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The Best Visa Options for Living in New Zealand

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New Zealand is a dream destination for many people, especially if you're from far, far away. It's not uncommon for people to visit on holiday, fall in love with the place, and think they might enjoy living here. I should know - it happened to me!

Of course, you can't just pack your bags and come here to stay. Unfortunately! Unless you happen to be an Australian citizen. So, what options are there for other nationals to get a taste of life in Godzone? How do you find out which visas, if any, you might qualify for?

Disclaimer: I'm not an immigration specialist or lawyer, so please treat this post as a general guide. Do your research or seek professional advice before spending a lot of money on a visa application or booking a one-way ticket.

I recommend the following two steps to start with.

Pre-Req Steps to Find the Right Visa

Photo by Delphine Ducaruge

Step 1: Define Your Goals & Purpose

Think about how long you would like to live in New Zealand. What's your main goal? Is it just to enjoy extended travel? If so, do you need to find casual work to help finance your trip?

Or are you planning a longer-term stay, hoping to find a job in your current occupation? Or maybe you're interested in volunteer work?

Answers to these questions can be important for determining which visa, if any, you need.

Step 2: Find Out About Any Specific Conditions for Your Country

Immigration policy is almost always based on specific bilateral agreements between countries. Not only do these differ from one country to another, but they are subject to change at any time. So it's important to research the specific requirements for your country when looking at visas for New Zealand, and to check regularly for any updates.

A good starting point is the New Zealand Embassy in your country. If you live in a Commonwealth country, this will be the New Zealand High Commission. Check out their website, which may refer you to relevant information from Immigration New Zealand.

When you've determined your goals and found out about any country-specific rules, you can start looking at the options available to you. For most visas you can apply online.

Visas for Visiting New Zealand

Photo by Jerry Zhang

If you intend to visit New Zealand for 3 months or fewer (6 months if you're a UK citizen) and don't plan to work, then you might not need a visa. Immigration New Zealand publishes a list of visa waiver countries on their website. This page also gives details of the New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority, or NZeTA, which you'll need to apply for.

If you're not from a visa waiver country, you'll need a visitor visa. Before applying for your visitor visa, be sure to check the best time to visit New Zealand so you'll be able to do all the activities you dream of while here.

Whether or not you require a visitor visa, you'll need to satisfy the New Zealand immigration authorities of the following, in order to be granted entry:

  • you don't intend to work,
  • you intend to return home within the applicable time (being in possession of a return ticket is usually sufficient proof for this),
  • you have enough money to support yourself during your stay.

You may be refused entry if immigration officers are not satisfied that you can fulfil these conditions.

Visas for Working in New Zealand

Photo by Annika Gordon

As in other countries, immigration rules are designed to ensure that New Zealanders have priority when it comes to careers and jobs. However, gaps in the labor force do occur and the government makes provision for work visas and permits to be made available when the need arises.

You'll probably find different work opportunities across the best places to live in New Zealand. Since this country is so varied, there's a big range in job openings.

As of publication, New Zealand is not one of the countries with a freelance visa, or a visa for remote workers. While this might change in the future, I wouldn't expect to take your online job or freelance work to New Zealand with you.

Work Visas

Various work visas are available, each geared towards different groups of people, scenarios, and circumstances. Broadly, they fall into 4 main categories with the aim of:

  • enticing workers with skills and qualifications to New Zealand, to help upskill our workforce, either for the long-term or for specific purposes;
  • allowing a family member to join their relative who holds a valid visa;
  • facilitating New Zealand's international and humanitarian obligations, including working holidays (see more on this below);
  • fulfilling the special requirements of specific professions and industries. Examples include short-term seasonal workers for agricultural sectors, fishing boat crew members, and ministers of religion. Some of these are interesting - there's even a special visa for Thai chefs!

The different kinds of visa all have their own terms, conditions, and requirements for qualifications and experience. An accredited employer work visa, for instance, can be issued when an applicant has received a job offer from an officially accredited employer.

There are too many variations to cover all of the work visas in detail in this post, so I recommend Immigration New Zealand's online tool to help determine which is the right visa for you.

Working Holiday Visas

These are available for nationals of specific countries and are age-restricted. They allow young people to undertake temporary work while travelling in New Zealand. Conditions vary from one country to another - check the relevant page on Immigration New Zealand's website or take some real life experience to maximize your Working Holiday Visa in New Zealand.

If you complete at least 3 months of work in the horticulture or viticulture industries, you may be eligible to apply for a 3 month extension to your working holiday visa.

Business Visas

Keen to run your own business? You might be interested in the Entrepreneur Work Visa. This allows you to buy or set up a business in New Zealand and can be a first step towards residency.

The snag is that you need to have at least $NZ100,000 for your capital investment, although this can be waived for certain types of businesses.


In case you're keen to volunteer for a worthy cause, such as a conservation project, it's worth knowing that there are no visa arrangements that allow a person to come to New Zealand for the sole purpose of volunteering.

It's possible to undertake volunteer work as a visitor, provided that the work is unpaid and no other benefits are provided that would otherwise cost money, such as meals or accommodation.

For anyone interested in WWOOFing - the Working on Organic Farms initiative - please be aware that this is considered to be paid work, not volunteering. You'll therefore need a Working Holiday Visa or Work Visa.

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Residency in New Zealand

Photo by Aaron Birch

A resident visa allows you to live and work indefinitely in New Zealand. As with work visas, there are various options and different pathways to residency.

For example, 'work to residency' visas allow holders to go on to qualify automatically for residency. Then there are 'straight to residency' work visas for those with occupations listed on the government's 'green list' of urgently-required workers.

Skilled Migrant Residence Visa

The Skilled Migrant Visa aims to attract highly-qualified people to join New Zealand's workforce, with a view to permanent residence and settlement.

When the initial assessment of applications is carried out, points are awarded for qualifications, experience, and age. Those who reach the pass mark may then be invited to apply.

Applicants also need to provide proof of English language competence and undergo health and character checks. These include a medical examination, chest x-ray, and police check.

When you submit your application you'll need to provide original documents including your passport. So make sure you don't need it for travel during the application period!

This is the type of visa that I obtained before coming to New Zealand. It was good to arrive with residency already in place. After 2 years, I was able to apply for my Permanent Resident Visa. 3 years later, I was able to become a New Zealand citizen. While many people choose to move to Auckland, I absolutely love living in Wellingon.

Visas for Studying in New Zealand

Photo by Tim Marshall

If you'd like to study in New Zealand, there are a few options depending on your age, country of origin, and intended duration of stay. Note that international students are not entitled to access publicly-funded health services.

The standard visitor visa allows you to study here for up to 3 months. For longer-term courses, you can stay for up to 4 years on a Fee-Paying Student Visa if you're enrolled at an approved educational institution. You must pay your own fees and expenses, but may be allowed to work part-time for up to 20 hours a week while studying, and full-time during holidays, depending on your visa conditions.

A special student visa is available for those who have secured a loan or scholarship from their home government.

See the official Study with New Zealand website for more information.

Countries with Special Status

Some countries, such as Australia and the Cook Islands, have a relationship with New Zealand that gives them special immigration status.

Australians, for example, are entitled to live and work in New Zealand under a reciprocal agreement. Cook Islanders have New Zealand citizenship and are free to live and work here.

Health Care for Non-Citizens

As always, you should make sure you have good travel and health insurance before embarking on any international travel. If you're planning to only travel to New Zealand, I recommend SafetyWing.

If you hold a residency visa, or any work visa giving permission to stay in New Zealand for 2 years or more, you may be able to access free or subsidised health and disability services. Otherwise, you should look at private medical insurance to cover your stay.

Te Waimarie Pai - Good Luck!

I hope this overview of visas for New Zealand has helped you formulate your plans to live here. I promise you, all your efforts will be worthwhile!

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