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Housing in New Zealand

The Best Places to Live in New Zealand

Are New Zealand’s vast nature, lush greenery and temperate climate making you toy with the idea of relocating down under? If the wide landscapes are not enough to convince you, here are two more reasons why New Zealand is one of the most popular destinations for expats. On an international level, New Zealand ranks high when it comes to quality of life. Big cities such as Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch are in desperate need of skilled workers in healthcare, engineering and IT, as well as in construction, business, and education, making it a very attractive relocation option for expats. In this guide we will give you a rundown of the best cities to live in New Zealand according to your needs.

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At a Glance

New Zealand’s bigger cities Auckland, Christchurch, and Wellington are the preferred places for expats to settle-in. Yet, smaller towns like Dunedin and Napier also have their charm.

  • Auckland is the largest Polynesian city and home to over 180 ethnicities, attracting expats with its booming commercial hub.
  • Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, is surrounded by the Rimutakas and the Tararuas mountains, giving the city a small-town feel, an making it home to a diverse natural landscape.
  • Christchurch, also called “the Garden City”, not only offers a great recreational life but also a lot of employment opportunities and a great educational system.
  • Dunedin is the most European city in New Zealand and is known for its Scottish heritage. Over 20% of the population are university students at Otago University, making tertiary education the driving force of its economy.
  • Napier, also known as –fruit-bowl of the North–is a vibrant and colorful seaside city with a booming primary sector industry and tourism.

New Zealand’s Most Popular Cities

Wondering where to live in New Zealand? Being the biggest cities, Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch are the most obvious for expats looking to relocate there. But what about Dunedin, a smaller student city with the only medical school in the country? Or what about Napier, a seaside town known for its great cuisine and art galleries?

The job market in New Zealand has been strong and growing in the past years, creating a lot of job openings. At the moment, the country is even experiencing a high shortage of skilled workers in the healthcare, technology, education, science, and business sectors. According to the government, New Zealand will continue to require around 47,000 workers annually. Most of these vacancies will have to be filled by expats moving to the country. Maybe even by you?

This guide will provide you with an overview of the most popular destinations expat destinations, highlighting each city’s pros and cons, so you can decide which one fits best your you’re your family’s) interests.

In each of the cities mentioned in this guide, you will find welcoming expat communities through InterNations. There you can connect and network with fellow expats, participate in local events, community groups and learn all about the culture and language.


For the seventh year in a row, Auckland has ranked third in the Quality of Living Survey conducted annually by the global HR consultants Mercer, earning that title for its vibrant, cosmopolitan lifestyle, active outdoor life, diverse landscapes, and growing economy.

Auckland is home to over a third of New Zealand’s population, among which are over 180 ethnic groups and the biggest Polynesian community in the world, making it the ideal place for expats to feel welcome and at home.

Expatriates relocating to Auckland will find, that one of the perks of such a big city is the very well-rounded healthcare system, with six main hospitals, and the educational system with public, state-integrated and private schools.

Cultural Life

Foodies will love Auckland, also known as the region’s food-lovers’ paradise. The city is rich in trendy cafés, bars, and award-winning restaurants with fresh local seafood. Surrounded by diverse nature, expats will soon discover, they can quickly escape the big-city life and sleep under the stars. Regardless of its big city status, Auckland is fairly safe for women, and also has a growing LGBTQ community. It is easy to make friends here, as Auckland is a multi-cultural city, and very open and friendly to newcomers, letting expats right in and feel at home.

If you are an expatriate relocating with your family, one of the most family-friendly neighborhoods are Takapuna, which has a prestigious Grammar school and a hip Sunday market. Davenport is an especially popular area among young families, as it is peaceful and close to the beach. Expats who don’t mind a commute, will find the Mangere Bridge and Howick are nice and calming seaside suburbs. Grey Linn is only a ten-minute ride from the city center, which is especially nice if you have teenagers or if you don’t like to live too far from all the action.

Size of the City

Auckland has an area of 4,894 km 2 with a population of 1.7 million inhabitants. Almost every third New Zealander (also nicknamed Kiwi) lives in Auckland. The city’s main urban area spans 1,102.9 km 2. Auckland’s population matches that of the capital Wellington, Dunedin, Hamilton, Tauranga, Palmerston North, Napier, Porirua, Lower Hutt, Rotorua, Whāngārei and New Plymouth combined.

Work Opportunities

As the nation’s driving economic force, Auckland accounts for roughly 36% of New Zealand’s paid employment. Even though Auckland’s labor market has a highly skilled work force, it is facing a shortage of skilled workers, at present. Expats will find work opportunities when exploring the following industries:

  • legal services;
  • finance;
  • healthcare;
  • telecommunications;
  • tourism and hospitality;
  • construction;
  • technology;
  • engineering
  • manufacturing;
  • education.

Expatriates relocating to Auckland, can expect an average annual salary of roughly 53,000 NZD (34,000 USD).

Cost of Living

Before deciding if Auckland is the best place for you (and your family) to relocate to, you need to be aware that Auckland is the most expensive city in New Zealand, and one of the most expensive ones in the world. The average cost of living is 38,000 NZD (25,000 USD) per year. Most of the month’s expenses go on rent or mortgage. According to a survey by Demographia International comparing 300 urban housing markets in eight countries, the urban housing prices in New Zealand are seven times the average income. For a one-bedroom apartment in the city center you can expect to pay 1,900 NZD (1,250 USD) on rent per month. Buying a home in an urban area costs approximately 10,500 NZD (7,000 USD) per m 2. The monthly transport pass will set you back 210 NZD (140 USD). For an hour taxi ride, you can expect to be charged 50 NZD (30 USD). An average phone plan will cost you between 30 and 80 NZD (20 and 60 USD) per month. Utilities for a 2-3-bedroom apartment will set you back approximately 170 NZD (110 USD) a month. Finally, for groceries and household items, make sure to budget roughly 350 NZD (230 USD) monthly.

Visa-holding expats will be glad to know, that social security and healthcare are subsided by the government. However, most New Zealanders have to pay for the occasional exam themselves, and even add private insurance to their health plan.

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Like Auckland, Wellington is cosmopolitan and vibrant, but less multi-cultural. Expats looking for a bridge between big and small-town life, will feel right at home here. Wellington is one of the most popular places for families to expatriate. Surrounded by mountains on one and the sea on the other side, the city offers a diverse natural landscape and a lot of recreational activities outdoors. In fact, Wellington is a very hilly city, so going from one place to another, would already fall under hiking.

Cultural Life

No matter if you are mountains or beach person, Wellington has it all. Expats relocating to Wellington will soon find out, they can go hiking and mountain biking along the Rimutakas and Tararuas mountains, or kayaking, and fishing in the Hutt river. If you are a surfer or a sailor you will fall in love with Wellington’s coastal beaches.

Among growing business and technical sectors, Wellington also has a thriving film industry, and a healthy artistic and cultural scene with galleries, museums, and theatres. In fact, Wellington is known to have more coffee places per head than New York, which is ideal for expats looking to meet like-minded people.

If you are looking for a home in Wellington, you’ll probably want to know, which are the most popular neighborhoods. Brooklyn, very much unlike its namesake in New York, is known for its panoramic views from atop the Brooklyn Hills, and the large neighborhood park. Guess what it’s called? Central Park. Hataitai and Island Bay are quite popular among families, due to its excellent schools and affordable housing options. Island Bay is especially impressive, as it’s possible to see the South Island across the water.

Size of the City

The region of Wellington, comprised by Wellington City, Lower Hutt, Upper Hutt, and Porirua has an area of 442 km 2 with a population of a total of 414,818 habitants. In Wellington it is not unusual to commute to work from the more suburban and seaside areas to the city.

Work Opportunities

As the capital, Wellington is home to many national institutions and government agencies, thus having a high demand for skilled workers in the legal, healthcare, and education sectors. The movie industry is also thriving. The latest productions to come out of Wellington being Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, King Kong, and Avatar. Expats can find job opportunities here in:

  • politics;
  • education;
  • research;
  • legal and government services;
  • healthcare;
  • film and cinema.

Expats thinking of relocating to Wellington, need to know that the median annual wage in Wellington is slightly lower than in Auckland. Workers earn approximately 50,000 NZD (32,000 USD) per year.

Cost of Living

In terms of the cost of living, Wellington is a little cheaper than Auckland. Per year, the average cost of living is around 31,000 NZD (20,000 USD). The median monthly rent in Wellington center is 1,800 NZD (1,200 USD) for a one-bedroom. If you wish to buy a house, the average price per m 2 in the more urban area of Wellington is 6,600 NZD (4,300 USD). Utilities cost an average of 170 NZD (110 USD) for a 2-3-bedroom apartment. Groceries and household items will set you backapproximately 500 NZD (330 USD) per month. The monthly transportation pass will cost you 150 NZD (USD). An hour taxi ride will set you back 60 NZD (40 USD). New Zealand has one of the highest childcare costs in the world. Expats relocating with children, who need to be enrolled in a kindergarten or daycare, will have to pay an average of 990 NZD (650 USD) per month.


Christchurch attracts expats for its vibrant job opportunities, as well as its abundant and lush nature. The local tourism advertises it as “Garden City”, a place, where “you can ski, snowboard, bungee jump, hike, jet boat, fish, mountain bike, raft, surf, swim, golf, see whales, dolphins, and seals; visit wineries and gardens, shop, and so much more, all within two hours of Christchurch.”

Cultural Life

The region of Canterbury with its biggest city Christchurch offers a rich and vast natural landscape with many recreational activities, such as skiing in the Southern Alps or kayaking in the Rangitata, Rakaia and Waimakariri rivers. Since the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, the government has spent over 40 billion NZD on rebuilding projects. One of the projects is the Christchurch Innovation Precinct, a hub for innovative and high-tech firms, which makes this city a popular place for tech-savvy expats. Not only tech is popular in Christchurch. Expats, single or with families, will have a great time exploring the local sights, such as the Botanic Gardens, home to native and exotic plant species or the large recreational North Hagley Park.

Even though Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island, it has a small-town atmosphere, with many residential neighborhoods that are ideal to raise families. Sumner, a seaside suburb, is believed to be one of the oldest European settlements in the area. The neighborhood is not only popular among families, but also among surfers and watersports fans. Cashmere, on the southern end of the city, is popular among locals and expats equally as it offers a great escape from the city. The neighborhood of Fendalton, located west of Christchurch, is a popular home for to students and families, as it’s near the University of Canterburry and not too far from the city center.

Size of the City

The area of Christchurch is 1,426 km 2 with a population of 385,500 habitants. The region Canterbury spans 45,346 km 2 with a population of 624,000 habitants.

Work Opportunities

Christchurch’s thriving economy is due to its renowned technology businesses, and innovative software and hardware companies. It’s the ideal place for expats interested in working in the tech industry. Job opportunities are available in the following fields:

  • hi-tech manufacturing;
  • technology;
  • agribusiness and agriculture;
  • tourism and hospitality;
  • telecommunicatios.

The average annual salary for workers in these industries is 45,000 NZD (30,000 USD). Compared to Auckland the drop in the annual median wage is significant but is due to the fact that Christchurch’s economy thrives from agribusiness and tourism. These are industries, where earnings tend to be lower, than for example in technology.

Cost of Living

Like Auckland and Wellington, Christchurch also has a high cost of living, although not as elevated. The average yearly living costs in Christchurch are 34,200 NZD (22,600 USD) per year. Expats moving alone can count on a one-bedroom apartment in the center to set them back around 1,500 NZD (1,000 USD) per month. Buying a home costs an average of 5,000 NZD (3,200 USD) per m 2, with fluctuations that depend on area and size. For utilities such as heating and electricity, you will need to set aside 180 NZD (115 USD) per month. Internet costs on average 80 NZD (50 USD) per month. The transport pass in Christchurch will set you back monthly 110 NZD (75 USD). An hour taxi ride costs around 30 NZD (20 USD).


Dunedin is also called the Scotland of the South. New Zealand’s seventh-largest city is especially known for its Victorian and Edwardian architecture. The name of the city even derives from the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh, Dùn Èideann. Apart from its Scottish heritage, Dunedin is also known for its University. As home to the main medical school, Dunedin is the best destination for expats looking for jobs as doctors or professors, who are also willing to teach and research.

Cultural Life

The architecture in Dunedin alone is enough to keep you busy for a while. The iconic Larnach Castle, the University of Otago and the various churches are worth visiting. The city is also known for its creative and cozy student atmosphere with vibrant cafés, galleries, museums, and festivals. Dunedin never misses an opportunity to bring out the bagpipes and tartan to celebrate its Scottish heritage. They even created their own “Dunedin sound”.

Dunedin is situated in the region of Otago, which features a lot of beaches for surfing and swimming, as well as hiking and cycling opportunities along the Otago Central Rail Trail. The most popular neighborhoods, especially for expats with families, are Pine Hill and Normanby and Mount Mera as there are not only good schools, but also a lot of green areas. Expats who want a quiet life, should avoid Dunedin North. The area is amazing in architecture and intellect, but is home to all university campuses and a few popular high schools. If you want to be close to sandy beaches, you should consider living in St. Kilda or St. Clair.

Size of the City

Dunedin spans 3,314 km 2 with a population of 128,800 habitants, 20% of which are university students. The region of Otago is 31,251 km 2 and home to 232,300 people. Dunedin is ideal for expats because, even though it’s a comparably smaller town, it has lot of job opportunities, great schools and no matter where you are, the ocean or mountains are only ever a 20-minute ride away.

Work Opportunities

The economy in Dunedin revolves around higher education and the Otago University, home to New Zealand’s principal medical school and the only school for dentistry. Agriculture, farming, forestry, and tourism are also big contributors to the region’s economy. Expats thinking about a move to Otago will find job opportunities in the following industries:

  • tertiary (higher) education;
  • healthcare;
  • forestry;
  • agriculture, horticulture, viticulture and farming;
  • tourism and hospitality.

Dunedin might be smaller than Christchurch, but the average annual salary is almost the same. That’s is because salaries in healthcare and higher education tend to be very high, thus elevating the average. Expats wanting to work in Dunedin’s prime industries will earn a median wage of 45,000 NZD (28,800 USD) per year.

Cost of Living

The average yearly expenses in the South Island region, home to Otago, are around 31,000 NZD (20,000 USD) for one person. A one-bedroom apartment in the center of Dunedin will set you back 1,200 NZD (780 USD) a month. Buying a home in the urban area costs around 6,000 NZD (3,900 USD) per m 2, whereas, in the more rural areas, you can save up to 1,000 NZD (660 USD) per m 2 on average. Utilities in Otago tend to be more elevated than in the rest of New Zealand, setting you back around 190 NZD (120 USD) per month for a 2-3-bedroom apartment. For groceries and household items, be sure to set aside approximately 400 NZD (250 USD) per month. Dunedin’s public transport system works similar to London’s Oyster card. You pay once 5 NZD (3.30 USD) for a go Card and charge it with a minimum of 10 NZD (7 USD) and swipe for each train, bus or trolley ride individually. The public transport area reaches from zone 1 in the center to the suburbs in zone 10.


Located in Hawk’s Bay, Napier has earned its “fruit-bowl of the North” nickname due to its vast fruit production and viticulture. The sunny and vibrant city is sadly known for its devastating earthquake in 1931, which caused such a destruction, that the town had to be rebuilt from the ground and looks now like an English seaside resort in the art-deco style, attracting a lot of international tourism and expats.

Cultural Life

Hawk’s Bay, especially the city of Napier, sports an almost Mediterranean vibe. The temperate and sunny climate, art-deco-inspired buildings, amazing seafood restaurants, and extensive wineries with the best wine from the region, always attract a lot of tourism. The more unknown cities Hastings and Havelock North also have excellent wineries, restaurants, and amazing surrounding landscapes, worth a visit.

Most popular neighborhoods in Napier are among locals and expats the Hawke’s Bay suburbs Marewa and Akina. Apparently, property sells here like hot cakes. Those areas seem to attract young families looking to settle, as well as single people looking for some peace away from the city. Other popular neighborhoods are Springvale in Whanganui and Awapuni in Palmerston North.

Size of the City

The city of Napier is 106 km 2 in size and home to a population of 62,800 habitants.
The region of Hawk’s Bay, however, spans 14,111 km 2 with a population of 173,700 habitants. Expatriates looking to settle here, will enjoy the quietness and nature of the area.

Work Opportunities

Hawke’s Bay’s economy is characterized by primary sector industries, such as agriculture, viticulture, pastoral activities, and farming. Tourism and manufacturing are also significant industries. Expats who have experience in these industries and want to relocate to this quiet region, will find work opportunities in the following fields:

  • agriculture;
  • viticulture;
  • farming;
  • pastoral activities;
  • tourism and hospitality;
  • manufacturing;
  • healthcare;
  • education;
  • event management.

Compared to the bigger cities Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and even Dunedin, the yearly average salary in Hawk’s Bay is much lower. This is easily explained with the fact that the driving economic force in Hawk’s Bay is agriculture and farming. People working in these industries tend to earn lower wages, thus dropping the average. Expats need to take into account that the median wage in Hawk’s Bay is 40,000 NZD (25,600 USD) per year.

Cost of Living

The cost of living in the region of Hawk’s Bay is approximately 30,200 NZD (20,000 USD) for one person per year. A one-bedroom apartment in the center of Napier will set you back around 1,000 NZD (660 USD) per month, whereas in the more rural and suburban areas it can cost around 350 NZD (230 USD). If you are an expat relocating with a family and decide to buy a home in Napier, we have good news; it is much cheaper than in the bigger cities. A m 2 in the city center costs around 4,750 NZD (3,130 USD). Outside of the city, the price per m 2 is 3,650 NZD (2,410 USD). Make sure to set aside around 195 NZD (130 USD) a month for utilities (for a 2-3-bedroom apartment) and around 400 NZD (270 USD) for groceries and household items. The public transportation system in Napier works like in Dunedin. If you purchase a go bay smartcard, you pay once 7 NZD (5 USD), charge it with a certain amount of money and save 20% on fares every time you use it.

All about New Zealand

If you have been dreaming of moving to New Zealand, our comprehensive guide will help you learn all the necessary steps and requirements to go to New Zealand by yourself or with your family and loved ones.

Updated on: February 12, 2020
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