Guide To Emigrating to New Zealand

New Zealand is the sixth most popular destination for British expats seeking an exceptional quality of life in one of the most stunning natural landscapes on the planet.

Kiwis are known worldwide for embodying the perfect work/life balance, easily achieved in a country with endless sports, countryside and coastlines.

However, as a foreign national looking for a New Zealand visa, you’re almost certainly going to need to find employment to gain a residence permit – and the NZ immigration system isn’t straightforward for those looking for an easy application.

This guide explains what you need to know about emigrating to New Zealand, including the most suitable visas you should explore before starting a search for your new home.

New Zealand Visas And Passports

Applying for a New Zealand visa can be confusing, with four work visas to choose from, so it’s essential to apply for the correct permit.

Work visas as the most common route to New Zealand emigration for British expats.

You can also apply for a Working Holiday Visa, which is open to applicants between 18 and 30 years old planning casual work around a tourist visit.

Retirement visas are another option, but you’ll need deep pockets to be eligible.

The investment threshold is NZNZ$1 million (£506,500), and you’ll need an annual income of NZNZ$60,000 (£30,400) plus liquid assets of NZNZ$500,000 (£253,000) or more.

Skilled New Zealand Migrant Permits

Migrants with in-demand skills can apply for permanent residency with a minimum of fuss through the migration points test.

There isn’t a fixed ‘pass mark’, but only the applicants with the highest scores pass the initial expression of interest stage.

Expats score points by hitting several targets:

  • Age: If you are between 20 and 39 years old, you earn 30 points, reducing to five points for expats aged 50 – 55, which is the maximum application age
  • Offers of skilled employment are worth 50 points, plus 10 points if you work in a job with a severe skills shortage
  • Working outside Auckland, the largest city, is worth 30 points, and earning above NZNZ$54 (£27.35) an hour at work collects a further 20 marks
  • Recognised qualifications earn between 70 points for a postgraduate degree and 40 marks for lower attainments
  • Professional work experience of ten years or more is awarded up to 15 points if you studied for a qualification in New Zealand

You can check the in-demand careers through the Skill Shortage List Checker or review your points allocation through a simple Points Indicator tool provided by New Zealand Immigration.

The immigration department routinely assesses the submissions received and will select the highest-scoring individuals to progress through to a complete visa application.

New Zealand Work Visas

The next option is to apply for a temporary residence permit through a work visa – although if you stay long enough and are eligible to renew, you might qualify for permanent residency at a later stage.

Again, there are several types of visas, so it’s wise to assess the kind of jobs you’re looking for before applying.

  • Work To Residence is for talented expats with a job offer from an accredited employer. They can apply for permanent residency after working in New Zealand for a while. The initial visa lasts up to 30 months
  • Essential Skills Work Visas target temporary workers filling short-term roles. You need to pass a health check and provide information about any job offers to qualify

Increasing interest in moving to settle in New Zealand has made these visa categories more competitive.

Staying for two years or more and registering as a tax resident is helpful if you want permanent residence.

Finding Somewhere To Live In New Zealand

Living in New Zealand for at least a year or two is different from booking a hotel or living in hostel accommodation for a short-term trip.

Many young professional expats look for a house or sharing a flat with local Kiwis or other foreign nationals.

Rental properties are available to rent and range from apartments to family properties, coastal cottages, or city centre penthouses.

You can search online for listings by property type, city, district and price through several websites. Some popular options include:

The average city centre apartment in New Zealand costs NZ$1,628 per month (£826) or NZ$1,265 (£641) in the suburbs.

Family homes cost around NZ$2,383 (£1,209) a month in the towns or NZ$1,902 (£965) in more remote areas.

Rents are 9.3 per cent higher than in the UK, so shop around and compare properties before applying for a rental property.

Buying A Home In New Zealand

Expats can buy a home in New Zealand, but there are rules to stop investors who don’t live in the country from driving up prices.

The home you can buy depends on the type of visa you have for your stay, the property you want to buy, and if you’ll make the property home.

You’ll need residency status to apply to the government for permission to buy a home.

You can check on New Zealand Now for more information about buying a property and whether you’ll get a mortgage. The website is the official government online hub for expats.

Day-To-Day Living Costs In New Zealand

Living costs in New Zealand depend on where you live and your level of spending.

Auckland is the most expensive to live in, with high prices for rent and food.

The average family of four needs around NZ$4,800 (£2,430) a month, excluding rent, to match the living standards afforded by earning £4,800 (NZ$9,570) a month in London, UK.

Compared with the UK, shop prices are 8.61 per cent higher, groceries are 27.5 per cent more expensive, but eating out is 3.9 per cent cheaper. However, better average salaries offset those expenses.

In New Zealand, the typical take-home pay is NZ$4,104 a month (£2,032) compared to the average of £1,959 in the UK.

Here are a few examples of living costs compared between the two countries:

ExpensePrice in New Zealand (NZD)Price in New Zealand (GBP)Price in the UK (GBP)
Monthly gym membershipNZ$61£31£31
Cinema ticketNZ$16£8£10
Monthly broadbandNZ$82£42£31
Litre of fuelNZ$2.14£1.09£1.26
Monthly public transport passNZ$150£76£65
Nursery fees per monthNZ$1,049£532£935
Loaf of breadNZ$2.48£1.26£0.98

New Zealand Taxes For Expat Residents

Everyone in New Zealand pays income tax, with more generous higher income brackets than the UK.

Failure to declare income means you’ll be taxed at a steep flat rate until you bring your tax filings up to date.

The income tax bands for 2021 are:

Income (NZD)Income (GBP)Income tax rate
Up to NZ$14,000Up to £7,09110.5%
NZ$14,000 – NZ$48,000£7,091 – £24,31217.5%
NZ$48,000 – NZ$70,000£24,312 – £35,45430%
NZ$70,000 – NZ$180,000£35,454 – £91,16933%
Over NZ$180,000Over £91,16939%

New Zealand offers some financial benefits to expats.

For example, if you transfer a UK pension fund to a Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme (QROPS) in New Zealand, you can sometimes draw 100 per cent of your fund tax-free when you retire.

However, you’ll need to pay the HM Revenue & Customs in the UK a 25 per cent Overseas Transfer Charge, which might impact which route is more cost-effective.

If you move to New Zealand, secure permanent residency, and retire, the local tax office may assess any UK pension benefits for income tax.

What is the healthcare system like in New Zealand?

If you have a work permit lasting two years or more, you can access publicly funded healthcare. This service is also available to all permanent residents.

You don’t need to do anything to qualify except register with a local GP.

However, public health services aren’t necessarily free of charge. Some procedures and services are free, such as children’s vaccinations and hospital admissions, but most carry costs.

You’ll need to pay for things like:

  • Prescription medication
  • Ambulance services
  • GP appointments

Most expats will need to have private medical cover to qualify for a visa, so you can use this if you need any urgent healthcare treatments.

Another option is to join the public-funded Primary Health Organisation and operated by the District Health Boards.

Temporary residence visas under two years don’t carry any entitlement to state healthcare, so you will need decent insurance to cover any treatment costs.

What is the climate like in New Zealand?

Some expats are mistaken by thinking that New Zealand is hot and sunny year-round – but the weather here is more like that in the UK than in neighbouring Australia.

The warmest months are December and January when the temperature gets up to about 20 centigrade in Auckland as an average.

In June and July, winter means cold temperatures up about five or six centigrade, although you won’t commonly see any hint of snow or ice in most places.

Can I move to New Zealand with a pet?

You can move to New Zealand with a pet. Still, you’ll need to comply with strict rules because the country has a significant agricultural industry vulnerable to outside species and illnesses.

Usually, you’ll be able to bring a dog, cat or horse, but no other species.

Some dog breeds are banned, so you should check the rules and regulations if you have a pit bull or one of several other large breeds.

Most pets will require vaccinations, blood tests, quarantine periods, and certifications from a qualified vet before they can travel home.

How expensive is it to ship my belongings to New Zealand?

New Zealand is 11,500 from the UK, so shipping your belongings can become expensive. The average cost is NZ$330 (£167) for a 20-foot container or NZ$480 (£243) for a larger 40-foot container.

These averages are based on sea freight, which can take upwards of a month to arrive.

You’ll also need to budget for marine insurance, import duties, and transport costs to bring any shipped items from the dock to your home.

Another option is door-to-door shipping, where the transport provider brings your items from your collection point in the UK to your new address in New Zealand.

However, the costs can quickly become prohibitive, and it’s wise only to ship those items you can’t do without and cannot replace in New Zealand for less than the cost of international transport.

Can I drive in New Zealand with a UK license?

If you have a valid UK driver’s license, you can drive in New Zealand for up to a year.

Once you have lived in NZ for 12 months, you’ll need to apply for a local driving license.

You can drive most places in the country, including on a ferry between the North and South Islands. The driving laws are like those in the UK, and people drive on the left, so it’s reasonably easy to get used to the different layouts.

Most roads are well maintained, but it’s best to avoid rush hours in the big cities where things can get a little chaotic.

If you are exploring New Zealand by car, it’s wise to take care since the roads in rural areas can be in poor condition, with winding and narrow tracks that require extra caution.

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