Expat’s guide to living in New Zealand

mountains of New Zealand

The native Maori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, “Land of the Long White Cloud.” When the first canoes arrived, it’s said that all they first saw of this long, thin country was mist along its coastline. New Zealand is best known for its natural beauty, with some of the world’s strangest birds and incredible mountain ranges and lakes formed by the force of the earth from earthquakes and volcanic activity. Many expats, especially those with families, consider moving to New Zealand. It offers a safe and comfortable lifestyle you won’t find in many other parts of the world.

The education system has a good reputation, the people are known for being relaxed and friendly, and the climate is largely temperate year round (subtropical up in the North, and a little chillier down South). There’s a population of less than 5 million people for 268 square kilometres of land, much of which is protected national parks, and there’s a strong outdoor culture. There are some trade-offs. Career opportunities are limited, living expenses can be high, and it will take you at least 3 hours to visit another country. However with vibrant cities like Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch, it can be a great place for expats to try a new pace of living.

Moving to New Zealand checklist

For a detailed week by week list, click here. Get your visa and passport ready

  • Moving boxes to NZ? Start planning and arrange shipment
  • Organise shipment for other items
  • Start researching banks and get local currency in hand
  • Get some moving insurance for NZ
  • Start the job search (if you haven’t got one already)
  • If you have children, look at your schooling options and start enrolment
  • Know your priorities about where you want to live
  • Confirm somewhere to stay for at least the first few weeks after you arrive

I am moving to New Zealand : the paperwork

Can I move to New Zealand

Being so small and far away from everywhere else, New Zealand welcomes people from all over the world. Those with NZ or Australian passports can come freely into the country. UK passport holders can stay up to six months without working, and citizens of countries that have a visa waiver agreement can stay up to three.(click here for more) To work you’re most likely to need a visa and, depending on the visa you apply for or the country you’re from, this is where things can get a little more complex.

Right to work in NZ

If you don’t hold a New Zealand or Australian passport, you’ll need a visa to work. For most resident or temporary work visas, you’ll need to have a job offer or a job secured already, have specialist skills in an area of skills shortage, or intend to invest in the country. There are a range of visas some of which can be renewed after they expire or can be applied for once your previous visa has expired. The Working Holiday Visa is also a popular option for people aged 30 or younger. Some visas have limits on the numbers that can be given out, so have a look through your options to work out what the time frames are for application. Before you decide which visa to apply for look through all the choices – some will be more suitable or have more avenues than others.

Can I move to New Zealand without a job

If you’re eligible for the right visa, you could. The Working Holiday Visa is a popular option for people aged 30 or younger, so if you’re moving to New Zealand for a year or two this could be the perfect option. If you’re intending on investing in the country you may not need a job secured, but you will need to provide evidence of your investment. And if you want to bring your partner or children with you, you may be able to sponsor them for a visa that will last the duration of your employment. There are also visas for those who wish to study.

NZ customs and importation

Moving to New Zealand requirements in terms of importation are strict, and for good reason. It has unique plants and animals found nowhere else and many of them are in low population. To protect the biodiversity, border control restricts the importation of plant and animal products (as well as plants and animals themselves). Agricultural items, equipment used outdoors or with animals, and all food will need to be declared. With some items like hiking boots, as long as you’ve cleaned them thoroughly before you arrive they should be permitted. Make sure you declare anything you’re uncertain about though – there can be hefty fines. More information is available on the NZ Customs website.

Moving to New Zealand: Jobs


men working with laptopDespite its relative isolation, New Zealand is a big exporter of agricultural goods. The primary industries form a major part of NZ’s economy, contributing to over 70% of the country’s total export earnings. Construction and tourism are also important industries. However, technology is also on the rise and the health care sector, professional services, and public sector are also large. Auckland is the biggest city and tends to have the largest variety of jobs, particularly in business and professional services, with the capital Wellington an excellent hub for those interested in government and public service. Christchurch is also a busy city, rebuilding itself after the major earthquake in 2011.

Income in NZ

So, what to know before moving to New Zealand? One thing is income and cost of living. The median annual income in 2016 was $48,800. Information architects earned $135,000 on average, while the lowest paying job was kitchen staff at an average $32,000. As always, income depends greatly on industry, but also on which part of the country you live. The highest paying jobs going are in information technology, finance, surveying, architecture, and construction. You can estimate how much you could be earning in NZ for your skills using the PayScale tool.

Job search

Some of the most popular search tools to find jobs are TradeMe Jobs, Indeed, and Seek.co.nz. Recruitment agencies can be a big help in New Zealand and help connect workers with jobs across a range of sectors. Top job agencies in NZ include Michael Page, Hays, Adecco, and Enterprise . There are some international agencies so it may be worth getting in touch with them in advance to see if your national office can help – and if you’re after sponsorship, make sure to mention this. The Careers.govt.nz website has a comprehensive list of recruitment agencies and online job boards. It can be scary moving to New Zealand without a job, but if your visa allows you to you may find it easier to secure one when you’re there


English is by far the most spoken language, but the other two official languages are Te Reo Maori and New Zealand Sign Language. Reflecting the diverse population of the country (particularly in the North Island), there are a huge range of other languages from around the world spoken. If you can speak another language mention this when you’re looking for jobs – it could come in handy.



stocks on newspaperAs far as expat locations go, moving to NZ to live isn’t too expensive. The capital of Auckland was ranked 98th most expensive in the world in Mercer’s 2016 survey. However, some things are more expensive, especially if they need to be imported. Everything from food to hiking boots may cost more than major cities in Asia, the USA, and the UK.In 2017 the average household income in NZ was $104. 583 (a rise of 50%), but average weekly household costs had also risen by 56% to $326.40. Thankfully the government has a tool to help calculate living costs, based on industry, location, and how many people you’ll be living with. Numbeo will also give you an overview of what to expect.


The New Zealand dollar will get you approximately USD$7.3, SGD$0.96, and HKD$5.69. You can check current exchange rates on the XE website.

Banking in NZ

It’s generally simple to open an account in NZ. You’ll need your passport, visa, proof of address, and minimum opening balance (depending on the account type). You can either make an appointment or you may even be able to just pop into a branch. The major banks in New Zealand are the Bank of New Zealand (BNZ)KiwibankWestpac, and Australia and New Zealand bank (ANZ). Some banks also have branches in Australia (if ANZ’s name didn’t give you a clue) and several have affiliates in overseas countries.


Because NZ is a small economy, it’s been used to test various new banking systems. One result of this is Eftpos cards – similar to debit cards, but without any overdraw. Add one of these to your Moving to New Zealand Checklist!

NZ Taxes

Inland Revenue are the department who manage taxes. The two major taxes are GST (goods and services tax) which is normally included in bills, and Income Tax. Income tax is in most cases automatically deducted from your paycheck. The progressive income tax rate ranges from 10.5% to 33%. If you’re considered a resident of NZ for tax purposes, you’ll pay tax on worldwide income. You can check the IR website to confirm whether you’ll be required to file a tax return at the end of the financial year in March.

Moving house in NZ: finding your home

Where to m0ve in NZ

brass door handle - house doorDue to its placement on the equator and its unique landscape, NZ has a huge range of climates and environments. As a general rule, it’s hot at the top and gets colder the further South you go. Choosing where to live may also be determined by work, whether you already have a job or are looking for something. The biggest cities tend to be the most expensive, but also have the most jobs. Auckland, Wellington, and Hamilton are popular with expats and tourists alike. For popular southern destinations, moving to Nelson in NZ, Queenstown, or Christchurch is common. The North Island tends to be more popular for its warmer weather, while the large mountain range running down the centre of the South pushes populations towards the coast.

The search

One of our top tips for moving to New Zealand is TradeMe, NZ’s answer to Craigslist.Whether you’re after a rental or your own house, TradeMe has loads of property listings. And you can also find other items to furnish and decorate when you’re moving house NZ style. Realestate.co.nz is another great tool. There are also a range of property brokers and managers (often regional) who can help you in your search to buy or rent.


Renting and buying are both common in NZ, although renting tends to be more affordable and is often the first step for expats. In 2015, TradeMe property reported that the median rental being asked for a three to four-bedroom house was $460 – though if you’re in Auckland you can expect to pay a lot more.Rental properties can be managed directly by the owner (or their friend) or handled professionally by an investor or manager. Fixed term contracts are often short to medium with options to renew. A bond or deposit is generally taken and held by Tenancy Services to be released when the tenant moves out or settle any disputes. Always make sure you have a lease agreement, outlining the responsibilities of the tenants and the landlord. Find out more about rental laws on the Tenancy Services website. Also keep in mind that a lot of properties will come with limited furnishings and whiteware, so check first what’s included and what you might need to supply yourself.

Buying a house in NZ

The housing market in NZ is competitive, so if you want to buy a house you can anticipate spending a lot for most regions. There are also some policies in place that will restrict foreign buyers purchasing some kinds of property (particularly existing houses) so it will be important to find out what those regulations are in your circumstances before you invest too much time. Permanent residents are unlikely to have restrictions.Major things to consider if you are purchasing will be location, the age of the house, and that it satisfies building safety standards. There are a range of different styles of houses throughout the country, including apartments in towns, to semi-detached houses, bungalows, and more modern builds. Many properties will also come with some outdoor space (unless you’re buying an apartment).


It’s on our moving to NZ checklist above, but it’s so important we thought we’d mention it again. Depending on where you’re moving from, it can be a long way to New Zealand. You should always make sure your insurance will cover any damage to your items. Whether you’re moving boxes NZ ward or have more delicate items, Links can help you insure your personal belongings.

Setting up shop


Depending on where in NZ you live, internet can sometimes be patchy. With old exchange lines still being updated, speeds aren’t always up to some international standards. That being said, all major cities and popular expat areas will have perfectly fine internet connections. Some of the main internet providers are Telstra, Vodafone, Spark (formerly known as Telecom), and Orcon. There are also many smaller companies that operate in specific areas, sometimes offering cheaper deals in cities or specialising in rural services. If you’re living in rural areas you may find restrictions on your options and connection speeds. Broadband Compare is a useful tool for finding the best deals.


There are three big players in the mobile phone world – Vodafone, 2 Degree, and Spark (formerly Telecom). There is a suite of other companies who offer mobile services but use the networks of the main three. If you’re bringing your cell phone from overseas you may want to check that it’s compatible with the network you’re considering, as some have different specifications.Prepaid and contract SIMs are available, with some contracts including a new phone. Most companies have a range of plans that include varying amounts of call minutes, texts, and data. Cell phone reception can be limited in rural areas, and some networks have better coverage than others, so if you think this could be a factor for you do some research first! If you want a landline phone, you may be able to get this as part of your internet deal. In some cases a full internet-mobile-landline package is available.

Utilities in NZ

When you move into a property it’s likely to have an existing connection which you can just switch across to your name. If you prefer, you can change providers. In keeping with their green image, a lot of power in NZ comes from natural sources like hydroelectric, geothermal, and wind (as well as gas). Electrical plugs have three flat pins, and electricity is supplied at 230-240 volts and 50 hertz. To check for the best deals, you can look at Powerswitch and Glimp. Water is safe to drink from the tap in cities and the cost is included in council rates.

Earthquake safety

A lot of expats moving to NZ don’t consider earthquakes. While large ones aren’t common, smaller ones do occur more frequently and can shake things off shelves. Little things like securing breakables, not having heavy items above your bed, and keeping cupboard doors in the kitchen closed can help on the off chance there is a little shake.

New Zealand post

New Zealand post logo
New Zealand Post is the national service and does mail and postal delivery service. Most will also have a branch of Kiwibank in them too. In some areas NZ Post has limited delivery days, so if you’re after a fast delivery you may want to look into some of the courier services available.

Moving your family?

NZ schools

Your children will have a good start with education in NZ – In 2017 the country was ranked as best in the world for preparing students for the future(click here for more). There are three levels of education in NZ  – early childhood, primary and secondary (ages 5 to 19), and higher and vocational education. The school year begins around February or early March and runs through to the December. The three types of primary and secondary schools are state, state-integrated, and private. The majority of primary and secondary schools are government-funded and secular, teaching the national curriculum. Private and state-integrated schools may have some different philosophies and approaches to teaching. The Education Counts website is a useful way to locate schools and the Education Review Office is responsible for reviewing how schools are run. If you’re looking to enrol your child in a particular school, keep in mind zoning – if you live near the school your child is guaranteed a place, but if you live outside of the school’s zone you may not be able to enrol if there are no spaces.

Moving to New Zealand with pets

Because of NZ’s unique environment and animals there are restrictions on the importation of animals. If you’re moving to New Zealand with a dog or cat, there are strict health requirements, and your pet will need a permit and be quarantined on arrival. The Ministry of Primary Industries has an overview on the process. The only other pets you’re allowed to import are rabbits or guinea pigs from Australia, or chinchillas from the UK. You may also be able to important some aquatic animals and horses from approved countries. If you are moving to New Zealand with pets, 

Getting around

Public transport

Public transport in New Zealand is mostly limited to busses and planes. In some regions there are trains as well. The two major bus companies are Nakedbus and Intercity and link to the main centres, but some of the connections are limited. The companies offering domestic flights are Air New Zealand and Jetstar. Keep in mind that flights can be expensive, especially if booked at the last minute!If you’re crossing between North and South you’ll need to book yourself a trip on the Interislander, which can also take cars across. Most towns will have a local transport system of busses, which are quite good in the bigger cities but can be infrequent the smaller you get. It can also be expensive.

Private transport

Most Kiwis have a car. Cycling is also becoming an increasingly popular mode of transport, with some regions building cycle pathways and putting cycle lanes on roads. With public transport being limited and so many rural areas and small roads, it can be worth investing in a car if you want to explore. Keep in mind that the roads aren’t always in great condition and some of them are windy, narrow, and hilly!To be legal to drive, a car needs a Warrant of Fitness and you’ll need to have a valid overseas of NZ driver’s license. There are plenty of new and used cars for sale in the country if you want to purchase on arrival. Importing a car can be a lengthy process, and you’ll need to ensure it complies with standards. The New Zealand Transport Agency has details on its website. If you’d like to import a car, let Links know as we can help you take your car to NZ.

Public WiFi

In most towns you’ll be able to find a public WiFi network at a library – but you may need to pay a small fee. Free WiFi can be found at some cafes or restaurants, though not all. Some of the bigger cities like Auckland and Wellington will have free WiFi available in the CBD.

Don’t know what to pack for your move?
Check this article out: What to pack and what to leave when moving overseas