New Zealand doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being a boozy or alcohol-fuelled part of the world. Don’t worry; it’s not a dry country, and Kiwis most definitely enjoy a good drink now and again. Beer and wine are the dominant drops, and the country produces an amazing variety of world-class wines (although kiwifruit wine is as unpleasant as it sounds).
In New Zealand, you have to be at least 18 years of age to buy alcohol; you can drink earlier—under the supervision of a parent or legal guardian.
Guess what Angola, Central African Republic, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, and Togo have in common? These countries have no age restrictions when buying alcohol. Unfortunately, New Zealand isn’t on that list, but the rules aren’t as strict as in the US, where you must be 21 years of age to buy any alcohol.
Yet, the conditions that allow someone under the age of 18 to drink alcohol should be met, and there can be serious penalties for ignoring them. So, what do you need to know about New Zealand’s legal drinking age in 2023?
Legal age for consuming alcohol in New Zealand
Even though someone under 18 might technically be permitted to consume alcohol in New Zealand, there are serious limitations on how and where this can happen.
If you want to have a drink in a bar or nightclub, then yes, you have to be over the age of 18. The age restrictions that apply to licensed venues don’t apply to anyone 18 and older. It’s generally the responsibility of the server to check the age of a customer before supplying alcohol, but many places use a bouncer or security guard for this.
History of legal drinking age
New Zealand’s very first age-based restriction for drinking alcohol was introduced in 1904, and just like now, you had to be at least 18 years of age. In 1910, this was raised to the age of 21. It stayed that way until 1969 when it was lowered to a minimum age of 20. It was reduced again in 1999, making the current drinking age exactly the same as the first minimum drinking age—which is 18.
Can you drink with your parents?
If you’re under the age of 18 and are in the company of a parent or legal guardian, the laws of New Zealand let you drink alcohol in certain situations. You may drink alcohol in a licensed area (such as a bar or pub) as long as meals are also being served (it can’t be a place that only serves drinks).
These licensed venues can’t sell you alcohol, though. Anyone under the age of 18 must have a parent or legal guardian (which is a strict definition we’ll talk about shortly) provide them with alcohol. That way, the parent or legal guardian is the one who is technically supplying the alcohol.
What happens if you break the law?
Of course, a violation of New Zealand’s alcohol laws means that you might have to pay a fine or other penalty. A standard fine for buying or consuming alcohol for persons under 18 is NZ$250. There’s some discretion with the enforcement of these laws. If you’re underage and clearly drunk, a police officer may just confiscate your alcohol and give you an informal warning—if you’re lucky.
If your behaviour can’t be ignored (like if you’re drunk and disorderly), both you and your parent or legal guardian might be fined. We’ve listed those fines and penalties in their own section, but be warned—the fine for a parent or legal guardian is much harsher than for the person actually doing any underage drinking.
Drinking laws in New Zealand
Even though New Zealanders are an easygoing bunch of people, there are limits. These limits are largely for those under the age of 18 who wish to consume alcohol—or at least some types of alcohol. There are no purchase restrictions on alcohol of less than 1.15 ABV (alcohol by volume or the drink’s overall alcohol strength). This is pretty limiting, though, since a standard beer has an ABV of 5.
As you’ve probably worked out by now, it’s allowed to drink when you’re under 18, but only in certain (limited) locations when that alcohol is supplied by a parent or legal guardian.
A legal guardian must be someone who has been legally appointed by the Family Court. You can’t ask a grandparent, uncle, auntie, older sibling or cousin to act as a de facto legal guardian for the purpose of supplying you with alcohol. Both you and your non-authorised family member can be penalised (and we’ll discuss those fines in a moment).
Otherwise, the law directs that an authorised parent or legal guardian who supplies alcohol to someone under the age of 18 does so in a safe and reasonable manner. This wording is maybe open to interpretation, but it puts the responsibility for your safe consumption on your parent or legal guardian.
Where can you and can not consume alcohol in New Zealand
Anyone over the age of 18 can drink in public in New Zealand, with a few major exceptions. Many city councils have introduced selective alcohol bans (called liquor-free zones). This ban can be in effect in certain parks, streets, beaches, and so on.
Any relevant alcohol ban may only be in effect at certain times (like for major public events in the area). There should be signs that list any such restrictions, but this isn’t always the case. The only way to truly be sure is to ask the local city council or the police.
When there’s no local alcohol ban in effect, you can drink in public—if you’re over the age of 18. Anyone under 18 is still subject to those previously-mentioned rules: drinking is only permitted in a private residence or in a venue that also serves meals (and only when the alcohol is provided by a parent or legal guardian).
Fines and penalties
If you illegally buy alcohol (like when you’re not old enough to do so), you’re subject to a fine of NZ$250. Using a fake ID to buy alcohol? That’s also NZ$250. This amount is the fine for most underage alcohol consumption offences. If you’re even found in an age-restricted venue (like a bar, pub, or nightclub), the fine is (you guessed it) NZ$250.
The fine is also NZ$250 if you drink in an area where an alcohol ban is in effect (and this is the fine regardless of your age). However, if you drink in a venue where meals are served and where alcohol is not provided by a parent or legal guardian, the fine is NZ$200.
Your parent or legal guardian really pays the price for any illegal drinking. Failure to follow that safe and reasonable service of alcohol means that your parent or legal guardian will pay a fine of NZ$2,000.
What is the penalty for being drunk in public?
It’s legal to be drunk in public in New Zealand, but it’s not legal to be drunk and disorderly. Basically, if you’re causing trouble, then you might be in trouble. It’s estimated that there are upwards of 300 alcohol-related offences in New Zealand each day.
Additionally, at least 52 people (or groups) are either driven home by the police or detained for further investigation. In a best-case scenario, your public drunkenness means that the police will guide you safely home (and give you a good talking-to).
Other penalties are related to alcohol-based offences, such as driving under the influence of alcohol, property damage (vandalism), and general anti-social behaviour that causes distress to others. In these cases, the penalty is based on the offence, with alcohol maybe being an explanation — but definitely not an excuse.