You don’t need an international driving permit to drive in New Zealand, you can drive on your full US current driver’s licence for 12 months from the date you enter. If you stay longer than 12 months, you will need to transfer to a New Zealand licence. Those on a learner’s permit are unable to drive in New Zealand as it is not classed as a valid overseas licence.
What are the limitations of driving in New Zealand with my US licence?
There is so much to think about when planning a self-drive holiday, from accommodation options to activity bookings, we understand you will want to get straight to the exciting parts. We have put together a list of all the New Zealand rules you need to be aware of so you can get back to the thrilling adventure planning.
- You do not need to apply for an international driving permit.
- You can drive for up to 12 months before you need to apply for a New Zealand licence.
- You must not have received a disqualification or suspension in New Zealand.
- You must carry your driver’s licence with you at all times whilst driving in New Zealand.
- Those on a learner’s permit are unable to drive in New Zealand.
Whilst in New Zealand, your valid overseas licence will be classed as an NZ class 1 licence and the weight of the vehicle you can drive may differ from the states in the US. A New Zealand licence and equivalent allow you to drive a vehicle up to 6,000kg gross laden weight but the average in the US is 10,000 tonnes (4,535kg) plus 8 passengers. Be assured that all the cars and vans available to hire with GO Rentals are within the weight limit.
How do the road rules differ between New Zealand and the US?
There are a lot of differences between US and New Zealand roads so you should get familiar with the road code ahead of your trip. We all want to be safe on our adventures, so read up on how to drive safely in New Zealand.
Differences with New Zealand Road Rules
- New Zealand drives on the left-hand side. It is recommended that you get familiar with driving on the left side on quieter roads before taking off on your road trip. Always ensure you take a second to check you are not on the wrong side of the road before you pull out.
- By law, children under 7 must be properly restrained with a child seat. In the US it is under 8 so if your child is under 7, ensure you get a child restraint, which can be hired from GO Rentals.
- Under 20, there is a strictly enforced zero alcohol limit. For over 20, the limit is 50mg per 100ml of blood, which is a lot less than the 80mg allowed in the US. It is strongly recommended that you do not drink alcohol and drive.
- The road signs can be different to what you are used to in the US, it is best to familiarise yourself with the signs before driving in New Zealand.
- The rural roads in New Zealand tend to be narrower than most roads in the US, with only a single lane in each direction and fewer highways.
Similarities with New Zealand Road Rules
- The rural speed limit is also 100km/h (62mph) in New Zealand unless a sign indicates a different limit. Even though the speed limits differ per state in the US, 100km/h is slower than the average limit so take care to watch your speed in New Zealand.
- By law, every passenger must wear a seat belt.
- It is illegal to use your mobile phone or GPS whilst driving, it must be completely hands-free.
- The roads can be steep and winding through mountainous areas, so driving slower is necessary to be safe.
- Just like in the US, the weather can change quickly in New Zealand. It is recommended to attach snow chains to your tyres in snowy and icy conditions.
Things to know before driving in New Zealand
Although New Zealand is only a fraction of the size of the US, it can still be overwhelming to plan a road trip if you have limited time to see everywhere. As well as being familiar with the road code, you should consider the following when planning your itinerary:
- You don’t have to spend your whole holiday driving, we have incredible scenic drives very close to our major cities. Check out our scenic drives from Auckland or our top Wellington scenic drives.
- You can hire a car straight from most major airports so there is no need to book transfers and wait for your road trip to begin, you can start straight away, see our car rentals at Auckland airport.
- Not all stops require a night’s stay, we have many ‘scenic lookouts’ so you can admire the landscape, maybe stop for lunch and continue on your way. The route from Queenstown to Dunedin has a lot of options for you to stop and stretch your legs so you can continue your road trip safely.
Things to know before hiring a car in New Zealand
Before you book, we want your hiring process to be as smooth as possible.
What are the rules about returning the car with a full tank of petrol?
All hire vehicles must be returned with a full tank of petrol. However, if you find yourself running low and you can’t find anywhere to fill up then don’t stress. Our team can fill this up for you and charge you the cost to fill and a possible $50 service charge.
How much is petrol usually?
Prices for gas are more expensive than in the US, petrol is usually around $2.79 NZD per litre ($1.74 USD) but the average in the US is only $1.09 USD per litre.
Will you need insurance?
As standard, we include a basic insurance policy into the price of our car hires which includes a maximum excess. There are 2 upgrade insurance options to reduce your excess liability. If you wish, you are able to cover your excess with a third-party insurance policy or travel insurance, but you would be liable to pay the full amount and then claim the amount from your insurer.
Can you drop off your car at a different location?
Take the stress out of rushing back to your starting location, you can simply book ahead to drop off at any of our GO Rental locations in New Zealand.
What’s the best car for you?
Another thing to consider is the car you will need to make your road trip as comfortable as possible. All of our vehicles are within the size limit allowed on your US driver’s licence so you can focus on choosing the car for you.
If climate change is as important to you as it is to us, then you will be happy to know we have a full fleet of Tesla rental cars. Drive with peace of mind that your journey will be completely carbon neutral.
Consider whether you will need an SUV or people carrier to fit in your whole family and all of your gear comfortably, we have a whole fleet of family cars in New Zealand.
Urban areas can get a lot of traffic and it can be harder to park so if you are basing yourself in a city, try and hire a smaller car. We have a location in Auckland City with a range of cars to suit city driving.
Check out all of our vehicles for rent and get GOing on your New Zealand trip of a lifetime!