There are educational institutions in all kinds of out-of-the-way places where owning a car or motorbike can make it much easier for you to get around. While you might not need (or want) a car if you’re studying in the centre of Sydney or Melbourne, in some of our smaller cities it can be quite difficult to get around using just public transport. Also, with a car, you can explore our beautiful country and its many insects and reptiles with bad attitudes.
If you don’t have a licence at all, then you will need to start from scratch with a licencing authority (a list of links is at the end of this article). For example, in New South Wales, you’ll need to take the Driver Knowledge Test (you can practice for free on this website); other states have different rules.
Can you drive on your overseas licence?
The short answer is yes but it depends on what type of visa you hold, and the conditions vary from state to state. If you remain in Australia the whole time as a temporary visitor, then you don’t need to change to an Australian licence. However, if you enter on a permanent visa or are issued a permanent visa and intend to live in Australia, the rules change. For example in Victoria you can drive for 6 months from whichever is the later date of when you first entered Australia or when your permanent visa was accepted, in South Australia you can drive for 12 months on an international driving permit (IDP), in New South Wales, Queensland and Northern Territory you must transfer to an Australian licence within three months of living in those states, while in ACT you don’t need to do anything as long as you’re not a permanent resident and you have a full and valid licence.
In all cases, your licence must be in English, so if it isn’t you’ll need to get an authorised translation to English or carry an IDP. Your licence must also be valid and current. If you have a learners or provisional equivalent licence in your home country, then those restrictions will apply in Australia, too. In NSW, drivers that have had a full overseas licence less than 3 years must enter into the provisional licence scheme as either a P1 or P2 driver.
You may only drive the same types of vehicle that you are allowed to drive on the licence for your home country (although be aware that there are restrictions around heavy vehicles).
Learning the road rules
Australia’s road rules are closest to those of New Zealand. However, New Zealanders still crash for the same reasons as every other driver does (usually inattention). There are a number of reasons you need to know the road rules in Australia:
- You must drive within the law otherwise you will be subject to fines, demerit points and (in the worst case) prison time if you contravene the law
- Knowing the road rules means that you are a safer driver and it helps keep other road users safe
- You must know rules relating to driving after consuming alcohol or taking drugs
- It’s important to know your obligations for keeping your car or motorbike legally able to be driven.
You can practice the road rules on our website – click on Car in the top menu.
Can you afford to buy a car?
It’s not just buying the car, it’s the petrol, registration, licencing, repairs, maintenance, insurance, tolls and parking that can all add up. You should allow $150-250 per week to run and maintain your car, depending on how much you use it.
As you will not be a permanent resident in Australia you won’t be able to secure a loan for a car.
You could choose a cheaper option such as a moped, motorbike or scooter, or you could just take the occasional taxi or rental car.
It is compulsory to have third-party insurance for driving in Australia and it is included in your registration fees. This covers any damage you cause to other vehicles or property if you have an accident, but it doesn’t cover damage to your own vehicle.
Make sure you can also afford to repair your car if it breaks down.
State authorities for driver licensing
As it can be quite confusing, we suggest you call one of the state licensing authorities and double-check what the requirements are in your specific circumstances.
- Australian Capital Territory — Road Transport Authority
- New South Wales — Roads and Maritime Services
- Northern Territory — Department of Transport
- Queensland — Department of Transport and Main Roads
- South Australia — Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure
- Tasmania — Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources
- Victoria — VicRoads
- Western Australia — Department of Transport
Darren is an expert on driving and transport, and is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists