The current year in Ethiopia is 2009 as they use something similar to the Julian calendar.

Could this mean that an Ethiopian born in 1995 (using their calendar), could present their passport/driver's license/other form of national ID in say, the USA, and show evidence that they're '22', even they're only 14 years old?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JoErNanO
    Jul 20, 2017 at 8:57

7 Answers 7


According to ICAO 9303 Machine Readable Travel Documents:

Dates in the VIZ of the MRTD shall be entered in accordance with the Gregorian calendar

So if Ethiopian travel documents conform to ICAO standards (one would assume that they do, in order to be useful for international travel), Gregorian dates would appear at least in the machine readable section.

Also mentioned in that document:

The month may alternatively be printed in numerical form at the discretion of the issuing State or organization, particularly where this might facilitate the use of the MRTD by States using other than the Gregorian calendar. In this case the date would be written DDbMMbYY or DDbMMbYYYY, where b = a single blank space.

I'm not quite sure how the use of numeric month names actually facilitates use of non-Gregorian calendars in practice.

  • Re: "I'm not quite sure how the use of numeric month names actually facilitates use of non-Gregorian calendars in practice": If I'm interpreting it right, the idea is that if a State doesn't use the Gregorian calendar, then it may have difficulty with the "printed in full in the national language [...] or abbreviated" option. (Quick: what's the English name for the third month of the Hebrew calendar?)
    – ruakh
    Jul 18, 2017 at 5:42
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    @ruakh Which third month? ;)
    – Scimonster
    Jul 18, 2017 at 8:43
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    This article indicates that Ethiopian driving licenses indeed use Gregorian dates. It's published in 2013 (surely Gregorian), and mentions pre-2008 licnenses, which again must be Gregorian, as Ethiopian 2008 was in the future in 2013.
    – ugoren
    Jul 18, 2017 at 10:45

From a practical standpoint, a person using an Ethiopian passport in the USA might have trouble with people even recognizing it as a legal document, depending on where you go. A lot of Americans have never seen a passport and literally don't know what it is when presented with one. Most of the time people who aren't sure about what they are looking at will assume that if you are showing this document as proof of age it must be right, but it's possible that you will run into someone that refuses to serve you.

I took my British husband to visit the US a few years ago, and we went to buy some beer at a public event in Pueblo, CO. The security person in charge of checking ID was adamant that he had to have a state-issued ID (that is, an American driver's license or ID card) even though he was obviously a foreign tourist and we were both clearly in our 30s. She didn't think his British passport was valid ID. I was eventually able to convince her by showing my US passport as comparison but it took some arguing.

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    That's kinda terrifying...
    – Mark Mayo
    Jul 18, 2017 at 9:01
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    But a British passport is a state-issued ID. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a state. It's just not a state of the USA.
    – Mike Scott
    Jul 18, 2017 at 9:29
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JonathanReez
    Jul 19, 2017 at 10:05
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    @MikeScott, that's a use of the word state that many Americans are not aware of.
    – The Photon
    Jul 19, 2017 at 16:24
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    Keep in mind that state (US state, not nation-state) auditors are absurdly draconian when it comes to ID checks, so the bouncer may have been trained not to take documents if he hasn't personally seen a valid version of it. Obviously it would be better service to just say that and ask for your patience while he clears it with a manager, but bouncers aren't hired to be personable. Jul 19, 2017 at 18:37

Of course you cannot legally drink if you are too young. What counts is your age, not a number printed in your passport.

In practice, if you are 17 years old and 18 is required, the number in your passport will falsely indicate that you are 25. Most people will not know about Ethiopian passports and will not know how to identify them. If your passport seems to say "25" and your real age is 17, they will take one look at you and conclude that the passport is a forgery. Which is wrong, but you won't be served alcohol.

You will also have trouble getting alcohol if you are old enough (say 18), and your passport looks like saying you are 26. Again they will assume that the passport is forged and not serve you alcohol, because you don't look like you might be 26.

In many countries, there are severe consequences for someone being caught selling alcohol to someone below the legal age, so nobody will be willing to take the slightest risk. No sane person will sell alcohol to someone who doesn't look 18 and has a passport showing an age of 25, if selling to a minor and getting caught means losing your job, a major fine for the store or bar, and possibly loss of license. In addition with a passport where they have no idea how to check whether it is genuine or not.

@Josef: When you sell alcohol, it's not your job to guess the buyers age correctly. Your job is to make 100% sure that you don't sell to anyone under the legal age. For example, in the UK: "A person commits an offence under section 146 if he sells alcohol to a child under 18." It's a defence if no reasonable person could have thought that that the person is under 18. If you can't guess the buyers age correctly, you can't sell. Punished with a fine up to £5,000.

And there are no exceptions for black kids because you don't want to look racist. Since the whole reason for the rules is that it's dangerous for kids to consume alcohol, I'd say that selling to black kids and not to white ones is racist, not the other way round. You can tell in court "I sold alcohol to these 17 year old kids because they were black and I didn't want to appear racist". The court will say "So you knew they were under 18 and still sold them alcohol. Ok, that's a £5,000 fine. Next time check their age and not their colour. That's because black kids need to be protected just as much as white kids".

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    If your passport seems to say "25" and your real age is 17, they will take one look at you and conclude that the passport is a forgery. I doubt so, maybe sometimes, but this implication is not true. Most of the time they will not bother, they were presented an ID and they are covered. Besides, 20 years ago we were drinking underage all the time but that might have changed. Jul 18, 2017 at 8:35
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    Also most people from Ethiopia propably don't look caucasian which would 1. make it harder for people mostly surrounded by caucasians to guess their age correctly and 2. people would probably afraid to say anything even if they assumed the person looks too young because it could look like racism.
    – Josef
    Jul 18, 2017 at 8:44
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    Note to the changed answer: Right, it is not the job of the sales person to guess the age correctly. That's exactly my point. They get shown a passport which says the person is born 1998. They sell alcohol. End of story. Almost no one will start with "well, the passport says she is 19 but to me she looks more like 16, I should not sell". The job is to sell stuff. The law says, check that the buyer is >=18. The passport says, she is. End of story! Especially if the sales person has not much experience with estimating the age of non-caucasian people.
    – Josef
    Jul 18, 2017 at 12:31
  • @Josef. As a good example of that, my brother-in-law never got carded when he was under age, but my best friend still does sometimes, despite being in his early thirties now. They are both Ethiopian. To be fair, the former was over 6' tall with a goatee since he was 16, the latter still has a baby face, so I would not call it racism in this case. Jul 18, 2017 at 15:15
  • @VladimirF, In some jurisdictions, when selling alcohol, it is the legal responsibility of the person checking the ID to identify IDs that are forgeries (regardless of the fact that detecting a forgery might very difficult). Thus, in many situations just that you asked for ID, looked at it and it stated they were over the legal age is not sufficient to prevent the checker/server, and the establishment, from being penalized. What exactly the legal requirements are will vary by jurisdiction. In the US, this varies from state to state. Obviously, it will vary from country to country.
    – Makyen
    Jul 19, 2017 at 4:04

Below is what an Ethiopian passport looks like when you remove all personally identifiable information. As you can still see, all 3 dates (birth, passport issue and passport expiry) are using English language - and they're using the Gregorian calendar.

Ethiopian passport

When it comes to driving licenses - I found one in a blogpost:

Ethiopian driving license

It's not clear what calendar was used for the dates.

It will not be accepted for a several reasons:

  • It's using Amharic language written in Geez script. You can guess which label means "Date of birth" but your friendly bartender will not hazard a guess.
  • It's a simple piece of paper that will not be recognised as a driving license by most people in the USA. I know - I had an old-style Dutch paper driving license years ago and it took a lot of convincing before I could buy a beer in the USA - and this had Latin script on it.

In any case, it would never be legal to claim that your ID showed you were over the legal drinking age when in fact, you're not over the legal drinking age. The title of your question suggests that you want to know if it's legal - and then the answer is, "certainly not".

If you're asking, "will I get away with it" - then even then, probably not, as you won't be able to find an Ethiopian ID document that uses the Ethiopian calendar and uses Latin script plus a language that is understood by your alcoholic drinks seller in the USA.

Instead you will likely have all labels at least in Amharic with Geez script, and possibly the month names as well, if you were able to find one with dates in the Ethiopian calendar.

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    I did some image searches which indicate that this is an old-style license, but your points will hold for the newer version, too. An international driving permit might increase the chance that an Ethiopian license would be accepted as proof of age, since it is essentially a certified translation, but I suppose it's still very unlikely.
    – phoog
    Jul 18, 2017 at 16:48
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    You can guess which label means "Date of birth" but your friendly bartender will not hazard a guess. And if they do, they'll probably guess that the other two are issue date and expiry date. If they are on the Ethiopian calendar, they may believe it is expired, which may cause problems even for legal drinkers.
    – Random832
    Jul 19, 2017 at 14:30

In Europe I am sure...if your Pass/ID Card says you are born 1995 (and there is no reference to any sort of calendar), you will have no problems with drinking, smoking or whatever.

I am 99% sure that 99% in Europe have no idea, what you are talking about, so maybe you would need to explain them before, why they should (maybe) punish you :P

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    While you would get away with this 99% of the time, you would not of course be legally allowed to drink. Jul 18, 2017 at 2:24
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    @DJClayworth Most EU countries allow drinking. Buying is different, but drinking? Yep, legal in most EU countries. Jul 18, 2017 at 16:20
  • I agree with that. Jul 18, 2017 at 22:49

It's pretty simple. If you're below the legal drinking age it's illegal. No matter what your ID appears to state. You may confuse people but that's all there is to it. And don't assume Europe is not as strict. You may not get challenged as often but there are strict official rules in all countries.

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    OP isn't asking about people younger than 18 years old, but rather about people older with documents using different calendar which would suggest they are younger.
    – Kuba
    Jul 18, 2017 at 19:41
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    Uhm, question implies that they are able to show they are older. Jul 18, 2017 at 19:44
  • Ah sorry, I read it the other way around.
    – Kuba
    Jul 18, 2017 at 19:54

This only applies if the drinking age is over 18

Ethiopian passports display the date of birth in Gregorian fashion in accordance with international rules, and are thus not of use.

Ethiopian driving licenses use the local calendar (source) but the legal age of driving in Ethiopia is 18 (see wikipedia) so this of no consequence unless the drinking age is above 18. Note, as well, that the expiry date of the license may be in the "past" if compared to the Gregorian year.

I am not aware of any other national ID available in Ethiopia.

And, in any case, the production of ID does not determine legality of drinking

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