In Australia, the laws and driving regulations are different in every State and Territory. For example, the use of a foreign licence in NSW is outlined in Regulation 96 of the Road Transport (Driver Licencing) Regulation 2017 (NSW).
Visitors such as tourists, students, and people with working or visiting visas were permitted to use their overseas driver’s licences instead of an NSW licence. This created a loophole, and drivers escaped fines and demerit points on international license in NSW. In addition, tracking and penalising offences committed by a driver with an overseas licence was difficult. Authorities could also not ensure a foreigner has adequate skills to drive because training and testing standards are different in every country.
There are over 220,000 drivers with overseas driving licences in NSW. From November 2022, the law requires overseas visitors and Australian residents in NSW to obtain an NSW driver’s licence if they have lived in NSW for more than three months. These new laws came into effect to prevent foreigners with overseas licences from escaping penalties.
Students, Temporary visitors, and International Tourists in NSW
Students, temporary visitors, and international tourists travelling in NSW can use their interstate or international or overseas driver or rider licence as long as the licence is current and the person follows NSW road rules. A student, temporary visitor, or an international tourist can drive in NSW with an international licence when they:
· Have a current international or overseas licence
· Remain a temporary visitor
· Have not been disqualified from driving in NSW or anywhere else
· Have not had their licence suspended or cancelled, or visiting driving privileges withdrawn in NSW or anywhere else
· Have their overseas driver or rider licence with them
It is important to note that if a licence is not written in English, a person has to carry an English translation or an International Driving Permit. This paperwork is issued by the motor association or embassy of the country a person is licenced. A person does not have to get an NSW licence if they meet the conditions as stipulated and can prove their visitor status with the relevant travelling documents.
Australian Citizens and Foreigners with Permanent Visas
A person is not considered a visitor or tourist in NSW if:
· A person intends to stay in NSW
· A person is a permanent Australian resident, or if
· A person holds a permanent visa under the Commonwealth Migration Act 1958
An Australian citizen living abroad with a current overseas licence is permitted to drive in NSW as a temporary overseas visitor. They do not have to apply for a NSW licence or renew their NSW licence. An Australian citizen can apply for a temporary overseas visitors licence if a person does not hold permanent Australian residency and will be in NSW for more than 3 months.
A permanent resident of Australia can drive with a current overseas licence under the Commonwealth Migration Act 1958. The current overseas licence in NSW is only valid for a maximum period of three months from the date of arrival in Australia. Thereafter a person will need to apply for a NSW licence to continue driving or riding. The three-month grace period allows residents with permanent visas or Australian citizenship to visit a service centre and transfer an overseas licence to a NSW driver’s licence.
International and interstate visitors can drive vehicles covered by a NSW class C driver’s licence. This includes vehicles with a 4.5 tonnes Gross Vehicle mass or less, seating up to twelve adults including the driver. Motorcycles and heavy vehicles are covered by the international or overseas licence class. Heavy vehicle drivers need to familiarise themselves with the heavy vehicle road rules for NSW.
New Zealand and Interstate Licence Holders
New Zealand license holders must obtain a license within three months of living in NSW or stop driving. This applies regardless of whether they are permanent or temporary residents. A person can drive with an existing licence for up to 3 months if a person:
· Has a current licence interstate or NZ licence
· Has not been disqualified from driving in NSW or anywhere else
· Do not have a suspended or cancelled licence or if visiting driving privileges have not been withdrawn
· Carry a driver or rider licence
· Can prove genuine visitor status with the relevant travelling documentation
Interstate or New Zealand licence holders with a light rigid, medium rigid, heavy ridged, heavy combination, or multi-combination licence do not have to apply for a NSW driver’s licence for 12 months from the date of residency in NSW. This exemption is valid until July 2023.
A person cannot hold more than one driver’s licence in Australia. Once a person receives a NSW driver’s licence, the overseas licence will no longer be legal to use in Australia. If a person fails the driving test, driving privileges will be removed and a driver has to take the test again. Drivers over the age of 75 are required to undergo a medical review and may also have to take a driving test.
A person can apply for a Temporary Overseas Visitor Licence if a person plans to remain in NSW for more than three months but does not have permanent Australian residency.
An overseas driver will have to apply for a NSW driver’s licence after residing for more than three months in NSW. The following documentation is needed when applying for a NSW driver’s licence:
· Overseas licence
– If not in English, a Transport for NSW-approved translation needs to be included
– If the licence is not available, an authorisation letter from the issuing country is required
· Proof of identity
· Proof of permanent Australian residency
· Licence application form
· Eyesight test
· Pass Knowledge Test unless exempt
· Pass the Driving Test unless exempt
· Fitness to drive medical if applicable
· Pay the applicable licence fee
Knowledge or Driving Test
An overseas driver from certain countries will be required to pass a Knowledge or Driving Test, whilst drivers from certain countries can automatically transfer their licences to a NSW driver’s licence.
A person from the following countries will not be required to pass a Knowledge or Driving Test:
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Isle of Man
United States of America
A person has to pass Knowledge or Driving Tests if they are under 25 years and their overseas licence was issued by one of the following countries:
Republic of Serbia
Suppose a driver with an overseas licence is from any other country or jurisdiction. In that case, the driver will also need to pass Knowledge and Driving Tests when they apply for an equivalent NSW driver’s licence. This includes countries such as China, India, and Nepal. The 120 hours driving log will, however not apply.
The Type of Licences Issued to Overseas Drivers
The following licences will be used once a driver passed the driving test:
· P1 licence – if a person held an overseas driver’s licence for 12 months or less
· P2 licence – if a person held an overseas driver’s licence for more than 12 months
· Unrestricted licence – if you held your overseas driver’s licence for over 3 decades
If a person fails the driving test, they have to apply for a learner’s licence before they can take the test again.
The Demerit Point System in NSW
The demerit points system is a national programme in NSW. This programme encourages safe and responsible driving. Demerit points are penalty points a driver receives if they commit certain offences. Drivers and riders start with zero demerit points and if they commit an offence while driving or riding, demerit points will be added to the driver’s driving record.
Some offences attract demerit points and a fine. A driver’s licence can be suspended if the driver reaches their demerit point limit. Demerit points can also be accrued while driving outside NSW and the demerit points will still be applied to the driver’s licence.
Demerit points in NSW are recorded against a NSW driver’s licence. This driver’s licence is registered against the driver’s residential address. International drivers with an overseas licence will not have a local residential address, and this makes it hard for Service NSW to enforce a demerit point system. When an international licence holder applies for a NSW driver’s licence upon residency, the international licence demerit points will automatically transfer over to the new NSW driver’s licence.
Demerit Point Limits in NSW
How many demerit points does a driver have in NSW? Different types of licence holders have different limits before a driver is penalised.
· L licence – 4 demerit points
· P1 Licence – 4 demerit points
· P2 Licence – 7 demerit points
· Unrestricted licence – 13 demerit points
· Professional drivers – 14 demerit points
Penalty for Driving without a Valid Licence in NSW
A person cannot use an international licence indefinitely if they are a visiting driver from a foreign country (other than New Zealand) and they have:
· A permanent visa and resided in NSW continuously for more than three months
· Australian citizenship and resided in NSW continuously for more than three months
A visiting driver is exempt from NSW driver licence holding requirements according to clause 99 of the Road Transport (Driver Licencing) Regulation 2008 (NSW). According to Regulation 96 of the Road Transport (Driver Licencing) Regulation 2017 (NSW), an overseas licence must be valid, current, and in English or accompanied by an English translation.
According to Section 53 of the Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW), a person is not allowed to drive a vehicle on the road or employ or permit another person to do so without a valid driver’s licence. A maximum penalty of $2,200 will apply. No mandatory disqualification period as outlined in the legislation for this offence will apply if the driver has held any kind of licence in the past five years. The court might impose a discretionary disqualification period in the appropriate circumstances.
Driving privileges provided by an overseas or international licence will be revoked when:
· A driver was suspended or disqualified from driving a vehicle in any part of Australia or any other country
· A driver failed to meet the conditions of reinstatement of a driver’s licence after cancellation
· A driver is not deemed fit in the reasonable opinion of Transport for NSW to drive a vehicle
· A driver’s ability to drive safely is impaired by a permanent or long-term injury or illness
An overseas driver’s licence will be suspended if a driver incurred 13 or more demerit points on an international licence in NSW, committed speeding offences, or any alcohol or drug-related driving offence if they were to hold an NSW driver’s licence.
A driver will be provided with a notice stating the following:
· That the driver is no longer exempt from the requirement to hold an NSW driver’s licence
· The reasons for no longer being exempt
· The period in which the driver is ineligible to hold an NSW driver’s licence
· If a driver can take action to regain the exemption
Demerit points are active on a driver’s licence for three years from the date of the offence. After three years, demerit points will not be active anymore and will not accumulate with any new demerit points earned. An additional administration period can be added to this period to allow for payments and potential appeals.
However, all demerit points will remain on a driver’s driving record, even after three years. Demerit points will be deleted upon the commencement of any driver’s licence suspension. A driver’s demerit points will be considered if a person continuously breaks the law and the matter is presented in court. Transport NSW may deny a driver’s licence, or a driver may even be subjected to further fines and penalties.