Moving to New Zealand – A Guide for Expats

Need help obtaining a NZ Visa? Worried about Education or how you'll settle into the New Zealand lifestyle? We cover these topics and more in our new Guide to New Zealand for Expats.

Auckland, New Zealand
Auckland, New Zealand

It is the far-flung country of the All Blacks rugby stars and the hobbits of Middle Earth. New Zealand is a popular destination for Britons looking for a better quality of life with their families.

In fact, according to the Financial Times, net migration by Britons reached 6,371 in 2017, almost double the 2015 figure of 3,614.

So what attracts so many expats to this island nation in the Southern Hemisphere? A high quality of life, breath-taking scenery, good healthcare, minimal crime and tranquil cities are just a few of the reasons many Britons dream of living in New Zealand. So if you’re looking to make the land of The Lord of the Rings your new home, here are some things to take into account.

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The Great Outdoors

When it comes to nature, New Zealand knows how to steal the show. Its two islands offer soaring snow-capped mountains and bucolic rolling countryside, lush forests and dramatic fjords, placid lakes and a sweeping coastline. It is no wonder it was chosen as the setting for the film franchise of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

New Zealand Countryside - Te Mata, NZ
Tuki Tuki Valley, NZ

As a result, the local population knows how to enjoy the great outdoors and has a high standard of living. The two narrow islands mean you are never more than 130km from the sea, ideal if you want to take up surfing, while hiking, biking, skiing, kayaking and sailing are all popular weekend pastimes, too.

Pace of life

Life takes on an altogether slower pace in New Zealand. Less traffic jams, a more relaxed work environment and friendly locals are among the positives that expats love, while fantastic local produce (including great wines), a vibrant indigenous Maori culture and a good economy are other positives.

Where to live

The North Island has a subtropical climate, meaning its stays warmer year-round, although it can be rainy. It is home to the pretty capital, Wellington, and the country’s largest city, Auckland, both great destinations for expats with good work opportunities.

On the South Island, the climate is cooler and can be cold and snowy in winter, while the biggest city Christchurch has undergone big changes as it recovers from the major 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. With a strong British presence and a rich Maori culture, it makes for a fascinating city.

That’s not to say those cities are the only options, plenty of expats opt for the adventure travel base of Queenstown on the South Island or the relaxed coastal style of Hawkes Bay, one thing you will quickly realise if that New Zealand is packed with variety.

Cost of living

If you are migrating to New Zealand from the UK, you are likely to find the country slightly cheaper overall, even if you are in the more expensive cities of Wellington and Auckland. That said, wages are also lower than in the UK so the cost of living once you’re actually settled does climb. As a remote nation, importing a lot of goods, things like groceries can be expensive, however if you buy local produce it works out cheaper. For more info, read our blog on New Zealand living costs: How expensive is New Zealand?

Both public transport and buying a car are cheaper than in the UK, while the public healthcare system is also good and very extensive. Do keep in mind though that if you have arrived on a work visa it needs to be for at least two years for you to have access to free and subsidised healthcare. Residents and people who have already been living in New Zealand for two years are also eligible.

When it comes to joining you will be given a health test and could be refused if it is thought treatments you may need will exceed NZ $25,000 over four years. If you opt for private healthcare, as many expats do, the fees are quite low.


How do you get residency in New Zealand? With an economy that’s doing well and young people moving abroad, it is more manageable than some other countries. Here are a few of the visa options available to you. The New Zealand immigration web page is also extremely helpful in giving details about what you can expect if you move and even has a helpful visa comparison service.

New Zealand Visas
New Zealand Work Visa


If you are offered a job and your area of expertise is listed on the skills shortage list produced by the New Zealand government, your visa application could be much simpler. There are various lists available, from long-term skills shortages which can put you on the path to residency, to immediate skills shortages, which offers temporary residency, and the Canterbury skills shortages which focuses on the rebuild after the area’s devastating earthquakes.

If you don’t have a job offer, you can still apply for a Skilled Migrant Category Resident Visa. You will have to write an “expression of interest” with your employment history and then using a points-based system your application will be considered.

The Working Holiday Visa is open to Britons aged 18 to 30 and can last from 12 to 23 months with the chance to take temporary work for up to a year.


Can you retire to New Zealand as a British citizen? Well, yes and no. It becomes much easier if you have a child who is a citizen or resident through the Parent Retirement Resident Visa as long as you also have an annual income of NZ $60,000 (£30,000) plus $1 million (£500,000) to invest for four years, and another NZ $500,000 (£250,000) to live on.

If you are over 66 years old and would like to stay in New Zealand for two years, there is also the Temporary Retirement Visitor Visa which also requires a two-year investment of NZ $750,000 £373,000) or more, and another NZ $500,000 (£250,000) to live on, plus an annual income of NZ $60,000 (£30,000) or more.


New Zealand has an enviable education system, among the best in the world. If you are a permanent resident or citizen, your children will be able to attend school as locals. However, if you are a temporary resident, you may need to apply for a student visa for them.

Education in New Zealand

State schools are of good quality and free (except for those extras such as school uniform and extra-curricular trips etc) and are based on catchment area, so you may want to take that into account when choosing where to live. There are also private and international schools available if you prefer, though less than five per cent of the population opts for these.

The school system is the same as at home to a point. In secondary school, once students have completed the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA), Level 1 they can choose to leave school and start work. Alternatively, if they complete Level 2, they can enrol in a technical college and with Level 3 they can attend one of the 13 universities across New Zealand.

When it comes to university and further education, New Zealand resident visa holders are classified as domestic students so pay local fees. However, they need to have lived in the country for three years to be eligible for student loans and other support services.

That about wraps up our guide for New Zealand. You can find more information in the links provided, as well as more useful info related to New Zealand and the topics covered above in our blog.

If you’re planning your move, don’t forget to check out our specialist packing and international removals services from the UK, direct to New Zealand.