International Student’s Guide to Buying Car in New Zealand

International Student's Guide to Buying Car in New Zealand

Hello! Our guide is specifically designed for international students in New Zealand who are interested in buying a car. We provide comprehensive information on the practicalities of owning a car and navigating the used car market in the country.


New Zealand is a great choice for international students seeking to explore its stunning landscapes and countryside. While public transportation in urban areas like Auckland and Wellington is dependable, having a personal vehicle can offer more convenience and opportunities to explore remote areas. For students, owning a car can enhance their New Zealand experience, making grocery runs, commuting to and from campus, and weekend road trips simpler. It can also greatly expand job options for students who work part-time, especially if their work schedule or location is not well-serviced by public transport.

Many international students choose to buy a used car in New Zealand due to the affordability of the market. Due to the import of cars, particularly from Japan, there are many high-quality, used vehicles available at reasonable prices. It is simple to find a reliable car that suits your budget without compromising on safety or performance. Additionally, lower insurance and maintenance costs make car ownership an option even for students on a tight budget. The resale value of cars in New Zealand is generally good, meaning you can recoup a significant portion of your investment when it’s time to sell.

In the following sections, we will provide a comprehensive guide on buying a car in New Zealand, covering everything from legal requirements to practical tips on choosing the right vehicle for your needs. Ultimately, owning a car in New Zealand could be a decision that enhances your student life significantly, whether you’re here for a semester or your entire degree.

Let’s get started on this exciting journey!

Understanding New Zealand’s Driving Regulations

Navigating the roads in a new country can be both an exciting and daunting experience. For international students in New Zealand, understanding and adhering to local driving regulations is crucial for a safe and enjoyable driving experience.

Let’s delve into the legalities and practices that govern driving in this beautiful island nation.

In New Zealand, driving laws are designed to ensure the safety of everyone on the road. As an international student, it’s important to familiarize yourself with these laws to avoid fines and ensure a safe driving experience. Here are some key legal requirements:

  • Age Requirement: You must be at least 16 years old to drive in New Zealand.
  • Driving on the Correct Side: In New Zealand, driving is on the left-hand side of the road, which might be different from what you’re used to.
  • Speed Limits: Speed limits vary depending on the area. Urban areas typically have a limit of 50 km/h, while it’s 100 km/h on most highways. Always look out for posted speed limit signs.
  • Alcohol Limits: New Zealand has strict drink-driving laws. For drivers under 20, there is a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol. For those 20 and over, the blood alcohol limit is 50mg per 100ml of blood.
  • Seat Belts: Wearing seat belts is mandatory for all occupants of the vehicle, both in the front and back seats.

Driver’s License: Using an International or Home Country License

As an international student, you can drive in New Zealand with a valid driver’s license from your home country or an International Driving Permit (IDP) for up to 12 months from the date you arrive. However, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Language Requirement: If your license is not in English, you must carry an accurate English translation provided by an NZ Transport Agency authorized translator or a diplomatic representative at a high commission, embassy, or consulate.
  • Conversion to NZ License: If you plan to stay in New Zealand for more than a year, you’ll need to convert your international or home country license to a New Zealand driver’s license. This process involves a theory test, and in some cases, a practical driving test.

Driving Practices: Safety Laws and Driving on the Left-Hand Side

Adapting to driving on the left-hand side of the road can be one of the biggest challenges for many international drivers. Here are some tips to help you adjust:

  • Intersections: At intersections, remember to give way to all traffic crossing or approaching from the right.
  • Roundabouts: When approaching a roundabout, give way to traffic coming from your right and remember to travel around the roundabout in a clockwise direction.
  • Overtaking: Always overtake on the right. However, on multi-lane roads, you can overtake on the left if the vehicle in front is turning right or moving slower than other traffic.
  • Rural Driving: Be cautious on rural roads, as they can be narrow and winding. Watch out for livestock and unsealed surfaces.

Deciding to Buy a Car

Embarking on your educational journey as an international student in New Zealand presents a unique set of transportation needs and challenges. Deciding whether to buy a car is a significant decision that hinges on various factors, including your length of stay, travel habits, and financial situation. Let’s explore these aspects to help you make an informed decision.

Needs Assessment: Evaluating the Necessity of a Car

The first step in deciding whether to buy a car in New Zealand is to assess your specific needs:

  • Duration of Stay: If you’re in New Zealand for a short-term course or a single semester, it might be more practical to rely on public transport or temporary solutions like bike rentals or car-sharing services. However, if your stay extends to a year or more, buying a car could be a worthwhile investment.
  • Travel Requirements: Consider how often you’ll need to travel outside your university area. If your academic or social activities involve frequent trips to places not easily accessible by public transport, having a car can be incredibly convenient.
  • Lifestyle and Convenience: Evaluate your lifestyle and daily routine. Do you plan to explore the country during weekends? Do you have off-campus commitments, like a part-time job or internship? A car can offer the flexibility and freedom to manage these activities more efficiently.

Pros and Cons: Car Ownership for International Students

Owning a car as an international student comes with its set of advantages and disadvantages:

Flexibility and Freedom: A car allows spontaneous travel plans, be it for grocery shopping, road trips, or exploring remote areas of New Zealand.
Time-Saving: It can be a real time-saver, especially if you live off-campus or your daily commute isn’t well-served by public transportation.
Convenience: Offers convenience for carrying groceries, sports equipment, or moving belongings.
Cost: The cost of purchasing, insuring, and maintaining a car can be significant, especially on a student budget.
Parking: Depending on your university and accommodation, parking can be a hassle and sometimes expensive.
Responsibility: Owning a car comes with responsibilities like regular maintenance, adhering to safety regulations, and dealing with any mechanical issues.

Budgeting: Financial Considerations

Budgeting is a crucial aspect of the decision to buy a car. Here’s how to approach it:

  • Upfront Costs: This includes the purchase price of the car, initial registration, insurance, and any immediate repairs or modifications needed.
  • Ongoing Costs: Regular expenses such as fuel, maintenance, insurance premiums, parking fees, and periodic Warrant of Fitness (WOF) checks.
  • Resale Value: Consider the potential resale value of the car, especially if you plan to sell it at the end of your studies.
  • Insurance: Shop around for insurance options and choose a plan that balances coverage and cost-effectiveness. Learn more about car insurance for students in New Zealand.
  • Unexpected Expenses: Set aside a contingency fund for unexpected repairs or emergencies.

Where to Buy a Used Car

For international students in New Zealand, buying a used car is often a practical choice. It offers mobility and the freedom to explore the country’s diverse landscapes.

However, buying a used car can be daunting, especially when you’re unfamiliar with the local market. Let’s explore the various purchasing options, where to find car fairs and auctions, and how to snag the best deals in major cities.


Buying from a dealership offers a certain level of assurance. Cars usually come with some form of warranty, and dealers are obligated to ensure the car meets certain standards. Cars from dealerships can be more expensive. The price often includes a markup for the dealer’s profit.

Dealerships like ‘Turners Cars’ are widespread in New Zealand, offering a range of used cars with varying prices and conditions.

Private Sales

Generally cheaper than dealership prices. Private sales can offer good bargains, especially if the seller is in a hurry. Higher risk as there’s usually no warranty or comeback if issues arise after purchase. It requires more diligence on the buyer’s part.

Notice boards in university campuses or community centers often have listings for private car sales.

Online Platforms

Websites like TradeMe offer a vast selection of used cars, allowing you to compare prices and specifications from the comfort of your home. The risk of scams and misleading information. It’s crucial to inspect the car in person before purchasing.

TradeMe is akin to eBay and is one of New Zealand’s largest online marketplaces for buying and selling cars.

Car Fairs and Auctions

Car fairs and auctions are excellent places to find used cars at competitive prices. These are usually held weekly in major cities. They offer a chance to see a variety of cars in one place and negotiate directly with sellers.

The Ellerslie Car Fair in Auckland is a popular spot, known for a wide range of vehicles and bustling with both sellers and buyers.

Car auctions can be thrilling, and you might snag a great deal. However, they require quick decision-making and a good understanding of car values.

‘Turners Live’ is a well-known auction house in New Zealand where you can bid on cars either in person or online.

Finding Deals in Major Cities

When searching for car deals in cities like Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch, consider the following tips:

  • Research the Market: Understand the average prices for the type of car you’re interested in. Websites like ‘DriveRight’ can provide valuable information on car models, including their market value and common issues.
  • Inspect Thoroughly: Whether at a dealership, private sale, or car fair, always inspect the car thoroughly. If possible, bring along someone knowledgeable about cars.
  • Negotiate: Don’t be afraid to negotiate the price. Sellers often expect it, especially in private sales.
  • Check the Car’s History: Use services like ‘CarJam’ or ‘MotorWeb’ to check the vehicle’s history, including any outstanding finance, odometer readings, and accident history.

Pre-Purchase Considerations

Before you make the leap into purchasing a used car in New Zealand, there are several critical factors to consider. Ensuring the car’s safety, conducting a thorough inspection, and test driving are pivotal steps in making an informed decision. Let’s delve into these aspects to guide you through this crucial phase of the car-buying process.

Safety Rating

A car’s safety rating indicates how well it can protect its occupants in the event of an accident. Higher safety ratings not only ensure better protection but can also impact insurance premiums.

Websites like ANCAP (Australasian New Car Assessment Program) or RightCar provide safety ratings for various car models. For example, a 2017 Toyota Corolla might have a different safety rating than a 2012 model.

Choose a car with a high safety rating within your budget. It’s a crucial investment in your safety and peace of mind.

Warrant of Fitness (WOF)

The WOF is a regular inspection that ensures your car meets required safety standards in New Zealand. A WOF is valid for three years for new cars and one year for cars over three years old. For cars older than six years, it needs to be renewed every six months.

A current WOF is not just a legal requirement but also a testament to the car’s roadworthiness.

Inspection Checklist: Examining a Used Car

When inspecting a used car, it’s essential to be methodical. Here’s a comprehensive checklist:

  1. Exterior Inspection:
    • Check for body damage, rust, and the condition of the paint.
    • Ensure all lights and indicators are intact and functioning.
    • Inspect the tires for tread wear and evenness.
  2. Interior Inspection:
    • Examine the upholstery for wear and tear.
    • Test all seat belts, buttons, and controls.
    • Check the air conditioning, heating, and sound system.
  3. Under the Hood:
    • Look for signs of leaks or corrosion.
    • Check oil and coolant levels.
    • Inspect belts and hoses for wear.
  4. Under the Car:
    • Look for any fluid leaks or rust.
    • Check the exhaust system for damage or rust.
  5. Boot and Storage Areas:
    • Ensure the boot opens and closes smoothly.
    • Check for spare tire, jack, and tools.

Test Driving: Conducting an Effective Test Drive

Test driving is perhaps the most crucial part of inspecting a used car. Here’s how to do it effectively:

  • Before Driving:
    • Start the engine and listen for any unusual noises.
    • Check the dashboard for any warning lights.
    • Ensure mirrors, seats, and steering are adjustable to your comfort.
  • During the Drive:
    • Pay attention to how the car handles, including braking, steering, and suspension.
    • Listen for any unusual engine or brake noises.
    • Test the car at different speeds and conditions, including both city driving and, if possible, a stretch of highway.
  • Post-Drive Checks:
    • After the drive, check under the car for any leaks.
    • Reinspect the engine for any issues that may have become apparent during the drive.

Remember, when buying a used car, taking your time during the pre-purchase phase is crucial. Assessing the safety rating, conducting a thorough inspection, and test driving are key steps in ensuring you make a wise investment.

Don’t hesitate to seek a professional mechanic’s opinion if you’re unsure about any aspect of the car. Your diligence now can save you significant time and money in the long run.

Navigating the legal and paperwork aspects of buying a car in New Zealand is a crucial step for international students. Understanding these requirements ensures that your car purchase and ownership are both legal and hassle-free.

Let’s break down the essentials: registration and Warrant of Fitness (WOF), ownership transfer, insurance, and accident procedures.


Registration means making your car official for driving on roads in New Zealand. You need to pay a fee that helps maintain the roads and transportation infrastructure. It can be done at any PostShop or online through the NZ Transport Agency website. You’ll need to provide identification and details about the vehicle.

For a Toyota Corolla, the registration fee might vary based on factors like the car’s age and fuel type.

Warrant of Fitness (WOF)

The WOF is a regular check to ensure your vehicle meets required safety standards. For cars less than six years old, a WOF is required annually. For older cars, it’s every six months. This can be done at authorized garages and testing stations across New Zealand. The WOF includes checks on brakes, tires, lights, and other safety features.

Ownership Transfer

When you buy a car in New Zealand, transferring ownership is a straightforward process.

Both the buyer and seller must fill out the MR13B and MR13A forms, respectively. These forms can be submitted online or at a PostShop. You’ll need the car’s plate number, and personal identification.


Keep a copy of the sale agreement as it may be required for future reference. Ensure you receive all necessary documents from the seller, including the car’s service history and WOF records.

Choosing Insurance

Obtaining car insurance is not legally mandatory in New Zealand but is highly recommended. Covers damage you might cause to someone else’s property. Covers your car for accidental damage, theft, and other risks, in addition to third-party cover. Companies like AA New Zealand offer various insurance options tailored to different needs and budgets.

Compare different policies and premiums from various providers. Consider factors like the car’s value, your driving history, and coverage extent.

Accident Procedures

Knowing what to do in case of an accident is crucial. Ensure everyone’s safety and call emergency services if needed. Do not move the vehicles unless they are causing a hazard. Exchange names, contact details, and insurance information with the other party.

Take photos of the accident scene and any damage to the vehicles. Report the accident to the police if there are injuries or significant property damage. Notify your insurance company as soon as possible to start the claims process. Keep a record of the accident details, including date, time, location, and witness contact information.

Understanding and managing the legal and paperwork aspects of car ownership in New Zealand will ensure a smooth experience as an international student.

From ensuring your car is legally registered and roadworthy with a current WOF, to understanding insurance and accident procedures, these steps are integral to responsible car ownership. Remember, staying informed and prepared is key to navigating these processes effectively.

Financial Aspects

When it comes to buying a car in New Zealand, understanding the financial aspects is crucial, especially for international students who need to manage their expenses wisely. From exploring financing options to negotiating the best price and managing ongoing costs, let’s delve into the financial intricacies of car ownership.

Financing Options

Navigating car financing options in New Zealand can seem complex, but it’s about finding the right fit for your budget and needs.

Bank Loans: Many banks in New Zealand offer personal loans that can be used to purchase a car. For example, ANZ and Westpac provide competitive rates and flexible repayment terms.

Dealers often have tie-ups with finance companies to offer loans directly at the point of sale. While convenient, it’s important to compare these rates with other options. These can be a more personalized alternative to banks, often offering competitive rates.

Compare interest rates from various lenders to find the most cost-effective option. Consider how the loan term (the length of time you have to pay back the loan) affects both your monthly payments and the total amount paid in interest. A larger down payment can reduce your monthly payments and overall interest cost.

Price Negotiation

Negotiating the price of a used car can lead to significant savings. Here are some strategies:

  1. Research: Know the market value of the car model you’re interested in. Websites like Trade Me can provide a good benchmark.
  2. Inspect the Car Thoroughly: Any issues or potential repairs can be leveraged in your negotiation.
  3. Start Low: Begin with a lower offer than what you’re willing to pay, giving you room to negotiate upwards.
  4. Be Ready to Walk Away: Sometimes the best negotiating tool is the willingness to walk away, which can bring the seller to more reasonable terms.

Managing Costs

Owning a car involves various ongoing costs. Managing these effectively is key to ensuring your car ownership doesn’t become a financial burden.

  • Insurance:
    • Shop around for insurance quotes and compare different coverage levels.
    • Consider factors like the car’s age, your driving history, and how often you’ll be using the car.
    • Companies like State Insurance and Tower offer a range of options suitable for students.
  • Fuel:
    • Fuel efficiency is a crucial factor in managing ongoing costs. Smaller cars generally consume less fuel.
    • Keep an eye on fuel prices and consider using apps like Gaspy to find the cheapest fuel in your area.
  • Maintenance:
    • Regular maintenance can prevent costly repairs down the line. Follow the manufacturer’s service schedule.
    • Learn basic maintenance tasks like oil and fluid checks, which can save money.
  • Unexpected Repairs:
    • Set aside a contingency fund for unexpected repairs.
    • Consider a mechanical breakdown insurance if your car is no longer under a manufacturer’s warranty.

Selling the Car

As an international student in New Zealand, there may come a time when you need to sell your car, perhaps as you near the end of your studies or prepare to return home. Selling a car involves several steps to ensure you get the best possible return on your investment. Let’s explore how to prepare your car for sale, the various selling options available, and tips for maximizing its resale value.

Preparation for Sale

The first step in selling your car is to make it as appealing as possible to potential buyers. Here’s how:

  1. Clean and Detail: A clean car makes a great first impression. Consider having it professionally detailed, including interior cleaning, exterior wash, and wax. This can significantly enhance its appearance and appeal.
  2. Mechanical Check-Up: Address any mechanical issues. Small repairs can make a big difference in how buyers perceive the car. Ensure that the oil is changed, fluids are topped up, and any warning lights on the dashboard are addressed.
  3. Gather Documentation: Have all relevant paperwork ready, including the car’s service history, Warrant of Fitness (WOF), registration documents, and any receipts for repairs or maintenance.
  4. Take Good Photos: For online listings, high-quality photos from different angles can attract more buyers. Ensure the photos are taken in good lighting and show the car’s interior and exterior.

Selling Options

When it comes to selling your car, you have a couple of main options: selling to a dealership or a private sale. Each has its pros and cons.

Dealership is a quick and convenient process. Dealerships handle all the paperwork, making it hassle-free. You might not get as much money for your car as a private sale. Dealerships need to make a profit, so they usually offer less.

Typically private sales, you can get a higher price selling privately. Platforms like Trade Me or local classifieds can be used to reach potential buyers. It requires more effort on your part, including advertising, meeting with potential buyers, and handling negotiations and paperwork.

Maximizing Resale Value

To get the best possible price for your car, consider the following tips:

  1. Timing: The time of year can impact your car’s saleability. For example, convertibles may sell for more in the summer, while 4WD vehicles might be in higher demand in winter months.
  2. Pricing Strategy: Set a competitive price. Research what similar models are selling for and price your car accordingly. Be prepared to negotiate but also know your lowest acceptable price.
  3. Honesty in Advertising: Be honest about the condition of your car in any advertisements. Misrepresenting your car can lead to lost trust and potential legal issues.
  4. Be Prepared for Negotiation: Most buyers will try to negotiate the price down. Be prepared with your responses and know your limits.
  5. Transfer of Ownership: Once you’ve sold the car, ensure you complete the necessary paperwork to transfer ownership to the new owner. This is usually a straightforward process that can be done online or at a PostShop.

Additional You Need To Know About Buying Cars in New Zealand

International students need to understand the broader context of car ownership in New Zealand, including road culture, environmental considerations, and insurance details.

Road Culture in New Zealand

New Zealand’s road culture is unique, with a mix of urban driving in cities like Auckland and Wellington and rural driving in more remote areas. Kiwis are generally courteous drivers. On single-lane roads, it’s common for slower drivers to pull over to let others pass. In rural areas, be prepared for narrow roads and occasionally sharing the road with livestock.

They are prevalent and require drivers to give way to traffic from the right. New Zealand’s weather can be unpredictable. Be prepared for sudden changes, especially when driving in mountainous areas.

Public Transport vs. Car Ownership

In major cities, public transport can be a convenient option. However, owning a car offers more flexibility, especially for exploring outside city limits. While public transport eliminates costs like insurance, fuel, and maintenance, a car provides unparalleled freedom for spontaneous trips and can be more economical for regular long-distance travel.

Environmental Considerations

New Zealand values its natural environment. Eco-friendly driving includes practices like minimizing unnecessary idling and maintaining steady speeds. There’s a growing trend towards electric and hybrid vehicles in New Zealand. Cities are increasingly equipped with charging stations, making these vehicles a viable option.

Apps like Google Maps and Waze are widely used in New Zealand. They provide accurate directions and real-time traffic updates, which are particularly helpful in urban areas.

It may take time to get used to local driving styles, especially if you’re from a country that drives on the right. Practice in less busy areas if you’re not confident initially.

Familiarize yourself with New Zealand road signs and rules to navigate safely and legally.

Always have an emergency kit in your car, including items like a first-aid kit, flashlight, and basic tools. In case of a breakdown, move to the side of the road safely and call for roadside assistance. In an emergency, dial 111 for immediate assistance.

Talk to fellow international students who have bought cars in New Zealand. They can offer valuable tips and insights based on their experiences.

Additional Resources

As you embark on the journey of buying, owning, and possibly selling a car in New Zealand, having access to the right resources can make all the difference. Below are some useful links and contact information that can guide you through this process. Additionally, we conclude with some final thoughts and provide an appendix with sample documents and a glossary of terms.

  1. A Student’s Guide to Car Insurance in NZ: Banked – Helps both international students and native New Zealanders understand car insurance requirements and save money.
  2. New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA): NZTA Website – Your go-to resource for legal requirements, Warrant of Fitness (WOF) information, and road safety tips.
  3. Consumer Affairs – Car Buyers’ Rights: Consumer Affairs Website – Offers guidance on your rights as a car buyer in New Zealand.
  4. AA Guide for Car Buyers: AA New Zealand Website – Provides comprehensive information on buying a car, including checklists and tips.
  5. Trade Me: Trade Me Motors – New Zealand’s largest online marketplace for buying and selling cars.
  6. DriveRight: DriveRight Website – Offers information on car models, including safety ratings and common issues.

Contact Information

  • NZTA Contact Centre: For inquiries related to driving licenses and vehicle registration – Phone: 0800 108 809
  • AA New Zealand: For membership, insurance, and roadside assistance services – Phone: 0800 500 444
  • Consumer Protection Helpline: For advice on consumer rights and car purchases – Phone: 0508 426 678


Buying a car in New Zealand as an international student is exciting but requires caution. Learn about local road culture and car ownership. Use resources, seek advice, and enjoy your journey. Drive safe and embrace this chapter of your life in this beautiful country!