Alcohol – laws and penalties

Alcohol is the most common recreational drug in New Zealand. Over a third of all offences are committed by an offender who has been drinking. A significant proportion of police work therefore involves alcohol-related incidents. This includes violent offending, homicides, drink-driving, family violence, accommodating intoxicated people in cells and incidents or offending involving young people.

On an 'average' day in New Zealand:

  • 52 people are taken home or detained in police custody due to their state of intoxication
  • 340 offences occur where police see alcohol involved in the offending, including 100 drink-drive offences and 30 breaches of liquor bans
  • 8,764 breath tests are undertaken
  • 40 licensed premises are visited by police to monitor compliance with the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012.

Drinking laws

Below are outlines of some of the laws governing the buying and drinking of alcohol in New Zealand. For more details of the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 visit Health Promotion Agency website.

If you are 18 years or older you can enter any licensed premises and buy and drink alcohol, as long as you can provide acceptable proof of age identification such as a driver licence, Hospitality New Zealand (HANZ) card or passport.

If you are under 18 years old and with a legal parent or guardian you can:

  • drink alcohol in a supervised area where meals are served (such as a restaurant or family lounge bar) but only if it is provided by the parent or guardian with you.

If you are under 18 years old and with a legal parent or guardian you can't:

  • enter a restricted area of any licensed premises
  • buy alcohol in a supervised area

'Legal guardian' means someone who has been appointed by the Court to be a legal guardian. The term does not include other family members such as grandparents, uncles, aunts, older brothers or sisters, spouses or partners. It also does not include sports coaches or any other temporary supervisor.

If you are under 18 years old and not with a legal parent or guardian you can't:

  • drink in a public space
  • go into pubs and bars
  • buy alcohol or have an adult buy it for you
  • carry a fake ID or use someone else's.

Alcohol offences and maximum fines

Alcohol offences Amount (NZ$)
Buying alcohol underage  $250
Presenting false evidence of age $250
Being in a restricted or supervised area underage $250
Anyone under 18 found drinking in a public place can be issued with a Liquor Infringement Notice $200
Breaching a Local Alcohol Ban $250

It is an offence to supply a minor (a person of 17 years of age, or younger) with alcohol.

If you are the parent or legal guardian of a minor, and you wish to supply them with alcohol, it must be done in a safe and reasonable manner.  Failure to do so is punishable by a fine of $2000.

Alcohol bans

Some local councils ban alcohol in certain defined public areas.

The Alcohol.org.nz provides more information on alcohol bans and local council  bylaws

Police can search your bag if you are in, or entering, an area with an alcohol ban. If you are found drinking alcohol in an alcohol ban area Police can confiscate all of the alcohol and search you and your vehicle.