Adapting to Alcohol and Drugs Laws in Different Countries


In the UK it is no secret that there is a widely accepted, often encouraged, binge drinking culture. While this is a social norm in the UK, attitudes to drink and drugs vary wildly across the world. When travelling you should always be aware of what is and is not legal/accepted in different countries regarding drugs and alcohol and be willing to adapt to fit in with these.

Drinking Age

In European countries, such as Germany, Spain and France, you can legally purchase beer, cider and wine at 16, but to purchase spirits you need to be 18. If you fall into the under-18 category be prepared to stick to beer, ciders and wine when drinking in these countries.

Credit: Avila Diana Chidume.
Credit: Avila Diana Chidume.

When travelling in the USA and Dubai, if you are under-21 you should be prepared not to drink at all as their legal drinking age is 21. This applies especially in Dubai where you cannot legally purchase alcohol unless it is in a bar/restaurant if you are a tourist. Rather than drinking in stricter countries under the legal age, opt for a non-alcoholic drink. You can still have fun without being under the influence of alcohol (and you won’t suffer the nasty hangover the next day).

Public Drinking and Clubbing

Though binge-drinking is a social norm in the UK, this is not the case everywhere.

In Sydney there are lock-out laws so you cannot enter or re-enter a club/pub after 1.30am, and everyone must have left at 3am (although talks are underway to abolish the lock-out laws in Sydney’s central business district). Street drinking is also frowned upon and open alcohol on public transport is illegal. While you might be used to setting off for a Jesters night-out with a bottle of wine in hand while in Southampton, you should avoid doing this when travelling in places such as Sydney, as you may miss the best part of the night and lose your bottle of wine. Instead predrink earlier, leave earlier, and maybe leave the drink at your accommodation.

Cultural Beliefs on Drinking

One of the most important situations that you need to be willing to adapt to when travelling is the cultural beliefs in different countries.

In some Muslim countries, like Bangladesh, Iran and Libya (to name a few) alcohol consumption is banned for Muslims. Although the laws are relaxed for non-Muslims in some countries, be aware that they have banned alcohol because it is against their religious beliefs. Although you may be able to have a few drinks as a tourist, be respectful of their beliefs and don’t get carried away with drinking, as you are a guest in their country.


Drugs can be tempting to take when you are travelling abroad, and, in some countries, it is easier to access them than in England. For example, Canada have just legalised recreational marijuana and Amsterdam is well-known for its “coffeeshops” so marijuana is easily accessible in these places. However, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. When adapting to laws that aren’t as strict as other places, as a tourist you should always stick with what you’re comfortable with. Don’t feel pressured to smoke marijuana just because you’re in Amsterdam.

On the opposite end of the scale, in Singapore the selling of drugs (and possession by default) is punishable by death. Even if you’re used to taking drugs regularly, in countries such as this, give them a miss until you’re somewhere where drugs won’t land you with a death penalty or serious prison sentence.


2019/2020 Deputy Editor. English grad with a love for giraffes, tea and travel.

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