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“Social drinking is a foreign concept to many American students. Obviously you can infer from this that if you are under 21 you can obtain alcohol by various means. However, I’ll be blunt about this point. If you are not 21 years old or older, DO NOT try to enter bars or purchase alcohol. Anyone under 30 will be ID checked and usually only US driver’s licenses are accepted. DO NOT get caught in possession of alcohol, in particular while on the street or campus. If you get caught breaking the law, expect to suffer the consequences (usually ejection from the university, which also means deportation for foreign students). That might just be your most expensive drink ever.” – Exchange student, Pennsylvania State University.
You must be at least 21 years old to buy or drink any alcoholic beverages in the US. This law is strictly enforced and has serious consequences both legally and within the campus judicial system. Often undergrad drinking is a violation of school policy as well, especially if it is on campus. Students have even been punished for breaking campus rules based on photos online.
It’s very important to check whether or not your university is ‘dry.’ If you’re on a ‘dry’ campus, you can still be cautioned or arrested for consuming alcohol, or having an open container of alcohol, even if you’re over the legal drinking age of 21.
When you enter a bar or try to purchase alcohol in a store or restaurant, you will be asked to produce photo identification to prove that you are above the legal drinking age.
A word of caution: If you are of age and choose to drink, when at parties, bars or clubs, be sure to keep your drink with you and never leave it unattended.
Some bars will only accept a US driver’s license or state identification card from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), while most will accept a passport. Generally, you should not have any issues with your British driving license although a photocopy of your passport in your wallet may not hurt, especially as bars in areas with a large international student population may only accept a passport.
In general, casual drinking is not as common in the US as in the UK. When people meet up with friends or colleagues, it is usually over coffee or lunch. As a very broad generalisation (because of either religious or cultural reasons), Americans tend to have a more extreme view of alcohol. Some never drink, while others participate in binge drinking.
Illegal possession of controlled substances in the US is subject to persecution by law. The penalties of drug possession vary from state to state and region to region. However, any type of illegal drug use is taken seriously. There is no classification of drugs as in the UK. Use and possession of all illegal drugs (including marijuana) are considered criminal offences and will be considered as such if you are caught.