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Living in New Zealand
A Practical Guide to the Way of Life in New Zealand
Living in New Zealand means immersing in the friendly Kiwi and Māori ways, the efficient and dynamic working culture, and the country’s appreciation for nature. This section will provide you with everything you need to know to understand New Zealand’s way of life.
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Are you wondering what it is like to live in New Zealand? There are many pros and cons. The nature, weather, extremely low crime rate, and the friendliness of the Kiwis are all positive aspects. Yet, expats need to be aware that relocating so far south can have its downsides. The different time zone (GMT+12) can make it hard to keep in touch with loved ones, and expensive long-distance flights will make it even harder to visit them.
You may also find driving to be different from what you are used to. Besides driving on the left side, tackling the narrow and winding roads in New Zealand adds an extra layer of difficulty to your journeys. This guide will help you decide if you need to exchange your current driver’s license for a New Zealand license, or if you need to take a theory and practical driving test.
We also cover the most common public transportation options in the country and their costs, so you can find the best option for you. Beware, New Zealand’s nation-wide transportation system can be slow and expensive. This guide also covers everyday practicalities that may be overlooked, such as the main holidays, where to find embassies or airports or the best way to set up communications. We explore everything you need to know about these practicalities in our guide.
Pros and Cons of Living in New Zealand
Although moving to the middle of nature resonates with many expats, it is still important to weigh the pros and cons of living in New Zealand before relocating. Living in a different time zone to your loved ones might make keeping in touch more difficult, yet, the natural beauty of New Zealand and the welcoming locals will help you feel at home. The greatest benefits of living in New Zealand are the sunny weather, the diverse natural landscape, and the stress-free lifestyle. The following list will break down the rest of the pros and cons of living in the land of the Kiwis.
The Benefits of Living in New Zealand
Amazing Weather All Year
New Zealand benefits from a temperate and mild climate all year, meaning that there are more days of sunshine than rain. During the winter months, the North Island stays warm and sunny while the South Island can be covered in snow. Nature lovers will enjoy the endless outdoor activities the country has to offer, regardless of the season. Skiing down a mountain in the morning and surfing in the afternoon is definitely possible in New Zealand.
Have you ever watched “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” and admired the natural scenery? Did you know the movies were shot in New Zealand? There are still so many untouched and rugged places, even just a few kilometers outside of big cities. You will feel like an explorer setting foot there for the first time. For a small country, New Zealand has one of the most diverse landscapes in the world. You will find untouched beaches, rainforests, deserts, fjords, glaciers, and mountains.
A Quiet Life with Excellent Work-Life Balance
Life in New Zealand is quiet and relaxed. Big cities are not overcrowded and if you live in the countryside your neighbor’s home might be kilometers away from you. The population density in New Zealand is 18 people per square kilometer (47 people per square mile). In comparison, the UK has a population density of 281 inhabitants per square kilometer (727 per square mile).
The fact that there are not many people you might cross paths with on your daily walk is not the main reason life is quiet and laidback. A healthy balance between work and play is encouraged and working overtime is a rarity in New Zealand. That does not mean that New Zealanders are lazy or unsuccessful. As a less achievement-oriented society, they see everyone as equal regardless of their type of profession or wealth.
Friendly and Welcoming People
Kiwis are generally friendly people, with a laidback and positive attitude towards life. Compared to European countries, New Zealand is still a young country. Even Māori, the country’s native inhabitants, have only been living on the island for about 800 years. Like many other countries, New Zealand bears the scars of colonization with a society almost entirely composed of immigrants. Kiwis however, don’t delve in the past. They are open-minded, friendly and welcoming of other nationalities and cultures.
Permanent Residency and Citizenship
According to New Zealand’s laws, there is very little difference between being a permanent resident and having citizenship. Permanent residents can vote, leave and re-enter the country at any time, and have access to state-subsidized healthcare and education.
Due to the fast-growing economy and the low population density, the economic market is experiencing a shortage of skilled workers in many fields, such as IT, finance, healthcare, and tourism. To fill these positions, New Zealand has relaxed its immigration rules and welcomes workers, entrepreneurs, and innovative businesses. If you need more information on how to find a job or set up a business in New Zealand, consult our Working in New Zealand guide.
In New Zealand, everyone is entitled to government-subsidized healthcare regardless of their residency status. Even non-residents with a temporary visa have access to the country’s excellent medical care, although they sometimes have to pay extra fees. Please keep in mind that dental care costs for adults are not included in the public healthcare program. If you want to know more about the healthcare system, read our full Healthcare in New Zealand guide.
The public education system in New Zealand is known for being one of the best worldwide. It is also free-of-charge, except for uniforms, books, and meals. Some schools also require individual annual donation fees.
Low Crime Rate
According to the InterNations 2019 Expat Insider Index New Zealand places 14 as one of the safest countries for expats. The crime rate in New Zealand is extremely low compared to elsewhere in the world. New Zealand even ranked second in both the 2019 Global Peace Index and in the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index. Political scandals are minor compared to other countries.
The Downsides of Living in New Zealand
Far Away and Isolated
New Zealand is a very isolated island. Auckland, for instance, is almost 1,400 miles away from Sydney, and around 5,700 miles from Hong Kong. The huge time difference (GMT+12) can also make it very hard to stay in touch with loved ones, and the expensive long-distance flights will make travel and visit them.
New Zealand is a small island country, meaning a lot of products ranging from food to electronics and furniture have to be imported. It is not always possible to shop locally for products. If you are looking for specific brands from your home country, it is likely they won’t be available in New Zealand. You might have to have them shipped from somewhere else and risk paying a lot in custom fees.
Apart from goods, living costs in the cities are very high. Rents are increasing with the number of people flocking to the cities looking for jobs.
New Zealand does not have an established nationwide rail system. Exploring the country via bus or train is almost impossible. The trains that exist are slow, infrequent, and expensive. As an example, the train from Auckland to Wellington leaves once a day, very early, and the journey takes about 11 hours. In comparison, a car ride from Auckland to Wellington takes about eight hours. It is not only very slow but extremely expensive. A train ticket from Auckland to Wellington costs 160 NZD (95 USD).
Low-Quality Housing at a High Price
Until recently, housing standards in New Zealand have been low. Most of the older homes have poor or no insulation and some don’t even have heating. In addition to that, rent prices are extremely high, especially in the biggest cites Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. You can find more information on New Zealand’s housing market in our housing guide.
Ozone Layer and UV Rays
New Zealand has a lot of sunshine days per year, which can be dangerous. The country is positioned directly underneath a hole in the ozone layer, making the UV rays pose a higher risk than in other countries. Due to the increased potential for sunburn and skin cancer, you cannot forget to use sunscreen even on cloudy days.
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New Zealand is surrounded by mountains, rainforests, fjords, and sandy beaches, making it a popular expat destination. The population is diverse, too, with most of them being expats themselves. The main language spoken in New Zealand is English. However, the country does have Māori as a second official language.
- Country Name: New Zealand, Aotearoa (Māori)
- Government Type: unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy
- Climate: temperate maritime
- Capital: Wellington
- Official Languages: English, Māori, New Zealand sign language
- Currency: New Zealand Dollar (NZD, $)
- Time Zones: UTC+12, Summer UTC+13
- Country Calling Code: +64
- Driving: left side
- Voltage: 240 V / 50 Hz
- Recommended Vaccinations: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella (or chickenpox), polio, flu shot
- Emergency Number: 111
What are the Main Public Holidays in New Zealand?
- New Year’s Day: 1st January
- The day after New Year’s Day: 2nd January
- Waitangi Day: 6th February
- Good Friday: the Friday before Easter Sunday
- Easter Monday: the day after Easter Sunday
- ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corp) Day: 25th April
- Queen Elizabeth’s Birthday: 3rd June
- Labor Day: 28th October
- Christmas Day: 25th December
- Boxing Day: 26th December
If you need to visit your embassy or consulate, this link has a complete list of embassies and consulates in New Zealand.
- Embassy of the United States of America, 29 Fitzherbert Terrace, Thorndon 6011, Wellington
- Consulate-General of the United States of America, Level 3, Citibank Centre, 23 Customs Street East, cnr Commerce Street, Auckland 1010
- High Commission of Canada, Level 11, 125 The Terrace, Wellington 6011
- Consulate and Trade Office of Canada, 9th Floor, 48 Emily Place, Auckland 1010
- Australian High Commission, 72-76 Hobson Street, Thorndon 6011, Wellington
- Australian Consulate-General, Level 7, PricewaterhouseCoopers Tower, 188 Quay Street, Auckland 1010
- Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, 90-92 Hobson St, Wellington 6011
- Consulate of the Federal Republic of Germany, Level 13, PWC Tower, 188 Quay Street, Auckland 1010
There are six international airports in New Zealand:
- Auckland Airport
- Christchurch Airport
- Dunedin Airport
- Queenstown Airport
- Rotorua Airport
- Wellington Airport
A number of airports also connect the country through domestic flights.
Culture and Social Etiquette
Feeling at home in New Zealand is not difficult. You will find New Zealanders to be friendly and sociable, so integrating in the community should be easy. The country has a notable appreciation for nature and specific mealtimes, around which most social interactions happen.
Who are the Kiwis?
- New Zealanders are referred to, and refer to themselves as Kiwis. The term is recognized internationally and has an endearing connotation. It derives from the eponymous national species of flightless birds, which is the national symbol.
- Kiwis describe themselves as friendly but reserved, and open but respectful. They are genuine, helpful, and may have a hard time saying “no” directly. Instead, you may hear a “no” in the form of a “not sure” or “not really”.
- They are also relaxed about invitations and plans. Even though a New Zealander has said yes to an invite, it is not a guarantee that they will be present. You shouldn’t take this personally.
- New Zealanders are quite private, despite their outgoing nature. They do not generally like to share information such as how much they earn, their marital status, or their weight. Co-workers seem to keep work and private life separate.
- Kiwis like their personal space. Standing too close may make them feel uncomfortable.
- It is common for people in New Zealand to walk on the left side of the sidewalk.
Kiwi Etiquette and Customs
- People typically greet each other with a handshake or smile.
- Smiling is very important and very typical of New Zealanders, who will often smile to strangers.
- You may use titles and surnames when meeting a New Zealander, but expect to be called by your first name soon after.
Social Interactions with Food
- Sharing food in a relaxed atmosphere is a good way of socializing with Kiwis. This could be during picnics, barbeques, or hāngis, which are traditional Māori meals cooked in earth ovens. Whenever invited to social gatherings, bring a bottle of wine or a small gift, even if the host deems it unnecessary.
- Dining situations are typically familiar and informal. These follow the continental way—the fork is held on the left hand, the knife on the right. Once you have finished your meal, you place your fork and knife parallel to each other, with the handles to the right.
- New Zealand has a drinking culture, and you can legally drink in New Zealand at the age of 18. Not partaking in drinking alcohol is not an issue, and smoking is not very common. You are expected to smoke outside, and it is considered polite to ask the people around you if they would mind you smoking around them.
Māori Culture and Etiquette
You will find many influences from Māori culture in New Zealand, which you should take into account.
- It is common to say a prayer before eating, called the karakia.
- You are often expected to take off your shoes when indoors.
- You should refrain from sitting on tables or pillows.
- You may also be greeted with the standard kiss on the cheek.
- Māori may spontaneously sing traditional songs while speaking – these are often used as a way to close or enhance a speech.
- Māori’s love of nature influenced the nation’s stand on environmentalism. There is an overall positive attitude towards the environment and its preservation.
Business Etiquette and Negotiations
- Food is a big part of the office environment. Morning or afternoon teas are common at work, and so are celebrations of birthdays or other team celebrations. It is expected for everyone to bring food to share, which is what is meant if you are asked to “bring a plate.”
- You may also be asked out on Friday nights, to socialize with colleagues. This is usually reserved for the company, and family members are generally not present, but this will depend on the workplace.
- When negotiating in New Zealand, expect the process to take time. Hard-sales tactics are not well-received. New Zealanders appreciate concrete figures and prices, and don’t bargain much. They expect value for their money.
Driving in New Zealand
Driving in New Zealand may take some getting used to. In general, you can expect the roads to be good. However, some of their long-distance roads (known as state highways), can be quite narrow, with only two lanes. Gravel roads are common in more remote places, so don’t always expect a smooth ride if you are driving in less populated areas. Rush hour affects the biggest cities as in any other location, but traffic in New Zealand is quite light for international standards.
Here are some quick facts and rules about driving in New Zealand:
- The minimum driving age in New Zealand is 16, which is when you are given a learner license.
- The minimum age for obtaining a full license is 18.
- Drive on the left-hand side of the road.
- The speed limit is 100 km/h (62 mph).
- The legal drinking limit is 50mg per 100ml of blood.
- Not all railway crossings have active warnings.
- Seatbelts are compulsory in all seats, for every vehicle.
- Using your phone while driving is prohibited.
- Roads can be narrower than what you may be used to—some two-lane streets may not even accommodate two vehicles coming from opposite directions.
Driving in New Zealand with a Foreign License
When you arrive in New Zealand, your foreign driver’s license is valid for one year. After that, you will need a New Zealand driver’s license. You can simply exchange your previous license if you meet the criteria. If you do not, you will need to take the theory test and the practical exam.
Can You Exchange Your License for a New Zealand License?
If you have a US or a European driver’s license, you can drive in New Zealand and easily exchange your license. A lot of countries have licensing systems similar to New Zealand. You can exchange your driver’s license if you are from any of the following countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, or the United States of America.
To convert your license, you will need to apply at a specialist overseas conversion site and provide the following documents:
- proof of your identity;
- your foreign driver’s license (and a translation if it is not in English);
- the application form for the conversion of an overseas license;
- proof that your eyesight meets the required standard;
- a signature and a photograph taken at the time of the appointment;
- pay the application fee of 10 NZD (6 USD);
- a medical certificate in case you have a medical condition that needs to be declared.
How to Get New Zealand’s Driving License
If your driver’s license is not from any of the countries listed above, you will need to apply for a new license in New Zealand by taking the standard theory test and practical driving exam.
The application for getting a New Zealand driver’s license is also made at a specialist overseas conversion site. Here, you will take the theory test after applying. Your application is then sent to the NZ Transport Agency, along with your foreign driver’s license, to assess its validity.
Once this assessment is completed and your application is approved, you are given a New Zealand driver’s license with a supervisor condition. You will only be able to drive with a supervisor in the car – this is someone who has held a New Zealand driver’s license for at least two years. Your foreign driver’s license will not be valid anymore.
Once you receive your temporary driver’s license, you must return to a specialist overseas conversion site and book a practical test. Once you pass, you will be given a full New Zealand driver’s license without any supervisory conditions.
Renting a Car in New Zealand
If you wish to drive a rental car in New Zealand, make sure you hold an appropriate driver’s license for the type of vehicle you choose. You must not allow anyone else besides you to drive the vehicle unless they are listed as authorized drivers.
You must carry the rental agreement with you and show it to the authorities when necessary. There are many popular car rental companies you can choose from, such as:
- New Zealand Rent a Car;
- East Coast Car Rentals;
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Public Transportation in New Zealand
Public transportation in New Zealand is not very extensive, at least not on a nationwide level. Many people still rely on their cars to get from one city to the other, as the national rail system is slow and costly. If you wonder what the public transportation is like in New Zealand, you should know that it is mostly covered by buses throughout the country. Some cities, like Auckland and Wellington, have city-suburban rail services, but these are less common.
Public transportation in New Zealand is provided by private companies. The government does not directly provide transportation services—instead they set policies and invest in services that attend to the needs of the local population. This means the way these service providers operate varies greatly by city or region, as well as the cost of public transportation. For example, in Auckland, you can get a monthly pass that allows you to travel by both bus and train, called the AT HOP, at a cost of 215 NZD (130 USD). Other cities, like Wellington, have a range of prepaid monthly cards, depending on the company you use.
Buses in New Zealand
Buses are the cheapest and most popular means of public transportation in New Zealand for both intercity travels and within main cities. Bus fares will start between 1 and 3 NZD (0.70 and 2 USD) in most cities in the country. Each city has its main service provider, so fares for both single tickets and monthly cards may differ depending on where you move to.
You will find most intercity travels to be provided by the Intercity and Naked Bus companies. Bus fares will cost 10 NZD (6.50 USD) and higher, and both companies have bus passes available that are valid for 12 months.
Trains in New Zealand
New Zealand has three main train lines, operated by KiwiRail. These lines connect bigger cities, which means trains are not common day-to-day transportation for New Zealanders. These are:
- Auckland to Wellington (Northern Explorer)
- Picton to Christchurch (Coastal Pacific)
- Christchurch to the West Coast (TranzAlpine)
The cost of one train ticket starts at around 49 NZD (32 USD).
Taxis in New Zealand
Taxi companies are available throughout the country. You may phone one of the many companies or go directly to a taxi stand. You can also use popular ride-hailing apps, such as Uber, Green Cabs, or ihail.
Flights in New Zealand
There are two main domestic airlines in the country, Air New Zealand and Jetstar. Flying is common for longer intercity travels, as most domestic flight times are around an hour. It is a common way of traveling between the North and South Islands.
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