Your guide to expat life in New Zealand

Living in New Zealand

New Zealand is a safe country with wide open spaces, a culture that values children and good state healthcare and schooling, making it a great place for families.

New Zealand boasts excellent experiences. However, the trade-off is that career opportunities may not be as good or salaries as high as in other developed countries with bigger economies.

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As is often the case, property costs more in New Zealand's cities than in smaller towns and rural areas. Auckland is the most expensive place to buy or rent. Most expats choose to rent first and, if they decide to stay long term, they eventually go on to buy.

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Types of accommodation

There's a good choice of accommodation, from modern apartments to traditional, English-style country houses. Many expats live in ‘home units’ – clusters of attached, detached or semi-detached houses that share a driveway or communal garden.


Without central heating or insulation, most houses are poorly equipped to deal with the cold and damp. Ask about this when you're house hunting and be prepared to pile on the layers when you're indoors. North-facing homes are warmer and sunnier than south-facing ones.

Renting property

Rentals in city apartments or suburban houses are fairly easy to find. You'll be responsible for connecting the gas and electricity supply, as well as paying for utilities (known as outgoings) and a phone line. Rent is paid weekly or every fortnight, and you'll need to put down a one-month deposit (or bond).


Most properties are unfurnished, but you should be able to find some furnished homes if you enlist the help of an agent.

Culture changes

New Zealand is a former British colony and an English-speaking nation, so expats from Europe and the US tend to adapt quickly. Its rich Maori heritage is integrated into mainstream culture. And while the slow pace of life is part of the country's charm, it may take some getting used to if you're from a busy city.

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A love of sports and the outdoors is ingrained in Kiwi culture. Rugby is a national obsession, and the New Zealand All Blacks have been one of the strongest rugby teams in the world for some time.

Regional identities

New Zealand has a friendly rivalry with its close neighbour Australia. Although these Antipodean countries share similar traits, they're two distinct nations and comparing or confusing them isn't always appreciated.


New Zealand has three official languages: English, Maori and New Zealand Sign Language. Maori is rarely used but some words have made their way into everyday English, such as kia ora which means hello and thank you.

Dress code

Kiwis dress very casually in everyday life, even in restaurants. Business dress can be more formal.


New Zealand is situated along the Pacific Ring of Fire and everyone is aware of the risk of earthquakes. Families have emergency kits in their homes and are well practised in evacuation drills. Houses are usually built to withstand the tremors, although before the tragedy in Christchurch in 2011, there had been no major incidents since 1931.

Work-life balance

New Zealand is an egalitarian society that epitomises the 'work to live' ethos. Family, environment, nature and health are generally held in higher regard than wealth or status.

Local quirks

Tipping is uncommon in New Zealand, and salaries are paid every fortnight instead of monthly.


The quality of education in New Zealand is excellent, so you should have no problem finding an affordable school with high standards. School is compulsory for children aged between 6 and 16. The academic year runs from January to December and there are four terms, with the main holidays in June/July and December/January.

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Public schools

State-funded public schools are free for citizens and permanent residents. Expats on a temporary visa have to pay fees.

Private schools

Private schools are partially funded by the government and most offer the International Baccalaureate or the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE).

International schools

While most expats choose to send their children to public schools, New Zealand's international schools are excellent – some are rated among the best in the world.

Tertiary education

There's a wide choice of institutions that offer an excellent tertiary education. The University of Auckland is considered the country's best.

Make sure you have a support network around you even if it's only virtual (i.e. email/Skype).

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Keeping in touch


The main mobile providers are Spark, Vodafone and 2Degrees. If you already have a phone, it's easy to buy a SIM card. Prepaid options are better for shorter stays, while contracts are best if you plan to live in the country for a few years.


Internet speeds are quite good in New Zealand, though can be slow in rural areas. The main providers are Spark, Orcon, Vodafone and Inspire.

Postal service

The New Zealand postal service is highly efficient. You pay by weight, so sending heavy parcels to places such as Europe and the US can be expensive. The cut-off time for Christmas post may be as early as mid-November.


Citizens and permanent residents have access to free public healthcare in New Zealand. Most people, including expats, are also members of the government-funded Primary Health Organisation (PHO) that subsidises medical costs such as consultation fees.

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Public healthcare

Residents have access to free hospital care and emergency treatment. Other free services include standard medical tests and children's immunisations. As an expat, you'll only be able to get free healthcare after your 24-month visa has been issued.

Private healthcare

A range of clinics and private hospitals provide general surgery and specialist procedures. Most New Zealanders use private healthcare to jump the queues at state facilities for non-urgent treatments. They're still able to use free public health services as well.


Pharmacies are plentiful and usually well stocked. If you have a pre-existing condition, it's worth stocking up before you move as imported medications can take time to arrive. Prescription drugs are cheaper from a public hospital.

Emergency services

Call 111 for emergencies. You can also get advice from nurses on a free national health line (0800-611-116).

Getting around

With a well-developed transport system, getting around New Zealand is easy. It has a good road infrastructure, with highways criss-crossing the country, and most cities are also connected by state-owned KiwiRail. Buses are an important mode of transport, particularly in the smaller cities. You can pick up bus, train and ferry schedules at stations, libraries and some grocery stores.

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The North and South Islands are separated by the narrow Cook Strait, with a regular ferry service connecting the two. The journey takes about three hours. Ferries have good on-board facilities, and you can take your car with you.


Spectacular scenery and congestion-free roads make driving in New Zealand a pleasure. There are some hazards to watch out for, including narrow roads, snow and ice falls (known as slips) and livestock in rural areas.

Air travel

Flying is often the cheapest way to travel around the two islands. Air New Zealand has regular flights between most cities. Jetstar is the budget airline, although flights are less frequent.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in October 2020. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.