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Driving in New Zealand

Self-driving holidays are one of the most relaxing ways of enjoying New Zealand’s landscape. Many of our roads are scenic, and traffic is low when compared to international standards.

Barrytown, West Coast Driving New Zealand, Photo Credit: Miles Holden

New Zealand Road Safety (

It is important not to underestimate driving times. Although distances may seem short, our roads often include hilly or winding terrain, which slows down your journey. If you are used to driving in the city, you should take care when driving on the open country roads.

In New Zealand, all motorists drive on the left-hand side of the road. All road distances are measured in kilometers. When the traffic light is red, you must stop. There is no left turn rule as in North America.

The speed limit on open roads is 100 km/h (approx. 60 mph). In urban areas, the speed limit is 50 km/h (30 mph). Drivers and passengers must wear seat belts at all times, in both front and rear seats.

Make sure that you have plenty of sleep before a long drive. Take regular breaks – one every two hours and when you feel sleepy. Do not drink alcohol before driving in New Zealand – drinking and driving laws are strictly enforced.

What’s different about driving in New Zealand?

Cycling and Motorbikes

  • Helmets for riders of cycles and motorbikes must be worn at all times.
  • Rear and front lights on cycles are required at night.
  • Motorbikes should drive with a headlight on at all times.
  • Cycling is not permitted on motorways.

Check out the New Zealand Land Transport Safety Authority website for details on the New Zealand Road Code, as well as cycle safety and other general motoring information. Driving Safely in the Scenic South has particular information about driving conditions in this area.

International Driving Licenses and Permits

You can legally drive in New Zealand for up to 12 months if you have either a current driver’s license from your home country or an International Driving Permit (IDP).

Recent law changes mean all drivers, including visitors from other countries, must carry their license or permit at all times when driving. You will only be able to drive the same types of vehicles you are licensed to drive in your home country.

Age limit for driving in New Zealand

The common legal age to rent a car in New Zealand is 21 years.

Make sure your driver’s license is current. If your license is not in English, you should bring an English translation with you or obtain an IDP. Contact your local automobile club for further details about obtaining a translation or an IDP.

Before you venture out on New Zealand roads

To ensure safe driving in New Zealand, it is important to follow the local road rules and regulations. As an overseas driver, you can start by reading the ‘Driving in New Zealand’ booklet, which is available in multiple languages.

Driving in New Zealand booklet

You can also study the road rules in The Official New Zealand Road Code, which is available online.

The official New Zealand road code online

For trip planning and driving advice for visitors to New Zealand, you can check out the Drive Safe website.

Drive Safe website

Additionally, to understand travelling times in New Zealand, you can use the AA Time and Distance Calculator.

AA time and New Zealand distance calculator

It is essential to ensure you are eligible to drive on New Zealand roads. To drive in New Zealand, you must have a current and valid overseas driver licence or international driving permit. If you plan to stay in New Zealand for more than 12 months, you’ll need to obtain a New Zealand driver licence.

New Zealand driver licence requirements


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