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Is there any way to get around the drinking age? I'm 18 (19 at the end of the year) and I will be travelling to America next year with my 18 year old sister. The legal age here in Australia is 18, is there anyway we are able to drink over there? Any special permits?

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    If you're near Canada or Mexico , the legal drinking age is either 18 or 19 in every part of Canada and Mexico, so you'd be free to enjoy a brewski, assuming your visa allowed such a detour. While college students are known to circumvent the laws by times, the penalties for such things can be extremely severe- not worth it. – Spehro Pefhany May 20 '15 at 11:50
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    You really should opt for a shotgun instead. In some states, you can get them without any permit at the age of 18 (and even earlier if you have permission from your parents). – Alexander May 20 '15 at 11:50
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    You have to obey the laws of the land, your home country is 100% irrelevant unless you have diplomatic immunity (you don't). – Matthew Read May 20 '15 at 15:30
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    You really can't opt out of another countries laws when within their jurisdiction... – Moo May 20 '15 at 17:13
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    This question is deinitely not as silly as someone thinks. It should be rephrased as "If I am of age in my country, will other countries, specifically US, consider me to be of age, or will they use their own value?" and the answer is definitely not obvious or granted. – o0'. May 21 '15 at 12:56

12 Answers 12

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The federal standards (that states lose highway funds for not following) are that you cannot purchase or publicly possess alcoholic beverages under the age of 21. Technically this is implemented as state laws, but it applies in all 50 states and DC. That means neither of you can buy alcohol legally. In addition, the general rule is that you can't ask someone over 21 to buy it for you. There is no permit process or anything like that to get around this. Sorry.

  • Could you please evaluate the credibility of data ProCon gives about alleged exceptions to the rule? – Alexander May 20 '15 at 13:41
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    @Alex None of those seem relevant here; you can't obtain the alcohol in the first place. The exceptions are generally along the lines of either "your parent/spouse can buy" or "if you're not in public and they have beer lying around, you might be able to drink it;" there are no exceptions to purchase rules. – cpast May 20 '15 at 13:53
  • Okay, that was not exactly obvious for me from the data the ProCon page gave. Thanks for clarification. – Alexander May 20 '15 at 14:02
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    @cpast Correct, if it is provided by a legal guardian you're allowed to drink in public (if the restaurant's policy permits, and from my experience most actually do not permit it regardless of who gave it to you). On private property there are regulations for a responsible party being able to give it to you but the details are often fuzzy and it's usually a situation you just want to avoid unless you're absolutely sure it's legal. – thanby May 20 '15 at 16:05
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    The details do vary by state. For example, Washington state has stricter laws prohibiting under-21-year-olds from any consumption in public regardless of parent/guardian. Only exceptions are (a) minimal use in religious ceremony or (b) medicinal use supplied by a parent, guardian, physician, or dentist. A parent/guardian may serve their own minors privately on their own premises and while in their presence, but not other minors. See RCW. – Basil Bourque May 20 '15 at 20:58
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Age limits and such like are always those of the place you are in. While you are in another country you have to obey the local laws on drink, and other stuff, whatever your laws are back home. The good news is that you can do things that are legal in the place you are, even if they are illegal back home (with some exceptions), which is great news if you are in the US and have a burning desire to fire a machine gun. (Yes, there are places in the US where young people are allowed to openly carry a loaded semi-automatic rifle in public but not buy a beer)

There are some states which technically allow you to drink, either with parents permission and/or in private, but unless you are travelling with an over-21 you won't be able to get round the prohibition on purchase. And even if you have an over-21 with you, beware that in some places purchasing alcohol for a minor is a serious offence.

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    Machine guns are regulated by the ATF via the NFA and require a special license. It would be more appropriate to say 18-20 may legally carry a pistol or long arm openly but not purchase a beer in certain states. Ohio, for example, is open-carry with no license or registration for either pistols or long arms. It would also be valid to say that a 17 year old with a high school diploma or GED is allowed to enlist in the military with parental permission to die for his country, but buy neither alcohol nor cigarettes. – user25889 May 21 '15 at 4:37
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    I'm not sure about it being legal to openly carry a machine gun in the U.S. They're actually quite heavily restricted. It's not legal to even manufacture machine guns for civilian purposes in the U.S. The vast majority of privately-owned weapons in the U.S. are semi-auto (one shot per trigger pull.) Even in regard to what Snowman said, I live in a quite gun-friendly state (Tennessee) and a carry license here requires you to be 21. – reirab May 21 '15 at 4:50
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    "allowed to openly carry a loaded machine gun in public but not buy a beer" -- I should think not, you don't want a child drunk in charge of a machine gun. – Steve Jessop May 21 '15 at 12:48
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Simply put, no.

As an UK immigrant myself, first arriving at age 19 (and effectively drinking in the UK since age 16) I certainly experienced this first hand. You have to be 21.

Significantly, age is nearly always determined by requesting and reviewing a drivers license which has a picture of the person plus the date of birth.

This is unlike my upbringing in the UK where drivers licenses didn't have a picture and a lot of times the 'old enough to drink?' was based on looks alone.

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    Just as an aside, you're a little out of date on the situation in the UK. Drivers licenses now include pictures and although the law is no alcohol < 18, the accepted policy is "Think 25" - eg if person looks like they may be 25 or under, they require ID. This means that even though I'm 32, every once in a while some spotty youth decides they need to see ID. Added to which, the gov't now uses people who are 17 but look older to try and trick businesses into providing alcohol, then fine them and/or revoke liquor licenses, resulting in an overly-paranoid situation. – Basic May 21 '15 at 7:25
  • @Basic FYI. Newly issued UK driving licences are now photo cards, however there are still lots out there that are paper based photo less, Mine for example is valid until 2049! However I think I have to upgrade it by 2033! – Martin Jevon May 21 '15 at 22:43
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    @MartinJevon True, my mother still has a paper one. She now lives in Spain and it confuses the hell out of everyone over there... Then again, she speaks fluent Spanish but any time she's stopped by the police, she resorts to Pidgin Spanish "Los Sientos Estoy Inglaterra" ~ "We's sorry, I'm England". It's amazing how often she gets a disgusted sigh and waved on. – Basic May 21 '15 at 23:38
  • @Basic I recall from some airport (don't know exactly which country), that there are places in the world wher not even a "Think 25" rule is in effect: The waitress asked an obvious octogenarian for his id to verify he was not underage! – Hagen von Eitzen May 22 '15 at 14:54
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    @HagenvonEitzen This is especially true in the USA, I was there last year ( and I dont look a day under 30). I was asked for my passport before being allowed to purchase alcohol at a pub. – Damian Nikodem May 24 '15 at 4:07
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The short answer to the question is no: local laws apply everywhere you go, and the standard minimum drinking age in the United States is 21.

The long answer is that yes, it is absolutely legal for someone under the age of 21 to purchase and consume alcohol in the United States— in certain areas, under the right circumstances. But those circumstances will not apply to most tourists, e.g. working as part of a law enforcement operation, being U.S. military personnel on a base, or being enrolled in a curriculum where consumption of alcohol is required.

Drinking age is a state-level matter (which varies over time), while the particularities of when and where you can purchase, and what and how you consume are hyperlocal. The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 (23 U.S.C. §158) requires states to set their drinking age at 21 at the risk of losing their federal highway funding. This was affirmed as constitutional in South Dakota v. Dole (483 U.S. 203 (1987)) and was later explicated with regulation. But while the purchase of alcohol by people under 21 is banned essentially everywhere, and possession in most places, there is some variation on consumption and on internal possession (i.e. evidence of recent consumption, like your wine tongue or beer breath).


I am not a lawyer, and what follows is not legal advice.

People under 21 may be allowed to consume some kinds of alcohol in some parts of the country

  • for an established religious purpose, e.g. sacramental wine
  • when accompanied by a parent/guardian or spouse who is 21 or older
  • for medical purposes when administered by a licensed healthcare professional or institution (this was also true during Prohibition)
  • on the premises of a military installation, if the state minimum age has been waived by the commanding officer of that installation
  • on tribal lands (e.g. Indian reservations) which set a lower drinking age

States also have strict laws concerning the furnishing of alcohol to underage people, misrepresentation of age, and the use of false or altered identification. The standard for blood alcohol content is often lower for underage drivers (e.g. .08% for adults but .02% for minors). In some states it is illegal even to attempt to purchase or consume if under 21; in Texas, for example, it is a Class C misdemeanor.

The State Profiles of Underage Drinking Laws project of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (of the National Institutes of Health) provides you with state-by-state overviews of the specific laws, definitions, and penalties that may apply in the states or territories you will visit. For example, some states do not penalize consumption in private gatherings in private residences, so if the police were called, you would not be trouble for drinking, though the person who provided you with the drink would be. But as a foreign visitor, you run the risk of being expelled from the country, and so I would exercise an abundance of caution.

  • "for medical purposes when administered by a licensed healthcare professional or institution" — so you'd get medicinal beer license? ;-) – vartec May 20 '15 at 18:49
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    @vartec Right, get our vodka prescriptions filled at your local "medicinal ethanol dispensary." It's how companies like Anheuser-Busch survived Prohibition, after all. – choster May 20 '15 at 19:18
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The answer in the broad sense is maybe.

Due to State vs. Federal application of laws there are circumstances in which people under the age of 21 are allowed to drink within the state. But you will not be allowed to do this at a bar!! And you will not be allowed to purchase at the store! Some states may allow it in a presence of a parent.

So if you are interested to learn how, where and under which conditions you will be allowed to have a drink you can probably look at the article on Procon to see which states are more lenient than others in terms of alcohol consumption.

  • Well, your procon link tells us: "8. on alcohol-selling premises, with parental approval in 10 states" and you tell us "you will not be allowed to do this at a bar". Could you please elaborate on the discrepancy? And please, change your all-caps text to normal capitalization. Bold is enough of an emphasis. – Alexander May 20 '15 at 13:37
  • @Alexander I guess I need to read it more carefully. – Karlson May 20 '15 at 13:38
  • For an 18 yr old travelling without parents none of those exemptions are going to be useful. Technically six states allow you to consume alcohol on private premises, but since underage purchase of alcohol is illegal that's going to be tricky. – DJClayworth May 20 '15 at 16:40
  • @DJClayworth The only thing that is tricky is the acceptable proof of parents permission, for which a notarized letter may suffice but IANAL. – Karlson May 20 '15 at 16:43
  • @DJClayworth Even funnier state.nj.us/oag/abc/faqs.html that you can serve or sell alcohol to others from 18. – Karlson May 20 '15 at 16:47
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Generally speaking laws are based on jurisdictions, not the person. Just because something is legal/illegal in your country, doesn't make it illegal/legal in a country you're visiting. Cops enforce their laws not yours. Plus, it would be a nightmare for bouncers to evaluate legality of the person based on their home country (this person is from Ontario, so must be 19; this person is from Saudi Arabia, so no drinking at all). It works the same for Americans in other countries, the first place I got drunk was in Winnipeg (Canada) at 19, for example.

Growing up in The States, people can be extremely strict on age limits. Most bars won't allow you in the building after 9p or so, and in most states you're not even allowed to sit at the bar whether you're drinking or not.

If you're going to see a concert, you can sometimes get in, but they'll mark your hand with an "x", however a lot of the "good" shows are still 21+.

Though you can sometimes circumvent this law by using a fake or having someone buy for you, I would seriously discourage this. It's a pretty serious offence for citizens, you could probably get deported or have your passport marked as an Australian. North America in general does not mess around on this.

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Typically you are always subject to the laws of the jurisdiction you are in unless you have diplomatic immunity.

So if you are in the US, the US drinking laws apply to you. If you are in Germany, the German drinking laws apply to you.

Your nationality doesn't matter - the laws of the place you are in matter.

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    The drinker would be cleared under diplomatic immunity but the bar, store, individual or venue that provided the alcohol would face separate punishment for selling to a minor. Thus even with DI the buyer would not likely be served since the penalties are harsher for the server. – Freiheit May 20 '15 at 20:19
  • Yes, that is true. – Adam Davis May 20 '15 at 20:44
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    @Freiheit ... unless the server also has diplomatic immunity :D which obviously is highly unlikely – Chris May 22 '15 at 13:31
  • Even the drinker is not "cleared" per se. Local laws fully apply to diplomats as well. The difference is that they can't be arrested or forced to pay a fine but that's a procedural issue, not a license to do whatever they want. – Relaxed May 23 '15 at 23:02
  • @Relaxed correct. Diplomats are expected to follow the laws, and when they don't it reflects poorly on their country, and often rather than being told to leave the country (one of the few 'punishments' a host country can apply to diplomats) their own country recalls them and removes them from their post. So it's certainly not without consequences. However, it is a notable exception and valid answer to this specific question. – Adam Davis May 24 '15 at 2:55
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No, you will not be able to drink legally within the United States.

Purchasing alcoholic beverages as a minor, or knowingly purchasing alcohol for a minor, are both criminal offenses in all 50 states.

Conversely, if someone underage were to travel to Australia and drink with you, then as long as they're old enough under Australian law, they are allowed to do so.

Drinking laws apply only within the jurisdiction in which they're enforced, and largely apply to the sale of alcohol, not to the consumption of alcohol.

You may, depending on the exact legislation of the state you are visiting, be able to bypass this regulation by visiting someone in the states that already owns alcohol. Depending on the state legislation, as long as they are 21 or over, they may be allowed to give you alcohol under the table.

If you don't know anyone in the States, you may still be able to bypass this law by visiting an Indian Casino. Because they are not owned by a State, they have their own regulations on drinking, an may be willing to sell you alcohol.

Note that alcohol sale is still strictly enforced within the states, and if anyone finds out that you are planning to bypass the law in this way, you may face travel restrictions. Drink at your own risk, and do not plan to purchase or carry any alcohol while travelling.

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    Actually, many, if not most, Casinos run by the various Indian Nations, have a minimum gambling age of 21, because they choose to follow the 21 drinking age limits ... and of the few that allow 18 year olds to gamble, even they, for the most part, follow the 21 drinking age limits, as they choose not to send visitors home "off the rez" drunk where they might be incarcerated, blaming the casinos and giving them the resultant bad (worse) publicity. – CGCampbell May 20 '15 at 22:05
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It would be illegal to buy alcoholic beverages, and depending on where you are, it might be illegal to consume them, but for the most part, if you drink in a private setting, you are safe. Parents frequently allow their underage children to drink at home, and are only arrested for doing so if they also allow other people's children to drink as well. Don't drink in public or in businesses like restaurants and bars, and you should be okay.

However, if you fail a breathalyzer test, the cops won't care about the circumstances by which you came to drink alcohol- they'll just arrest you if you're driving, or most likely give you a ticket if you aren't driving. This will cause all sorts of problems with your passport and/or visa, and will turn into a nightmare. Avoid public drunkeness and police attention at all costs. You don't want the authorities to see you drunk, or even to see you in possession of alcoholic beverages.

That said, most kids in the U.S. drink underage, and do so frequently. A person who sells/provides alcohol to minors is in far worse trouble than the minor who buys it. Drink reasonably, and preferably in private settings, and you should have nothing to worry about.

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Can a visitor who is “of age”

In the United States you are "of age" at 18, you just cant drink/buy until you are 21.

Sadly there is no way around it, I am from mexico and in mexico drinking age is 18, once you cross the border you will get fined if you drink alcohol and are younger than 21.

It also works both ways, people in the United States can legally drink at 18 IF they are in a Country that allows people to drink at 18. This is why some Americans will go to Mexico for spring break, since they can drink at 18 legally there.

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To add to all the "No" responses the "21" limit also applies to US flagged vessels including both domestic and international Airlines. I have seen Australians of your age denied drinks on international flights leaving the US and headed to Oz.

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Yes! According to the ProCon link mentioned in comments and other answers, drinking over the age of 18 is permitted with parental consent and without parental presence in some states, and without parental consent in others. As mentioned in other answers, it's not legal to buy alcohol under 21 or have someone else buy it for you. The problem to overcome then, is how to acquire alcohol without purchasing it.

According to the Wikipedia article on homebrewing it is legal to purchase and brew your own beer over the age of 18:

Most states permit homebrewing of 100 gallons of beer per adult (of 18 years or older) per year and up to a maximum of 200 gallons per household annually when there are two or more adults residing in the household

Performing a test purchase on Amazon for delivery to a US address of a homebrewing kit, did not require any age verification or provide any warning about age limits.

Presuming a person is in a state that allows alcohol consumption with parental consent and the parental consent is provided, or they are in a state that does not require parental consent, it would seem possible for homebrewing to solve this problem.

protected by Karlson May 21 '15 at 18:33

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