Drinking in Australia is very common. Often it’s very social and enjoyed with friends. However, it can be easily misused and have some serious legal consequences. It is important that you are aware of the different laws on what age and who can buy alcohol, and where you are allowed to drink.

Remember, if you are drinking it is important to be safe, and not to drink under pressure if you are feeling uncomfortable.

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Buying alcohol

If you are under 18, it is against the law for you to buy alcohol. It is also against the law for anyone to sell you alcohol.

What if I am under 18 and I am caught buying alcohol anyway?

If you are under 18 and caught buying alcohol, the police can:

  • fine you $220 if you don’t’ want to go before a Court; or
  • bring you to court if you choose to have a youth court decide whether you bought or attempted to buy alcohol.
  • if you admit buying alcohol and are under 18 convene a youth justice conference if the police believe a caution is not appropriate.

However, if you choose to go to court you may receive a fine of up $2,200 if it is decided that you bought or tried to buy alcohol.

Do I need to show ID?

If you’re buying alcohol, or entering part of a pub, club or bar that is restricted to adults, and look like you might be under 25, the staff will probably ask you for ID. If you don’t have ID you can be refused entry, prevented from buying alcohol or asked to leave, regardless of your actual age, as there are heavy fines for the person selling alcohol.

The person selling you alcohol, the venue staff and the police can ask you to provide:

  • your full name address, and date of birth; and
  • proof of age.

If you refuse to provide any of the above, you can be fined $220 on the spot by the police.

You can prove your age with a:

  • NSW driver’s licence or from any other State or Territory in Australia;
  • NSW Photo Card;
  • Proof of Age card from another State or Territory in Australia;
  • Passport; or
  • Keypass identity card from Australia Post.

All documents must be valid, so they can’t be expired, punched or clipped.

It is against the law to use a fake ID to buy alcohol, or to use one to enter a place where alcohol is served, like a pub, bar or club. You can be fined $220 on the spot by the police if caught doing so. For more information see our Fake ID page.

Where can I drink alcohol?

Drinking at home

“Private premises” are places like your home or a friend’s house, but not “public places” like parks or beaches. There is no law against drinking in private premises if you are under 18.

There is no law which says you cannot drink at home when you are under 18.

However, you should be aware that the adult who gives you the alcohol may be breaking the law. They can be fined $1,100 by police or up to $11,000 in court and could potentially face up to 12 months in prison, unless they are:

  • your parent;
  • your parent or guardian; or
  • another person who was given permission by your parent or guardian,

and they are supervising you responsibly.

House parties

If there is alcohol at a house party and people are under 18, it is best to get permission from their parents.  It is best for permission to be in writing (eg an email or text message from the parents of the person under 18).

But even if you have permission, if you are drinking at a house party you must be supervised responsibly. If the police do not think you have been supervised responsibly, it is up to the police officer to decide whether your parent, guardian or supervising adult should be taken to court, but this is more likely to happen if you are:

  • very young;
  • given a lot of alcohol;
  • given strong alcohol; or
  • already drunk when given alcohol.

If you are not supervised responsibly, you could potentially have to pay a $1,100 fine (from the police) or up to $11,000 fine and up to 12 months in prison (from the court) [your parent, guardian, supervising adult or the person who supplied the alcohol].

In any event, you and your parents have a responsibility to take care of those at the party and to ensure those at your party are safe and not harmed. Your parents would be expected to supervise the party and to prevent excessive drinking and other safety risks.

Drinking in public places

If you are under 18, it is against the law for you to drink or have on you alcohol in a public place.You can’t be arrested but the police can fine you $20 and confiscate the alcohol permanently.

Public places usually include, for example:

  • footpaths and roads;
  • parks;
  • beaches;
  • shopping centres;
  • unlicensed restaurants, cafes and dining areas (places that do not sell alcohol);
  • community centres, halls and churches;
  • theatres, libraries and galleries;
  • public transport (buses, trains, trams, aeroplanes, taxis, ferries);
  • gyms and sporting facilities; and
  • hospitals.

If you are caught, the police officer can ask you to provide:

  • your full name, address, and date of birth; and
  • proof of age.

If you refuse to provide any of the above or you provide a fake name or address, you can be fined another $20 on the spot by the police.

Otherwise, you can receive a warning or caution for drinking in a public place. See our Warnings and Formal Cautions section for more information.

You can possess or consume alcohol in public if:

  1. The above does not apply,  and you were under the supervision of a responsible adult (your parent, guardian or another adult with permission from your parent or guardian); or
  2. You have a reasonable excuse for having or drinking the alcohol.

It is up to the police officer to determine what a reasonable excuse is. A reasonable excuse might be that you were holding a wrapped bottle of wine as a gift for an adult, but it would probably not be reasonable if you were found drinking in the park with a group of under 18s.

There are also some public places where drinking alcohol is always illegal, regardless of whether you are under or over 18 or with an adult.  Some of these places are:

Public transport

It is generally illegal to drink alcohol or carry an open container of alcohol on any bus, ferry, train or in a public area such as a bus stop, ferry wharf or train station. Police and transit officers can fine you $400.

There is an exception for some ferries and NSW regional trains if alcohol is sold on board. In this case an adult must purchase the alcohol on board and the normal rules for drinking alcohol in a public place apply.  That is, you can only consume it under the supervision of your parent, guardian or another responsible adult with permission from your parent or guardian.

Alcohol-free zones

There are many alcohol-free zones (sometimes called alcohol prohibited zones) across NSW, especially around footpaths, main roads, beaches, parks, the Sydney CBD and during some public events. It is always against the law to drink alcohol in an alcohol-free zone, regardless of whether you are under or over 18.

If you are carrying unopened alcohol through an alcohol-free zone it is a good idea to store alcohol in a bag so it is out of sight. Otherwise, police or council rangers can confiscate alcohol and tip out open containers if:

  • you are drinking the alcohol in the alcohol-free zone;
  • the officer believes you are about to drink in the alcohol-free zone; or
  • the officer believes you have recently been drinking in the alcohol-free zone.

If you are asked to move on and you don’t cooperate with the police, you can be fined $220.

Alcohol-free zones can be marked by signs on the street, on buildings and at the entrance to parks and beaches. Sometimes they may not be marked at all. If you are unsure, it is best to check the signs and ask someone (like the lifeguard at the beach or rangers in a national park) whether you are in an alcohol-free zone. If you are asked to tip your open alcohol out, it is always safer to cooperate.

Drinking on licensed premises

Licensed premises are hotels, pubs, clubs, bars, bottle shops and (some) restaurants. They have a licence to sell alcohol to people 18 and over. If you are under 18, it is against the law for you to drink, obtain or be given alcohol in a licensed venue, even if you are with your parent or guardian. If you are caught, the police can give you a fine of $220 on the spot. You can choose to go to court but you risk a higher fine of up to $2,200.

You can only be in a licensed venue if you are with a responsible adult and you are not in the “bar area”. Generally, this means that if you are under 18 you can be in a dining area or function room and you must stay with an adult who is:

  • your parent, step-parent or legal guardian; or
  • someone standing in as your parent; or
  • your spouse or de facto partner (if you have one).

If you enter a licensed venue with a responsible adult and then you drink alcohol, the adult can also be fined $330 on the spot or up to $3,300 if found guilty in court.

Although you can never drink alcohol in a licensed venue if you are under 18, there are some exceptions which allow you to be in the “bar area”.  This includes if you are an apprentice conducting work, receiving training on gaming machines, performing live music, at a wedding or just passing through with a responsible adult. However, it is important to always ask the staff at the venue to make sure.

Alcohol online or over the phone

Whenever you purchase alcohol online or by phone you will be required to provide your date of birth to confirm whether you are 18. You must be at least 18 to accept delivery of alcohol and may be required to show ID. If you are under 18 and you accept a delivery of alcohol, you can be fined $220 on the spot or up to $2,200 if you are found guilty in court.

Additional information

For more information, you can visit the following websites:

If you have a question about alcohol that we haven’t answered here, you can get help here.

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