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Key Takeaways

Previously, drivers classed as a ‘visitor’ such as tourists, or those on student, working or visiting visas, were permitted to use their overseas drivers’ licences instead of an NSW licence whether or not the person had resided in NSW for more than 3 months. From November 2022, the laws require ‘visitors’ to obtain an NSW drivers’ licence if they have lived in the state for more than 3 months. The reform is to address issues with visitors utilising foreign licences to escape penalties, which are automatically triggered when using NSW driver licences.

In New South Wales, over 220,000 drivers are currently utilising foreign licences on the state’s roads.

If you are a resident of Australia, rather than a ‘visitor’, you are able to drive on an overseas licence for up to 3 months.

This period provides time to visit a service centre and transfer an overseas licence to an NSW driver’s licence, if you are in New South Wales.

The country in which an overseas licence was issued will determine whether a driver needs to pass a Driver Knowledge Test, a Hazard Perception Test, and a Driving Test in order to obtain an NSW driver’s licence.

You will not be required to pass knowledge or driving tests, if the current licence comes from:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Canada (any state)
  • Croatia
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Guernsey
  • Ireland
  • Isle of Man
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Jersey
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • Singapore
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom
  • United States of America

Furthermore, you will not be required to pass the knowledge or driving tests, if you are 25 years or older, and your licence comes from:

  • Bulgaria
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Estonia
  • Hong Kong (for licences held for at least 12 months)
  • Hungary
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Poland
  • Republic of Serbia
  • Romania
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • South Africa
  • South Korea (Republic of Korea)

For these specified countries, if you are under 25 years old, you must pass the relevant knowledge and driving tests.

If the overseas licence comes from any other country or jurisdiction, the driver will need to pass knowledge and driving tests when applying for an equivalent NSW licence.

However, the driving log of 120 hours is not required, as it usually is for locals.

This includes countries such as China, India, and Nepal.

Previously, drivers classed as a ‘visitor’ such as tourists, or those on student, working or visiting visas, were permitted to use their overseas drivers’ licences instead of an NSW licence.

This was applicable whether or not the person had resided in NSW for more than 3 months.

New Changes to Fix Loophole for International Licences in NSW

From November 2022, the state government will amend the law to require ‘visitors’ to obtain an NSW drivers’ licence, if they have lived in the state for more than 3 months.

The reform will follow a similar procedure to the laws applicable to Australian residents, with those from ‘recognised’ countries able to simply convert their licences to NSW ones.

Those with licences from countries that are not ‘recognised’ will be required to pass the relevant knowledge and driving tests.

This means that over 120,000 drivers from countries such as China, India and Nepal will now be required to complete the tests prior to obtaining valid licences.

The reform is to address issues with visitors utilising foreign licences to escape penalties, which are automatically triggered when using NSW driver’s licences.

There are evidently difficulties experienced by authorities within tracking the offences of a driver which might have occurred on an international licence in NSW.

It was also difficult to ensure that a driver has adequate skills, with training and testing standards different across overseas countries.

Therefore, from November 2022, both Australian residents and overseas visitors will be required to obtain an NSW driver’s licence within 3 months to ensure they are driving with a valid licence.

Penalty for Driving Unlicenced in NSW

As per section 53 of the Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW), a person must not drive a motor vehicle on a road, or employ or permit another person to do so, without holding a valid driver’s licence.

A maximum penalty of a $2,200 fine is applicable.

There is no mandatory disqualification period outlined in the legislation for this offence, if the driver has held any kind of licence within the past five years.

However, the court is able to impose a discretionary disqualification period if it is deemed appropriate, in the circumstances.

The use of foreign licences in NSW is outlined in regulation 96 of the Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Regulation 2017 (NSW).

When utilised in interim periods, foreign licences must be valid and current, as well as in English (or have an accompanying English translation).

However, a driver will cease to have driving privileges provided by a foreign licence in NSW, where:

  • they are suspended or disqualified from driving a motor vehicle in any part of Australia or another country,
  • they would, if applying for a licence, be refused because of a failure to meet the conditions of reinstatement of a driver licence after cancellation, and
  • if, in the reasonable opinion of Transport for NSW, the visiting driver is not a fit and proper person to drive a motor vehicle or their ability to drive safely is impaired due to a permanent or long-term injury or illness.

Furthermore, a driver will also cease to be able to utilise a foreign licence where they would be suspended due to incurring 13 or more demerit points, or due to speeding offences or alcohol or other drug related driving offences if they were to hold an NSW driver’s licence.

Click here for an outline on driving without carrying a licence nsw.

In the event that one of these factors is relevant, drivers will be provided with a notice stating:

  • that they are, for a period specified in the notice, no longer exempt from the requirement to hold an NSW driver ‘s licence,
  • the reasons why they are no longer exempt,
  • the period in which they are ineligible to hold an NSW driver licence (if any), and
  • whether they are able to take action to regain the exemption.
Published on 05/12/2022

AUTHOR Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia

Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia are Leading Criminal Defence Lawyers, Delivering Exceptional Results in all Australian Courts.

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