The Living In New Zealand Guide For Expats

New Zealand is a popular location for British expats because of the jaw-dropping landscape and English-speaking culture, characterised by bare-foot living, the laid-back lifestyle and fresh ocean air.

High-quality healthcare and education, the geography and scenery, and the low population density spread across this wild, sea-swept nation attract foreign nationals from around the world.

Countless blockbuster movies, like the Lord of The Rings, showcase the pristine beaches, quiet towns and stunning landscape of New Zealand.

But what is life like in The Land of the Long White Cloud, and can Aotearoa, as the Maoris call New Zealand, offer the aspirational lifestyle many imagine?

Let’s look at visa processes, living costs, career prospects and all the practicalities to help determine whether a New Zealand relocation is the ideal opportunity for you.

New Zealand Facts

  • The New Zealand Ensign, or Te haki o Aotearoa in Māori: The New Zealand flag
  • Population: 5.123 million
  • UK expat population: 215,000
  • Capital: Wellington
  • Main cities: Auckland, Christchurch, Hamilton, and Tauranga

Visas And Residency

Most expats first apply for a temporary visa, allowing them to work, study or open a business in New Zealand. Competition for visas can be fierce. Depending on the number of applications and reasons for relocating, you may not be guaranteed approval even if you meet all the criteria.

Permanent residence visas are granted once you have lived in New Zealand for a minimum period. Foreign nationals with permanent residency can apply for citizenship after five years.

There are multiple types of work visas, application processes and costs, but all categories require the following:

  • Proof of your identity.
  • A medical questionnaire to show you are in good health, including a chest x-ray and a further medical exam after arrival.
  • Evidence of good character, including police certificates from each country you have lived in for at least five years and a completed questionnaire.

New Zealand Immigration provides further details about the documents you need to begin a visa application. Documents must be originals or certified copies.

Most visas work on a points system, and you can work through a simulation online to see if you have sufficient points to apply. However, this is only an indication, and the points assigned to your application by an immigration officer may differ.

New Zealand sets quotas per country stating how many expats they will grant visas to, and applications open on a selected day, normally with a 59-day time limit.

The positive is that unsuccessful applicants can apply the following year again. The visa search tool provides a full list of work visas, quotas and conditions.

Proof of vaccination

Travellers to New Zealand no longer need to provide proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter the country, although some airlines have specific rules.

The New Zealand Traveller Declaration was scrapped in October 2022.

Passport validity

When you arrive in New Zealand, you must have a valid passport with an expiry date over the length of time you expect to stay if you travel temporarily. If you are moving to New Zealand long-term or permanently, you should bring your visa documentation.

Taking medicines to New Zealand

Visitors and British expats can bring medication to New Zealand but need to declare any medicines considered controlled drugs on their passenger arrival card for inspection by the customs service.

Medications should be accompanied by a prescription and a letter from your doctor. This letter should verify that any drugs you have with you are for your personal use and state the dosage and strength of the medicine.

You should ensure medicines are in their original packaging with clear labelling to avoid having drugs confiscated by border control officials.

The Ministry of Health guides controlled substances, importing medicines, and the declaration process.

Police certificates

British nationals moving to New Zealand must provide a police certificate before they can be granted a visa, excluding minors or those with a student visa who are younger than 17.

Police certificates need to be dated within six months before your visa application.

Safety And Security

New Zealand is considered a safe place to live and was ranked the second safest country globally in the Global Peace Index 2022, behind Iceland. The population is small, with very few people outside the major cities and a low crime rate.

However, travellers should be cautious when walking alone late at night and shouldn’t carry a large amount of cash or valuables. There are police stations in all the big cities and most towns and smaller stations in rural regions.


The roads in New Zealand vary from paved, smooth highways to rural, unpaved roads, usually finished with gravel. Roads are narrower than in the UK, often traverse steep hills, and distances between towns should be checked before travel, as many rural routes may not have petrol stations.

Everyone travelling in a car must wear a seatbelt, and using a phone when driving is illegal.

UK nationals can use their British driving licence for up to 12 months but will need to exchange it for a New Zealand licence within one year.

Cost Of Living

Living costs depend on where in New Zealand you live, with prices in Auckland and Wellington the highest in the country, particularly for utilities, accommodation and entertainment.

Areas such as Christchurch are more affordable, although with fewer employment opportunities. Living costs in the major cities can be as much as 50 per cent higher than elsewhere.

Average costs across New Zealand are 16.4 per cent higher than the UK, with rental prices 2.3 per cent more expensive than the British average. A family of four requires a budget of roughly $5,444 (£2,816), and an individual person around $1,507 (£780) per month, excluding rent or mortgage costs.

From February 2023, a new median wage rate of $29.66 (£15.34) per hour will be introduced into the immigration system, compared to a UK national living wage of £10.42 per hour from April 2023.

Buying Or Renting A Home

UK nationals can buy property in New Zealand, but only if they have permanent residency status. Banks and lenders will offer mortgages to expats but will be more likely to lend to applicants with a permanent job, stable income, and at least five years of residency.

Most property sales are organised through an estate agent, but you can also purchase a property through a private sale. Either option will require a conveyancer or lawyer, and you may need a pre-approved home loan proposal from a bank to submit a formal offer.

Property types in New Zealand include:

  • Apartments and studio flats.
  • Single-family homes – usually detached and with front and back gardens.
  • Multi-unit properties with two or three adjoined homes.
  • Townhouses laid out over two or three floors.

Because the population density in New Zealand is low, British expats often find that they have a much larger outdoor space than they would expect, with most detached properties including a block of land.

Tenants should be offered either a fixed-year or a periodic tenancy, where the landlord and tenant have a rolling agreement but can give a prescribed amount of notice if they wish to terminate the contract. You will usually need to pay a deposit of four weeks’ rent, and most landlords expect tenants to pay in advance.

There are many property search websites, with Real Estate, My Rent and Trade Me among the most popular.

Cost of renting and buying a home

Property TypeAverage Monthly Rent
One-bedroom city centre apartment$1,798 / £930
One-bedroom apartment elsewhere$1,509 / £781
Three-bedroom city centre apartment$3,015 / £1,560
Three-bedroom apartment elsewhere$2,415 / £1,249
Property TypeAverage Purchase Cost Per Square Metre
City centre apartment$9,393 / £4,859
Apartment elsewhere$7,361 / £3,808

Where Do British Expats Live In New Zealand?

Expats tend to live in and around Auckland, the largest city and the area with the most job opportunities for foreign nationals. There are also British communities in:

  • Wellington
  • Christchurch
  • Hamilton
  • New Plymouth
  • Dunedin
  • Hawke’s Bay


The New Zealand public healthcare system offers free or subsidised hospital stays and emergency treatment for permanent residents. Expats with temporary visas cannot access free healthcare and must have private insurance as part of their visa terms.

Residents pay reduced costs for ambulances, prescription medication and GP appointments and must register with a local doctor. You can choose any GP you wish, but some practices only offer specific services.

Most UK expats register with a Primary Health Organisation (PHO), which works as a co-op to provide additional medical cost subsidies, although the coverage is not comprehensive. PHOs are available in most residential districts, and the application process can take up to three months.

Permanent residents pay around $19 to $55 (£9 – £28) after subsidies for a GP appointment.

Working In New Zealand

One of the fastest and easiest ways to secure a New Zealand work visa is to fulfil a skills shortage on the New Zealand Immigration list. Long-term in-demand professions include builders, engineers, doctors, nurses, veterinarians and web developers.

There are also regional skills shortage lists, which apply to specific areas or towns where expats are more likely to be granted a visa if they have a secured job offer and match a requirement on the shortage list.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment predicts annual GDP growth of 2.5 per cent until 2028, giving rise to a demand for roughly 40,000 foreign national workers yearly. However, the number of applications may exceed this.

An ageing population and growing economy have made it simpler for expats to find work and be granted residency in the country.

Foreign nationals looking for employment in New Zealand can search platforms such as Work Here and WorkingIn-NewZealand, or use the Job Websites recommendations from the immigration service.


The tax you pay in New Zealand will depend on your residency position. If you are a permanent resident or live in the country for at least six months of the year, you will normally be considered a tax resident.

You will then be liable for tax on all worldwide income. In contrast, non-residents pay New Zealand taxes only on their income originating in the country.

Expats relocating to New Zealand on a work visa will almost certainly be treated as tax residents, with visas usually granted for up to five years, depending on the duration of the employment contract.

Current income tax brackets are below; you can find more tax information through the Inland Revenue.

IncomeTax Rate
Up to $14,00010.5 per cent
$14,001 – $48,00017.5 per cent
$48,001 – $70,00030 per cent
$70,001 – $180,00033 per cent
Over $180,00039 per cent


UK expats moving to New Zealand remain entitled to the State Pension. Despite the social security agreement between New Zealand and the UK, you cannot receive an annual increase, and your pension benefits will remain frozen at the first-paid amount unless you move back to Britain.

New Zealand has approved pension funds on the HMRC Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme (ROPS) list, and foreign nationals can transfer pension funds to an approved scheme if they wish.

Local Laws And Customs

  • Drugs are strictly prohibited, and importing an illegal substance can be prosecutable with up to 12 years imprisonment.
  • Homosexuality is legal, and the country is largely tolerant, but homophobic crimes are not unheard of, particularly in rural areas.
  • Travellers cannot enter New Zealand with foods, dairy products, plants, seeds, wooden items or animals – relocating with pets is subject to strict conditions, veterinary testing, and quarantine.

Education And Schooling

Most children in New Zealand attend public schools, with high education standards throughout the state system, and both co-educational and single-sex schools.

Schools are normally secular, although there are state schools with a designated religion, which are normally owned by private establishments but managed by the state education system.

All children must attend school from age six to 16, although parents can enrol children from age five. Students tend to remain in school until age 18, attending college in Years 12 and 13, to achieve a National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA).

School places are allocated based on catchment areas, and the best schools tend to be in the more expensive neighbourhoods.

New Zealand also has private and international schools, which can be costly. Private school fees are subsidised up to around 25 per cent by the government, and many international schools offer tuition in IGCSE, A-levels, or the International Baccalaureate.

FAQs About Living in New Zealand

Is New Zealand a safe place to live?

New Zealand is one of the safest countries in the world, with low crime rates and a stable political system. However, natural disasters such as earthquakes are a risk.

Can British expats apply for permanent residency in New Zealand?

Yes, if you have a valid visa, fulfil the requirements, and live in New Zealand for a minimum period, you may be eligible to apply for permanent residency.

Can I use a UK driving licence in New Zealand?

You can use your British driving licence for up to one year from the date of arrival and must then exchange it for a New Zealand licence.

What is the New Zealand currency?

The current is the New Zealand Dollar, or NZD, which is worth £0.52 based on current exchange rates.

Is the weather cold in New Zealand?

New Zealand is often perceived as cold and rugged, which is partially correct for coastal areas. However, it is warmer than Britain, with more hours of sunshine per year. The warmest places to live are to the north, including Auckland and Napier.

Is it expensive to live in New Zealand?

The cost of living in New Zealand and the UK can vary depending on several factors, such as the city, lifestyle, and individual preferences. In general, New Zealand can be more expensive than the UK regarding certain expenses, such as food and housing. However, the cost of healthcare and education in New Zealand is generally lower than in the UK.

According to Numbeo, a website that compares the cost of living between countries, the overall cost of living in New Zealand is about 9% higher than in the UK. However, this can vary depending on the city. For example, the cost of living in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, is about 14% higher than in London. In comparison, the cost of living in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city, is only about 4% higher than in London.

Some of the specific costs to consider when comparing the two countries include:
Housing: The cost of housing in New Zealand can be high, especially in popular cities like Auckland and Wellington. However, buying a house is generally lower than in the UK.

Food: The cost of food in New Zealand can be higher than in the UK, especially for imported goods. However, the quality of food is generally high in New Zealand, and many local, fresh options are available.

Transportation: Public transportation costs are generally lower in New Zealand than in the UK, although owning a car can be more expensive due to high fuel prices.

Healthcare: The cost of healthcare in New Zealand is generally lower than in the UK, as the country has a public healthcare system that is free or low-cost for residents.

Education: The cost of education in New Zealand is generally lower than in the UK, especially for international students.

Overall, whether New Zealand is more expensive than the UK can depend on several factors. However, it is important to research and compare the specific costs that are important to you before making any decisions.

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