The Legal Drinking Age in France: 2023
You may be wondering about the legal drinking age in France. Perhaps, you’re planning a family trip with teenagers or young adults to Paris or elsewhere in France—or a young person in your family is embarking on an escorted tour, solo trip, or jaunt with friends.
To avoid problems and misunderstandings, it’s always prudent for you (and them) to know the rules, customs, and laws before traveling abroad, including those concerning alcohol.
Before I cover the background and exceptions, here is the basic fact:
The legal drinking age in France is 18 years of age, both for the consumption or purchase of alcohol.
Changing attitudes about alcohol in France
Wines, beer, liqueurs, and other spirits are ubiquitous in France as they are in most places worldwide. But wine, in particular, has historically been an integral element of French culture, cuisine, and driver of the nation’s economy
In 2021, France produced 962,088 gallons of wine, making it one of the world’s top wine producers, even though consumption of wine is reported to have decreased.
Now, only one in ten French people drink alcohol every day. Nonetheless, according to the 2021 Global Drug Survey, France is the country where people are most likely to drink regularly.
Worth noting, however, wine and other alcoholic beverages are usually consumed here with food as part of a meal.
Drinking once started young
If you traveled to France years ago, you may be under the impression that drinking is legal at a younger age than it is in many other countries. That’s because, like some other European nations, the French have had a long-standing tradition of teaching young people about the pleasures of sipping wine (sometimes diluted with water) at home (with meals) from an early age.
But emerging research on the impact of wine on personal and public health has precipitated changing attitudes and behaviors. In the 1950s, a liter of wine a day was considered “reasonable.” In fact, at that time, a small bottle of wine or cider might be part of a packed lunch for many school children younger than 14 years of age.
The legal drinking age in France: Changing laws
By 2009, the legal drinking age in France for cider, wine, and beer (which had been 16, and age 18 for hard liquor) was changed to 18 years for all types of alcoholic beverages.
With more scientific studies, the idea that wine is beneficial to health has been brought into question. Also, a binge drinking epidemic among youth further inspired lawmakers to set new limits.
A brand new study (the Global Burden of Disease Study, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and recently published in The Lancet), notes that although small amounts of alcohol may confer some health benefits for people over the age of 40 (e.g., reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes), this is not the case for younger adults between the ages of 15 and 39.
Carding in France
Consistent with the newer laws, young people who want to drink in bars and clubs in France must be 18 and are required to present proof of age. (Anecdotally, implementation of this requirement doesn’t appear to be as enforced as routinely as it is in the U.S.)
If young people are planning to visit a bar or club, they should bring their driver’s license or some other form of photo ID. (It is not advisable to bring a passport because of the risk of loss or theft.)
Minors under the age of 16, cannot enter a bar or cafe serving alcohol unless accompanied by a parent but can drink a glass of wine or two, in moderation, when with their family.
French rules regarding public inebriation/drunk driving
Obvious drunkenness is prohibited in streets, parks, and other public places.
There is no set alcohol level to determine drunkenness. Rather, law enforcement personnel make the determination on a case-by-case basis and at their discretion, can take the intoxicated individual to a “drunk tank” to dry out.
Of course, driving under the influence is illegal (and dangerous), and if someone is arrested for driving drunk, they risk fines of up to 150 Euros.
The maximum permitted alcohol level for drivers is the equivalent of three (8-ounce) halves of beer, two glasses of wine, or three glasses of champagne.
See the official website of the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau for additional information.
Drinking age in France: The bottom line
Travel in France often includes fine dining experiences, meals at bistros, and visits to wineries (the country has 17 wine regions). Young people, like those of all ages, will want to experience a before-dinner aperitif or local wine paired with foods at meals. Doing so in France is a special experience that can create memories for a lifetime.
So should you allow a family member under the age of 18 to partake in this French cultural tradition? If they are accompanied by an adult, it depends on the setting, your values, and your child’s maturity.
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