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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.