Aims This exploratory study aims to model the impact of sex and age on the percentage of pre-drinking in 27 countries, presenting a single model of pre-drinking behaviour for all countries and then comparing the role of sex and age on pre-drinking behaviour between countries. Methods Using data from the Global Drug Survey, the percentages of pre-drinkers were estimated for 27 countries from 64,485 respondents. Bivariate and multivariate multilevel models were used to investigate and compare the percentage of pre-drinking by sex (male and female) and age (16–35 years) between countries. Results The estimated percentage of pre-drinkers per country ranged from 17.8% (Greece) to 85.6% (Ireland). The influence of sex and age on pre-drinking showed large variation between the 27 countries. With the exception of Canada and Denmark, higher percentages of males engaged in pre-drinking compared to females, at all ages. While we noted a decline in pre-drinking probability among respondents in all countries after 21 years of age, after the age of 30 this probability remained constant in some countries, or even increased in Brazil, Canada, England, Ireland, New Zealand and the United States. Conclusions Pre-drinking is a worldwide phenomenon, but varies substantially by sex and age between countries. These variations suggest that policy-makers would benefit from increased understanding of the particularities of pre-drinking in their own country to efficiently target harmful pre-drinking behaviours.