Licensed to Drive – How to Convert Your License in New Zealand

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New Zealand roads are full of hairpin turns, one lane bridges, and ill-equipped tourists driving giant RVs. Add driving on the left to the mix and getting around in this country can sometimes feel, well, a bit terrifying. Luckily these hazards are mostly limited to state highways and rural roads – so about 80% of New Zealand, no biggie.

In cities, you can refocus your efforts on driving through seemingly endless roundabouts, and in Christchurch, trying to turn left while asking yourself, “Is this city allergic to right turn signals?” Kiwis also seem to have a propensity for zooming up to intersections and then slamming on their brakes, managing to avoid colliding with oncoming traffic by millimeters.

Driving on the left doesn’t seem like it’d be that much of an adjustment, but you’ll start to realize how much of driving is muscle memory. I still look to my right for the rearview mirror about 1 in every 5 times and have turned on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal more often than I’d like to admit.

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Bless his heart, for about three weeks, Pete gave up his Sunday morning to be my co-pilot as I practiced driving our Subaru to and from yoga. He was patient as I got my bearings and learned the rules of the road. I think he also had a vested interest in making sure I didn’t wreck the car…

Eventually, I graduated to my first solo drive! It was a thrilling 5 minutes to the supermarket. SPOILER ALERT: No injuries were sustained in my quest for stove-top popcorn kernels.

After four months in New Zealand, I finally felt ready to fully commit and get my New Zealand license.

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Pro Tip: Your foreign license is valid up to one year from the time you entered New Zealand. 

If you’re new to New Zealand here’s how to convert your license:

1. Find out if you’re exempt from taking the written and practical exam. You can find the list of exempt countries here. Even if you are from an exempt country, check your license and make sure you’ve had it for over two years. If you haven’t, you’ll still have to sit the tests.

If you’re not exempt…

Leave lots of time to study the New Zealand road code and to get some practice time on the road. The theory test will cost you $45.70 and the practical exam sets you back $59.90.

If you are exempt…

2. Download and complete the correct application form for converting to a New Zealand license.

3. Locate your local AA (Automobile Association). This is the New Zealand equivalent to the DMV and AAA in the States.

4. Make sure to bring the following with you to AA:

  • Your current license (make sure it’s in English or bring a translation with you)
  • Proof of identity (I used my passport, again, make sure it’s in English or bring a translation with you)
  • A color copy of your passport photo page and the front AND back of your license
  • Cash or your EFTPOS card to pay the application fee ($52.10)

5. Be prepared for an eye examination – don’t forget to bring your glasses or wear your contacts if you need them to drive. If you fail this exam you have to go to an optometrist for a medical certificate.

Pro tip: Make sure to not stand too close to the machine when they check your peripheral vision, the dots on the side of the machine can be hard to see. 

After the eye exam, they’ll take your photo and give you a temporary license. Your actual New Zealand license should arrive at your house within 10 business days, mine only took about a week to turn up.

Once you’ve passed, your international license is no longer valid in New Zealand so be sure to keep that paper on you if you’ll be hitting the road before the new card arrives.

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What was your AA experience like? Got any horror stories? Let me know in the comments below!

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