College bars turn away students with international ID's

TAMPA, Fla., June 29 -- For some international college students, trips to local bars are cut short when their international ID's, though valid, aren't accepted at the door. That's what happened to Sal Mahtani, a Jamaican student at the University of Tampa.

“I had my Jamaican license with me," Mahtani. “I hadn’t gotten my U.S. ID as yet, but luckily I had my passport with me, so I gave them that.”

Mahtani got in, but she doesn't want to carry a passport around whenever she wants to go out with friends.

"It's not so safe," she said.

The Retreat, a bar popular among Tampa-area college students, doesn't accept international licenses as valid form of identification. A security guard at the bar said he tells any students who ask that the policy is a protective measure. The guard, who said he couldn't give his full name without permission from his manager, added that U.S. ID's are scanned at the door, but security has no way of verifying international ID's on site. Security guards are advised by law enforcement officers to be on the lookout for fake ID's, the guard said, and they don't want to risk allowing someone with a forged document into the bar.

The policy protects both the bar owners and bar patrons, the guard said. When officers from the Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco division sweep the bar for compliance checks, as they did in April, international students are at risk of being detained, even if their ID's are valid. US ID's can be easily checked, but it takes longer to verify international ID's the guard said. Students using those cards would likely be in for a long wait.

“I don’t want my customers to be inconvenienced,” the guard said. “They may not see it this way but I’m trying to do them a favor.”

Chelsea Hubbell of The Cayman Islands said she hasn't been denied entry at any bars, but it can be a challenge to get in.

“They’re skeptical about it," Hubbell said of her international ID. “I guess they’ve just never seen a real Cayman license before so that’s why they wonder, 'Is this even a real place?”

An ID is an ID, Mahtani said, whether issued by the U.S. or another country.

"It's valid," she said.

Florida legislators agree. According to state administrative code, "a driver's license, issued by any government agency, domestic or foreign, provided it includes a photograph," can be used to verify a person's age.

Most bar security guards don't question passports, which are harder to forge. But students who carry those documents risk losing them.

"I didn't want to go out with my passport anymore, so I just didn't go until, not until I got my (U.S.) ID," Mahtani said.

Brad Randel, associate director of international admissions at The University of Tampa, cautions against carrying your passport. It's a long and stressful process to get it back, he said. Some students might be forced to return to their home countries to get a new document.

"It's best to take preventative measures and get a Florida ID," he said.

Both Mahtani and Hubbell agree getting a Florida ID is an international student’s best bet.

“I think they should just get one, so there’s no hassle,” Hubbell said. “It’s so much easier when you do.”