What is the Legal Age for Drinking?
The legal drinking age is the minimum age to purchase or consume alcoholic beverages. There may be a different legal minimum age for drinking vs. buying alcohol products in some countries.
The global distribution of the legal drinking age is as follows:
- The highest legal drinking age is 21, adopted by 12 countries, including the US, Samoa, and Sri Lanka.
- The legal drinking age of 18 was adopted by 64% of countries worldwide.
- A legal age lower than 18 (typically 16-17) exists in 22 countries, including Austria, Belgium, Portugal, and Spain.
- Drinking is banned in 16 countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Iran, and Kuwait.
- There is no legal drinking age in 19 countries, including Bolivia, Indonesia, and China.
This article is part of our series on age verification.
In this article:
Legal Age for Drinking in the US
According to the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, passed in 1984, the legal age for purchasing or public drinking in the United States is 21. The legislation's primary goal is to prevent alcoholism, accidents, alcohol poisoning, and criminal harm later in life.
All states must comply with the federal minimum drinking age to receive certain types of federal funds. One exception is Native American settlements—they are considered independent sovereign states and are not affected by the federal minimum legal drinking age (MLDA).
Although most US states comply with the federal MLDA, there are many local and state exceptions, including:
- Educational purposes—students attending culinary schools must consume small amounts of alcohol during their education.
- Religious services—26 US states allow minors to drink alcohol as part of religious ceremonies.
- Lawful employment—minors working in restaurants and the food industry may purchase alcohol as part of their job without consuming it.
- Parental, guardian, or spousal consent—under certain circumstances, a minor may drink in front of an adult family member with their consent.
- Law enforcement purposes—minors may be allowed to drink alcohol if they are undercover in cooperation with law enforcement officials.
- Medical reasons—some products and medicines may contain trace amounts of alcohol.
Legal Drinking Age in Europe
The legal drinking age varies regionally across European countries, depending on the type of alcohol, the location, and whether an individual is buying or consuming the drink.
Here is a brief review of legal drinking age requirements in Europe:
- Germany has the youngest legal drinking age. A minor over 14 can drink undistilled alcohol like wine or beer if accompanied by a parent or guardian. The minimum age for drinking distilled beverages alone is 16, and the minimum age for drinking spirits is 18.
- Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Gibraltar, and Denmark allow drinking undistilled alcohol at 16 years and spirits at 18 years.
- The UK permits consuming alcohol on private property at 15 years and has a minimum age of 18 to drink in public or purchase alcohol.
- Cyprus, Greece, and Malta have a legal drinking age of 17.
- Lithuania and Iceland have a legal drinking age of 20, the highest in Europe.
- Italy is unclear about its legal drinking age—according to different sources, it is either 16 or 18.
- Sweden allows alcohol at any age at home, requires a minimum age of 18 to order it in a restaurant or bar, and a minimum age of 20 to purchase it.
Age Verification in the Alcohol Industry
Since the legal age for drinking varies between countries and states, it is critical to establish an age verification process that meets the relevant requirements. The first step in this process is understanding all laws and regulations applicable to your specific scenario. Once you are clear on the laws about your case, you can apply various age verification methods.
Traditionally, age verification checks involved using physical identification documents (ID), such as driver's licenses. However, as much of the industry transitions to online sales, there is a need for online age verification methods. Online age verification involves techniques such as:
- Age affirmation—involves adding pop-ups or other mechanisms that serve as age gates requesting users to verify that they are above the legal age for drinking. Users that specify a lower age or date of birth are not allowed entry into the website.
- Date of birth—in the US, several state agencies require sellers to report the birth information of customers. It applies to anyone granted liquor licenses by each relevant state.
- Age verification of the purchaser—in the US, many states require product sellers (direct shippers) to verify the age of customers purchasing and receiving age-restricted products.
- Carrier ID inspection—all drivers and carriers delivering alcohol must request and inspect the recipient's ID. The recipient must be present and produce a state-issued ID for review.
You can set up age verification through a state-approved online verification provider or collect and store verification records on-premises. If you are collecting information, you must comply with the relevant data protection and privacy laws, as much of the data used for verification is private information.
Age Verification with BlueCheck
Vendors need a solution that reliably and affordably verifies age with as few data points as possible. Age verification platforms that ask the wrong questions or too few questions will result in a substantially greater rate of failed transactions. Conversely, platforms that ask too many questions deteriorate the user experience and often drive away users who would otherwise convert to a sale.
BlueCheck achieves this balance by combining a sleek, field-tested user interface with a robust verification engine that connects to a network of authoritative databases and credit bureaus. In addition, we partner with companies in various industries and growth stages to provide affordable, reliable online age verification. Learn more about how BlueCheck can help you solve your age verification challenges!