Moving to New Zealand: A guide for expats


New Zealand’s stunning countryside (never more than 128 km from the sea), great quality of life and relaxed culture has long been popular with young expats. A shared history and language - not to mention love of cricket and rugby - makes integration fairly straightforward. The low crime rate, excellent education system and healthy lifestyle available makes the move especially attractive to parents with young families.

Quick facts about New Zealand

  • Population: 4.471 million
  • Most popular city for expats: Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch
  • Currency: New Zealand Dollar
  • Official languages: English and Maori
  • Main industries: Agriculture; Fishing; Forestry; Tourism; Energy

The cost of living

Due to its location and reliance on importing goods, some aspects of New Zealand life will seem extraordinarily expensive to many expat eyes - whereas other things such as accommodation are much more reasonable. Auckland is the most expensive city in New Zealand but it is much cheaper to live in than London, for example. For details on day to day expenses, check out the figure-crunching website Numbeo - you can drill down to specific New Zealand cities for really relevant information.

Setting up your finances

Those familiar with the banking systems elsewhere will find little to surprise them when setting up a bank account in NZ. There are often fees for standard transactions, which are increasingly unpopular with New Zealanders, and better deals are often available if you shop around for an account. The Commonwealth Bank, Westpac and Australia & New Zealand Banking Group are the main banks with branches throughout the country. Once you have your New Zealand account opened, register with the secure money transfer system Wise in order to move money between your US and New Zealand accounts without having to pay hefty bank fees.

Finding and getting work

New Zealand has an unemployment rate of 5.8%, reflecting the fact that it was not immune from the recent global recession. However, it was not as badly affected as other countries and is already bouncing back. There is a shortage of skilled workers in the IT and accountancy professions, along with health and medical workers. Check the NZ Immigration Skill Shortage list to see where your qualifications and experience might fit. New Zealanders value a strong work ethic, and there is a “work hard, play hard” mentality, despite the country’s relaxed reputation.

Finding somewhere to live

Rental properties are advertised through agencies, in the windows of newsagents and in local newspapers. The rental landscape is just as diverse as its expat population with its professional landlords with multiple properties through to people renting their second home. Auckland is by far the most expensive city to look for accommodation with prices up to 50% higher than in Wellington or Christchurch.

Education and schools

The education system in NZ is one of the world’s best, and the population is well educated with a high proportion holding degrees. If you are moving to the country with your family and you do not have permanent residency, you will be liable for school fees even when enrolling your children into public (state) schools. Check the education website for the area you are moving to for more information.


New Zealand’s healthcare system is similar to the NHS, in that it is funded through tax and free to use. Like the NHS, care is of a high standard, though there can be waiting times for non-emergency procedures. You will need a work permit or permanent residence permit in order to access it without charge, however. If this doesn’t apply to you, make sure you have adequate health insurance in place.

Other useful resources for expats in New Zealand

Before moving abroad, take a look at our handy time-sensitive checklist to remind yourself of everything you need to do to get organised.

Money for here, there and everywhere

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