Living in New Zealand

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With our work-life balance, natural beauty and safe living environment, millions of people will tell you that New Zealand is a great place to live.

You’ll find Kiwis warm and welcoming, which can help to ease the transition to living in an unfamiliar country.

There’s plenty to organise as you settle in, so here are some practical tips to help you get set up with the essentials of living in New Zealand, from the admin of bank accounts and tax, to getting around while you’re here and a guide to finding somewhere to live.

Getting set up with the essentials

Bank accounts

Opening a New Zealand bank account as soon as you arrive is a good idea, because it means you can start getting paid into the account as soon as you have a job. Most banks in New Zealand have special services to help new migrants open accounts, bring money over and get things sorted.

You should also be able to start this process before you leave home. Most banks have an online form that allows you to open a New Zealand bank account or accounts before you arrive, and even transfer money to the account. In this form they’ll ask you questions like:

• your foreign tax identification number (FIN)
• your passport number
• your arrival date and length of stay

When you arrive in New Zealand, you’ll need to confirm your account by taking the required documentation to a branch of your new bank. This documentation includes both the original and a copy of:

• your passport
• proof of your new residential address, such as a utilities bill, bank statement or letter, or employment agreement.

Some popular New Zealand banks

Some factors you might want to consider when choosing a bank include account fees and the ease of transferring any money back to your home currency once you’re ready to leave New Zealand.

Tax & the IRD

If you’re going to be working in New Zealand, even temporarily like on the Working Holiday Scheme visa, you’ll need an IRD (Inland Revenue Department) number, which identifies you for tax purposes.

You can set this up by downloading and filling in an IRD number application form (IR595), and making sure you take this and the necessary supporting documents with you to New Zealand. Once you’re here, head to a New Zealand Postshop or an Automobile Association (AA) Driver Licensing Agent. They’ll send your application off to the IRD, who will contact you with your new IRD number.
You’ll need to pass this number onto your employer, who will give you an IR330 form to fill out to make sure you’re taxed at the correct rate. The tax system here is called PAYE, or Pay As You Earn.

Insurance

The Working Holiday Scheme requires most participants to hold comprehensive medical and travel insurance - in addition to the ACC levy you’ll pay - to cover you in case of injury in New Zealand.  Please refer to your country’s specific requirements on the Immigration New Zealand website.

Mobile Phones and Internet Access

Many travellers decide to bring their mobile phone with them to New Zealand. If your phone is unlocked (something to check with your provider before you leave home), you can grab a local SIM card from one of our four network providers (Spark, Vodafone, 2degrees and Skinny) when you arrive. Just pop it in your existing phone, and with your New Zealand number you will be ready to make domestic and international phone calls as well as access WiFi and data packages. If your phone is locked, you can purchase a new phone and SIM card from the providers listed above.

The network providers have retail stores at the international airports as well as in CBD locations, so you should have no problem finding them once you arrive. And, once here, they can take you through the calling and data plans they offer – both pre-paid and on contract.

Wi-Fi is available at most short-term accommodation in New Zealand, and at cafés around and about. Sometimes you’ll need to pay a small amount to access the Wi-Fi. Don’t want to pay? Free internet can be found at public libraries.

When you find somewhere to live, you may want to set up a more permanent internet connection. Often when you use the same provider for your home broadband as you’ve chosen to provide your mobile phone plan, you’ll be able to buy a bundled package (incorporating your cellphone plan with your broadband plan into one) for a discount. But it’s up to you whether you’d like to do this, or you might choose to mix and match to find a better deal. There are plenty of options, so it pays to shop around and find the best deal to suit you!

A temporary place to stay

If you don’t have family or friends to stay with, or accommodation organised by an employer or volunteer programme, you’ll need to find temporary accommodation for a few weeks while you settle in. Try a short-term stay at a backpacker's, a hotel or motel or cabins in a holiday park or camping ground.

Finding a place to live

As you begin looking for a more permanent home, you’ll notice a variety of housing styles – from apartments to townhouses, flats and suburban homes. You might move into a flat with a bunch of Kiwis – the more people that live there, the lower the rent you’ll pay – or choose a smaller apartment shared with one other person. It’s up to you, and your budget.

If you’re going to be working rurally, the good news is that the prices will generally drop, and options like shearer’s quarters or larger shared accommodation on a farm or orchard may be available.

If you’re going to be working in a more urban area, finding a flat with existing flatmates is probably the most cost-effective option.

A few pointers:

  • Many rentals come unfurnished, so make sure you check what whiteware (like refrigerators or washing machines) and other items are included.
  • When it comes to leases, generally you’ll be asked to sign a lease for at least 6 months, but some landlords may require a longer lease, and if you join some shared flats you may even get away without signing a lease at all!
  • TradeMe is a popular resource for finding a rental property or flatmate in New Zealand
  • For more information, check out this Flatting 101 guide.

Transportation

New Zealand has a big driving culture and most people find it to be the easiest way to get around, however there are comprehensive bus services available in all cities as well as suburban rail services in Wellington and Auckland.

In rural areas, the public transport can be a bit more sporadic. You may find that it’s easiest for you to buy a vehicle (or a bike) if you’re staying in a rural area while you’re here.

If you are looking to buy a car in New Zealand, take a look at our helpful car buying guide. There are a number of ways to view second-hand vehicles online, like TradeMe, or if you need something short-term try researching places tailored towards backpackers, like Backpacker Car World – they have cheap vehicles and vans fitted out for sleeping while you’re travelling around. Check out the Backpacker Board noticeboard for other travellers looking to sell on their cars and vans too.

Just a note on car insurance: it’s not compulsory in New Zealand, but we’d advise you to take out at least ‘third party insurance’ on your vehicle, which insures you against having to pay for damage you cause to someone else’s vehicle.
Also, if you’re taking a road trip around New Zealand there’s so much to see. If you’re not keen to buy or hire a car, you can check out hop-on, hop-off bus passes or campervan rentals.

Do I need a New Zealand driver’s license?

No, unless you’ll be staying here for more than 12 months. If your home driver’s license isn’t in English, you will need to apply for an international driving permit. We also suggest you learn more about driving in New Zealand on the DriveSafe website, and study the New Zealand road code for a comprehensive guide to traffic laws and safe driving practices.

Planning your backpacking route? Check out some tips, operators and amazing itinerary suggestions.
 

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