Life in NZ
Making the move to New Zealand can be a happy decision with a successful outcome. Planning for the difficult moments will help the transition become a safe and easier one for everyone involved.
Like thousands of migrants before you, you will come to see that the challenges you face are almost always outweighed by the benefits.
Since the Maori people named New Zealand ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’, weather and climate has been of paramount importance to the people of New Zealand, many of whom make their living from the land.
New Zealand has mild temperatures, moderately high rainfall, and many hours of sunshine throughout most of the country. New Zealand’s climate is dominated by two main geographical features: the mountains and the sea.
New Zealand Seasons
New Zealand has a largely temperate climate. While the far north has subtropical weather during summer, and inland alpine areas of the South Island can be as cold as -10 C in winter, most of the country lies close to the coast, which means mild temperatures, moderate rainfall, and abundant sunshine.
Because New Zealand lies in the Southern Hemisphere, the average temperature decreases as you travel south. The north of New Zealand is subtropical and the south temperate. The warmest months are December, January and February, and the coldest June, July and August. In summer, the average maximum temperature ranges between 20-30ºC and in winter between 10-15ºC.
You can check on weather conditions in New Zealand on the New Zealand Met Service Website.
Dress is informal and relaxed on most occasions. Smart casual clothes are acceptable at most restaurants and nightspots. Men are generally not expected to wear suits and ties, except in a few of the top formal bars and restaurants in major cities.
In summer a light jacket or sweater should be included in your luggage should the weather turn cooler or you visit the high country. You can expect some rain, so include a light waterproof jacket or coat.
Pack warm winter clothing if visiting between May and September. Layer your clothing.
What it costs to live in New Zealand may be quite different from your home country. How it compares depends on where you are coming from and what part of New Zealand you settle in.
Buying grocery supplies
Depending on where you are from, grocery supplies may cost more than you are used to.
Most New Zealand supermarkets offer online grocery shopping. As an experiment, try pricing the weekly shop you do at home on one of their websites. Remember that Kiwi supermarkets regularly have special offers, so you may well pay less in store.
Owning a car
Most people in New Zealand need a car for their daily travel. Many buy their cars second hand. Trade Me Motors can give you a good idea of what used cars cost here.
An annual expense involved with owning a car is the vehicle registration. Registration costs vary according to the car’s make and its age.
All cars also need to be tested for a Warrant of Fitness to ensure they are safe to drive. How often you need to have your car tested will depend on the age of the car, but for most cars it is an annual process.
If you choose a diesel engine car, you will also pay road user charges which are calculated per kilometre.
All New Zealand cities and most towns have buses and Auckland and Wellington both have city-suburban rail services. Many New Zealanders use buses and trains to get to and from work. Prices vary depending on the location.
To explore your local public transport options visit the NZ Transport Agency Web site
Buying clothing and footwear
Clothing and footwear prices in New Zealand can vary greatly.
A number of global clothing brands, such as Zara, H&M, Topshop and Nike have stores in large cities. These complement many New Zealand-owned specialty and department stores.
Renting or buying a house
Rent and house purchase prices vary widely depending on where you are in New Zealand, so find out the current rental prices. A popular place to start is online at Trade Me Property.
Rates are the taxes levied by councils to help fund the work they do locally. They are based on the value of your property and charged to the home owner. If you are renting you will not have to pay this cost directly. You can find out what the rates are going to be on a property by looking on the council’s website.
You can find a list of mortgage, personal and business lenders on the privately operated website interest.co.nz.
Electricity / Internet
There are several electricity, gas and internet providers in New Zealand, and they offer a variety of plans. You can look around for the best deal on the Powerswitch and Glimp websites.
Here’s a handy list of money-saving ideas to help speed you on your way:
Wait for the sales, don’t make major purchases unless they’re on sale ie. buy goods from major stores such as Briscoes, The Warehouse etc. Anything you want to buy there will most definitely go on sale in the imminent future, often on long weekends and holidays. If items here seem expensive to you, just remember that it’s likely they will be discounted by at least 50% off soon. This includes everything from linen and toys, to furniture and coffee machines.
It’s OK to haggle on bigger ticket items (say, $100 or more), you don’t always need to pay full sticker price for things like furniture, appliances, etc. Even mortgage and term deposit rates can be negotiable.
Buy all produce from a specialised fruit and veg shop, they are usually much cheaper than supermarkets. Stock up when things are reduced in the supermarket, you can often save quite a lot. Start a veggie patch, the climate is on your side. Also frequent the myriad of Farmer’s markets every weekend throughout New Zealand for great deals on fresh food.
Search sites such as http://www.pricespy.co.nz before buying any electronics items for the best deals. Buying goods online can save you thousands each year.
Seek out the community newsletters in your suburbs because they will list all the various activities in the area which include family events like fun fairs, kids theme events etc. They are free, great fun and can include story-telling sessions, performances, kids costume activities, face painting and more.
Driving – key points for overseas drivers and new residents
You are allowed to drive in New Zealand for up to 12 months using either an International Driving Permit or your current overseas driving licence. After that you will need to get a New Zealand driving licence.
If your licence is not in English, you should get an International Driving Permit or bring an official, English translation of your licence with you. Further licensing details are available from the Land Transport Safety Authority.
Vehicles drive on the left side of the road.
The urban speed limit is usually 50 kph (31 mph). Elsewhere it’s usually 100 kph (62 mph).
Driving times between the main cities
From Christchurch to:
– Auckland: 14hrs 20mins plus ferry crossing* from Picton to Wellington
– Blenheim: 4hrs 35mins
– Dunedin: 5hrs
– Nelson: 6hrs 20mins
– Picton: 5hrs
– Queenstown: 7hrs 15mins
– Wellington: 5hrs plus ferry crossing* from Picton to Wellington
* Ferry crossing time is normally 3hrs
You can also get more information at www.nzta.govt.nz
Childcare and education
We are often asked for information on childcare facilities and recommended schools.
We have compiled some points we think you should take into account when considering where to to accommodate your preferences:
If you have children who need looking after while you are at work, New Zealand has many childcare options, such as childcare centres, crèches, home-based care and family day care or nannies. Childcare centres for young children offer session care (i.e. up to four hours a day) and are open for up to eight or nine hours (between 7.30am and 6pm) or full day options. Some centres may offer casual care in morning or afternoon sessions. Childcare centres will charge a sessional, weekly or daily fee, and an hourly fee for casual care.
Childcare centres are either licensed to take either under two-year-olds or over two-year-olds. Other options such as Montessori or Rudolph Steiner centres, have their own aims and philosophy.
Home-based care services provide a caregiver for very small groups of children in supervised homes in the community where the family needing the care lives. The main organisations that provide family daycare are Barnardo’s, Porse, Home Grown and Selwyn Toddlers. Their fees are charged on an hourly rate and the times are flexible – they can include evenings and weekends to help parents who do shift work (irregular hours).
Most of these services can offer the 20 Hours ECE (early childhood education) subsidy funded by the Ministry of Education. Any three, four or five year old child in New Zealand can be enrolled in ECE and receive 20 Hours ECE even if they are not a New Zealand resident or citizen. For more info visit the Ministry of Education website.
Education and schools in New Zealand
In most circumstances, your children will attend the local school they are zoned for. If you choose to live outside the zone of your preferred school, your children may not get places – particularly if the school is a popular one with a reputation for high standards. Spare places at popular schools are allocated by ballot. Exceptions to zoning may include attendance at a school with a special character – such as a religious school.
School rules are set by the Board of Governors. The Board is elected by parents. School rules usually mean that school-uniform is compulsory at secondary school. In addition to wearing the uniform, pupils / students usually must not wear make-up, jewellery, unusual hair colourings, nose-piercings, etc.
In addition to the state sector, there is also a flourishing private education sector.
Children who attend any of the better state schools in New Zealand receive a very good education.
Most children start Year 1 on their fifth birthday.
Primary schools teach Year 1 to Year 6 children.
Intermediate schools teach Years 7 and 8.
“Full Primaries” teach Year 1 to Year 8 children.
Secondary schools teach Year 9 to Year 13.
Education/school costs in New Zealand
State education in New Zealand is meant to be free of charge. However, there are costs. You need to pay for your children’s school uniforms, pencils, pens, glue-sticks, stationery etc. Textbooks can be provided free of charge, unless their use involves writing on them and they cannot be returned to the school. Some schools charge for textbooks.
Most state schools charge a fee of somewhere around $100 – $300 per year per child, although some charge considerably more than this. Some state high schools charge an annual fee of between $400 and $900. If more than one child attends the same school then it is usual to get a reduction in fees. Although payment of the fee is voluntary, called a donation, most parents pay. The donation pays for extra resources for your children’s school, photocopying, etc. and it is tax-deductible.
The New Zealand government provides more money to schools in socially deprived areas than it does to schools in better-off areas. The result of this is that, in order to make ends meet, schools in better-off areas tend to charge higher “voluntary” fees than schools in poorer areas.
Education, school days and holidays
School days are Monday to Friday. Primary schools usually start at 9 am, or a little earlier, and finish at 3pm. Secondary schools usually start at 8.30am and finish at 3pm or 3.15pm.
The school year runs from February to December and has four terms. Each term is roughly ten weeks long. Summer holidays last about five and a half weeks at primary schools and about a week longer at secondary schools. The Autumn, Winter and Spring holidays each last two weeks. For more information on New Zealand Education please visit the Ministry of Education web site.
How do I get my qualifications assessed?
Qualifications, such as degrees and certifications, are ranked to help determine eligibility under Immigration New Zealand’s Skilled Migrant Category. If your qualification is not on the List of Recognised Qualifications, you will need to have it assessed by NZQA.
Getting your qualifications recognised is an important part of the moving process. Start the process as soon as possible to make it easier when you are offered a job.
Levels of qualification are ranked from 1 to 10, with 10 representing the highest level of qualification. Levels depend on the complexity of one’s education, rather than simply the time spent learning. Check your qualification ranking on the New Zealand Register of Quality Assured Qualifications to find out how many points your qualification is worth.
Occupational registration bodies
For many occupations, such as those in the medical, education and architectural fields, you will be required to register with a New Zealand occupational registration body in order to legally undertake employment. Immigration New Zealand has a complete list of New Zealand occupational registration bodies.
TeachNZ, for example, provides an online guide that details the specific procedure necessary to validate your teaching qualifications in New Zealand.
Some other occupation industries requiring registration:
Medicine: The Medical Council of New Zealand
Nursing: The Nursing Council of New Zealand
Dentistry: Dental Council of New Zealand
Pharmacists: Pharmacy Council of NZ
Midwifery: Midwifery Council of New Zealand
Electrical: Electrical Registration Workers Board
Further qualifications, such as those for accountants, can be assessed by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA).
Not all qualifications are required to be assessed. Immigration New Zealand keeps an up-to-date list of international qualifications exempt from assessment on its website.
If you inform NZQA that you are seeking professional registration, you will be given the contact details of the relevant New Zealand professional body when NZQA issues your assessment report.
What if my qualifications are not comparable?
You may still be able to apply for a job, but perhaps at a lower level of skill.
Alternatively, you could consider:
- Taking a less specialised position
- Taking a course to reach the standard requested
- A career change
- Starting your own business
Hospital treatment is free of charge for New Zealand citizens, permanent residents and holders of certain work visas. As a result of this, there can be long waiting-lists for “non-emergency” cases. No-one can be refused emergency care in New Zealand because they can’t pay. However if you are not entitled to public funded care you may be sent a bill for some services. Many employed people pay for private medical insurance to avoid waiting for “non-emergency” treatment.
If you are a UK Citizen: NZ Health System – UK
For citizens from other countries: NZ Health System – Other Countries
If you are arriving on a work visa which is less than 2 years, in most cases you will not be eligible to take out private health care and we do suggest obtaining travel insurance before you arrive.
Accident Compensation (ACC) – no lawsuits allowed
If you’re injured in New Zealand, regardless of cause or blame, the ACC scheme entitles you to:
- Free medical care.
- Payment of a proportion of your salary, while you recover (normally 80% of your gross wages).
- Payment of compensation, if appropriate.
The ACC scheme replaces the right to sue for damages. In New Zealand you cannot sue someone for causing you injury.
Cervical Screening Programme
Cervical screening is provided free of charge to all women aged 20-69 years. The usual screening interval is every three years. The Ministry of Health estimates that, in women who are not screened, one in ninety will develop cervical cancer and around half of these women will die of the disease. In women who are screened, the death rate is much lower, at around one woman in 1,280 dying of cervical cancer. Overall, women who have regular smear tests reduce their likelihood of developing cervical cancer by about 90 percent. About 200 New Zealand women develop cervical cancer every year and about 60 – 70 women die from it.
Pregnancy and childbirth
All maternity services from pregnancy through to childbirth in New Zealand are free of charge for New Zealand citizens and permanent residents or their spouses or partners. Fees are payable for care at private hospitals and treatment by private obstetricians. It is your choice where you have your baby and who cares for you during pregnancy and birth. Most women choose to have a midwife as their Lead Maternity carer. Typically, a midwife can offer or arrange pregnancy testing, care and assessments throughout pregnancy, blood tests or investigative procedures, consultation with an obstetrician or other specialist, support and care during labour and birth in the place of your choice – whether it be in a hospital or at home or a location such as a birth pool – and support and care after your baby is born.
Babies born in New Zealand will only be eligible for New Zealand citizenship if at least one of their parents is a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident.
How does the New Zealand Tax System work?
Income tax on earnings is required to be paid to the New Zealand government. There are no local or regional income or sales taxes. All taxes are collected by Inland Revenue.
Most people pay their income tax as they earn their income. Employers deduct tax based on salary and wages. This is known as PAYE (Pay As You Earn) tax. Banks and other financial institutions deduct Resident Withholding tax on interest as it is earned. People who do not pay tax on all of their income as it is earned are required to settle their taxes with Inland Revenue at the end of the tax year (31 March). In most cases Inland Revenue will send you all the material you need to do this. If you are in this category you may be required to pay ‘provisional tax’ in which case you must pay your tax in three instalments through the year.
If you receive any income you need an IRD number – find out how to apply by contacting Inland Revenue. You will need your IRD number before you start a job, or if you want to open a bank account.
For more Information on tax for those moving to New Zealand permanently, visiting, or on a working holiday please visit the IRD website.
What types of income are taxed?
- salary and wages
- business and self-employed income
- most social security benefits
- income from investments
- rental income
- profit from selling capital assets – but this does not usually apply to personal assets
- income you earn from overseas
All New Zealand tax residents are liable for income tax on their worldwide income. See the Business Regulations page for more information on individual taxation including the definition of a New Zealand tax resident and the current personal income tax rates.
Goods and Services Tax (GST)
GST is charged at the rate of 15% for virtually all goods and services, excluding exports, financial services, and some other items. If you are self-employed (or a business) and your annual turnover is above a certain threshold you must ‘register’ for GST purposes and charge GST on all your services. You can then claim back the GST paid on any business-related purchases and expenses.
You pay Goods and Services Tax (GST) of 15% on everything you buy in New Zealand except for financial services and the rent or purchase price of residential property. Price tags you see in shops always include GST, so you needn’t add anything to the display price.
You can work out your take home pay after tax by using the PAYE calculator.
Towns and regions raise money by levying property taxes. Each house or building has a “rateable value.” The rateable value determines the amount of local tax the owner of the building pays. These local taxes are called “rates.”
Owners of modest houses in rural areas will pay rates of a few hundred dollars each year. An average to above average suburban home will attract rates in the region of $1,500 – $3,000 each year. Houses with very high values will attract higher rates.