustrating as you'd rather not take your passport out to town... I've always wondered about this, because I've always carried my passport on my person everywhere when in a foreign country. For one, I keep it on my person so that it would be very difficult to pickpocket (whereas I have had my luggage stolen when I was out and about in town), and second, I want a piece of ID that will suffice if I am asked for it by the authorities. I figure there will be less red tape if I'm in a situation where I need ID and I present my passport, versus another foreign ID. –  Chris Gregg Aug 17 '13 at 10:04
    
@ChrisGregg certainly in some countries you have to keep it on you (eg Russia), but in other places if there's a locker in my hostel dorm, that's where it goes, under lock and key. Some hostels even have a safe in the reception area. –  Mark Mayo Aug 18 '13 at 1:47
    
There are plenty of places where the lockers are insecure or routinely broken into. It's also not as uncommon as it should be for things left at hostel and hotel safes to go missing. Especially budget/party/sketchy places. I always get a feeling of the place before deciding whether my passport comes with me or goes in the locker. –  hippietrail Dec 20 '13 at 4:24

I am a "bouncer" in Boston. As far as the state of Massachusetts goes, it is very clear:

Boston bars must ID all people who appear to be under the age of 30.

Acceptable identification includes: U.S drivers license, U.S liquor identification, U.S military card, and all U.S. and international passports recognized by the U.S.

What is NOT accepted: International I.D's, or U.S employment cards.

I cannot stress this enough to foreigners visiting Boston: ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS carry your passport on you if you plan on drinking alcohol at a bar or restaurant. We are encouraged to ID everyone, so if you look 29 and only have a foreign drivers license, you will not be allowed to drink. It's a state law.

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I work in a grocery store as a cashier. We sell liquor.

We can accept any state issued IDs for the US, as well as passports. We are not permitted to accept any other forms of ID. This is a corporate policy, but I doubt that it is unique.

However if we get a passport we can't read, we need to have a manager look at it (like they can read it). I would not be surprised if a store/bar/club/etc where there is no way to validate an ID in another language would simply refuse to accept it.

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The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 set the legal age of public possession and purchasing to 21. Some states do allow consumption at younger age (just not purchase and possession in public). There does not seem to be a common standard on valid identification, it seems likely that the laws concerning age verification for alcohol consumption vary from state to state. The Liquor Control Board of Pennsylvania for example has the following information regarding valid ID:

Q: What are valid forms of ID?

A: The only acceptable forms of ID in PA are a valid photo driver's license or state ID card, a valid photo armed forces ID, and a valid photo passport or travel visa.

Currently living in Pennsylvania, I've been told by different bouncers that in Pennsylvania bars are required to check the age of anyone that looks 30 or younger, and that they may only accept passports from foreign countries, or any US issued identification. However, in four months I have only once been denied entrance with my German Identity Card. (I don't usually carry my passport.) I would speculate that you should be fine everywhere with your passport, but foreign driver's licenses and ID cards might or might not work.

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What establishments accept as proper proof of age is set at the state level. This means each state has it's own rules, although the great majority of these rules are very similar if not the same.

Your passport is by far your safest bet concerning forms of ID you already have. Some states may even allow you to obtain a state issued ID card if you are a student. Although, seeing as you mentioned you are a tourist, I'm assuming you're not a student.

Also, if you do a Google search for the liquor control board (or some synonym) in the state you are visiting, they will often list their accepted forms if ID. For example, here is Oregon's: http://www.oregon.gov/olcc/docs/publications/acceptable_id.pdf

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A passport is generally but not always enough in the USA, so sometimes you just have to deal with it and go somewhere else. I can't count the number of times I've had to point out the photo page of my passport to a bouncer, a lot of the residents in less cosmopolitan cities and small towns aren't familiar with international passports and won't recognise them as ID.

Also don't think you're home free because you're well past the drinking age, in the US it's likely you'll be refused entry without ID even if by appearance you're obviously well over 21 (wrinkles, grey hairs, full beard, etc..!).

I've traveled a fair amount and this only ever happened in the USA. Generally other popular countries for travel (New Zealand, Australia, UK, Europe) will look at you first and only ID you if it's unclear you're of age. I hadn't been ID'd for years until moving to the US, now I can't leave the house without my passport despite being in my 30's.

So to reiterate - take your passport, a pain yes but it's most likely to be accepted (and just be careful and aware that you have it on you), and don't be put out if it is rejected somewhere you go (just find another bar/restaurant to visit), and check with event organisers before buying tickets to a drinking age event what forms of ID they accept.

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A passport should always be enough.

My experience with a foreign ID (entirely written in latin characters) is that it always worked in big cities like NYC but a few times, I had to go back get my passport in smaller cities in California.

A foreign ID written entirely or partially in non-latin characters will be rejected way more often especially if it looks easy to counterfeit.

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I was interested in other people experience. I'm a bartender at a nice chain restaurant here in Vegas. Our policy is only to accept a US drivers license/ID, US military ID, or international passport. All must be in date with no hole punched through. It's very frustrating to some patrons, especially since most casinos will accept international drivers licenses. I try to explain casinos are much more equipped to validate IDs compared to a restaurant. I understand most travelers don't want to carry their passports...especially in Vegas where ANYTHING can happen...but it's your best bet.

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