What Is The Drinking Age In Colombia?

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The drinking age in Colombia can be tricky because the laws are ambiguous. While there are blanket drinking laws that cover the whole of Colombia, some variations between cities may exist. Let’s take a closer look at the drinking regulations that determine the drinking age in Colombia!

The drinking age in Colombia is 18 years. Selling alcohol to minors is illegal, but that doesn’t mean they cannot consume alcohol. If they get alcohol from sources other than licensed sellers, neither they nor the seller faces punishment. DUIs are very serious, but public drinking differs per city.

How Old Must You Be To Drink In Colombia?

The Congress of Colombia instated Law 124 in 1994 to regulate the drinking age in Colombia. The law strictly forbids anyone from selling alcohol to a minor – anyone under 18 years of age.

However, this does not mean minors cannot drink alcohol in Colombia. The law only disallows the sale of alcohol to minors but does not prohibit them from buying, attempting to buy, or consuming alcohol.

In fact, Article 2 of Law 124 states that any minors found drinking excessively or who suffer from intoxication must attend counseling. Their parents or legal guardians must register them for a course on alcoholism prevention at the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare.

Therefore, if a minor goes to a store or a bar and tries to buy alcohol, the seller is legally obliged to refuse the sale.

However, if the minor somehow obtains alcohol from another source, like a friend or relative, the law does not punish the minor for drinking it. The law also does not punish the person who gave or sold the alcohol to the minor unless they are a licensed seller.

The logic can seem contradictory or illogical, but this is the essence of how Colombia enforces its drinking laws.

The Dry Law (Ley Seca)

Colombia’s drinking age requirement applies to all its cities and regions. However, some governments can impose further restrictions to prevent the adverse effects of alcohol during critical events.

For instance, Bogota has a law called the Dry Law (Ley Seca) that bans anyone from selling or consuming alcohol during important events like elections, public emergencies, or holidays. The intention is to limit the incidents of violence, accidents, or other disturbances from inebriated people.

The Dry Law dates back to the period between 1958 and 1974 when Colombia’s two political powers were at odds. The Conservative Party and The Liberal Party agreed to share power by rotating authority; they called this process the National Front.

However, Colombians were not too pleased with the arrangement, and Colombia often had a lot of social unrest and political violence.

What Are Colombia’s Legal Consequences For Intoxication?

Colombia’s public drinking regulations can be different for some regions, while their laws regarding DUI are the strictest in all of Latin America.

Drunkenness In A Public Space

Drinking in public in Colombia can be complicated to understand. Typically, the law does not prohibit drinking in public places, but it allows local authorities to regulate it.

Some regions and cities can have opposite public drinking rules or restrictions, which limit when and where someone can drink publicly.

Although drinking in public is generally acceptable, it quickly becomes unacceptable when someone does it near schools, churches, hospitals, or government buildings. Furthermore, any consumption of alcohol during the Draw Law (Ley Seca) period will incur severe punishment by authorities.

Punishment may include having alcohol confiscated, paying fines, or even arrest; the severity depends on the authorities involved. For instance, a drinking fine in Bogota ranges from 98,000 – 196,000 Colombian Pesos ($25 – $50 USD). The figure can fluctuate depending on the city or region.

The safest solution is for travelers to familiarize themselves with the local drinking regulations of a city or region.

Driving Under The Influence In Colombia

Colombia has stringent rules for people who drive under the influence of alcohol. They have zero tolerance for DUIs, and offenders will face punishment according to their level of intoxication. These are the different categories of offense and their consequences:

  • Low alcohol level – A low level constitutes a blood alcohol level of 0.02 – 0.039%. The driver will forfeit their license for a year, pay a fine of US$914, and do twenty hours of community service.
  • High alcohol level A high level indicates 0.04 – 0.149% alcohol in their blood. The driver will lose their license for five years, pay a fine of US$3,614, and do thirty hours of community service.
  • Very high alcohol level – A very high level is 0.15% or more. The driver will lose their license for ten years, pay a fine of US$7,314, and do fifty hours of community service.
  • Causing injury or death – When the driver hurts or kills someone because of drunk driving, it carries lifelong consequences. The driver will go to jail for 2.5 to 18 years, and they will never be allowed to drive again.

Is Identification Necessary To Buy Alcohol In Colombia?

Alcohol retailers in Colombia can ask for identification before selling alcohol, whether for tourists or locals. Supermarkets, liquor stores, bars, restaurants, and duty-free shops may ask for an ID before letting go of their alcohol. The type of ID can depend on the kind of alcohol. 

A local can use their citizenship card (Cédula de Ciudadanía), and a foreigner can use their foreigner card (Cédula de Extranjería). These are the official identification documents issued by the Colombian government. Tourists can use their passports, which is the most widely accepted form of identification.

It’s sometimes possible for tourists to use their driver’s license or national ID card from their country of origin, but this option is hit-and-miss. Some places may even ask tourists to display their immigration stamps.

The most common time someone will ask for identification is when a local or tourist wants to buy hard liquor, such as aguardiente, rum, whisky, or vodka. These drinks have higher alcohol content and are subject to higher taxes and regulations.

It’s less common for sellers to request identification when buying beer or wine because they have lower alcohol content and are more common. Remember that cities and regions have different alcohol regulations. They could be strict or lenient with their identification requirements. 

What Happens To Intoxicated Tourists Who Cause Trouble?

Colombian authorities have little tolerance for Intoxicated tourists who disrupt the peace. Offenders can face serious consequences, specifically arrest and detention.

The punishment can also vary depending on the authorities involved. Deportation and imprisonment are very real possibilities, with some authorities counting it as serious as trafficking and drug-related crimes.

Furthermore, Colombia’s legal system may differ entirely from the one back home. Legal assistance might be out of reach, and access to that legal council might take a week or two to become accessible. The absence of a consultant will make things even more difficult.

The truth is that travelers who obey the laws of Colombia and stay within the limits of reasonable consumption will have a fantastic and memorable time. Always remember to respect the locals and their property; if something is unclear, ask someone. Colombian locals are happy to help!