Any visitor to New Zealand with a current, valid overseas private driving licence can drive for 12 months using that licence before they have to change it to a New Zealand licence. It’s recommended that drivers of heavy vehicles respect the weight limits of their overseas licence.
If the visitor leaves New Zealand, even for just a day, that 12-month clock resets and they can drive again.
For New Zealand residents and visitors from countries like Germany, this allows them to maintain their home licence and the ability to drive in New Zealand. This is because countries like Germany only allow a driver to have one licence; if a person wanted to sit a New Zealand licence they would have to surrender their German licence. Getting a licence in Germany is much more expensive and difficult than in New Zealand, which is why some are reluctant to give it up.
Licence holders from the following countries can easily convert their private passenger vehicle or motorbike licence without having to take a theory test:
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom or the United States of America.
Employers employing a driver who was able to simply convert their licence without taking a theory test should consider having the potential employee take our road rules tests to check their knowledge.
Heavy vehicle drivers must take a theory and/or practical driving test to convert their licence to a New Zealand one.
You can get car insurance in New Zealand with an overseas driving licence but driving on an overseas licence may mean that you pay either more insurance premium or more excess if you claim on the insurance policy.
Should the 12-month time limit be reduced
Arguments for reducing the time limit to, say, 3 months
- It would generate more revenue for the licencing agencies because many more visitors would have to convert their licences.
- It would force more people to have to learn the New Zealand road rules and be measured in how competent they are before they are allowed to continue to drive.
- Other countries (e.g. China) force drivers with an overseas licence to do a test before issuing a 3-month temporary licence.
Arguments against reducing the time limit
- Three months could be too short to process someone’s application and have them take the test, giving time for a retest if they fail.
- It may discourage some people from coming on driving holidays to New Zealand which would reduce tourism revenue.
- Statistics for accidents involving tourists and visitors are inconclusive – there’s no evidence that reducing the time limit would save lives as the majority of tourist drivers don’t stay longer than three months (obviously it is impractical to test all visitors to New Zealand before they hire or buy a vehicle).
- More infrastructure would need to be put in place to handle the increased volume of testing, and this could lead to longer waiting times for New Zealand citizens in the interim, disadvantaging young job-seekers and others that would rely on a vehicle.
- It would require a legislation change.