Living In New Zealand, A Guide for Expats

Lisa Smith, BA (Hons), CeFA

Living in New Zealand is sometimes like being on another planet as the air is fresher, the lifestyle more active, and the scenery is jaw-droppingly epic.

As a country with an outstanding education system, excellent quality of life and incredible wildlife, you’ve got to have a good reason not to put it on the list of best places for expats to live.

With an estimated 215,000 UK expats already living in New Zealand, let’s look at what everyday life is like, and what you can expect when you make that big move.

The New Zealand Kiwi Expat Lifestyle

There’s no doubt that the New Zealand lifestyle is an aspirational.

Most people have a great attitude towards a work/life balance, and even in the biggest cities have plenty of green spaces and trails, so you never feel you are somewhere cramped or congested.

New Zealand is two main islands – North and South with a few smaller islands dotted around the mainland. The islands are volcanic, meaning the geography includes mountain ranges, sitting alongside large tracts of farming country and dramatic coastlines.

North Island has dark, sandy beaches and is popular for swimming and surfing.

215,000 UK expats already living in New Zealand

South Island has softer, white sandy beaches in the north with a wilder coastline.

The climate isn’t quite the year-round blazing sunshine of Australia, but warm summers and mild winters make the weather comfortable for expats all year round.

With sunny summers, and snow in the mountain regions in the winter, New Zealand is often thought of as having the ideal climate.

For expats in search of sunshine, look to Nelson and Marlborough to the north of South Island. The beaches are special, and the hot springs in Rotorua essential for everyone to visit.

New Zealand Expat Culture

Kiwis are a friendly bunch, and many expats move to New Zealand to join their peaceful and relaxed way of living.

People tend to be polite and a little conservative, so if you’re ever stuck for what to do and need to ask for help, you’re assured of finding someone to point you in the right direction.

Food is a big part of the New Zealand culture. If you’re a new expat and get invited to a barbeque, this is a great way to meet the neighbours even if you are likely to have a friendly argument over sport.

There are some local customs taken from Maori culture – so, for example, don’t be surprised if you need to take your shoes off before you enter a home, or if you’re asked not to sit in certain places as it’s considered bad manners.

Here’s a tip – if you’re invited to an event or social gathering and told not to bring anything, do it anyway. A bottle of wine of some food is always welcome, and a traditional sign of thanks to your host.

New Zealand Visas And Residency Status

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visa_policy_of_New_Zealand

If you’re planning to settle in New Zealand and become an honorary Kiwi, you’ll need to start thinking about visas. Here’s what you need to know:

Short visits

  • Visitors for up to six months don’t need a visa
  • You will need a permit from NZeTA – the New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority
  • This costs NZ$9 if you apply online and is valid for two years
  • Entrants without a visa may need to pass through immigration checks
  • Your passport should have at least three months left before its expiry date

Long visits

  • UK expats can apply for visas to work, to study, or to visit New Zealand as a tourist for an extended time
  • Work visas depend on if you have a job offer. If you do, you will need to check whether the role falls into a list of in-demand skills, in which case a visa should be reasonably straightforward
  • If you are looking to invest or start a business in New Zealand, you can apply for faster-track visa processing depending on your investment

Most expats come to New Zealand on a work permit, with a job offer already in place, and then decide to extend their trip or apply for residency. You can also go to New Zealand on an investor visa, for example:

  • Retirees can lie in New Zealand for up to two years, provided they can invest NZ$750,000 in the country over that period, plus have NZ$500,000 to cover living costs and an annual income of NZ$60,000 or more
  • Business investors with at least NZ$3 million to invest may stay indefinitely

Once you have lived in New Zealand for two years or more under any type of visa, you can apply for permanent residence, which means you can come and go as you please.

The same applies if you live in the country as an expat for 183 consecutive days within any year.

Learn the difference between residence and domicile

Cost Of Living In New Zealand

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Zealand_dollar

If you want to work in New Zealand as an expat before gaining residency status, you will need work permit or visa.

Most employers can help with the process, acting as your sponsor, so if you’ve landed a job and need help with the paperwork, your employer should be able to give you a hand.

Typically, rent and food bills tend to be a little higher than in the UK. However, it all depends where you decide to live, and of course where you’re moving from.

As a comparison, Auckland is ranked as the 89th most expensive city in the world, and London 23rd according to Mercer’s 2019 Cost of Living Survey, so if you’re relocating from London, you’re in for a pleasant surprise when you check your bank balance.

A big bonus is the space for housing. New Zealand cities are far less cramped and more relaxed than European cities, and so you’ll find far fewer apartment blocks and more parks, gardens.

Cost of Living in New Zealand Compared to the UK

  • Consumer Prices in New Zealand are 5.94% higher 
  • Consumer Prices Including Rent in New Zealand are 6.42% higher
  • Rent Prices in New Zealand are 7.62% higher
  • Restaurant Prices in New Zealand are 10.69% lower
  • Groceries Prices in New Zealand are 25.46% higher
  • Local Purchasing Power in New Zealand is 2.07% lower

Finding A Home For Expats In New Zealand

You can rent or buy a property in New Zealand reasonably easily. This is a culturally and geographically diverse country, so there are endless options from city apartments to beachside villas and countryside retreats.

A lot will depend on your budget, and where you need to live for work. If you have a free rein, it’s worth travelling around until you find the community that best suits the lifestyle you want.

City centres are the most expensive places to live but plenty of letting agents and landlords advertise for both long and short-term rentals.

If you are looking to rent in Auckland, the average price for a medium-sized home starts at around NZ$600 a month. In quieter areas, the average drops to about NZ$460 a month. This works out at approximately £235-310 a month, based on a three-bed home.

To purchase a property in New Zealand, you will need to hold permanent resident status. This doesn’t apply if you have travelled to the country under an investor visa, which usually automatically includes permanent residency.

The property market works very similarly to the UK:

  • Rates are charged by the local council which are the equivalent to UK council tax
  • Properties can be found through estate agents or directly from sellers
  • You will need a valuation before exchanging contracts on a sale
  • All the major New Zealand banks offer home loans

Prices depend on where you live. The median 2019 property prices ranged from:

  • NZ$205,000 in West Coast (£105,000)
  • NZ$435,000 in Marlborough (£225,000)
  • NZ$609,480 in Wellington (£315,000)
  • NZ$850,000 in Auckland (£435,000)

While you should make sure you have insurance as an expat property owner, one thing you don’t need to worry about is covering for earthquake damage. This is covered by the Earthquake Commission (EQC), and a premium is automatically added to every home insurance policy.

If you are selling your UK property, make sure you understand the capital gains tax implications.

Employment and Jobs

The good news if you’re worried about a work visa, is that jobs are generally easy to find. Every year, New Zealand needs to fill around 47,000 job for expats, and although these are in defined skills, they cover a broad spectrum of trades and professions.

Most of the job vacancies available for expats are in:

  • Business services
  • Construction
  • Utilities
  • Health care
  • Social care
  • Education

You can also check out the Essential Skills in Demand List, which is regularly updated with skills shortages.

The minimum wage for adults over 16 years old is NZ$18.90 an hour, or NZ$756 a week for a typical 40-hour week before tax. That’s about £9.75 an hour, compared to £8.21 in the UK.

Average salaries sit at around NZ$50,000 with skilled jobs in sectors like engineering, paying an average of NZ$70,000.

Education in New Zealand for Expat Families

A big draw for expat families is that New Zealand has outstanding educational standards and is an excellent place for kids to go to school or for adults to study.

Most schools, including secondaries, are state-run and free of charge. Also, nursery age children between three and five years old receive 20 hours of free education a week, and their parents can top up any extra hours.

Early years are considered essential, and 96.8% of children attend nursery – called ECE (Early Childhood Education). 

Primary school starts at age five, about the same as in the UK. One of the differences is that secondary school extends to age 19, so there isn’t any need to find separate sixth form colleges.

In 2018, a study by The Economist ranked New Zealand the third best country in the world for education, behind Switzerland and Finland.

There are further education opportunities available too, so it’s not just a great place to send kids to school:

  • Every university in New Zealand ranks in the top 500 list of best worldwide institutions by the QS World University Ranking
  • Every university offers at least one topic, which has been ranked within the top 100 courses in the world

Factors like free education and heavily subsidised early years childcare make a big difference when it comes to the cost of living. This makes New Zealand popular with expat families who want to enjoy the relaxed pace of life, and quality of outdoor culture, while providing their family with a first-class education.

New Zealand Expat Taxes

The big question when you’re deciding where in the world to move is how much tax will I pay?

New Zealand tax is like the UK, where your tax rate steps up the more you earn. As a non-resident expat, you won’t need to think about paying local tax.

Likewise, if you’re planning to settle in New Zealand and you’re still a tax resident elsewhere, you can apply for relief under a double taxation treaty to ensure you’re not being taxed twice on the same money in both countries.

Read more about what is an expat

Once you become a resident, you’re liable for New Zealand income tax, which is between 10.5-33% depending on how much salary you are earning.

  • Salaries over NZ$70,000 are taxed at 33%
  • Wages up to NZ$14,000 are taxed at 10.5%

New Zealand is considered to have one of the best tax regimes in the world. In 2019 the Tax Foundation ranked the country as second for competitive levels, and fourth for personal tax systems.

What’s user-friendly is that the rates are fixed, and capped at certain levels, so you won’t need to worry about unexpectedly changing tax bands.

Get Financial Advice

We can put you in contact with a qualified specialist expat financial advisor based in your location. Click the button below to get the expert advice you need to make the best financial decisions.

Healthcare and Personal Safety

Expats will find a combination of public and private healthcare. If you’re a permanent resident, you have full access to public healthcare – this is either free of charge or heavily subsidised.

Free medical services include immunisations and prescriptions for children. You’ll find you need to pay for a trip to the doctor, picking up a prescription and even calling an ambulance, but at a small cost.

Prescriptions cost NZ$5 (about £2.50), which is a lot cheaper than the £9 you pay in the UK.

Some ambulance callouts are free, while some areas offer free emergency health services. In other areas, you will be charged around NZ$100 (around £51).

Emergency services can be contacted at any time by calling 111. This is the equivalent to 999 in the UK and can be used to call for fire, police or an ambulance help.

As an expat you should register with a local GP. If you’re already on prescription medication, you should bring the information with you. You’re free to register with any GP, and unlike the UK you won’t be instructed who to sign up with depending on your postcode.

However, lots of New Zealand GPs specialise, so you might need some research to find the one that suits your health issues before signing up with the surgery closest to your new home.

Healthcare in New Zealand sets a high standard, although waiting lists are long for any condition not considered an emergency.

Driving in New Zealand for Expats

The islands are big and since they aren’t densely populated if you want to travel, it’s often most cost-effective to hire a car. Public transport is excellent within the cities, but if you’re going further afield a car is often the best bet.

A few pointers about driving in New Zealand:

  • Cars drive on the left-hand side of the road which can take a bit of getting used to.
  • There are no significant highways outside of Wellington and Auckland, so you’ll find single carriageways that can be a little slow.
  • Every passenger must wear a seatbelt, and you will be fined if stopped and anyone in the car doesn’t have one fastened.
  • Weather in NZ can be extreme, and some of the terrain makes driving challenging. Get some practice in, avoid driving at night until you’re used to the area, and check the weather forecast before you head out of the door.

On arriving in New Zealand as an expat, you can continue using your UK driving licence, although you can only drive the type of vehicle listed on your licence.

You can switch your driving licence over to a local one and need to do so within 12 months of arriving in the country as an expat. This means visiting your nearest AA centre, filling in an application form, and providing copies of all your ID documents.

The costs to convert your driving license include:

  • NZ$52.10 license fee, including a vision check.
  • NZ$59.90 practical test charge if you are required to retake the exam.
  • NZ$45.70 for a theory test if you’re required to take one.

Once the application is complete, you’ll get your new license in the post. It’s wise to do this sooner rather than later, as you won’t be able to drive if your UK license expires and you haven’t yet switched it to a New Zealand one.

Living In New Zealand FAQ

Moving countries is a big step but often triggers some little worries.

To help, here are the answers to the most asked questions from expats:

✅ Do I need to register for income tax as an expat in New Zealand?

Yes, if you’re an expat who has gained residency status you need to register for an IRD number, which is the equivalent of a national insurance number in the UK.

It’s wise to register immediately, since until you have an IRD number, you get taxed at the maximum rate, in a similar way to emergency tax codes.

✅ Is English the only language spoken in New Zealand?

No, but it’s the main one. English is the primary language, followed by Maori, which is spoken by 3.7% of people and Samoan, which is spoken by 2.2%.

✅ What’s the cost of living like in New Zealand?

It’s comparable to the UK, although as with any country the prices are higher in the major cities. You’ll find that city living can be as much as 50% more expensive than the smaller towns and rural areas.

The average cost of living for an expat couple is around NZ$3,000-NZ$5,000 a month – equivalent to approximately £1,500-£2,500.

✅ Is New Zealand safe for expats?

Yes, New Zealand is often regarded as one of the safest countries in the world. Its political structure is stable, people are generally welcoming and cheerful, and the country stays out of most of the tense global political wrangling’s.

✅ What is a Kiwi Access Card?

This is a type of ID card that anybody can apply for in the post. The card acts as proof of age to show that you are over 18 years old and is a domestic form of photo ID if you don’t have or don’t want to carry around your driving license or passport.

✅ Do I need to worry about volcanos and earthquakes in New Zealand?

New Zealand is a volcanic country, and while eruptions are infrequent, they can be dangerous. The most recent eruption took place in 2019.

Usually, eruptions and earthquakes can be forecast, and any areas at risk are evacuated in good time to avoid danger. However, if you are venturing out to go hiking or exploring, it is always wise to check in with any weather warnings to ensure you stay away from any areas where an active alert is in place.

Get Financial Advice

We can put you in contact with a qualified specialist expat financial advisor based in your location. Click the button below to get the expert advice you need to make the best financial decisions.

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2 thoughts on “Living In New Zealand, A Guide for Expats”

  1. The prices for rentals in Auckland on on average $600 per week… Definitely not per month and the same for areas outside Auckland.

  2. I have never read so much bull in my life ! In Auckland you would pay at least NZ $ 1 million to purchase a old 2 bedroom house. Your income is also a lot less than claimed. We moved 20 years ago from NZ to Australia which was paradise in comparison. 7 years ago we decided to return to NZ which we did. Everything was a lot more expensive except a few food items. For example our power bill a month in NZ did cost us more than a 3 month power bill in Australia.
    Wages were less than half than that in Australia. After 18 month we returned to Australia. Yes , New Zealand is a beautiful country and nice to visit. Living there can be a struggle. Our Son just wanting to purchase a 2 bedroom apartment in Wellington at a cost of over 1 million dollars. Please don’t be fooled by some rubbish articles.


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