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Tap or Bottled? Advice on Safe Drinking Water Abroad in 2023

Updated: 1 day ago

Is it safe to drink the water in Mexico? How about Italy, or Japan? Does the wealth of an economy indicate the sanitary structure of their water supply? What about ice? With so many questions about safe drinking water abroad, no wonder travelers end up just buying bottled water everywhere they go.


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a young man with a red backpack and jeans sits and drinks a bottle of water


The good news is - you can drink the water in more places than you think. Here's a few tips to consider when evaluating if you should drink the water or not when traveling abroad, based on personal experience.



When to put a hard NO TAP WATER rule on a trip

a young girl in a coral colored embroidered dress enjoys a bottle of water

It's important to consider your own comfort when making this decision, but in general:

  • Is the air clean? I.e., not a lot of pollution, smog or smoke?

  • Butchering conditions: I know this sounds strange, but for instance when I was in Nepal we saw people butchering animals for meat on tree stumps on the side of the road. There were flies buzzing everywhere and it wasn't exactly a sanitary situation. Not only did we ward off water that trip, but meat was off the menu - we went vegetarian! (And the one slip where we didn't - big time regret).

  • Is the economy struggling?

  • Watch the locals - are they selling sealed water or maybe drinks that look like they have been refilled?


In general, I avoided drinking the tap water in the following examples:

  • Mexico

  • China

  • Nepal

  • Indonesia

  • Vietnam

  • Bahamas

Bottom line - if it's not a place you want to drink the water, don't drink the water. If it's questionable, read on.


When the Tap Water is Questionable


Consider if a restaurant or bar is offering you tap water as an option when you sit down. If their go-to is to hand you a bottle of water versus ice water from the tap, they may know something you don't.


I use this as a sure-fire way to tell if the locals are drinking the water, or at least if they think the tourists shouldn't be drinking the water.


Drinks with Ice or Blended Drinks

This goes for drinks like margarita on the rocks or frozen, ice water, soda with ice in it, pina coladas, etc.


When it's ok to drink:
  • If it came from your nice hotel

  • If you can literally see the big ICE chest at the bar or restaurant

  • If the country is known for their clean water (springs, waterfalls, etc)


When it's not ok to drink:
  • If it came from a street food vendor (I had to make a mad dash to my hotel after adding ice to my Vietnamese coffee and didn't leave the bathroom the rest of the night)

  • If you notice less than sanitary kitchen or bar conditions



In the Bathroom


When it's ok to drink:

Relax, if you are somewhere you know you shouldn't be drinking the water, you're not going to die and you are probably not going to get sick from drinking a little water when you are brushing your teeth. Just try to use bottled water to rinse and spit.


If you are one of those people who get water in their mouth while showering, same thing applies. Just spit it out and try not to do it again.


When it's not ok to drink:

Don't refill your water bottle in the sink unless you know the tap water is clean (based on my tips above).



Places I Think Have Safe Drinking Water Abroad


I have no problem drinking the tap water in:

  • Spain

  • Norway

  • England

  • Italy

  • Malta

  • Denmark

  • Europe in general

  • A major metropolis


Bring a Re-Fillable Bottle with a Filter


A novel concept, bring your own re-fillable Brita bottle (or similar).




When In Doubt


a street vendor sells bottled water

Finally, when in doubt, water is cheap to buy in most grocery stores or attractions wherever you are traveling. I will often buy a giant 2 liter bottle (or several) to keep in my hotel room, refilling a small day-sized bottle for touring.


In any case you shouldn't worry about safe drinking water when you are traveling abroad. Just be smart, be comfortable, and be aware of your surroundings. In most scenarios, the worst thing that will happen is you will spend the day in the bathroom.


No pun intended, but test the waters (of the water) in your first day or two and if you don't get sick you're good to go. Not exactly medical grade advice, but I've survived. Drink on, my friends.

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