Driving in New Zealand – What You Need To Know

Driving in New Zealand

The allure of visiting or relocating to New Zealand is largely based on its magnificent scenic attractions and friendly people. The attractions include the mountainous topography, beautiful lakes and pristine sunny beaches. New Zealand is also a major sporting nation, best known for its rugby prowess. Other popular sports include cricket, netball, football, rowing and golf. The country enjoys an advanced mixed-market economy and ranks highly on the Human Development Index (HDI). The country’s leading exports include meat, fruit, dairy products and wine. Other large industries include tourism and the service sector.

Auckland is by all estimates the most expensive city in the country. The median cost of buying a home in New Zealand is about NZ$550,000 and as much as NZ$860,000 in Auckland. The cities following the cue include Wellington, Christchurch and Hamilton. With a monthly income of between NZ$3,000 to NZ$5,000, you can cover recurring expenses on basic items like rent, internet, food, gasoline and utilities. If want to work in New Zealand, you need to familiarize yourself with the tax laws. For more information on the cost of living in NZ read our article here.

The Inland Revenue Department (IRD) is the party charged with handling taxes in New Zealand. IRD oversees the collection and management of taxes for individuals, families, groups and businesses. The other entities covered include visitors and non-residents visiting the country. If you are a non-resident seeking employment, you need to obtain the IRD number. The unique tax identifier will help you do everything from tax returns and starting a business to apply for a student loan. The other items you need to have before finding employment include a work visa and CV. For more information read our page on working in NZ here.

Obtaining a New Zealand phone number and bank account can go a long way to hasten the job search and employment process. Being a dream destination with a favorable climate, means visitors can come to New Zealand all year round. The country experiences mid-summer in January and its warmest month in February. Autumn comes in full swing in April and winter in May. The spring season kick-starts in September and runs through November. Tourists and visitors can easily explore the beauty of New Zealand from the comfort of their cars, Motorhomes or boat.

An Overview of Driving within New Zealand

With many spectacular places to visit and things to do, New Zealand has so much to offer on and off the road. The country boasts an extensive road network that includes motorways, expressways, interchanges and bypasses. The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) is charged with overseeing all the state highways. The state highways are classified under National, Regional and Arterial highways. The National highways typically link high population areas, major ports and airports. The SH1 near the Auckland Central Motorway is the country’s busiest highways.

All the major cities are interconnected by bus service even though private cars dominate the transport sector. The state highways are a function of the central government while public transportation remains in the local government docket. Road safety is an important consideration when travelling or driving in New Zealand. Most of the accidents and fatalities in the country are attributed to aggressive driving habits, poor or insufficient training and use of unsafe cars. Only a small portion of the accidents is blamed on poor road design and construction.

Before setting out on a road trip, you need to have your driver’s licence ready. A good understanding of the traffic rules and driving conditions is also critical. If you do not want to hire a car, you can buy a new or used car. The latter is more cost effective if you are conscious about the budget. When buying a used car, take time to know its history and ensure the car is well-inspected. The paperwork also needs to be in proper order. New and used cars can be purchased from an online auction, car dealerships, newspaper classifieds and new car showrooms.

Getting a New Zealand Driving Licence 

Rules and Regulations 

The driver’s licence is an important legal document that verifies you and your vehicle. Getting the New Zealand driver’s licence will give you the freedom to drive on New Zealand roads and work anywhere around the country. The vehicles here are driven on the left side of the road. This can be challenging if you are coming from a country that drives on the right side. The system is similar to what you would find in most Commonwealth countries, including the UK and Australia.

While driving in New Zealand, remember to respect the speed limit. The basic speed limit is set at 30km/h near dangerous zones and in places where road works are ongoing. The speed limit set for cities and towns is 50km/h and 100km/h for highways. The driving licence system in the country is broadly divided into 3 stages: the Learner, Restricted and Full licence. Each of these stages has a test that a driver must pass before proceeding to the next phase.

a) Learner Licence 
If your driver’s licence has an entitlement “L” against the class identifier, it means you are a learner. You can obtain this licence if you are at least 16 years at the time of submitting your application to the New Zealand Transport Authority (NZTA). When filling the application, you need to fulfill the following requirements:

  • Proof of good eyesight
  • Identity documents
  • Passport photo
  • Application fee

You also need to pass a computer based theory test. The test features 35 multi-choice questions, analyzing the safe driving practices and road rules. The pass mark is achieved by passing at least 32 questions. Since the learners licence in not a full licence, several restrictions apply. Besides driving in the company of a supervisor, drivers are required to display the “L” plates prominently on the rear and front side of the vehicle. This licence is only valid for 5 years.

b) Restricted Licence 
The restricted driver’s licence is denoted by the entitlement “R”. The minimum age limit to obtain this licence is 16 and half years. The holder must have had the learner licence for at least 6 months. The other requirement is passing the practical test and driving between 5am to 10pm. To drive beyond the stipulated time, one must be accompanied by a supervisor. The restricted licence is only valid for 5 years. To make your “R” licence application:

  • Fill the application form and provide documents showing proof of your identity
  • Pass the eye test and allow the agent to take your photo and signature
  • Pay the requested application and test fees

Note; you may be asked to present a medical certificate.

c) Full licence 
The full licence can be obtained by making an application with the licensing agent. The next thing is to fulfill the requirements listed by the New Zealand Transport Authority. Once this is done, you will book and sit the practical driving test. Having this licence eliminates the restrictions placed in the other licences. It also gives the bearer of the licence the permission to drive manual and automatic vehicles. When applying for a full licence, you must have your identification documents and eye check results. If you have a supervisor, he or she must possess the recommended NZ driver’s licence and class.

Features of the New Zealand Driver’s Licence 

The credit card sized-card features the driver Identity title, details of the licence holder and licence number. The driver identity information includes passport photo, full names and address. On the backside, the driver’s licence features the class and endorsements; licence conditions and the entitlement information. The licence issuance and expiry dates are also clearly indicated. Some of the endorsements you will find on the driver’s licence include:

  • Passenger (P)
  • Dangerous goods (D)
  • Vehicle recovery Service (V)
  • Tracks (T)
  • Testing Officer (O)
  • Forklift (F)
  • Driving Instructor (I)
  • Wheels (W)

The different types of driver’s licence issued in New Zealand are identified using color. The green licence indicates the bearer of the licence is qualified for a single licence class. The Yellow licence shows the driver is restricted to a single or several classes of licence. The blue licence is offered to drivers that are still learning to drive. There is also a range of pink licences listed under the following title; the alcohol interlock licence, limited licence and zero alcohol licences.

Drivers with the alcohol interlock licence are only allowed to drive cars that are mechanically fitted with the alcohol interlock device. Once in a while the NTZA makes changes to these rules. The New Zealand driver’s licences fall under the following key categories Class 1, Classes (2, 3, 4 and 5) and Class 6. Class 1 category generally covers small or light-weight vehicles like cars, utility vehicles and vans. The Class 2 – 5 covers heavy vehicles. Motorcycles fall under the class 6 category.

Converting to New Zealand Driver’s Licence

If you have a valid overseas driver’s licence, you can easily convert it to a New Zealand driver’s licence. The conversion will largely be based on the class equivalence. According to New Zealand laws, a valid driver’s licence is one that is not suspended nor revoked by the issuer. The licence must be current and have a validity of at least 12 months for it to be accepted. Below is a brief process of converting an overseas driver’s licence into a New Zealand licence:

  • Fill out the application form and present evidence of your identity
  • Prove that your eyesight meets the set visibility standard. In some cases, you may be asked to provide a medical certificate as part of the authentication process.
  • A photo will be taken by an official at the processing center
  • Present your overseas driver’s licence. If the licence is not written in English, an apt translation will be requested.
  • Pay the application fee

The translation of the licence must be approved by the NZTA. Other such authorities include diplomatic representatives or the authority that issued the overseas driver’s licence. There are a number of countries with the same licensing system as that of New Zealand. Visitors from these countries are not legally obligated to obtain a New Zealand driver’s licence. These countries include: Australia, Japan, Korea, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Canada, USA, United Kingdom and Switzerland. If you want to obtain a track driving licence, you must pass the New Zealand Classes 2 – 5 theory tests in order to fast track the conversion.

However, this rule only applies to driver’s converting their licences from countries that are exempted. The practical driving test is not a requirement for drivers who have been driving for over 2 years. For motorcycle riders, the process of converting a foreign motorcycle licence to a New Zealand one is fairly simple. First, you do not need a supervisor to undertake the process. To obtain a learner motorcycle licence, you need to sit and pass the practical test. When you satisfy the requirements of having a full licence, the NZTA will have it sent to you via mail.

Important Tips For Driving in New Zealand

If you are new to the country, the vast network of New Zealand roads, are narrow and windy. You can also expect hilly terrains and bouts of extreme weather. Below are the top tips for driving in the country:

  • Learn the road code and signs before going on a road trip
  • Get a comprehensive roadmap
  • Avoid drinking while driving
  • Don’t answer the phone while driving
  • Always slow down when you approach the corners
  • Learn to navigate your way using landmarks, compass and the GPS.
  • Remember to fasten your seat belts and put on a child restraint when a child is on-board.
  • Never drive when you are tired. Instead, get adequate rest before hitting the road or when going on a long trip.
  • If you are a learner, you can enhance the chances of passing the practical driving test by taking lessons from an experienced, professional driving instructor.

Useful links:

New Zealand Automobile Association (AA)

New Zealand Transport Authority (NZTA)



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