NZ customs, etiquette, and local laws

new zealand customs

New Zealand is a friendly and welcoming place for tourists. The people of the Pacific Island nation are open-minded and tolerant yet proud of the history of their country and its indigenous heritage.

Whilst the culture of New Zealand is fairly relaxed and informal, visitors should make an effort to be respectful of local customs and etiquette. By following a few basic guidelines visitors can avoid causing offence and enjoy their time in the nation to the fullest.

There are also some local laws to be aware of that may differ from regulations in the traveller’s home country, including NZeTA requirements and driving and alcohol regulations.

New Zealand’s Māori culture

The Māori are the indigenous people of New Zealand, today making up approximately 15% of the population. Although their way of life was affected significantly by the arrival of Europeans in New Zealand in the 17th Century, the culture has been kept alive.

Foreigners may be most familiar with the Māori through sport. Māori participate in New Zealand’s sport, particularly in rugby union. The New Zealand All Blacks perform the haka, a traditional Māori challenge, before the beginning of international rugby matches.

Whilst discovering New Zealand, tourists should respect the customs and traditions of the indigenous people. It is useful for foreigners to be familiar with some of the core concepts including:

Tapu: something so scared that it is untouchable

There are certain things in Māori tradition considered so sacred that they must not be touched or interfered with in any way. Sightseers should be aware that several spots in New Zealand are protected in this way.

One popular tourist destination in Cape Reinga. Although it is possible to visit the area, respect should be shown at all times and taking photographs or recordings may be considered offensive.

Permission should be obtained before taking pictures at Māori buildings or landmarks.

Utu: the belief that a wrong must be put right

Utu is the idea of balance and reciprocity, to maintain social harmony. If someone has been wronged, they should be repaid, historically this took the form of gifts or compensation.

Today, the belief that everything should be put right remains important to the Māori population.

What is considered rude in New Zealand?

In general, New Zealand etiquette is in line with that of most Western cultures. There are certain guidelines that visitors can follow to be considered polite by the local population.

  • Basic manners in public include waiting in line for services and saying please and thank you
  • Tipping is not commonplace at bars and restaurants
  • Drinks are bought in rounds at the pub, everyone buys a drink for each member of the group in turn
  • Clothing in New Zealand is informal and relaxed, even at high-end restaurants only relatively smart dress is expected

Business etiquette in New Zealand

Travellers in New Zealand on business should take into account certain considerations regarding meetings and negotiations:

  • Punctuality is important and expected
  • Meetings may be conducted in a casual and relaxed manner
  • Avoid high-pressure or confrontational sales techniques
  • Decision making can take time as several people are consulted
  • Honesty and directness is appreciated
  • Dress is generally formal and conservative in business situations

New Zealand laws visitors should know about

The advice above can help tourists in New Zealand create a good impression and avoid offending others. However, it is even more important to abide by local laws.

Travellers are advised to familiarise themselves with some of the most relevant laws that may differ from those in their home country.

Entering New Zealand as an overseas visitor

Before heading to New Zealand, foreigners should be fully informed about New Zealand’s entry requirements. Most holidaymakers require either a visa or if arriving from a visa-exempt nation, an approved New Zealand eTA.

The NZeTA is valid for 2 years from the issue date and allows for multiple entries of up to 3 months (6 months for UK nationals). People returning to New Zealand should check the validity of the electronic travel authorisation before departure.

Processing takes up to 72 hours so it is important to apply for the NZeTA at least 3 business days in advance.

Driving regulations in New Zealand for tourists

In New Zealand motorists drive on the left-hand side of the road. Foreigners from non-English speaking countries require an International Driving Permit which should be carried along with the full valid licence at all times.

All tourists driving in New Zealand should also be aware of the legal alcohol limit:

  • Aged 20 or over: 50 milligrams per 100 milliliters of blood or a breath alcohol limit of 250 micrograms (mcg) of alcohol per litre of breath
  • Under 20s: zero alcohol limit

What is the legal drinking age in New Zealand

Travellers who are 18 and over can purchase and drink alcohol, as long as they can present acceptable proof of age is requested.

Under 18s accompanied by a parent or legal guardian may drink alcohol in a supervised area where meals are served, such as a restaurant, if provided by the parent or guardian.

Fines of around $250 NZD are issued to anyone found to be breaking these laws.

What are the smoking laws in New Zealand

It is possible to buy and smoke cigarettes and e-cigarettes (vaping products) in New Zealand from the age of 18.

Smoking is banned in indoor public spaces and places of work including restaurants and bars. Individual owners can also choose to ban vaping.

New Zealand encourages a smoke-free lifestyle, tourists may smoke outdoors but should look out for ‘No smoking’ signs.