How to apply for a New Zealand driviers licence

Holders of full licences from almost all countries can legally drive in New Zealand, though if your licence isn’t printed in English, you will also need an International Driver’s Permit. But if you’re visiting the country for more than 12 months, or relocating there permanently, you will need to convert your licence to a New Zealand one in order to continue driving.

How you go about this depends on where your existing licence was issued. If it was issued in any of the countries in the following list, your country is classed as ‘exempt’.

The list of exempt countries is:

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hong Kong
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • South Africa
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom
  • United States of America

If your licence was issued by any other country, your country is classed as ‘non-exempt’, and the process for converting your licence will be a little more involved.

Converting a Licence From an ‘Exempt’ Country

The precise meaning of ‘exempt’, in this instance, is that you won’t have to sit a practical driving test to acquire your New Zealand licence, unless you’ve held your licence for less than two years. You won’t have to sit a theory test, either, unless you’re applying for a truck licence.

To convert your licence, you will need to attend a specialist overseas conversion site – a list of these can be found here. Once there, you will be asked to complete an application form, and provide evidence of your identity. You will need two forms of identification for this, one of which must include a photograph. Your passport, plus a student or employee ID card will be sufficient in most cases, but a full list of acceptable forms of ID can be found here.

You will also need to provide proof that your eyesight is up to scratch, which will mean taking an eye test. If you have a prescription that’s less than 60 days old then the eye test is not required. You may also need to provide a medical certificate if you suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure, epilepsy or various other conditions, which again are listed on the Transport Agency website.

Once all that’s done and your documents have been handed over, an agent will take your picture and signature. You’ll need to pay a conversion fee (NZ$52.10 at time of writing) and your application will be sent off to be assessed. Assuming there are no complications, you will then receive your licence by post.

Converting a Licence From a ‘Non-Exempt’ Country

The process for those arriving from other countries is much the same, except that you *will* be asked to complete practical and theory tests for all classes of vehicles. You still need to attend a specialist overseas conversion site, where you will sit a theory test as well as completing all the paperwork outlined above.

In this case, however, you will be issued a New Zealand driving licence (with a supervisor condition) straight away. A ‘supervisor condition’ means you can drive in New Zealand only when accompanied by a qualified New Zealand driver who has held their licence for over two years – you’ll need this to book and sit your practical exam. Only upon successful completion of the practical test will you be issued with a full New Zealand driving licence.

The Assessment Process

As outlined above, when you attend the conversion site, you won’t be issued with a New Zealand licence straight away: instead, your application and documents will be sent off for assessment. But as we’ll assume for our purposes today that you’re not trying to pass yourself off as anyone else, or convert a licence you’re not actually entitled to hold, this should be a mere formality – the Transport Agency will simply check you are who you say you are, and issue your licence once they’ve ascertained that this is true.

What Happens if I Fail a Test?

Most drivers from the EU and the US won’t need to sit any tests at all, as explained above. If you do have to sit a theory test, though, what happens next depends on how long you’ve been in the country. If that’s less than 12 months, then you can carry on driving on your existing licence and start the process again. If you’ve been in New Zealand for more than 12 months, however, your application is void, you will have to start the process again and you are not permitted to drive in New Zealand until you have been issued with a New Zealand licence.

If you fail a practical test, you will simply need to rebook and try again – there is no need to go back to square one and re-do all the paperwork. In the meantime, your New Zealand driving licence (with supervisor condition) will still be valid.

That’s about all you need to know to obtain a New Zealand driving licence. If you have any questions or need more info, visit the NZ gov site here.

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