Understanding Drinking Age in Mexico

Are you traveling to Mexico with teenagers or college students out for spring break? A common question to ask, especially if drinking alcohol is part of the holidays, is what’s the legal drinking age in Mexico?

The minimum legal drinking age in Mexico is 18.

This is more liberal than Americans who must be 21 before they can engage in alcoholic drinks. By law, Mexico requires young adults to show photo identification proving age when purchasing alcohol. However, this practice is not always enforced at resorts and bars. Travelers have observed that drinks were served on 16 and 17 year olds. But that might be more anecdotal evidence than a common observation.

Parents traveling with teenage children
Nonetheless, being aware of the law is key to avoiding confusion; should you attempt to obtain alcohol as an underage drinker or a parent or companion of fellow teenagers, it’s totally up to you.

Therefore, it is important for families to set ground rules and enforce set of freedom accorded to teenage companions during their holidays. For example, how much independence should you grant your kids when they stray away from kid-friendly facilities and start teasing themselves into trying out alcohol out of curiosity? At the end of the day you don’t want to incite rebellion and impart a certain level of trust towards growing and maturing children.

Parents of college kids off to Mexico for spring break
Mexico is an attractive place for American college students knowing it has more lenient rule on drinking age; the minimum drinking age in the United States is 21. In fact, there are 100,000 American teenagers and young adults travel to Mexico for spring break each year, according to the U.S. State Department. Most return home without any incident, but there are those who end up in trouble, mostly related to intoxication, drink driving and improper behavior.

Certain laws aimed at curbing incidents of driving under the influence, but obviously they don’t cover territories outside the border.

Although enforcement of selling alcoholic drinks to those under-18 can be a hit and miss mainly due to business interests on the part of bars and resorts, the law against public intoxication is often implemented in Mexico.

This means whether you are a teenager who managed to sneak pina colada, margarita or mojito, or an adult with no risk of violating the country’s drinking age laws, you are not allowed to drink on conspicuous places and would be well advised to drink them in a confined place like a bar or your resort property. Being overly drunk and boisterous can lead to hefty fines or even jail time in Mexico.

While it is perfectly fine to travel with alcohol in a vehicle in Mexico, drink driving is a criminal offense which may carry up to 36 hours in detention if proven you are over the legal blood alcohol content limit.

Blood alcohol content in Mexico
The national limit for blood alcohol content in Mexico is 0.8 but certain states impose more stringent requirement:

  • 0.4: Aguascalientes, Chiapas, Distrito Federal, Estado de México, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Michoacán, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz.
  • 0.5: Chihuahua

If suspected drink driving, local police officers can pull you over and administer a breathalyzer test if they suspect you’re under the influence.

In bigger cities, alcohol breathalyzer checks are commonly enforced and police are allowed to stop motorists and ask them to take alcoholimetro (breath test) if they suspect the driver is over the limit.

This is strictly enforced on public transport drivers and those who handle heavy goods and toxic waste, but tourists driving to Mexico can also be a subject of such random spot checks.

Safety about alcohol consumption in Mexico
Since we’re in the topic of legal age of drinking in Mexico, it is also timely to remind young holidaymakers in Mexico about alcohol consumption and safety in general.

1. Do not drink in public. According to Mexico’s laws, it is illegal to to display public intoxication, or technically bringing along an open a bottle of alcohol, mainly due to the risks it may pose. It is not uncommon to see young party-goers walking dazed and groggy on spring break, but they won’t be in trouble as long as they don’t pose danger to others or risk themselves in accidents. Nonetheless, it is best to notify a friend about existing laws and abiding by them.

2. Be civil and avoid trouble. Alcohol consumption has played a role in accidents, violent crimes, rapes and even deaths in Mexico. Therefore disturbing the peace, displaying lewd behavior, littering, driving under the influence, and drinking on the street or on public transportation may all be considered criminal activities by local authorities. Surely, those who had experienced it won’t say it’s worth it.

3. Be aware of drug laws. Mexican law does not distinguish between hard and soft narcotics. Substances such as marijuana, cocaine, heroine and amphetamines are treated equally and offenders can expect long detention even before a verdict — and additional jail time if convicted — is reached. Although Mexico has decriminalized possession of certain substances, those caught with such amount can still be detained by authorities. Since excessive alcohol consumption could possibly lead to possession and consumption of drugs, travelers should be well aware of these laws.

Remember that the Mexican drug cartels have been dominating the wholesale illicit drug market and in 2007 controlled 90% of the cocaine entering the United States.

4. Do not go swimming after consuming alcohol. Sure, both kids and adults want to have fun, and the beach or the resort pool is a wonderful way to refresh. But be careful especially when you just consumed alcohol. At some resorts, standards of security and safety leaves a lot to be desired. In addition to influence of alcohol, some beach areas may feature rip tides and undercurrents which could be hazardous and pose risk of drowning.

5. Keep your belongings safe. Consuming alcohol can disorient you and lower your guard down so there’s potentially higher risk of losing your possessions. Therefore, if you are going out for drinks or party all night, do not bring valuables with you. A US passport book or US passport card was introduced in 2009 for American citizens traveling to and from Mexico. You don’t have to bring it with you (a copy would be handy) and it’s better off left in the safety of your hotel room’s locker.

6. Be aware of tainted drinks. The U.S. State Department has issued warning on possibly tainted or counterfeit drinks in Mexico. It advised vacationers who choose to drink alcohol to “do so in moderation and to stop and seek medical attention if you begin to feel ill.” One unfortunate victim, Abbey Conner, a 20-year-old from Pewaukee, died after being pulled listless from a pool at the Paraiso del Mar, part of a cluster of Iberostar resorts near Playa del Carmen, Mexico. She was brain dead, and a few days later was flown to Florida, where she was taken off life support, Journal Sentinel reported.

Drinking age in Mexico may be the beginning question of an exciting adventure with the family or school mates. But it also carries several implications, mostly about safety and security. Enjoying a Mexico vacation is everyone’s hope, but it is also equally important to be respectful of the country’s laws and maintaining common sense to ensure an equally happy return from a memorable trip.

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