You don’t need a New Zealand driving licence to drive in New Zealand. You can drive on your UK licence for 12 months from the day you arrive. But I wanted something official with my address on it so decided to start the ball rolling on getting my UK Driving Licence converted into a New Zealand Driving Licence.
It is not as easy as you might think.
Firstly, you can’t do it online. You have to visit a specialist NZ Transport overseas conversion site which is usually housed in local AA centre and is a bit like our DVLA. Secondly, you have to make sure that your local AA Centre is able to convert international licences. I turned up at my nearest AA Centre in Paraparaumu only to be politely told that I needed to go Porirua for an international conversion, a 45 minute drive away.
Thirdly and most importantly, if your licence has been renewed within the last 2 years and you don’t have the original paper copy, you’ll either have to take your driving test again (I kid you not) or try and persuade whoever is serving you that the date on the back of your licence (next to all the pictures of various types of vehicles) is the date you passed your test.
As part of the conversion process, you have to be able to prove that you have held a full licence for over 2 years and as the date on the front of mine was for only a couple of months ago, it looked like I had held it less than the required time. The lady behind the counter asked if I had my previous licence and I patiently explained to her that UK residents are required by law to cut their licence cards in half and return them to the DVLA every time they are renewed. Would she not just take my word for it? But my wide eyed pleas for bending the rules fell on deaf ears; I had to either retake my driving test or contact the DVLA for an ‘issuing document.’ At this point, I hadn’t realised that the date I passed my driving test is written on the back of my licence. Call me stupid but I’ve never had to prove how long I’ve held my licence for as this information is readily available from the DVLA in the UK but in New Zealand where they obviously don’t have access to the DVLA’s records, they require written proof from the DVLA.
“You’re about the sixth person I’ve had to tell that to today,” she said sympathetically.
Resisting the temptation to point out that nowhere on the conversion form does it mention that you have to have held your UK licence for at least 2 years or prove that you held it for longer than 2 years, I sighed and said I’d be back in 6 months time which was roughly how long it would take the DVLA to respond to an email. In the end, the DVLA did respond in 3 weeks but instead of confirming in writing that I have held my licence for 27 years as I had asked them to, they just told me to look on the back of the licence and tell the New Zealand authorities that this was the date I passed my test.
I actually got my NZ licence from a different conversion site in the end. I had to get new NZ registration plates for Claude as well as road tax and AA membership and the one in Lower Hutt was closest to Belt Up (see ‘Importing Your Car’. We were served by the wonderful helpful, patient and efficient Maggie, according to her name badge. I was all ready with a myriad of explanations as to why I didn’t have an ‘issuing document’ from the DVLA but she said that wouldn’t be necessary because the date I passed my test was on the back of my licence.
So after passing the eye test and having my photograph taken, I was issued with a temporary paper New Zealand driving licence that was taken out of what looked like a large cheque book, and was told that my official licence would be mailed to me within 2 weeks. She also helpfully pointed out that if it didn’t arrive it two weeks, the number to call was on the temporary licence.
It actually arrived within a week. So I now have an official form of New Zealand I.D. One more step forward, people!