Ultimate Guide To Getting A Driver Licence in New Zealand in 2024

Image credit: Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency

Getting a driver’s licence in New Zealand is a pretty complex process. It doesn’t end by passing theoretical and practical tests but involves a student going through several stages. If you already have a licence from another country, your life will be much easier.

There are three stages to obtaining a driver’s licence in New Zealand. First, you’ll need to apply for a learner’s licence and pass the theory test. After 6 months of practicing and passing a practical test, you can apply for a restricted licence. After 3 months (depending on your age), pass the practical test to obtain a full licence, granting you full freedom of driving.

New Zealand is one of the most picturesque countries, and the best way to enjoy the scenery is on the road. If you don’t want to be constrained on how you will travel, you need a car.

Yet, public transport is also limited here, so in most cases, you also need a private vehicle to get around when living in NZ. It goes without saying to drive a car, you need a driver’s licence. This article explains the process of obtaining or exchanging a driver licence in New Zealand in 2023.

After you get your licence, you will buy a car – check out current car prices.

How to get a driver licence in New Zealand

“Get your driving licence so you can drive on stunning NZ roads”

Getting a driver’s licence in New Zealand is a fairly straightforward process, but there are a few things you need to know in order to get started. 

General process of obtaining a driver’s licence in New Zealand

Getting a driver’s licence in New Zealand might be different to your home country (at least, it’s very different in my case). Here, people go through three stages: getting a learner, restricted, and full licences. At each stage, you have to pass a test. So, where do you start?

Firstly, it’s a good idea to visit your local Waka Kotahi agent or driver testing centre to begin the process. Make sure to bring a valid ID, proof of address, and any necessary medical certificates, such as the vision test results. If you already have an overseas driver’s licence, bring the original along too.

Getting a driver’s licence from scratch involves passing a theory test and a practical driving test. The theory test assesses your knowledge of New Zealand road rules, and you can find practice tests online or at your local Waka Kotahi agent. The practical driving test evaluates your ability to drive safely and follow road rules.

1) If you pass both tests, you’ll receive a learner’s licence, allowing you to drive with a fully licenced driver in the passenger seat.

2) After gaining enough practice hours, you can apply for a restricted licence, which requires passing another practical driving test. A restricted licence means you can drive at 5 am and 10 pm you can drive on your own, and between 10 pm and 5 am, you must have a supervisor in the front passenger seat.

3) You will need to hold a restricted licence for at least 3 months (but exact dates depend on your age) before becoming eligible for a full driver’s licence, which also requires a final practical driving test.

Therefore, for a New Zealander or someone with an NZ residency getting a driver’s licence involves passing several theory and practical driving tests during the first 2 years. Only after that can you obtain a full licence.

Foreign residents can also obtain a driver’s licence in New Zealand. You can either start from zero or convert your existing driver’s licence.

For the latter, you’ll need to meet additional requirements, such as having a valid driver’s licence from your home country and demonstrating basic English proficiency for the theory test. The practical driving test will be conducted in the same vehicle class as your home country’s driver’s licence.

The requirements for obtaining a driver’s licence in New Zealand include:

  • Being at least 16 years old
  • Having the ability to read and understand English
  • Passing a vision test
  • Successfully completing both the theory and practical driving tests

There are some exemptions to requirements which we will talk about later on.

The time it takes to get a driver’s licence in New Zealand depends on your individual circumstances and how quickly you pass the tests. Someone with a valid overseas driver’s licence from a qualified country can usually convert it to an NZ licence within one day, while others might need a few weeks or months.

For foreign residents without a valid home country licence, or those with additional language barriers, the process may take longer.

What cars are the cheapest in New Zealand?

Stages of getting driver licence in New Zealand

Obtaining a driver’s licence in New Zealand involves three progressive stages:

  1. Learner licence
  2. Restricted license
  3. Full licence

To begin, for a learner licence, you need to be at least 16 years old and pass both a vision test and a theory test. Once you have the learner licence, you can drive with a fully licenced driver alongside you, and it’s important to display L plates on the front and rear of your vehicle.

After holding the learner licence for at least 6 months and completing at least 50 hours of supervised driving, you can apply for a restricted licence. Passing a practical driving test is also necessary. 

With the restricted licence, you gain the privilege of driving on your own, though some restrictions remain, such as not driving between 10 pm and 5 am and not carrying more than one passenger under the age of 20.

Now, it’s time to apply for a full licence, but first, you need to meet the age requirements:

  • Drivers under 25 years old – must hold restricted licence for 18 months and be at least 18 years old
  • Drivers above 25 years old – must hold restricted licence for 6 months. However, someone who did an approved advanced driving course can get a full licence already in 3 months.

Once you obtain a full licence, you’ll have the freedom to drive any vehicle in New Zealand without any limitations.

Converting overseas driver licence in New Zealand 

Generally, you can only drive using an overseas driver licence for 12 months from your last date of entry into New Zealand. I am still driving with my foreign licence because I arrived less than a year ago.

After that, you have to convert it into a New Zealand driving permit in order to drive within the country. This means you can drive in New Zealand using your overseas licence, but obtaining a full New Zealand driver’s licence might require taking additional tests.

Not all foreign driver’s licences are eligible for the conversion, so it’s important to check if your licence qualifies before applying. To be eligible for converting your overseas driver’s licence to a New Zealand driver’s licence, you must meet certain criteria:

  1. You must be at least 18 years old.
  2. Your overseas driver’s licence must be valid and in English or have an accurate English translation.
  3. It must be current or expired within the last 12 months.
  4. It must not be suspended, disqualified, or revoked in the country of issue.

Before you go ahead, make sure you meet eyesight requirements. This can be done by:

  • Passing an eyesight screening check at the overseas conversion
    site, or
  • Presenting an eyesight certificate or medical certificate (no more than 60 days old).

Generally, everyone with a foreign driver’s licence must sit theoretical and practical tests to get an NZ licence. Yet, some countries are exempt, including:

  • Australia
  • France
  • Japan
  • South Korea
  • Austria
  • Germany
  • Luxembourg
  • Spain
  • Belgium
  • Greece
  • Netherlands
  • Sweden
  • Canada
  • Hong Kong
  • Norway
  • Switzerland
  • Denmark
  • Ireland
  • Portugal
  • United Kingdom
  • Finland
  • Italy
  • South Africa
  • The US

You don’t have to pass the theory test if you’re converting a car or motorcycle licence from an exempt country. Moreover, you will be exempt from a practical test if you had your licence for over 2 years! That makes converting overseas licence very easy and speedy! You also will pay $52.10 for an application fee only.

That said, if your licence is from a non-exempt country, you will need to take both tests in New Zealand to convert your overseas driver’s licence.

Generally, there are a few instances when drivers need to pass both tests:

  • If your overseas driver’s licence is not from a country with a reciprocal agreement with New Zealand (not an exempt country). 
  • If your overseas driver’s licence has expired longer than 12 months ago.
  • If your overseas driver’s licence is for a vehicle class that is not recognized in New Zealand.
  • If you have a driving conviction in either New Zealand or the country that issued your overseas driver’s licence.

Once you pass the theory test, you’ll get a New Zealand driver’s licence with a supervisor condition. Meaning someone must drive with you all the time. As soon as you pass the practical test, you get the full licence.

To convert your overseas driver’s licence in New Zealand, you can apply online or in person at a driver licensing centre (usually AA). With your application, you will need to provide the following documents: 

  • Your overseas driver’s licence
  • A translation of the driver’s licence if isn’t in English
  • A copy of your passport or ID
  • A medical certificate (if required)
  • A completed application form
  • A high-quality, colour photocopies of all the original documents listed above

The cost of converting your overseas driver’s licence includes an application fee ($52.10) and other fees total of $157.70 if you need to pass all tests.

If you have a valid driver’s licence from another country, converting it to a New Zealand driver’s licence is the fastest route to drive in NZ. The process is relatively straightforward, but you must meet specific criteria and be prepared to provide the necessary documents. 

Cost of obtaining a driver licence 

Application fees:

  • New licences:
    • Learner licence – $48.20
    • Restricted licence -$48.20
    • Full licence – $49.60
  • Conversion – $52.10

The first step in the process is to apply for a learner licence, and the application fee is $48.20 for individuals under 18 years old and $49.60 for those over 25 years. Once you have your learner licence, you can begin practicing driving, but there are further expenses to consider.


  1. Theory test: $45.70
  2. Eye test: $60.00
  3. Issuing full driver’s licence: $49.60 / $51.00
  4. ID card: $38.20
  5. Vetting fee: $9.70 per year

Fees for practical test:

Licence typeCost
Learner licence (theory)$45.70
Restricted licence $86.60
Full licence$59.90
Source: www.nzta.govt.nz

Next, you’ll need to take the theory test, which costs $45.70. Successfully passing the theory test makes you eligible for the practical driving test, for which there’s an additional fee of $59.90. Each time you If fail a test, you must pay another test fee.

Upon passing the practical driving test, you’ll be issued a full driver’s licence, and the fee for the full licence is $49.60 for people under 25 years and $51.00 for those over 25 years.

An eye test is required, and this comes with a fee of $60.00. Additionally, you’ll need an ID card, which costs $38.20, and there’s also a vetting fee of $9.70 per year.

In the end, the more times you fail an exam, the more you pay. However, on average, the overall expense is approximately $200.

To save money on the cost of obtaining a driver’s licence, consider the following tips:

  • Apply for a learner licence as soon as you are eligible. This allows you to start practicing driving and reduces the need for costly driving lessons.
  • Opt to take the theory test and practical driving test simultaneously, as it can help save money on the application fee.
  • Consider getting your eye test done at a community health center, which typically offers lower fees for such services. You also get a free eye test every 2 years as an AA member.

Similar Posts