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The legal age to buy alcohol in NZ is 18 years old.

If the police find you drunk in a public place or trespassing on private property, they can take you into custody and either take you back home or to a shelter if they think you:

  • may be at risk of hurting yourself or others; or
  • are unable to protect yourself from harm; or
  • are likely cause a large amount of damage to any property.

The police must release you as soon as you’re no longer drunk. They must not keep you in custody for longer than 12 hours.

How old do I have to be to go to a pub or a bar in NZ?

It depends on what type of a place you’re going to.

If you’re:

  • 18 or over: You can go into any pub or bar and any area of a pub or bar, by yourself.
  • Under 18: There are some places that serve alcohol, where you may be able to be at. It depends on whether you are on designated premises (which is either a restricted area or supervised area) or in an “undesignated area“. 

What is an undesignated alcohol area?

Many places where alcohol is sold, such as supermarkets, are undesignated areas; usually, pubs and bars are not. You can be in an undesignated area at any age, without having an adult with you.

What is a designated alcohol area?

Most places where alcohol is sold are called ‘designated premises’. These are divided into “restricted areas” and “supervised areas”:

  • Restricted Area: You can’t go into a restricted area if you are under 18.
  • Supervised Area: A supervised area can be a pub, a restaurant, or even a family lounge. You can only go into a supervised area if you’re with your parent or legal guardian. (This generally doesn’t include family members like siblings, aunties/uncles.) There is a possible fine of up to $1000 for the young person who breaks this law.

How can I tell the difference between a restricted and a supervised area in a bar or pub?

It is not always possible to tell whether you’re in a “restricted area” or “supervised area” just by looking, but all licensed premises must have their licence hanging up near the entrance. This will tell you which areas are restricted and which are supervised.

It is important that you know what kind of area you are in; otherwise, you could end up breaking the law without even realising it. If you’re not sure, ask someone working in the pub or restaurant.

How old do I have to be to buy alcohol?

It is not against the law to drink alcohol if you’re underage. However, it is against the law to buy alcohol or any alcoholic drinks underage.

If you are:

  • 18 or over: You can buy alcohol.
  • Under 18: You can’t buy alcohol, but depending on what area you’re in and whether your parent or guardian is with you, you can drink it with them if they allow you to.

If you buy alcohol underage, you could be fined up to $2000.

When can I drink alcohol if I’m under 18?

If you’re under 18 and you’re in a:

  • Undesignated area: You cannot buy alcohol. However, you can drink it, if it is purchased by your parent or legal guardian.
  • Designated Restricted areaYou can’t buy a drink or drink alcohol or enter.
  • Designated Supervised areaYou can’t buy alcohol in a supervised area but you can drink it if you’re with your parent or legal guardian and they supply the alcohol to you.
  • Private home: You can drink alcohol as long as your parent or legal guardian have given consent and the alcohol is supplied in a responsible manner.

Can my older sibling take me drinking?

If you’re in any area where you’re allowed to drink with supervision, the supervision must be provided by your legal guardian. Your legal guardian generally is not your adult sibling, a friend or someone who is looking out for you, but someone who has lawful custody of you (e.g. Your parent or someone appointed by the court or official documents to take care of you). They can’t buy you a drink or buy it on your behalf and then give it to you.

This means that if a 20-year-old takes his 17-year-old sister to the pub and buys her a glass of beer without permission from their parents or guardians, he would be committing a criminal offence by buying her a drink.

Anyone who gives or supplies you with alcohol without your legal guardian’s consent is breaking the law, and could be fined up to $2,000.


How old do I have to be to go to a nightclub?

This depends on the nightclub’s licence and ‘house rules’. You should check what the nightclub’s licence says about drinking.

Most nightclubs and bars don’t let people below a certain age (e.g. 18) in at all. Other nightclubs may allow you and your friends to go in if you’re under 18, but only to dance, and won’t let you drink alcohol.

Can I work in a pub or nightclub if I’m under 18?

If you’re under 18 and:

In a restricted area:

  • You cannot sell or serve alcohol but you can do simple jobs which include preparing food, stock-taking, cleaning etc. The pub owner may be fined up to $2000 if they allow you to sell alcohol or do anything beyond those simple jobs.

In a supervised area:

  • You can sell or serve alcohol.

The owner of a pub or nightclub won’t serve me or asks me to leave because I look underage, can they do that?

If they won’t serve you because they think you’re underage and you aren’t, you should show them some proof of your age with a photo on it. This is known as an “evidence of age document” and can be your driver’s licence, a New Zealand or overseas passport or an 18-plus photo card issued by the Hospitality Association.

However, the owner of a pub or nightclub is allowed to ask you to leave at any time without giving you a reason as it is their private property and they can request anyone to leave. If this happens, it’s probably better to go without arguing. If you argue with the owner you and your friends could get into trouble. If you think you’ve been discriminated due to your age, you may complain to the Human Rights Commission.

Can the owner not serve me or ask me to leave because of my race?

If you think the owner wouldn’t let you in, refused to serve you or asked you to leave because of your race or ethnicity, you should complain to the Race Relations Conciliator or the Human Rights Commission.

It is illegal for businesses to discriminate against you on any prohibited grounds specified in the Human Rights Act which include race, colour, sexual orientation (i.e. if you’re heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian or bisexual) or because you have a disability etc.



How do I get an 18-plus card?

You can get an application form from a Post Shop or through You’ll need to complete a form, have it signed and witnessed by an authorised witness and provide documents to prove you’re 18 and over. The card costs $45.

Can the police ask for proof of my age in a pub or bar?

Yes. The police can go into a pub, bar, nightclub or any other licenced premises at any time and ask anyone for their name, age and date of birth. If a police officer thinks you’re underage, they will ask for proof of your age (e.g. driver’s licence or 18-plus card). You should always carry this when you go out drinking, just in case. Usually, the premise will check you ID before you enter anyway.

It is recommended that you co-operate with the police. If you try to give false details and the police find out you have been lying, it will get you into further legal trouble.

What can happen if I don’t cooperate with the police when they ask for proof of my age?

Firstly, if you don’t answer the police’s questions or give the police false information you are committing a crime. The maximum fine for not giving the police your name, age and address or giving false details is $1000, and you can get a criminal conviction.

In addition, the police may charge you with being in the pub underage and/or underage drinking if you are under 18.

What happens if I use a fake ID?

If you use a fake ID or someone else’s ID, or give or lend an ID to a minor knowing they intend to use it to buy alcohol, you’re committing a crime and can be fined up to $2,000. Using a fake ID is known as “fraud”. The police may also give you a straight infringement of $250.

It’s likely that if you’re caught using a fake ID, the staff selling the alcohol can take the ID off you and tell you to leave the premises. They can then pass the fake ID onto the police or call the police to report the crime.

What will happen to me if I get caught buying alcohol in a pub underage?

If you are polite and co-operative with the police, it’s the first time you’ve been caught drinking in a pub, you’re not drunk or causing trouble and you’re approaching the age limit, they may give you a warning.

However, the police can also decide to lay charges against you for buying alcohol under 18.

I’m 15, what happens if the police decide to lay charges against me for buying alcohol underage?

Between 14 and 16, you’ll go through the youth justice system. If you admit the charge, a Family Group Conference (FGC) will be called and you and your family will talk about how you’ll take responsibility for your actions (this could be through community service, paying a fine etc).

If it was seen as a serious crime, you will go to the Youth Court, where you will likely be sent through to an FGC unless you deny the offence. After attending the FGC, you will go back to the Youth Court and the decision from the FGC will be reported back to the judge. They will tell you whether or not they agree with the decision and will decide the sentence you receive.

However, it’s possible that they give you an infringement of $250 instead.

I’m 17, what happens if the police decide to lay charges against me for buying alcohol underage?

If you get caught when you are 17 or older and the police decide to prosecute you would be taken to the District Court and charged as an adult. The maximum fine for this offence is $2000. However, it’s possible that they give you an infringement of $250 instead.

What will happen to me if I get caught underage in a pub or a bar?

If you get caught in a restricted area or supervised area under age and you’re between 14 and 16, you’ll go through the youth justice system and be dealt with by Youth Aid officer. If you’re 17, you’ll be given an Infringement Offence Notice (a bit like a traffic ticket), which usually comes with an instant $200 fine.


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