Electronic signatures (or “eSignatures”) are legal in New Zealand under the 2002 Electronic Transactional Act (ETA). eSignatures are common in New Zealand and are regularly used for business and legal documents.
What you need to know about eSignature legality in New Zealand
According to New Zealand law, a contract is considered valid as long as legally competent parties agree to its terms—even in the absence of a signature. Thus, agreements may be considered legal and binding whether they are executed verbally, electronically, or using a physical paper document.
The Contracts and Commercial Law Act 2017 (CCLA) specifically confirms that electronic signatures carry the same weight as handwritten signatures and are legally enforceable, as long as:
- The electronic signature adequately identifies the signatory and adequately indicates the signatory’s approval of the information to which the signature relates, and
- The electronic signature is “as reliable as is appropriate,” given the purpose for which, and circumstances in which, the signature is required.
The minimum requirements to meet this reliability standard are as follows:
- The means of creating the electronic signature must be linked to the signatory and no other person,
- The means of creating the electronic signature must be under the control of the signatory and no other person,
- Any alteration to the electronic signature made after the time of signing must be detectable, and
- Where the purpose of the signature is to provide assurance of the integrity of the information to which it relates, any alteration to that information after the time of signing must be detectable.
The threshold for reliability also varies depending on the circumstances. For example, in a transaction that involves large sums of money, a more secure form of electronic signature would be appropriate.
Common eSignature use cases
Electronic signatures are legally valid and appropriate for most business and legal transactions in New Zealand. Common use cases include:
- Commercial agreements between corporate entities including sales agreements, procurement contracts, and NDAs
- Some HR documents such as employment contracts, benefit paperwork, and new employee onboarding documents
- Certain real estate contracts such as lease agreements
- Intellectual property licenses including copyrights, patents, and trademarks
- Certain consumer agreements including new retail account opening documents
Use cases where eSignature is not appropriate
Despite broad acceptance of eSignatures, there are certain documents that require a handwritten signature in New Zealand. These include:
- Powers of attorney and enduring power of attorney
- Statutory declarations, affidavits, or other documents requiring an oath or affirmation
- Bills of landing
- Wills, codicils, and other testamentary instruments
- Transfers of intellectual property such as assignment of a copyright or patent
In addition, documents that require notarization—such as real property transfer contracts and deeds—are not compatible with electronic signature.
Technology standards in New Zealand
The requirements for electronic signature technology vary significantly between countries. New Zealand takes an open, technology-neutral approach to electronic signature. This means there are no laws requiring the use of specific technology for a legally enforceable electronic signature. Other countries—particularly those in the EU, South America, and Asia—follow tiered eSignature models that may require specific technical requirements and/or independent accreditation by a local certification body.
The information on this site is for general reference and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be considered legal advice, nor should it be relied upon in any decision making process. Laws pertaining to electronic signatures vary by jurisdiction and may change quickly. Conga cannot guarantee the accuracy of any information on this site. Please consult with a licensed attorney, or other qualified counsel, for answers to any specific questions related to the use or validity of electronic signatures.
Last updated: 08/02/2021