Virginia ABC > Licenses > Retail Resources > Preventing Underage Sales

Preventing Underage Sales

The sale of alcohol or tobacco to an underage person is the most common licensee violation. When selling alcohol or tobacco, it should be staff’s top priority to focus on the customer and make sure he or she is not underage.

Virginia law states a customer must be at least 21 years of age to purchase alcohol and 18 years of age to purchase tobacco products. There is no legal requirement to check identification (ID), but the best way to verify a customer’s age is to request proper ID and examine it carefully.

Virginia ABC checks compliance through its underage buyer program.

Proper Forms of Identification

The ID must contain a photograph and signature and include the individual’s height, weight and date of birth.  Any one of the following constitutes a proper form of ID:

  • a valid driver's license issued by any state in the United States or the District of Columbia;
  • armed forces identification card;
  • U.S. passport or foreign government visa;
  • valid special identification card issued by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles; or
  • any valid identification issued by any other federal or state government agency, excluding student university and college identification cards.

Make sure the ID hasn’t expired and hasn’t been tampered with or altered. Also, the photograph and physical description on the ID should be consistent with the appearance of the person.

Helpful Suggestions

  • Don’t risk an underage sale; check the ID every time.
  • Watch out for second-party sales. If a seller observes specific activity of a second party, such as passing of money, participation in selection, or bringing the alcoholic beverage to the checkout stand, ID should be requested of the second party. The sale may be legally refused.
  • If your establishment has a computerized system for scanning IDs, be certain employees receive training and understand how to use the equipment.
  • Be familiar with IDs. Many, including the Virginia driver’s license and ID card, have the person’s 18th and 21st birthdays. No math required!
  • Sign up for Virginia ABC seller and server training to get more tips and information about preventing underage sales.


Are you required to have an ID to purchase alcoholic beverages?
No; however, alcoholic beverages may not be sold to persons under 21. Identification may be required.

When does a person reach their 21st birthday?
The attorney general's office has opined that a person attains his/her next year of age on the day prior to his/her birthday. (1963 Va. AG LEXIS 215; 1962-1963 Op. Atty Gen. Va. 87)

Can you sell a beer to a person under 21 years of age if that person is accompanied by a parent or guardian?
No. It is never lawful for a licensee to sell or serve alcohol to an underage person. (COV 4.1-304 and 4.1-306)

Are people under 21 years of age allowed to sit at the bar?
There is no Virginia ABC law prohibiting a person less than 21 years of age from sitting at a counter/bar in an ABC-licensed restaurant. However, a licensee may establish its own in-house policy prohibiting it.

Can a licensee sell nonalcoholic beer or nonalcoholic wine to a person less than 21 years of age?
Yes, nonalcoholic beer and nonalcoholic wine contains less than one-half of 1 percent of alcohol and, therefore, is not an alcoholic beverage.

Can the licensee keep a falsified ID? What should the licensee do with the ID?
Virginia law does not allow anyone other than sworn police to seize falsified IDs. Licensees retaining such IDs should turn them over to the local police or to their local Virginia ABC agent.

Revised February 26, 2015

"We Card" Program

The "We Card" program, administered by the Coalition for Responsible Tobacco Retailing, offers training and materials to help retailers prevent underage sales of tobacco. While most of their materials apply to tobacco law, many also apply to the legal age to purchase alcohol. Visit www.wecard.org to learn more about their efforts and to see their catalog of underage purchase prevention materials.

ID Checking Guide

The Drivers License Guide Co. publishes an annual edition of the ID Checking Guide that helps retailers and law enforcement agencies identify fake IDs. Every valid driver's license format is shown in actual size and full color for all 50 states and 10 Canadian provinces. You can order the guide from www.idcheckingguide.com or by calling (800) 227-8827.

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Contact Your Agent

Special agents are the primary resource for questions related to operating a business with an ABC license. Contact a special agent via your regional ABC office.
This information is meant for general guidance only. For specific questions, contact your ABC special agent. To view ABC laws and regulations, visit Virginia’s Legislative Information System.