What are the legal ages for things like drinking and getting married?
Many activities have legal ages (the minimum age you can legally do something). Below is a guide describing what you are allowed to do as you reach different ages.
at the age of 5
- you can enrol in a state school (from 2018 families may be able to enrol their child to start school at the beginning of the term closest to their fifth birthday, so the child could be as young as 4 years when they start school)
at the age of 6
- you must have started school. If your parents want to teach you at home they must get an exemption from the Ministry of Education
at the age of 10
- you can be charged with murder or manslaughter
at the age of 12
- you can be charged with certain other very serious criminal offences
at the age of 14
- you can be left at home alone
- you can baby-sit children (if you are capable of providing reasonable supervision and care to those children)
- you can be prosecuted for any criminal offence
at the age of 15
- you can leave school if you have approval from the Ministry of Education
at the age of 16
- you can sit a driving test and get your learner licence
- you can leave home without your parents' agreement (there are exceptions e.g. if there are serious concerns about your welfare then you may be placed under the guardianship of the court and the court may decide where you should live)
- you can get married or enter a civil union with your parents’ consent – your parents will no longer be your guardians once you do
- you can decide which parent you want to live with if your parents split up
- you can agree to, or refuse, medical treatment (including treatment for mental disorders, unless you are under a compulsory treatment order)
- you can leave school
- you can work full-time, if you have left school (there's information about employment of under-18's on the Employment New Zealand website)
- you can be expelled from school
- you can apply for certain benefits, such as the Youth Payment, Young Parent Payment and the Guaranteed Childcare Assistance Payment, Supported Living Payment (visit the Work and Income website to check your eligibility)
- you can apply for a firearms licence
- you can legally consent to have sex (whether with someone of the opposite sex or the same sex)
- your parents can’t change your name unless you agree to it
- if you are married or in a civil union you can change your name and/or make a will (otherwise you have to wait until you are aged 18 or over)
- you’re entitled to the adult minimum wage, unless you're starting out (ie, in your first six months of employment with your employer)
- you can apply for an adult passport
- you are allowed to fly a plane solo (if you have been learning to fly)
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at the age of 17
- you can join the Navy, the Army, or the Air Force if you have your parents' consent
- you can apply to join the Police (but you won’t be able to start Police College until you are 18)
- the Police can question you without your parents or another adult present (see special rules for Police questioning of under-17 year olds)
- you will be treated as an adult by the criminal justice system (if you are charged with a criminal offence you will appear in the District Court or High Court, not the Youth Court)
at the age of 18
- your parents or legal guardian are no longer responsible for you
- you can get married or enter a civil union without your parents’ consent
- you can make a will (though some under-18 year olds can make a will)
- you are no longer entitled to free dental care
- you can buy fireworks, alcohol, cigarettes and tobacco
- you can be employed as a bar person or in a liquor store
- you can drink alcohol in a pub or a licensed restaurant
- you can apply for many types of income support
- you can apply to your bank for a cheque account, credit card and a loan
- you are fully bound by any contract you enter into, such as a tenancy agreement or consumer credit contract
- you can place bets at the TAB or a racecourse, or buy Instant Kiwi tickets
- you can vote in national and local authority elections and stand as a candidate
- you can be called in for jury service
- you can change your name
at the age of 19
- if you are adopted you can place a veto on information about you so that your birth parents can’t contact you (it will last for ten years but can be removed or renewed).
at the age of 20
- you have reached the age of majority and have all the rights and responsibilities of an adult
- if you are adopted you can apply to Births, Deaths and Marriages for a copy of your birth certificate to find the names of your birth parents
- you can apply to adopt a child who is related to you (i.e. a niece, nephew, sister, brother or grandchild)
- you can gamble or work in a casino (under this age you can’t enter or work in areas of the casino where gambling takes place)
- you are allowed to have small amounts of alcohol in your system when you are driving a vehicle (the blood alcohol limit for drivers under 20 is zero).
at the age of 25
- you can apply to adopt a child who is not related to you, and who is at least 20 years younger than you
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What things don’t have a legal age?
There are some things you have to do regardless of your age.
At any age you must;
- wear a helmet while riding a bicycle, motorised scooter (moped) or motorcycle
- wear your seatbelt or be in a child restraint when travelling in a vehicle (until you are 15 years of age the driver will be responsible for ensuring this, but from 15 years it will be your responsibility to ensure you wear your seatbelt)
At any age you can:
- get a passport (but until you are 16 you will need consent from a parent or caregiver)
- make a claim in the Disputes Tribunal (but the Disputes Tribunal may appoint a representative for you)
- have an abortion (you are not legally required to tell your parents or get their consent, or get the consent of your partner / the father)
- buy a Lotto ticket, Big Wednesday or Keno (but not Instant Kiwi where you have to be 18)
At any age you have the right not to be discriminated against because of your sex, religious or ethical beliefs, sexual orientation, disability, political opinion, employment or family status, whether or not you are married.
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Is there a legal age for getting a tattoo?
A person can legally get a tattoo or piercing at any age; however there are some restrictions which may apply depending on where you live and which tattoo artist you go to:
- A tattoo artist should give you a consent form to sign before giving you a tattoo, and should only go ahead if this consent is given:
- In general, if you are under the age of 16, you cannot give consent to get a tattoo - only your parent or guardian can sign the consent form
- In some parts of New Zealand, local council bylaws raise this age of consent to 18 years so that if you are less than 18 years old your parent or caregiver must sign the consent form. It's worth checking with your local council.
- Members of the Tattoo Artists Association of New Zealand operate by a code of ethics which says that they won’t tattoo anyone under the age of 18 without the consent of their parent or caregiver
- Some tattoo artists have their own rules about whether they will tattoo a person who is younger than a certain age, regardless of whether the parent or guardian gives consent
If you are interested in getting a tattoo it will help you to read this information on the HealthEd website about getting a tattoo done safely.
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How do I get an ID card that proves my age and identity?
The Kiwi Access Card, formerly known as the Hospitality NZ 18+ card, is an Evidence of Age and Identity document.
Originally used to prove that the cardholder was at least 18 years old and therefore entitled to buy alcohol, it can be used as a legal form of identification in many other situations where you need to provide evidence of your age or identity (e.g. to open a bank account if you don't have a current passport or driver licence).
You don’t have to be a New Zealand citizen to apply for a Kiwi Access Card, you just need to be 18 years or older.
You can download the application form for the Kiwi Access Card online or go to any NZ Post shop to get the form.
To complete the form, you will need:
- a witness to sign your application (see the application form for witness criteria),
- a recent passport photo of yourself,
- one form of primary ID – a passport, or drivers licence (if you don't have a photo ID see the application form for other types of acceptable ID documentation),
- some proof of address, such as a recent letter or bill with your name and address on it (as proof of address),
- someone to fill in the identifier statement on the form (if you don't have an existing photo ID), and
- to pay the application fee (around $55).
It usually takes about two weeks for your card to arrive after you’ve lodged your application. If you have any questions, or you think it's taking too long, you can call 04 381 9937.
Your card will be valid for 10 years from the date it was issued to you.
For more information visit the Kiwi Access Card website.