Drinking Age in France

France Drinking Age

Visiting as a young adult or accompanied by parents, it’s normal for a first-timer to know whether you are old enough to drink in France. As home to Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux, France is well known as the home of wine, and you don’t want to miss such a drinking experience.

Champagne Bar at the Summit, Eiffel Tower, Paris, Ile-de-France
Champagne Bar at the Summit, Eiffel Tower, Paris, Ile-de-France by David McKelvey is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Or perhaps you’re a parent bringing older teens on your trip, and you wonder whether they’re allowed that small glass of wine at dinner as a special treat.

So how old is old enough to drink in France?

18. That is the legal drinking age in Paris, Cannes, and the rest of France. This is similar to many other countries, such as Greece, Mexico, and certain parts of Canada. What this means is that individuals 18 years old and above may legally purchase alcohol — wine, beer, cider, perry, mead, crème de cassis, and juices from fermented fruits or vegetables that contain 1.2 to 3 percent alcohol, naturally sweet wines from controlled cultivation — in supermarkets, convenience stores and other authorized retailers in France. This also applies to restaurants, bars, and clubs where alcohol is served.

French Teen girl wears shorts
French Teen girl wears shorts by x1klima is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Although this isn’t always strictly enforced, bring along your ID with you when attempting to buy in supermarkets or order in bars.

Until 2009, the legal drinking age in the country was 16 but it was revised to 18 under a law primarily designed to protect the health of younger citizens of France from fighting the growing epidemic of teenage binge drinking. This law is also aligned with many other European countries.

Under such a premise, enforcement has also been tightened so violators who sell alcoholic beverages to underage minors may be fined up to 7,500 euros.

The law allows mayors to ban takeaway sales of alcohol in their areas between 8 pm and 8 am.

France, currently third and once the world’s biggest wine producer, has an alcohol consumption down from 17.7 liters per person per year in 1961, peaking in 1973 with 20.8 per head, to less than 9.1 liters in 2012. Yet, France remains one of the heaviest-drinking nations, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Legal Drinking Age in France by Alcoholic Content

Understanding the legal drinking age for different types of alcoholic beverages is crucial when navigating the drinking culture in France. Unlike some countries, France has a tiered system for its legal drinking age, which varies depending on the type of alcohol being consumed.

For most alcoholic beverages, such as wine, beer, and cider, the legal drinking age in France is 18 years old. This means that individuals who are 18 or older can legally purchase and consume these types of alcoholic beverages.

Marty drinking beer on the beach in Nice, France '08
Marty drinking beer on the beach in Nice, France ’08 by Marty Portier is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

However, when it comes to spirits and other distilled beverages with an alcohol content of over 18%, the legal drinking age is higher. In France, the legal drinking age for these stronger alcoholic beverages is 21 years old. This stricter regulation is in place to ensure the responsible consumption of high-proof liquors.

While the legal drinking age may be set at 18 or 21, establishments such as bars and clubs have the right to enforce their own policies. Some establishments may have higher age requirements or specific rules regarding the consumption of alcohol on their premises.

How the French approach alcohol education and responsible drinking

The French approach to alcohol education and responsible drinking is unique and worth understanding. Unlike some other countries, France takes a more relaxed and open stance on alcohol consumption. From a young age, French children are introduced to alcohol in a controlled and educational manner, which is aimed at promoting responsible drinking habits later in life.

Eralda drinking wine // Trip to France - Sète
Eralda drinking wine // Trip to France – Sète by Merlijn Hoek is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In France, alcohol education starts at home within the family setting. Parents often introduce children to alcohol during family meals, allowing them to taste wine or champagne in moderation. This introduction is not meant to encourage early drinking, but rather to demystify alcohol and teach children about its cultural and social significance. By experiencing alcohol in a controlled environment, French children learn to appreciate and respect it as part of their heritage and traditions.

The French education system incorporates alcohol education into its curriculum. Schools provide lessons on the effects of alcohol, the potential risks associated with excessive drinking, and strategies for responsible consumption. These educational programs aim to empower young adults to make informed decisions about alcohol and to understand the importance of moderation.

Comparison of the French drinking age with other countries

Understanding the drinking age in France requires a broader perspective that involves comparing it to other countries around the world. Drinking age regulations vary widely from one nation to another, reflecting cultural norms, societal values, and government policies.

In France, the legal drinking age is 18 years old for both alcoholic beverages and non-intoxicating drinks containing alcohol. This places France among the countries with a relatively low minimum drinking age. However, it is important to note that there are restrictions on the sale and consumption of specific types of alcoholic beverages, such as spirits, for individuals under the age of 18.

Comparing this to other countries, the United States, for instance, has a higher drinking age of 21 years old. This age restriction has been a subject of debate and controversy, with proponents arguing that it reduces alcohol-related accidents and promotes responsible drinking habits. On the other hand, critics argue that it may encourage underage binge drinking and fails to teach young adults how to consume alcohol responsibly.

In some European countries, such as Germany and Italy, the legal drinking age is also 16 or 18 years old, similar to France. These countries often have a more relaxed attitude towards alcohol consumption, valuing the importance of teaching responsible drinking habits from a younger age.

Legal Consequences of underage drinking in France

Understanding the legal consequences of underage drinking in France is crucial for any traveler, especially those who are planning to enjoy the vibrant nightlife that the country has to offer. France is known for its rich wine culture and renowned spirits, but it is important to remember that the legal drinking age in France is 18 years old.

If you are caught consuming alcohol or purchasing it under the age of 18, you may face serious legal repercussions. The legal system in France takes underage drinking very seriously, and penalties can include fines, community service, or even imprisonment.

French Police
French Police by .H0oT. is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It is also important to note that the enforcement of underage drinking laws in France is relatively strict. Authorities frequently conduct random spot checks at bars, clubs, and other establishments to ensure compliance with the legal drinking age. If you are found to be underage and consuming alcohol, both you and the establishment serving you may face legal consequences.

Travelers should be aware that French law does not tolerate underage drinking, regardless of cultural norms or customs in their home country. It is essential to respect and abide by the laws of the country you are visiting, even if they differ from those in your home country.

To avoid any legal troubles, it is recommended that travelers always carry a valid form of identification with them, such as a passport or driver’s license, to prove their age when purchasing alcohol. Additionally, it is wise to familiarize yourself with local regulations and laws regarding alcohol consumption to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience while exploring the vibrant nightlife of France.

Tips for travelers to navigate the legal drinking age in France

Navigating the legal drinking age in France can be a bit confusing for travelers, but with these essential tips, you’ll be well-prepared to enjoy the local libations responsibly and legally.

  •  Legal drinking age: In France, the legal drinking age for consuming alcoholic beverages is 18 years old. It’s important to remember that this applies to both purchasing and consuming alcohol in public places, such as bars, restaurants, and shops.
  •  Identification: When visiting establishments that serve alcohol, it’s always a good idea to carry a valid form of identification, such as a passport or driver’s license. While it’s not always required, some establishments may ask for proof of age, especially if you look younger than 18.
  • Alcohol restrictions: France has strict laws regarding the sale and consumption of alcohol to minors. It is illegal to provide alcohol to anyone under the legal drinking age, and establishments can face severe penalties for doing so. As a responsible traveler, it’s important to adhere to these laws and avoid any activities that may encourage underage drinking.
  • Accompanied by an adult: In some cases, minors between the ages of 16 and 18 may be allowed to consume alcohol if accompanied by a legal guardian or an adult who has parental authority. However, this is at the discretion of the establishment, and it’s always best to check with the staff beforehand.
  • Drinking culture: While it’s legal for individuals aged 18 and above to consume alcohol, it’s worth noting that France has a culture of responsible drinking. It’s common for locals to enjoy a glass of wine or aperitif with their meals, but excessive or binge drinking is generally frowned upon. As a traveler, embracing the local drinking culture and enjoying alcohol in moderation can enhance your overall experience.
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