Expat Guide To Living In New Zealand

New Zealand illustration

Estimated reading time: 14 minutes

New Zealand is home to 215,000 UK expats and the sixth most popular destination for British expats looking for a new home.

There are many reasons you might consider New Zealand as your new home, but let’s recap some of the top considerations.

For the quality of life, there is no doubt that New Zealand is one of the world’s best places.

New Zealand also has a healthy, fast-growing economy, great communities, and room to breathe, with 17 people per square kilometre instead of 267 across Britain.

If you’re a fan of fresh air, sweeping coastlines, economic stability and large homes, you’re in for a treat.

The average New Zealand home is a detached property with a private garden, with an average living space of 205 square metres per family, so it’s no shock that around 80% of expats decide to stay permanently.

Here we’ll explore all you need to know about getting a visa to travel to New Zealand, where you’ll find the best job opportunities, and how to qualify for residency.

Visa and Residency Requirements in New Zealand

Given New Zealand’s popularity for expats, professionals and travellers, there are a few hoops to jump through if you would like to get a visa. However, it’s worth noting that the emigration requirements are slightly lower than in Australia.

The general rules are that to qualify for a New Zealand visa, you must:

  • Be 55 years old or younger (unless on a retirement or investment visa route).
  • Fulfil a skills shortage. In-demand occupations include construction industry jobs, bakers and more typical professional roles.
  • Apply via an Expression of Interest initially, and undergo a point’s assessment.
  • Be in good health and/or hold sufficient private health insurance.
  • Not have any criminal convictions in recent years that involved a prison sentence.
  • Have never been deported from any other country.
  • Speak English.

New Zealand Immigration websites

Interestingly, there are two ‘official’ New Zealand Immigration websites. The first contains more guides and general information, and you can register your interest and learn more about job openings.

The other website contains the forms and application processes to apply for a visa, appeal a decision or register as an employer.

UK passport holders can apply for a visa waiver to stay for up to six months. The waiver means you don’t need to apply for a formal visa but can trial the living experience to get a flavour for life in New Zealand. To qualify, you need to:

  • Show that you have a return travel ticket.
  • Have sufficient funds to support yourself – at least $1,000 a month (£530) if you are paying for your accommodation, or $400 a month (£212) if you already have a place to stay.

Expats can also buy a New Zealand property without any residency rights. Investors can, therefore, buy a rental property or holiday home and travel there for holidays for limited periods.

For New Zealand citizens looking to get permanent residency in the UK, look at our Tier 1 Investor Visa guide.

Works Visas For New Zealand

There are two primary types of work visas:

  • Skilled Migrants
  • Work to Residence

A Skilled Migrant Category Resident Visa gives the right to stay in New Zealand permanently. This type of visa includes all of the general criteria and is aimed at ‘future growth areas’ or skills shortages.

The main sectors where skilled professionals are required are in information communication tech, biotechnology and creative industries. This last sector includes film, radio, architecture, design and publishing.

There is also a list of essential skills in demand, and you can access a skill shortage tool online. Some skills are required in specific regions, and some are classed as long-term skill shortages.

If you fall into a long-term skill shortage occupation, you can apply for residency after two years of living in New Zealand, provided you are earning a salary of at least $45,000 (£23,800).

Some of the examples of long-term in-demand roles where you are more likely to be granted a visa include:

  • Construction Project Manager
  • Electronic Engineering Technician
  • Physiotherapist
  • Registered Nurse
  • Veterinarian
  • ICT Project Manager
  • Electrician
  • Automotive Electrician
  • Chef
  • Procurement Manager

Many other roles are required, and while regional lists may change more regularly, those long-term vacancies are the most sought after expat applicants.

You don’t necessarily need to be qualified in a role on a skills shortage list to apply, although this scores higher on the points-based assessment and makes your visa application more likely to succeed.

In some cases, you also need to register your skills or qualifications by experience if there isn’t a recognised international accreditation. For example, if you are an estate agent, you can apply through the occupational registration form with the relevant authority in New Zealand.

Work to Residence Visas

Work to Residence visas is slightly different, although all the core criteria still apply. These options are designed to help you move to New Zealand, usually on a two-year visa, after which time you can apply for permanent residency.

This route offers a few options, which each have different minimum salary requirements:

  • You can apply for a New Zealand job, and apply through the relevant visa category depending on whether that role falls onto an occupation shortage list.
  • The Talent (Accredited Employers) Work category accepts applicants who have an offer of work, through an employer who is accredited through the programme. The salary requirement for this route is $79,560 per year (£42,070).
  • There is also a Talent (Arts, Culture and Sports) Work route if you have a particular skill or role that you can demonstrate would be to the benefit of New Zealand. This option has been suspended from August 10, 2020.
  • Entrepreneur Work Visas are open to expats who wish to move to the country to start a new business. The minimum investment amount is $100,000 (£52,880).

Visa application costs depend on which residence class you fall into. If you are granted a visa, you will also need to pay an additional International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy (IVL) at $35 per person (£18.50).

Visa RouteCost NZDApprox. Cost GBP
Expression of Interest – Skilled Migrant (online)$530£280
Temporary Visitor Visa$190£101
Skilled Migrant Category$2,480                 £1,311
Family Category Visa$1,840£973
Entrepreneur Work Visa$3,310£1,750
Work to Residence Application$580£307

Points Based Assessments For New Zealand Immigration

The first stage for any visa application is to submit an expression of interest (EOI). Each application is then assessed on a points-based system, and you get a response confirming whether you are likely to be granted a visa.

Note that a full application and supporting documentation are required, so this indicative response does not guarantee approval.

Online applications carry a slightly lower fee than paper-based application forms.

Currently, the minimum number of points required for your EOI to be selected is 160. However, this figure does change and can be as low as 100 points – all depending on the volume of applications at that time.

EOIs are reviewed, and the highest-scoring applicants are invited to apply every two weeks. Your EOI can be reconsidered multiple times, but it will be rejected if it is not selected after six months.

There is also a deadline to submit a full application after the invitation, usually four months. If you do not send the complete application with all the documentation required, and the entire application fee, your application will be turned down, and you will need to start the EOI process from the beginning.

Points are available across many different assessment categories:

New Zealand Visa Points CriteriaPoints Available
Skilled employment in a specialist or technical sector (additional points are available for skill shortage roles)50-60
Recognised qualifications or accreditations.40-60 (an MSc is awarded 60 points, a BSc 50 points, and a diploma 40 points).
Age – the younger the primary applicant over the age of 20, the higher points are awarded.5-30
Having close family in New Zealand10
Existing job offer50
Work experience in New Zealand for over one year60
Ten years of skilled work experience30
Experience in an identified area of future growth of two to five years10
Partner holding a degree20

Other Visa Routes For UK Expats To Move To New Zealand

There are more visa options if you aren’t looking for employment, don’t fall into a skills shortage category, and do not have an offer of work.

Investor visas allow permanent residency. To qualify, you need to speak English, be under 65, with three years of business experience. The minimum investment required is $1.5 million (£793,000) over four years, plus $1 million (£529,000) in a settlement fund.

Investor Plus applicants are also awarded the permanent residency, and there are few requirements aside from being in good health, having no serious criminal convictions, and investing $10 million (£5.3 million)) in New Zealand for at least three years.

Temporary Retirement Category applicants can apply for a two-year visa from the age of 66 upwards.

You need to invest $750,000 (£397,000) for two years or more, earn at least $60,000 a year (£31,700), and have $500,000 (£265,000) in separate funds.

Applicants also need health and travel insurance, and the visa does not permit them to bring dependent children.

There is also the option to apply as the parent of a New Zealand resident, provided they have held residency status for at least three years and if you have specific family members already living in the country.

Finding Jobs And Employment In New Zealand

As we’ve seen, your chances of being approved for a visa are much higher if you fall into a sector or skills category where there are shortages.

Some shortages apply to specific regions, so you will usually need a confirmed offer of work from a local employer to be accepted.

New Zealand Immigration offers advice about how to find a job, with recommended sites including:

You can also register with New Kiwis, a service whereby expats looking to move to New Zealand upload their CVs or search for suitable vacancies. The service matches applicants with employers.

There is no restriction on applying for a job before getting a visa or submitting your visa documents. Employers looking for candidates who fulfil a skills shortage are likely to be familiar with the visa application process. They may be able to provide support with your visa, including an offer of work.

Some vacancies with high salaries can attract steep competition, and lucrative positions include IBM, New Zealand Air, and local universities.

Given that British qualifications or accreditations might not be recognised in New Zealand, you can review your certificates on the framework.

Suppose you don’t find your qualification listed there. In that case, you can approach the New Zealand Qualifications Authority to request an assessment, which can then be used as part of your EOI points evaluation.

Buying A Home In New Zealand As An Expat

If you’re looking to move permanently to New Zealand, you’ll probably consider buying a property – although many expats choose to rent before they decide where to settle down.

The property market is relatively well regulated, and all estate agents must be registered with the Real Estate Agents Authority.

In most cases, you should budget around $3,000 for added costs (£1,590), such as solicitor’s fees, property surveys, and registering the deeds.

You can buy property in New Zealand without needing to be a resident. However, if you invest above a certain threshold in a new build, you might qualify for an investor visa, including residency rights.

High Value Property

To purchase a high-value property as a non-resident, you must have approval from the Overseas Investment Office. This rule applies to homes costing over $10 million, with land over five hectares.

Geographically, New Zealand is divided into the North Island and South Island and several smaller islands. Most of the population lives on North Island, with around 3.9 million people and a further million living on South Island.

Therefore, most expats tend to choose North Island since there are more job opportunities and economic activity.

Some of the most popular expat destinations in New Zealand include:

  • Auckland. The largest city in New Zealand by a long way, Auckland is also the most expensive, particularly in the housing market. This is also the wealthiest city in the country, and home to most of the global employers.
  • Wellington, the capital city. Located in the south of North Island, Wellington employment centres on tourism and IT, with other skills shortages in engineering, dentistry and chemicals.
  • Central North Island is an idyllic spot for sports lovers, and while there are several oil and gas industry employers, it’s also the hotspot for ski resorts.
  • Christchurch is the biggest city on South Island, and given the devastation caused here by past earthquakes, there are lots of construction vacancies in the area.

Adjusting To New Zealand Culture

While much of New Zealand life feels comfortably familiar to the UK, it’s a different place to live in terms of the language, culture, and weather.

You do need to have private healthcare cover to be granted a visa, although you will get emergency care in the case of an accident through the Accident Compensation Scheme.

Quality of life is regarded as excellent, with a strong emphasis on work, but with equal importance placed on an outdoor lifestyle. Even the largest cities are not far from bike, hike, or relax on the beaches.

The weather is relatively similar, in that summers are warm and dry, and winters a little colder and wetter. However, the seasons are opposite to those in the UK, with summer running from December to February and winter from June to August.

It’s also wise to research the extreme conditions in some parts of New Zealand. For example, you’ll find snow in the winter in Wellington, volcanoes on North Island, and the spectacular fjords and rivers on the South Island that created the dramatic backdrop the country is so well known for.

New Zealand has a lot of British influences and traditions and draws on Maori and Polynesian culture. Hence, it is truly a multicultural country and welcoming to expats from around the world.

There is a public healthcare system in New Zealand, whereby most treatment is available free of charge or at a low, subsidised cost. You must hold a valid work visa or be a resident for at least two years to qualify in most cases.

If you’ve visited New Zealand before, you’ll also know that it is one of the smallest first world countries on the globe, with a population of around 4.8 million people. Australia, as the closest neighbour, has 5.23 million people just in Sydney, for comparison.

Living In New Zealand FAQ

Moving to New Zealand is a big step, and many expats need to know before making their final decision.

To help, here are some of the most asked questions about emigrating to New Zealand.

What is the cost of living like in New Zealand?

In terms of the costs of living, New Zealand isn’t dissimilar to the UK.

Overall costs are around 12% higher than in Britain.
Restaurant prices are just under 7% lower.
Rent costs are 13% more expensive.
Average salaries are higher, with the UK monthly net wage of £1,910 compared to £2,123 in New Zealand.

The economy in New Zealand is strong, although it has taken a knock from the 2020 pandemic.

It’s also an attractive destination for businesses and entrepreneurs with Free Trade agreements with multiple nations, including China, Australia, and Singapore.

How can I apply to be a New Zealand permanent resident?

Some visa routes will include permanent residency, although you should note that this isn’t the same as citizenship. However, you have rights such as accessing healthcare and public services, voting in elections and using state education.

Generally, you need to have been living in the country for at least two years.

Make sure you get the correct expat health insurance and cover while travelling or living in New Zealand.

Do I need a job before moving to New Zealand from the UK?

Not always, but you will score higher on the points assessment in all work visa categories if you already have an offer of work.

Many UK expats fall into skills shortage categories, which might mean sufficient points to be invited to apply even if you don’t have a role lined up.

In some cases, you can apply for your visa in a skills shortage category and will likely find that you will receive job offers from relevant employers once you have permission to move to New Zealand.

Can I get a refund on the Expression of Interest application cost?

If you apply for an EOI and do not reach the minimum points for selection to apply for a visa, the fee is not normally refunded.

Your chances of approval depend on how many other applications are submitted for assessment in the same two-week period.

The minimum points score is around 160, although this can go up or down depending on the highest average scores.

If your EOI is not selected within six months of applying, it will be rejected, and you will need to begin the application process again.

What taxes do expats pay in New Zealand?

Salaries depend on where you live, what sort of qualifications you have, and in which industry you work.

The typical working week is around 40 hours, as in Britain, and the average weekly income for a construction worker is about $800 (£423), as a rough guide.

Taxes are based on a band system, with up to $14,000 income charged at 10.5%, from $14,000 to $48,000 taxed at 17.5%, and up to $70,000 at 30%.

Below is a list of some related articles, guides and insights that you may find of interest.

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