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Working in the construction industry in New Zealand might be different from your country. How Kiwis work, communicate and interact is unique.

It can take time to adjust to living and working in a new country. It is also important to have the information and support you and your family need, even if you are here on a temporary visa.

This guide will help you understand what it is like to work in construction, how to keep yourself safe and where to get advice and support.

Builders on scaffolding

Introduction to working in construction

The construction industry is growing rapidly. As a construction worker you will work with people from many different backgrounds.

New Zealand's construction industry 

New Zealand’s construction industry includes:

  • commercial building (vertical infrastructure)
  • roads, network services etc (horizontal infrastructure)
  • residential building (house repairs and new builds).

Construction is an important industry in New Zealand. The construction sector is closely linked to the growth of New Zealand’s economy.

The New Zealand Government plays a key role in the construction industry. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is responsible for:

  • regulating employment relations in the workplace
  • regulating building and construction
  • helping to fill skill shortages
  • supporting migrants to settle in work.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)

About working in construction in New Zealand

Some things migrants say are different about working in construction in New Zealand are:

  • materials, building methods and building standards
  • having to follow New Zealand health and safety laws on the worksite
  • informal communication styles at work
  • weather conditions that change quickly.

You may also find there are more women and workers from different cultures working in construction than you are used to. You may hear other languages spoken on the worksite, as well as some Māori words and local slang.

Registration, qualifications and training


New Zealand law requires you to register with a professional body if you come to New Zealand to do the following type of work:

  • architect
  • cadastral (land title) surveyor
  • electrical service technician
  • electrician
  • line mechanic
  • plumber, gasfitter (sanitary work only).

If you are submitting an immigration visa application based on an offer of employment in any of the above occupations, you need either full or provisional registration before applying for a Work, Work to Residence or Residence visa.

Occupational registration | Immigration NZ

Restricted building work and Licensed Building Practitioners

All restricted building work (RBW) must be done, or supervised and approved, by a Licensed Building Practitioner. Restricted building work is building and design work done as part of the construction or alteration of residential buildings. A lot of residential building work will include RBW. The Licensed Building Practitioner scheme helps to ensure people in the New Zealand building industry are good at their work and accountable for the work they do. The scheme is administered by MBIE.

Restricted Building Work | Licensed Building Practitioners

Chartered Professional Engineers (CPEng.)

In New Zealand, the titles ‘Chartered Professional Engineer’ and ‘Registered Engineer’ can only be used by engineers on the Chartered Professional Engineer (CPEng) register. The register is administered by the Institute of Professional Engineers of New Zealand (IPENZ). Generally, building consent authorities will require Chartered Professional Engineers to certify engineering design work.

CPEng registration | IPENZ

Training and qualifications

Many roles in the construction industry in New Zealand require formal qualifications.

Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) are part of a formal system for increasing and developing skills in the workplace. ITOs arrange training and set qualification standards and work with the industry to determine skill development needs.

ITOs offer construction industry National Certificate programmes and support, including:

  • programmes in health and safety
  • training in New Zealand building techniques
  • vocational literacy and numeracy.

If you need training, you may wish to discuss support for your training needs with your employer. The organisations that provide construction-related training are:

  • Connexis
  • Competenz
  • skills.

You can find links to these organisations on the Industry Training Federation website:

Industry training | Industry Training Federation


Construction workers eating lunch

Minimum employment rights

New Zealand has laws that protect all workers. Know your rights to ensure you are paid and treated fairly.

Available in 14 languages

Information on your minimum employment rights is available in 14 languages.

Minimum employment rights

Employment agreements

You must have a written employment agreement with your employer. It is important to read your employment agreement and understand what each part means. You can negotiate changes with your employer and you must be given time to get advice if you need it.

The employment agreement must be signed by you and your employer. Not all employers will give you a copy automatically, so it is important to ask for one. Keep a signed copy of your agreement in a safe place. A copy may help you if there is a disagreement later on. 

You also have the right to join a union. Your employer cannot influence your decision. If you join a union, you may come under a collective agreement. These are negotiated by the union and your employer.

Employment agreements | Employment NZ

90-day trial period

When you start working, your employer might offer you a trial period of up to 90 days. Your employer must pay you during the trial period. It is your choice whether you want to accept a trial period. You and your employer must agree to it in writing, and it must be a part of your written employment agreement. 

If your employer dismisses you from your job before the end of the 90-day trial period, you cannot make a legal complaint against your employer about being fired for no good reason (an unjustified dismissal). You can make a legal complaint if your employer discriminates against you or harasses you, even if you are on a 90-day trial period. 

All of the other minimum employment rights still apply to you while you are on a trial period.

Trial periods | Employment NZ

Minimum pay and deductions

You are entitled to the adult minimum wage if you are 16 years old or over and not a starting-out worker or trainee. The government reviews the rate every year. 

Your employer must pay you in money, either into your bank account or with cash. They cannot charge you fees or levies or take any money from your wages without your written permission, except for pay-as-you-earn (PAYE) income tax, student loan repayments, child support or to comply with a court order. All deductions that your employer makes must be reasonable

Minimum wage | Employment NZ

Pay deductions | Employment NZ

IRD Numbers

You will need to get an Inland Revenue (IRD) number before you start work or your income will be taxed at the highest no-notification rate.

How to get and IRD number | Inland Revenue

lunch break

Rest & meal breaks

You are entitled to rest and meal breaks.

Usually, rest breaks are 10–15 minutes long and meal breaks are at least 30 minutes long. This can differ depending on your workplace.


Working in construction can involve shift work. It is important to have regular breaks so you stay fresh and alert. This can help you to avoid workplace accidents and make you happier and more productive at work. 

You are entitled to have rest and meal breaks. These should give you enough time to rest, refresh and take care of any personal matters. You should not be expected to do any work during your break. Your employer should pay you for rest breaks, but they do not have to pay you for meal breaks. 

There are no specific rules about how long or how often breaks should be. You can negotiate the timing and length of your breaks with your employer. Usually, rest breaks are 10–15 minutes long and meal breaks are at least 30 minutes long. This can differ depending on your workplace.

It is important to discuss the length and timing of your breaks with your employer.

Breaks | Employment NZ

Annual holidays

You have the right to take at least four weeks of paid annual holidays after you have completed a year of employment. You can take at least two weeks together if you want to.

You cannot be forced to cash up any holiday leave (that is, change your holiday leave for money). If your employment is for less than one year you are entitled to be paid holiday pay at the end of your employment. This is calculated at 8% of your gross earnings (that is, your total income before any tax is deducted or other adjustment made).  

If you have a fixed term employment agreement of less than 12 months, or if you are a casual worker with very intermittent or irregular work patterns, you can agree to have 8% of gross earning (that is your total income before any tax is deducted or other adjustment made) added to your regular pay instead of paid time off work. This arrangement must be specified in your written employment agreement and the amount of holiday pay paid each pay period must be recorded as a separate identifiable amount in your wages.

Different kinds of employment in New Zealand

table caption
Full-time Usually between 30 and 40 hours a week
Part-time Usually between 10 and 15 hours a week, sometimes up to 30 hours a week
Casual You work when you are required to - you are 'on call' - and do not work regular, predictable hours

Types of employee | Employment NZ

Hot tip

Christmas / New Year closures

Some businesses and construction sites close for a defined period over the Christmas/ New Year break. It will be important to check this with your employer, especially if you will not have earned enough leave entitlement to cover the full break period. Some employers allow workers to anticipate leave not yet earned to cover the closure period.

Public holidays

You are entitled to public holidays (also known as statutory holidays) in addition to your annual holidays. 

If the public holiday is on a day you would normally work, then you are usually entitled to have the day off and be paid for it.  

If the public holiday you work is on a day that you would normally work, then you are entitled to another day off on full pay, which is known as an ‘alternative day’ or a ‘day in lieu’.

Leave summary

You are entitled to:

- at least 4 weeks paid holiday each year

- public (statutory) holidays

- at least 5 days paid sick leave each year

- bereavement leave, if death in family

- parental leave if, you have a new child

- domestic violence leave, if you are affected.

If a public holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, and you do not normally work on those days, you may be able to have a paid holiday on the following Monday or Tuesday. This is called ‘Mondayisation’.

You have the right to ask to transfer a New Zealand public holiday to another working day. Your employer must consider the request in good faith (openly, honestly and fairly). This could be, for example, to celebrate a religious or cultural holiday. Your employer can also ask you to transfer a public holiday. In either case, you and your employer should make a record of the agreement in writing.

Public holidays | Employment NZ 

Mondayisation | Employment NZ

Sick leave

You are entitled to five days of paid sick leave each year after you have worked at your job for six months continuously. You can take sick leave when you, your partner or a dependent (eg your child) is sick or injured. 

If you get sick before you have worked for six months, you can ask your employer if you can take your sick leave in advance. If not, you can ask to use some of your annual leave. If you have no annual leave, you can ask to take unpaid leave.

Sick leave | Employment NZ

Bereavement leave

You are entitled to three days of paid leave because of the death of an immediate family member (known as bereavement leave) after you have worked at your job for six months continuously. This includes the death of your spouse or partner, parent, child, sibling, grandparent, grandchild or your spouse or partner’s parent. If there is more than one death at a time, you can take three days of leave for each person who has died. You can also take up to one day of bereavement leave for a death outside your immediate family, depending on your relationship with them. 

Most employees are entitled to sick and bereavement leave, including those whose work is not continuous.

Bereavement leave | Employment NZ

Parental leave

If you have a new baby or child to care for you may be eligible for paid parental leave.

The parental leave payment is a weekly payment for one continous period of up to 22 weeks.

Parental leave | Employment NZ

Domestic violence leave

From 1 April 2019, employees affected by domestic violence (physical, sexual or psychological abuse) have the right to:

  • at least 10 days of paid domestic violence leave per year
  • ask for short-term flexible working arrangements for up to 2 months.

In addition, employers must not treat employees badly or unfairly because they think the employee is affected by domestic violence.

To qualify for domestic violence leave you must have worked for your employer for at least 6 months and meet some other criteria around the hours you have worked. Your employer may ask you for some form of written proof, like a letter from a support person or organisation, a report from your doctor or court documents.

Domestic violence leave | Employment New Zealand

Payslips and record keeping

Your employer must keep an accurate record of the hours and days you work and the payments you receive for those hours. The employer must also record your holiday and leave entitlements along with any time you take annual leave, sick leave or bereavement leave. Your employer must provide you with this information if you ask for it.

Keeping accurate records | Employment NZ

Hot tip

Learn about your employee rights

The Employment New Zealand website has a lot of useful information about employee rights, including free employee learning modules. Look at these modules to learn about your rights and obligations. It is important that you find out things you may not be aware of. The modules include links to supporting information if you need it.

Employment learning modules | Employment NZ

Builder on scafolding

Health and safety

Keeping safe at work is the responsibility of both you and your employer. 

It is important for you and your family that you do not get sick or injured at work. 

Your employer must look after your health and safety. They must give you proper training, supervision and the right equipment to do your job safely.  They must let you know how to raise concerns or suggestions about staying safe and healthy at work. 

In return, you must take responsibility for ensuring your own safety and the safety of others around you. You must also comply with any reasonable instructions, policies or procedures on how to work in a safe and healthy way.

Your rights

Under New Zealand law, you are entitled to:

  • work in places where the risks to health and safety are properly controlled
  • adequate facilities, such as toilets, washing facilities and first aid
  • sufficient training, information and support on how to do your job safely
  • contribute to health and safety decisions at your workplace
  • be provided with personal protective equipment
  • ask to have a health and safety representative or a health and safety committee.

Know the dangers

Construction sites can be very hazardous so it is very important that you understand the potential dangers.  Hazards in construction workplaces include:

  • slips, trips and falls (falls from heights are the most common cause of deaths in construction - even falls from one or two metres can be fatal)
  • being hit or crushed by moving objects and machinery
  • electrocution
  • loss of control of machinery or equipment
  • health hazards such as noise, chemical or asbestos exposure.

Keep yourself safe

Injuries on New Zealand construction sites most often occur due to falls from height, fumes, inexperience or lack of understanding of New Zealand health and safety standards. 

Guide to working at height in New Zealand 

Your employer should talk to you about the potential hazards before you start your job, and what is in place to reduce the risk of someone getting hurt.  When you start work, your employer must tell you what to do in an emergency (like a fire or chemical spill) and where emergency equipment and first aid kits are kept. 

Safety equipment

Your employer must also provide you with the appropriate personal protective equipment that you need to do the job safely. They cannot make you pay for the personal protective equipment. You must ensure that you use the safety equipment provided. Equipment used in construction includes:

  • Eyes - safety glasses, goggles, face shield
  • Ears - Ear plugs, ear muffs
  • Breathing - Masks, respirators, cartridge filters
  • Head - Hard hat
  • Body - Overalls, high visibility (high viz) clothes (vests, jackets), gloves
  • Feet - Steel capped boots or shoes
  • Working at height - Harnesses (installed anchors or restraining cables), roof edge barriers.

Ask your supervisor about what to do in an emergency and where they keep the first aid kits. If you believe your health and safety is at risk, let your supervisor or manager know immediately. You have a legal right to refuse to undertake any work you believe will put you in danger.

Reporting hazards

You should report all hazards and accidents, including incidents that did not cause an injury but could have done so (near misses). Your employer must have a way for workers to raise any health or safety concerns or good ideas about how to make work less risky. By raising issues, you can help protect yourself and other workers. If you have a suggestion or concern, but you are not comfortable raising it at work, you can:

  • talk to your Health and Safety representative, if your workplace has one
  • ask a workmate to raise an issue for you
  • contact a union.

It is against the law for anyone to discriminate or take other negative steps against you because of your involvement with work health and safety.

Accident compensation (ACC)

New Zealand has an accident compensation scheme (called “ACC”) that provides cover for personal injuries for everyone in New Zealand, including residents, visitors and migrant workers. ACC replaces the right to sue for personal injury.

If you are injured while working in New Zealand, Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), is likely to provide you with help, including help with treatment costs. ACC provides 24-hour, seven-day-a-week injury cover for everyone in New Zealand, including visitors and migrants.

Make sure you know what cover ACC can provide before you consider taking out income replacement insurance.



Thanks to heavy Government subsidies, a lot of healthcare in New Zealand is free or low cost for residents and some work visa holders. Non-residents can also use healthcare services at a cost.


Health and safety resources

You can find more information about health and safety at work on the WorkSafe website, or contact WorkSafe on 0800 030 040 (24 hours). Ask for Language Line if you need an interpreter. You can also call this number if you are worried about an unsafe or unhealthy work situation. Your concerns will be treated confidentially.

Health and safety | WorkSafe

Tools for staying healthy and safe | ACC

On building site

Protecting yourself from exploitation

Learn how to keep yourself safe from exploitation. 

What is exploitation?

Most employers in New Zealand do not exploit their workers. But a small number of employers can take advantage of your unfamiliarity with New Zealand by not respecting your minimum employment rights. This is called exploitation at work and it is a serious crime in New Zealand.

Examples of exploitation

Signs of exploitation at work include:

  • You are forced to pay your employer to help you get a visa
  • You have to pay your own taxes by reimbursing your employer
  • You have to sign another employment agreement which is worse than the agreement you have previously signed or agreed to.

More signs of exploitation | Immigration NZ

If any of these situations apply to you then it is important for you to get help. You may feel afraid to contact government agencies, but they are here to help you.

How to get help

The New Zealand authorities are here to help you. 

If you are worried about your immigration status you may be too afraid to report your complaint. Immigration New Zealand and the Labour Inspectorate will treat you fairly if your complaint is genuine.

Migrant exploitation | Immigration NZ

For confidential help and advice on employment issues, pay and holidays you can call the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Contact Centre on 0800 20 90 20.   MBIE also has a free mediation service if you have a dispute with your employer.

Mediation | Employment NZ

For free advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), visit this site for a list of CAB office locations.

CAB locations

If you need free legal advice, Community Law may be able to help.

Community Law


Unions can advocate on your behalf. There are a number of unions involved in different industries within hospitality.

E tu

Union Network of Migrants

Unite Union

The roles of employment authorities in New Zealand

There are a number of organisations in New Zealand whose role is to oversee employment standards in New Zealand.

The Labour Inspectorate

The Labour Inspectorate has a team of inspectors who go into New Zealand businesses to make sure that owners are respecting the minimum employment rights of their employees

Labour Inspectorate | Employment NZ

Employment Relations Authority (ERA)

The ERA investigates cases relating to employment. These can include unpaid wages, employers failing to meet the terms of an employment agreement or unjustified dismissal (being fired for no good reason).

Employment Relations Authority

Employment Court

The most serious cases go to the Employment Court. This can happen if someone does not agree with what the ERA determines.

Employment Court | Justice

Workers talking together wearing hard hats


How Kiwis work, communicate and interact is unique. 

Construction jargon

Common words you might hear on the construction site

Communicating in the construction workplace

How Kiwis communicate

In New Zealand, people may communicate differently at work from other countries. Kiwis may have a less formal relationship between workers and employers than what you are used to. Kiwis are not usually direct - they like to use "softeners" to sound polite and keep up good working relationships. For example:

table caption

Instead of saying...

they might say one of these phrases...

Please cut that board shorter

  • I wonder if you could cut that board shorter
  • Do you want to cut that board shorter?
  • Could we cut that board shorter?
  • We need/we just need to cut that board shorter

You do not always have to agree with the boss in New Zealand. It is important to follow instructions, but it is also ok to challenge, question or complain politely sometimes. For example:

table caption
If your boss asks you to.. it is ok to...
work late politely refuse if it is going to be difficult for you, eg because you have to look after your children
do something you think is unsafe

politely explain that you think it is unsafe and the hazard needs to be secured first

Fitting in - being part of the team

Being able to communicate and interact with workmates is very important if you want to fit into your new team. Most new employees need to learn the style of interacting and communicating that is common in their new workplace. 

Greet colleagues and your boss with a smile in the morning and respond to their greeting. Show interest by joining in conversations at tea and lunch breaks. Kiwis like to talk about a range of subjects like the weather, the news, sport, the traffic, last night’s TV programmes. Say goodbye at the end of the working day.

Speaking English at work

For safety reasons, it is important to speak English at work. It also helps you to fit in. But you have the right to speak your own language during breaks and before and after work.

English only workplaces | Human Rights Commission

The Kiwi accent may make hard for you to understand instructions sometimes. If you do not understand something that your colleague says, ask them to speak slowly and repeat what they are saying. You can repeat instructions back to the person who is asking you to check that you understand correctly.

Official languages

English is the most widely spoken language in New Zealand. There are two other official languages: Māori and New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL). 

You may hear Māori words being used in conversation and also in the construction workplace. Some of them are:

Maori culture

New Zealand Sign Language | NZSL

Colloquial language 

Kiwi slang or colloquial language can be difficult to understand. Working in construction means that you have to learn many special technical terms for your job, as well as becoming familiar with Kiwi words. Ask a colleague if you are not sure what a word or phrase means.


Swearing can be very common in New Zealand workplaces. It is important to remember that this is often a normal part of working life, especially on the worksite. 

People from some cultures can associate swearing with being angry or being told off. In New Zealand, we often take a more relaxed approach to swearing. Some Kiwis swear when they are in a good mood and when they are joking with others. Try not to be offended if you hear some swearing during normal workplace conversation.  

Even in casual workplaces, swearing with colleagues can become unacceptable, especially when it is directed at you or anyone else, or when it is sexually or racially discriminatory. If this kind of swearing continues then it could be harassment which is against the law.

Teasing and banter

In some workplaces, colleagues can ‘banter’ with each other. This means to lightly tease one another. This could be making fun of someone in a playful and friendly way, for example, when someone gets a new haircut. Banter is always between people who know each other well. Research shows that banter can actually help teams to feel closer together and it can be positive for teamwork. 

Like swearing, banter and teasing can ‘go too far’. This means that it can become offensive if it is too strong, goes on for too long or is directed at someone who is uncomfortable with it. If you are not happy with banter directed at you in the workplace, make sure you say something to the person who is doing it to you, or say something about it to your boss. If the teasing is of a sexual or racial nature, then it could be harassment.

Workplace harassment

Any harassment of a sexual or racial nature is taken very seriously in New Zealand. Harassment can involve being subject to offensive sexual or racial comments or behaviour at work. Your rights are protected by the Human Rights Act 1993.

Human Rights Commission

What to do if you are harassed at work

  • Keep a record of the offensive incidents
  • Talk about it with someone you trust
  • Confront the person who is harassing you. You can do this in person, through a letter or through a representative
  • Speak to your manager
  • Try mediation, which is offered by MBIE and is free of charge. A mediator will help you and your employer resolve the problem.
  • Make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission if you experience discrimination

Complaints | Human Rights Commission

Getting language support

For most Kiwi day-to-day interactions you will need an understanding of English. Improving your English can help you with your settlement into New Zealand life and work.

Learning English

Workplace communication

Construction terms | Building Guide

Getting visa at border

Visa options and rules

Explore immigration options for you and your family. 

Which visa do you need?

There may be a number of visas you are eligible to apply for – each with its own criteria and application process.

NZ Ready

NZ Ready is a free online planning tool for people moving to New Zealand. It creates a task list for you where you can add notes and check things off as you prepare for your move.

NZ Ready

Visa options for working in New Zealand include:

Resident visas - These allow you to work and live indefinitely in New Zealand.
Temporary work visas - These allow you to live and work in New Zealand for a set period of time. 

If you are an international student studying in New Zealand on a Student Visa you may be eligible to work for up to 20 hours per week. There are specific conditions you must meet before you can work on a Student Visa.

Explore visa options | Immigration NZ

Working on a student visa | Immigration NZ

Getting immigration advice

There are three main ways to apply for a New Zealand visa: 

1. Complete the application form yourself

2. Engage a licensed immigration adviser

3. Engage someone who is exempt from the license requirements

Getting immigration advice

Advice for temporary workers

The conditions of your temporary visa specify your position, employer and location of employment. You can work only within the conditions of your visa. 

If your situation or plans change, you may need to apply for a Variation of Conditions or a new visa. Changes to your visa, or applying for a new visa can take time. Avoid problems by applying two to three months ahead. 

If you want to stay in New Zealand after the expiry date on your visa, you will need to apply for a further visa well before the expiry date. It is important to remember that Immigration New Zealand’s visa requirements may change to ensure that New Zealanders seeking employment are not disadvantaged, so you may not get another visa. 

You must leave New Zealand or apply for a new visa before your visa expires.

My situation has changed | Immigration NZ

Bringing family to New Zealand

You can bring family members to New Zealand if your family meets the immigration requirements. Family members usually means your partner and your dependent children. Dependent children can be up to 24 years old and must be single with no children of their own. There are also other conditions that must be met.

Visas for partners and children

Your family will need to be prepared to live in a different culture. It is helpful to tell your employer if you intend to bring your family to New Zealand. If your family joins you, think about the following questions:

  • Can they speak English?
  • Will your wages be enough for all of your family and the things you want to do?
  • Is there a place for them to live?
  • What schools will your children go to?
  • Can your partner/spouse drive?
  • If your partner/spouse wants to work, do they have a valid visa?
  • Can your partner/spouse find a job?
  • What social life or support networks will your family have?
  • What public services, like healthcare, are your family eligible for?
  • Can your family adjust to a new country?

Bring family | Immigration NZ

Enjoying the outdoors

Living in New Zealand

Life in New Zealand may be quite different to what you are used to. 

Finding accommodation

When you arrive in New Zealand you will need to find a place to live.
You have a few options, such as:

  • boarding with a New Zealand family
  • staying in a ‘bed and breakfast’ or hostel
  • flatting (sharing a house or apartment with others)
  • renting a house
  • worker accommodation (possibly organised by your employer).

Renting a house

Rental properties in New Zealand are usually unfurnished. This means that they come with an oven, but you must supply the furniture, whiteware (ie fridge, washing machine and dryer), cutlery, pots and pans and other items. 

Some houses in New Zealand can be very cold because they are not insulated and do not have heating in every room. You should be prepared for this, particularly in winter and if you live in southern regions of the country. However, insulation will be compulsory in all rental homes from 1 July 2019. 

The cost of renting differs depending on the area. Generally, larger cities are more expensive than smaller cities. You will also pay more if you rent closer to the city centre.

Renting a house 

Tenancy services

Driving in New Zealand

You need a current driver licence from your home country to drive in New Zealand. You may need an international driving permit or a translation of your licence if it is not written in English. You can drive in New Zealand on your foreign driver licence for 12 months. After that, you will need to apply for a New Zealand driver licence.

If you need to drive specialist or heavy vehicles – such as trucks, motorbikes or forklifts – you will need to meet the extra licence requirements that apply to these types of vehicle.

Converting a driver licence | NZTA

Driving conditions in New Zealand are very different from other countries. It is important for you to plan ahead and be safe on the road.

There are some things for you to keep in mind about driving in New Zealand, such as: 

  • we drive on the left-hand side of the road
  • the law says that you must wear your seat belt
  • driving journeys take longer than you expect because of many hilly, windy and narrow roads
  • there are many gravel (known as ‘metal’) roads in more remote places
  • sheep and cows can be on the road in rural areas
  • you must have your licence with you at all times while driving
  • police and speed cameras are a frequent sight on New Zealand roads
  • drinking alcohol and driving can result in severe penalties:
    • The alcohol limit for drivers aged 20 and over is 250 micrograms per litre of breath.
    • The limit is zero for drivers under 20 years old.
  • taking drugs and driving is also not allowed:
    • This applies to certain ‘qualifying drugs’ which affect your ability to drive, and can be illegal, legal or prescription.
  • it is illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving, including for calls and texts:
    • If you need to use your mobile phone, either use a hands-free kit or find a safe place to pull over and stop your car before using it.

Driving on New Zealand roads | NZTA

Driving rules | NZ Police

Drive Safe | Tourism Industry Association

New Zealand Law

Newcomers to New Zealand have the same rights and responsibilities as any person living here. You must obey New Zealand law. Breaking the law can put your visa status, and your family’s visa status, at risk. Immigration New Zealand can require people who do not have New Zealand citizenship to leave New Zealand if the offence calls into question the migrant’s good character. This can include any criminal offending (such as driving  under the influence of alcohol or drugs). It can also apply to migrants with permanent residence visas as well as temporary workers.

New Zealand's climate

New Zealand’s climate might be very different from what you are used to. Summer is between December and February and winter is between June and August. Northern regions are generally warmer than southern regions. 

New Zealand weather can change very quickly. We like to say that we have ‘four seasons in one day’. Be prepared for a change in the weather when you leave the house. This can mean bringing a jacket or umbrella with you, even if it looks sunny. 

Protection from the sun is very important. New Zealand has high levels of harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation and you can get a sun
burn faster than in other countries. You can burn your skin even on cloudy days. Sunburn can cause skin cancer and New Zealand has one of the highest rates of melanoma (a type of skin cancer) in the world. Wear a hat and sunglasses, cover up with a loose shirt and trousers and be sure to use sunscreen with a protection factor of at least SPF 30.


Cost of living

Migrants can be surprised by the high costs of goods and services in New Zealand. We have a small population and our isolated physical location means it can be costly to import goods to New Zealand. However, the cost of living in New Zealand is comparable to other OECD countries.

Immigration New Zealand has a tool that can help you work out what it might cost you to live in New Zealand.

Cost of living

Getting involved in the community

New Zealanders have a reputation for being very friendly and sociable. There are many ways you can meet new people in your community. You can: 

  • visit your local library – most have community noticeboards with information about community groups, such as sports, arts or cultural groups
  • talk to other migrants about their experiences
  • visit your local supermarket – they usually have community noticeboards
  • if you have religious needs, connect with new people through church or a religious community group
  • talk to your employer and colleagues about your interests and hobbies – they may be able to suggest ways that you can get involved in them in New Zealand.

Support for settlement in New Zealand

Immigration New Zealand provides settlement information, resources, programmes and services nationally.

Access help and support

Print the guide

Pdf copies of this guide are not available at the moment. If you need a printed copy of this guide, please print from this online copy. 


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