Moving to New Zealand

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A comprehensive guide to moving to New Zealand

Thousands of people from around the world head out to New Zealand every year in order to live and work there, making the country a popular expat destination. This InterNations GO! guide offers advice on moving to New Zealand, including information on the economy, visa regulations, and more.

Relocating to New Zealand

At a Glance:

  • New Zealand was among the best performing industrialized economies in 2016, but also one of the most expensive countries as a result of their reliance on international trade.
  • The country’s bigger cities are most popular with expats, especially Auckland, Christchurch, and the capital Wellington.
  • Finding a job as an expat in New Zealand can be quite challenging, but if your field of expertise is on the government’s skills shortage list you’ll be in high demand.
  • Depending on your country of origin, you may be able to travel to New Zealand as a temporary visitor without a visa for up to 3 months. Taking up any kind of employment, however, requires a work permit.
  • If you are a highly skilled worker, you could be granted permission to settle as a permanent resident. The three requirements are good health, good character, and good English language skills.

New Zealand remains a popular destination for potential expatriates, and many of those considering a move to New Zealand are attracted by the country’s high quality of living, welcoming attitude towards foreigners, and spectacular scenery.

New Zealand has long been popular among those who appreciate the great outdoors. The diverse natural attractions range from beautiful coasts and beaches, to vast forests, deep blue lakes, active volcanoes, and majestic glaciers. Enjoying nature’s beauty will be part of your everyday life in New Zealand. But rest assured: If you are not a fan of bungee jumping, hiking, or paragliding, there will still be plenty of other ways to enjoy yourself after moving there.

Thriving on Tourism and International Trade

The strongest sectors in New Zealand are agriculture, food and beverages, health, and knowledge-intensive services. There are great job opportunities for expats moving to New Zealand, especially for those with strong professional skills in these fields. In addition, tourism plays a vital role in New Zealand’s economy and positively affects other sectors, for example hospitality. The manufacturing and high-tech sectors, on the other hand, are relatively small.

Even though exporting agricultural products and tourism are very profitable, they make the country highly dependent on international trade. China for example, is the top export customer for New Zealand, primarily importing dairy and wood products. Fluctuations in the Chinese economy therefore have a big impact on New Zealand, though China’s growth rate is set to continue its recovery in 2017.

Finding Your Dream Job in New Zealand

Finding a job is not particularly easy in New Zealand, especially for foreign workers. Nevertheless, for those who not only have the required skills but also the right amount of determination, finding employment in New Zealand is still an attainable goal.

The number of people in the labor force has grown over the last couple of years, and this has had a positive benefit on New Zealand’s’ economy. The unemployment rate has been stable and is currently at 5.2%. According to the International Monetary Fund, New Zealand ranks 35th worldwide in terms of GDP per capita. Most of the population have a moderate income and expat salaries might be lower than you expect. On the other hand, the cost of living is also likely to be lower than your home country.

Expat Destinations: From Countryside to City

Unless expats are moving to New Zealand specifically to enjoy the solitude of the country’s wilderness, like 90% of the country’s population they will most likely end up living in one of the bigger cities.

The majority of expatriates moving to New Zealand make Auckland or Wellington their home — two of the country’s largest cities, which are both continually ranked among the world’s most livable cities in international surveys. In 2016, Auckland was voted the 3rd most livable city according to the Mercer Quality of Living Survey, taking into consideration factors such as safety, education, hygiene, healthcare, and the environment.

The City of Sails

Located in the northern part of New Zealand’s North Island, Auckland is home to 1.4 million residents, just over 30% of the country’s population. As New Zealand’s largest city, it offers many professional opportunities for expatriates, along with countless leisure activities, a mild climate, and a beautiful environment.

Almost entirely surrounded by water, the “City of Sails” has two harbors surrounded by beautiful beaches, and there are plenty of residential areas near the seafront. Some expats are put off by the limited public transportation options and increasing housing costs. Nevertheless, Auckland is still widely popular among expats and locals.

Windy Wellington

Home to approximately 405,000 residents, Wellington is at the southwestern tip of New Zealand’s North Island, earning it the title of the world’s southernmost national capital. Positioned in a long mountain chain, Wellington has a reputation for being one of the windiest cities in the world.  It’s also known as the country’s political and cultural center; all national political institutions and foreign diplomatic missions as well as a vibrant arts, film, and theater scene are located in the capital.

As the largest city on New Zealand’s South Island, the city of Christchurch also has plenty of employment opportunities for expats. After the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, the city has been rebuilding itself and working on plans to boost visitor numbers. Even when the reconstruction projects are completed, civil engineering and construction skills will continue to be in high demand.

Tips and Tricks for Job Hunting

As mentioned above, finding a job in New Zealand is not particularly easy, especially without an intra-company transfer. If you have not secured an expat assignment, you should start looking for job opportunities ahead of time. Expats and emigrants who have succeeded in finding work stress the importance of being persistent and — most importantly — not easily discouraged.

While this is important for everyone who is seeking employment abroad, it is even more essential for New Zealand. Although this country is extremely popular among expats, it does not have a high demand for foreign specialists like other major expat destinations; expats have to find their own niche in the New Zealand job market.

The government offers several free services for migrants to find employment. New Kiwis for example, is a service that guides you through the process of finding work in your industry and helps you prepare for interviews.

Calling Nurses, Engineers, and Teachers

After the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 the government has put up a list of skills that are in chronically short supply, and an additional list of the skills needed during the process of rebuilding the Canterbury region. If you have any of the skills listed, getting a work and residence visa will be much easier.

Generally speaking, expats-to-be with professional skills and experience in healthcare, financial planning and education have good chances of finding a job in New Zealand. The same can be said for professionals in IT, engineering, and the natural sciences. To find out more about which skills are needed check out our article on working in New Zealand.

Visa Requirements for New Zealand

New Zealand has two different types of immigration documents — visas and residence permits. While a visa is only valid to enter the country, the corresponding residence permits are given out upon arrival in New Zealand. They come in many different forms, including visitor permits, work permits, and study permits, each with its own criteria and application process.

Holiday or Home?

Depending on your country of origin, you may be able to travel to New Zealand as a temporary visitor without a visa for up to 3 months. You will receive a visitor permit once you have been admitted to the country. On the website Immigration New Zealand, you can check whether you need to apply for a visa.

In all other cases, you need to apply for your residence permit beforehand. For a stay of 24 months or more, you are required to undergo health examinations and may have to submit a police clearance certificate. This process is necessary regardless of the kind of permit you are applying for.

The Permit Process

Taking up any kind of employment requires a work permit. Work permits are usually only granted to applicants who already have a confirmed job offer and work contract signed by a New Zealand employer.

During the application process, the expat-to-be has to provide proof that they’re qualified for the job, while the employer has to show that it was impossible to find a New Zealander for the position in question. Before granting a permit, authorities conduct what is called a Labour Market Test. This also examines whether it’s possible to hire a suitably qualified local worker instead of bringing someone in from overseas.

Study, Work, and Explore: The Working Holiday Scheme

A very popular way for young people to explore New Zealand is the Working Holiday Scheme. Foreign nationals between 18 and 30 years of age can receive a 12-month visa and work permit to travel around the country. They have the ability to take up temporary jobs during their stay. Recently, the government removed existing quotas, granting even more young adventurers this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Those planning to study in New Zealand have to obtain a study permit. In addition to a confirmed place at a higher education institution, applicants have to provide proof that they have paid the tuition fees. Study permits are only issued for the exact period for which tuition has been paid for in advance. Under certain conditions, study permit holders can take up part-time employment in New Zealand. Some regulations also help students who have received a degree in New Zealand to obtain a work permit more easily.

Are You a Highly Skilled Worker?

Each year New Zealand gives a certain number of highly skilled workers the opportunity to settle in the country. The three basic requirements for permanent residence are good health, what is generally referred to as good character (as proven by a police clearance certificate), and good English language skills.

A minimum of three years of professional education or university studies is also required. A points system awards points for English language ability, employability factors, and settlement factors. It is then determined which applicants will be given the possibility to make New Zealand their long-term home.

InterNations GO!
by InterNations GO!
08 January 2019

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