Converting your overseas license into a New Zealand driver licence

Wondering how to convert your overseas license into a New Zealand driver licence?

Whether you are soon to arrive or have recently arrived, Kia Ora and Welcome to New Zealand! New Zealand is a country where driving is fundamental to everyday living. You must know how to drive and be licenced to be independent here. If you intend to stay for longer than 12 months then you will need to convert your overseas driver licence into a New Zealand licence.

The first thing I recommend prior to driving in New Zealand is to read through the New Zealand Road Code. You must understand the New Zealand road rules before you start driving on the roads. Especially so, if you come from a country where road rules do not exist, are not adhered to or are unlike New Zealand road rules. You will also want to familiarize yourself with the road rules if you come from a country where the driving norms or road infrastructure is different to ours. For example, most of the world drives on the right-hand side of the road, roundabouts are not common in America and flush medians do not exist in some countries (I think Germany or the UK?).

Nevertheless, if you intend to convert your overseas license in to a New Zealand license, get familiar with the road rules early. The Driving Tests’ Tourist & Visitor Driving Theory Quiz and AA’s Visiting Driver Training Programme are both great resources on the road rules.

Not all driver licences are created equal. To convert your overseas’ licence into a New Zealand licence, you will need to sit a theory and a practical driving test if your licence is from a country other than:

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

If your licence is from a country other than those listed above, you will need to sit a theory and practical driving test to convert your licence. You may, however, drive in New Zealand for up to 12 months on your overseas driver licence so long as you have it with you and:

  • Your overseas licence is current and valid, and
  • Your overseas licence is in English or you also hold an accurate translation or an international driver permit, and 
  • You last arrived in New Zealand less than 12 months ago, and
  • You have not already been granted a New Zealand driver license, and
  •  You have not been disqualified or suspended from driving in New Zealand. 

In fact, if your licence is from a country other than those listed above, I recommend not to rush off to convert your licence as soon as you arrive. When converting, if you do pass your theory test, you will receive a full but CONDITIONAL New Zealand driver licence. Your licence will stipulate that you must only drive with a supervisor; which limits your independence. To have this condition removed, you will need to pass the overseas conversion full practical test. Passing the theory test is easy, however passing the practical test is slightly more difficult. Nationwide driving test fail rates for the theory and full practical tests average approximately 30% and 35%, respectively. You want to ensure you can pass the practical test before you sit the theory test to minimise the period on the conditional licence. Therefore, use the 12 months you can drive here on your overseas licence to accumulate practice for your practical test.

If you don’t know how to drive at all, or know how to drive but are feeling anxious about driving in New Zealand then consider a driving lesson first. Then close to the 10-month mark, start your preparations to convert your licence. This should include preparations to sit the theory test (also referred to as the learner theory test):

Simultaneously, also prepare for the practical test. Remember upon passing your theory test, you will get a full but CONDITIONAL licence. Preparations should include:

Most of all, I recommend doing a mock driving test prior to going through the conversion process. A mock driving test will allow you to identify any discrepancies in your driving and understand the standards expected from the test. Note that there are financial, time, emotional and psychological costs related to failing the driving tests. Not being properly licenced will also be a barrier to your independence and employment. Hence, you want to minimise the risk of failing the driving test.

Once you have done all your preparations and feel like you are ready, you can go into a specialist overseas conversion agent to apply for a conversion and sit the theory test. Once you have passed the theory test, you want to sit the overseas conversion full practical test as soon as possible after.

Find out more about a driving lesson here or a mock driving test here