Student visa for New Zealand: An overview


New Zealand isn’t just an amazing place to visit: its higher education system is seriously impressive. One recent report from the Economist Intelligence Unit put it top of the list for teaching its students future skills.¹

Plus, studying at a New Zealand university means you get to live there for a while.

But how can you get permission? If you’re not a New Zealand citizen, you’ll need to make sure you’re allowed to study in the country first. Which means you’ll probably have to get a visa of some sort.

Your eligibility depends on your nationality, and people from Australia don’t have too much to worry about. But read on for the full guide to getting permission to study in New Zealand.

Visa types for New Zealand

Studying is only one of the reasons you might be after a New Zealand visa. Before we get into the details of student visas, here’s a more complete list of the different types of visa that New Zealand offers.²

  • Visitor Visa. This is designed for tourists. You can stay for up to 9 months, depending on your nationality, and you don’t have the right to work.
  • Student Visa. There’s more information on this below - generally a student visa will let you stay for the full duration of your course. It might allow you to work too.
  • Working Holiday Visa. This sort of visa allows people to work for a short period of time only.
  • Work Visa. For a full Work Visa you’ll usually need a job offer in advance. The duration of this visa varies depending on specifics.
  • Resident Visa. A Resident Visa lets you live in and work in New Zealand indefinitely.

This article is just looking at student visas, so let’s go through the different options open to potential students.

New Zealand student visa types

Not all student visas are the same. Here are the likely options you’ll have - hopefully at least one of them will work for you.

  • Visitor Visa. If you’re only studying for up to 3 months, you don’t need a proper student visa - you can just get a visitor visa, as if you were a tourist. Or you might not even need a visa, if you’re from a visa waiver country.³
  • Working Holiday Visa. This is another option open to citizens of certain countries, if you only want to study in New Zealand for a few months.[4]
  • Exchange Student Visa. If you’ve been accepted into a student exchange scheme that New Zealand recognizes, this sort of visa should be what you need for the full duration of your course.⁵
  • Foreign Government Supported Student Visa. This is for you if you have funding from a foreign government to study in New Zealand. It could be a scholarship or a student loan. This visa should cover you for the whole of your course.⁶
  • Pathway Student Visa. If you want to study several different courses consecutively in New Zealand, this visa will let you do that so long as you can pay your fees.⁷
  • Fee Paying Student Visa. If you don’t fit into any of the above categories, this is likely the visa you’ll need. You’ll need to be able to pay yourself, but the visa will cover you for the duration of your course.⁸

I’m Australian. Do I need a visa to study in New Zealand?

Rules are a little different for Australian citizens, because of the close ties between the two countries.

Australians do have to get an Australian Resident Visa, which allows them to stay in New Zealand indefinitely. However, you don’t need to apply for it before you travel - in fact, you can’t. Instead, you simply apply for this visa when you arrive in New Zealand.

You do have to be an Australian citizen or permanent resident, and you have to be “of good character” too. That means you might have trouble if you have a criminal record, for example.

The Australian Resident Visa technically expires when you leave New Zealand, unless you’ve applied for a variation of travel conditions. But you can just get a new one when you come back.

And yes, this visa does allow you to study in New Zealand. So Australians don’t need to apply for a special student visa if they want to study in New Zealand.⁹

Which countries are eligible for a student visa in New Zealand?

If you meet the requirement conditions listed below, you should be able to get a student visa wherever you’re from. Or else, you’re Australian and can just get the Australian Resident Visa.

There’s a lovely long list of “visa waiver countries” that you can find online: these are countries whose citizens can make short visits to New Zealand without applying for a visa before travelling. The list includes the US, Canada and the UK. However, this is only for visits of 3 months or less, or 6 months for British citizens. So for most prospective students, it’s not much use.

Student visa requirements

Here’s an overview of the criteria that you need to apply for a regular Fee Paying Student Visa. Every case is different, so be sure to check the full details for you personally before sending in any application.

There are extra conditions and exemptions for young children or people who are re-applying for a student visa, and in a few other cases, so you’ll need to check with extra care if any special conditions might apply to you.¹¹

New Zealand student visa requirementDescription
Proof of identity
  • 2 photos of you (1 if you apply online)
  • Passport or certificate of identity
HealthYou must be in good health. If applicable in your case, you might need to get a chest X-ray to check for tuberculosis
CharacterYou’ll probably need to prove your good character with police certificates from countries you’ve lived in
Offer of placeInclude detailed information about the offer you’ve received from the New Zealand institution where you’ll be studying
Ability to pay your fees and fund your stay
  • You need to prove you’ll be able to pay your tuition fees. This could be confirmation of a loan or a scholarship, for example
  • You also need to prove you have enough money to live on and will need to provide documents about this
Medical and travel insuranceAn important one: you’re responsible for your own health insurance and need to agree to this in your application - it’s compulsory.
  • Your education institution should be able to help you out with some valid insurers so ask them for more information before you apply for your visa
  • PhD students don’t need to have insurance
Onward travelTo properly prove you’re not going to stay in the country indefinitely, you’ll need to show your ticket to leave New Zealand, or proof that you have enough money to get one
Permission to work
  • If you want to work, you’ll need written permission if you’re 16 or 17 or not yet finished in secondary school
  • If you want to work full time in the holidays, you’ll need to prove various things about the course you’ll be studying
  • If practical work experience is part of your course requirements, you’ll need to prove this

How to apply for a study permit

Here’s the process to apply for a visa, getting you permission to study in Australia.

Before you start, ask yourself 4 questions that will affect the rest of the process.

  • What nationality are you? A simple but important question. If you’re from Australia, you don’t need to apply for a visa in advance - you can just get the Australian Resident Visa on arrival in New Zealand.
  • How long are you staying for? If your course is for a very short amount of time, you might be able to get by without a proper student visa - a Visitor Visa might suffice, or no visa at all if you’re from a visa waiver country. But do check.
  • Have you been accepted onto your course yet? For a standard student visa, you already need to have been accepted onto your course. So do that first, before getting stuck into visa application.
  • Have you made a start on health insurance? You’ll probably need to provide evidence that you’re going to get yourself health insurance for the duration of your studies. So get this process underway before applying for your visa, so that you can submit some proof. Your university should be able to lend a hand with this.

Once that’s all sorted, and assuming you do need to apply for a visa, take the following steps.

  1. Put all your documents together. As the table above shows, you’ll need to submit a range of documents. So assemble them all and get copies where necessary.
  2. Apply online. As you might expect, the easiest way to apply is online. You’ll need to upload scans of your documents and pay any fees you’re eligible for.
  3. Wait patiently. The New Zealand immigration website estimates that 90% of Fee Paying Visa applications are processed within 53 days. So don’t expect a decision overnight - you’ll have to wait.¹²

Can I work and study at the same time?

If you’re in New Zealand on a student visa, the expectation is - reasonably enough - that you’ll be spending most of your time studying. But you might also be allowed to do some work, as specified by your visa.

During the term, some foreign students can work for up to 20 hours a week. There are various conditions here, though: you need to be on a course that lasts at least 2 years, for example, so be careful to check the full details.

During scheduled breaks, students can work full time, but again only if they meet certain conditions.

You’re also allowed to work full time during your studies if you’re doing a research-based masters course or a doctorate.¹³

Student visa fees

How much does a New Zealand student visa cost? You’ll need to check the precise details for the type of visa you need, and also where you’re applying from. It also depends on whether you’re submitting your application online or via post - post, as you’d expect, is more expensive.

As one example, Fee Paying Student Visa applicants from the US don’t have to pay anything to apply online, but will have to pay some costs to send it in the post.

Australian Resident Visas don’t cost anything.¹⁴

Paying for your studies. The best way.

Whether or not you have to pay for your visa, though, studying abroad does mean dealing with foreign finances. You’ll likely have to open a bank account in New Zealand for use during your studies. But how do you get any money into it?

Traditional ways include a bank transfer from Australia or simply travelling with cash, but Wise offers a more modern solution. Wise lets you send money abroad at the real mid-market exchange rate, so that you don’t lose out via hidden fees like exchange rate markup. And you can also get a borderless account, which lets you hold money in 40+ international currencies, and even gives you virtual account details in both Australian and New Zealand dollars, as well as US dollars, British pounds and euros. That means that you can start sending and receiving money using New Zealand account details even before your bank account is set up.

Good luck getting ready to study in New Zealand. Once you’ve got your head around the paperwork you can start looking forward to the truly exciting stuff: spending some time studying in such a beautiful and welcoming country.















All sources correct as of 19 February 2019

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