Planning a move to New Zealand? Here’s everything you need to know
Temperate climate and lush scenery make it an attractive alternative to Australia
New Zealand may not lure as many Irish as its Aussie neighbour, but its more temperate climate, lush green scenery and lower cost of living make it an attractive option for young people and families who are looking to find a new home down under, especially for workers in construction trades.
The New Zealand economy took a tumble around the same time as the recession hit Ireland in 2008, but it didn’t fall as far and recovered much more quickly. The unemployment rate was just 4.4 per cent in May 2018, the lowest since the last quarter of 2008.
Ireland is one of the countries targeted by the New Zealand government to fill acute skills shortages, which have emerged in industries ranging from construction to hospitality, healthcare and information technology in recent years.
Although the number of Irish people moving there has been declining since it peaked in 2013, when more than 5,000 Irish got visas to work there, it remains a popular destination, with more than 3,300 Irish granted work visas in 2017.
Still need convincing? All three major cities get more than 2,000 hours of sunshine a year (compared with 1,600 in Ireland’s sunny southeast). There are many sandy beaches with top surf spots, ski resorts in the mountains, and beautiful lakes, rivers and fjords to explore.
But no matter how attractive the change of scenery or the promise of a suitable job in New Zealand may be, it is important to do thorough research in advance of such a big move, whether you are travelling alone or with a family.
This guide gives an overview of the main points to consider, with links to official government websites and other useful online resources where you can go for more detailed information.
Visa guide: Introduction to the most popular visa types for Irish workers, from the working holiday visa to options for longer stay, including employer and state sponsorship, permanent residency and citizenship
Finding a place to live: Overview of the property market, short-term accommodation options, average cost of renting and buying a home in each of the main cities, and how to find cheap furniture
Which city? The most popular locations for Irish people, and what they offer in terms of jobs and lifestyle
Finding a job: Introduction to the current economic climate in New Zealand, examining the jobs market, what skills/occupations are currently in demand and where, and advice on how to jobsearch
Health: Who is entitled to public healthcare, what costs are involved, and health insurance options
Education: How the education system is run, third-level options and fees
Culture and lifestyle: Multicultural, awash with restaurants, plenty of sport and big events - and that’s just Auckland
Finance: How much money you should bring to get set up, how the cost of living compares to Ireland, and an introduction to the tax system
Directory: Contact details for Irish organisations, sports and culture clubs, online social networks and other useful support groups
(Note: the information in this guide, which is intended as an overview, was correct at date of publication. Visa regulations change on a regular basis, so candidates should check the New Zealand Department of Immigration website for the most up-to-date information).
Irish citizens who intend to work, study or set up a business in New Zealand need to have the right visa to suit their circumstances.
The New Zealand Department of Immigration website has a VisaOptions tool to help applicants find the right visa for them.
The majority of workers move to New Zealand through the Work to Residence or Skilled Migrant programmes. The list below summarises the most common visa types for Irish workers.
Costs: Application costs range from NZ$208 (€120) for a working holiday visa to NZ$3,615 (€2,093) for a skilled migrant resident visa. Visas for entrepreneurs, investors or retirees can cost up to NZ$4,745 for Investor type 2. See immigration.govt.nz for the full list.
Migration agents can assist with the application process for an additional fee, but are not essential. Do make sure they are registered with the New Zealand government
You don’t need a visa to work in New Zealand if you are an Australian citizen or permanent resident.
Working holiday visa: Allows people aged 18-30 to work and travel for up to 12 months. You cannot bring children with you on this visa. You must have a return ticket or sufficient funds to buy one when entering the country, and a minimum of NZ$4,200 in your bank account.
Essential Skills category: For workers with a job offer with the training or experience needed by an employer who has proven they can’t find a similarly qualified candidate in New Zealand to fill the position. The visa will be issued for a one, three or five years. Since August 2017, the Essential Skills visa is offered on a skill-band basis. There are three skill-bands: low, mid, and high, and they are based on pay-rate and the perceived skill level of the occupation. If your skill band is lower-skilled, you cannot support visas for your family unless they already had a visa before August 2017, or you previously studied in New Zealand and subsequently held a post-study work visa.
Silver Fern category: A nine-month visa (which can be extended to two years) for highly skilled 20- to 35-year-olds searching for employment in New Zealand. It is limited to 300 places per year. Applications open each November for the following year.
For more temporary visas, including family stream visas and study visas, see New Zealand Immigration.
There are two routes to permanent residency in New Zealand: Work to Residence visas and Skilled Migrant visas.
Work to Residence
Long Term Skill Shortage List Work Category: If your skills are on the long-term shortage list, this visa allows you to work for 30 months in the country. After two years you can apply for permanent residency. To qualify, you must be under 55 years of age, be healthy, of good character, have an offer of employment, be qualified through training or experience for the job, and have full or provisional registration if your occupation requires it in New Zealand.
Talent (Accredited Employers) Work Category: For workers whose occupation is not on the skills shortage list but who have a job offer from a New Zealand employer accredited to recruit staff from overseas. After two years you can apply for permanent residency. Applicants must be 55 or under.
Talent (Arts, Culture and Sports) Work Category: For people with recognised talents and abilities in the arts, culture or sports fields. You must have the support of “a New Zealand organisation of national repute in your field of talent” and a sponsor.
Entrepreneur Work Visa Category: For people who want to establish a business in New Zealand as a step to gaining residence. To apply you’ll need at least NZ$100,000 to invest, as well as a detailed business plan.
This skilled migrant visa offers permanent residency to workers whose skills are in demand (on any of the shortage lists) but don’t have a job offer before arrival. You must be under 55, healthy, of good character and speak English. You must submit an expression of interest, and if you claim enough points for age, experience, employability and qualifications, you will be invited to apply. Some workers will be given a job search visa which can be used for up to nine months while looking for skilled employment.
For all other visa types, see immigration.govt.nz.
If you have permanent residence and are considered “of good character” with no convictions or fines, you are entitled to apply for citizenship in New Zealand. This will give you the right to vote, live in New Zealand indefinitely, travel on a New Zealand passport, and stand for parliament. See www.dia.govt.nz.
Accommodation to rent or buy costs roughly double in cities compared to rural areas. Auckland is the largest and most expensive city, with prices soaring for properties close to the sea or in sought-after grammar school zones (see schoolzones.co.nz).
New Zealand experienced a housing boom between 2002 and 2007, with prices rising between 10 and 15 per cent per year. This was followed by a fall in 2008 to 2010, but the market has been recovering since 2011, with values rising 7.6 per cent in the 12 months to April 2018. There is strong demand for housing in New Zealand, and an ongoing housing crisis in Auckland, resulting in steep prices.
Statistics from QV (qv.co.nz) show that the average house value in New Zealand in April 2018 was NZ$678,856 (€394,571) nationally. Auckland city homes were among the most expensive at almost twice the national average, at NZ$1,232,850 (€716,629), but in smaller cities such as Dunedin, house values were much lower at about NZ$404,539 (€235,134).
Renting a home
Buying a home can be a worthwhile investment for those who get permanent residency and intend to stay there long term, but the majority of Irish people arrive on a one- or two-year work visa, and rent a home.
Periodic tenancies are common, where no fixed period is specified on the lease. New arrivals uncertain about where they want to live should look out for this type of rental, which will allow you to try out a property or area without making a long-term commitment.
Tenants need to give the landlord three weeks’ notice before vacating a property, which means short-term lets are technically possible on a periodic lease.
Market rent is described (in the Residential Tenancies Act) as what a willing landlord might reasonably expect to receive, and a willing tenant might reasonably expect to pay for the tenancy, in comparison with rent levels for similar properties in similar areas.
QZ has a section on market rent on its website, which compares rent charged for properties of a certain type and size in a given location. The median rent nationally is NZ$280 (€ 162) per week for a one-bedroom flat, and NZ$550 (€ 319) per week for a four-bedroom house, though these values can almost double in popular areas in Auckland.
Tenants are legally required to pay between two and four week’s rent as a bond, which is deposited by the landlord with the Ministry of Housing. Landlords usually request two weeks’ rent in advance in addition to the bond, and if you have found your home through an estate agent, they will charge a fee equivalent to another week’s rent.
The costs add up. A flat to rent for NZ$250 (€145) per week could cost you NZ$1,750 (€1,017) upfront, and that’s before you consider buying furniture, appliances and other household items. The majority of rental properties are leased unfurnished, but will have a cooker, fridge, carpets and curtains or blinds.
It is possible to rent furniture to fill a modest home for about NZ$200 (€116) per week if you don’t intend to stay long in a property, and second-hand furniture can be found on websites such as trademe.co.nz.
Council rates are paid by the homeowner or landlord. Rates vary depending on the particular council and the location of the property, but usually amount to about 0.5 per cent of the property value annually. Water and refuse collection are not covered by council rates, and are paid for by the tenant.
Housing is in shortest supply in Christchurch, where major earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 damaged about 10,000 homes. After years of skyrocketing prices, property costs finally started to level off in 2017. Higher interest rates and restrictions to offshore buying are predicted to further stem the demand for buying property in 2018.
ContractAccom.co.nz organises full- or half-board accommodation for contract workers in Christchurch.
Buying a home
Maureen Crowley, a real estate agent and secretary of the Christchurch Irish Society, says the most important thing to investigate if you are considering investing in a property in Christchurch is whether you can get insurance before you buy - some companies insist homeowners have an existing policy with them before offering a new policy on another house.
It is also advisable to get an independent valuation and building inspection of any property you are looking to purchase.
For about NZ$5 (€2.90), QV will be able to tell you the price fetched for other properties in the neighbourhood, and how much a property sold for previously.
Every property has a Land Information Memorandum (LIM), available from the local council for a small fee, which contains information about the property’s zoning, boundaries and building consents.
Homes tend to typically be in an inner-city apartment block, or a fully detached, individually built suburban or rural house. Rows of terraced or semi-detached houses are uncommon. Most houses are wooden with iron roofs.
Houses more than 30 years old are not usually insulated, unless upgraded under the government scheme, and almost all housing lacks central heating, which means it can get very cold in the winter months, especially on the South Island.
Windy Wellington, amiable Auckland or construction-obsessed Christchurch?
Auckland: With its mild climate and easygoing ways, Auckland consistently rates in the top 10 cities in the world when any global quality of life studies are released. One-third of New Zealanders live there and two in five of those were born overseas, making the city a lively, multi-cultural spot. Built around two harbours, Auckland is called the City of Sails for good reason. Just about everyone seems to get out on the water when they can. Those looking for work in business, finance and IT are most likely to find joy as most big companies are based here.
Wellington: Brace yourself! Windy Wellington can feel pretty chilly in winter when severe southerly winds roll in. Other than that, it’s a rather lovely place with umpteen bays and beaches, and a tasty coffee and brunch culture. New Zealand’s capital is in the wealthiest part of the country and wages here at the southern tip of the North Island are higher than in any other part of the country. The government is a big employer and there are also jobs to be had in tourism. Don’t forget that New Zealand gets a lot of earthquakes, however. There are about 14,000 in the country each year, only about 150-200 of which are strong enough to be felt, and Wellington is the largest city within the country’s high-risk zone. That said, everybody who works there gets training in what to do. Get the latest on the city and its economy at wellington.govt.nz.
Christchurch: Once known as The Garden City, Christchurch is still recovering from the serious earthquake damage sustained in 2011. A significant rebuilding and repair programme has been underway for years, but residents have been recently complaining about how long it is taking to get repair work done. There are still plenty of work opportunities for those with related skills, though it also means the city doesn’t yet have all the amenities and services it had before; it will take 20 years to return Christchurch’s quake-damaged roads to the standard enjoyed by other New Zealand cities, according to some reports. In the meantime, life in the suburbs goes on as normal and there are plenty of Irish here if you are feeling homesick. Other big employers in the area are tourism and agriculture.
For most people emigrating in search of work in the past decade, booming Australia has been an obvious choice over New Zealand, which was hit by recession at a similar time to Ireland. Unemployment soared from a record low of 3.4 per cent in 2007 to 7 per cent in 2009.
But the economy has been recovering since. Unemployment fell to about 4.4 per cent in January 2018, and acute skills shortages have emerged in industries ranging from construction to healthcare, science and information technology that the New Zealand government is looking abroad to fill.
In 2017, the highest number of New Zealand work visas for Irish citizens went to physiotherapists, resident medical officers, café or restaurant managers, carpenters, sales assistants, chefs, dairy farmers, quantity surveyors and musicians.
Skilled tradespeople and construction professionals are still sought after to assist with the rebuilding of Christchurch, after two major earthquakes destroyed much of the city in 2010 and 2011. About 80 per cent of buildings in the central business district and more than 10,000 homes needed to be demolished after the two earthquakes, and an additional 100,000 houses were in need of repair. The rebuild is expected to continue until 2020, at a cost of about NZ$40 billion (€26 billion).
Ireland is one of the main skilled labour markets being targeted by employers. Engineers, carpenters, joiners and building surveyors are in high demand, but note that you will need official papers to prove your qualifications.
The number of jobs in construction and related sectors are fewer than in the early years of the rebuild however. Unemployment rates are increasing again in Christchurch following a lengthy period of outperforming the rest of the country, but agriculture and manufacturing are regaining strength.
Opportunities for construction workers are not limited to Christchurch. The rebuild sucked in workers from all over the country, creating shortages in other cities and regions, especially in Auckland where major infrastructure projects including a new city rail link are planned or already under construction.
New Zealand has had an emigration problem of its own over the past decade, which has exacerbated skill shortages in areas outside construction, such as healthcare.
Despite a shortage of workers, there won’t be jobs for everyone, so it is important to do your research before leaving to make sure your skills and experience match what employers are looking for.
There are three skills lists that facilitate the entry of skilled migrants: skillshortages.immigration.govt.nz.
The immediate and long-term skill shortage lists are updated annually, while a temporary third list for Canterbury, developed to provide workers for the Christchurch rebuild, is updated every three months. The immediate skill shortage list mostly features trades, construction, healthcare and agriculture -related professions. The long-term list contains more, with a particular emphasis on engineers, healthcare and social workers, and construction workers.
Find a job
New Zealand employers place a lot of emphasis on “New Zealand experience”, according to Ciaran Lowney, who has lived in Auckland for over a decade. “Newly qualified and inexperienced graduates or those who have just arrived may struggle against New Zealand candidates, but enthusiasm and positivity in interviews will set you apart.”
He also advises jobseekers not to be too choosy when they first arrive. “My first role was not my dream job, but it was a foot in the door, a chance to start earning, and more importantly, a chance to get New Zealand experience,” he says.
Employers are not obliged to advertise jobs and it is estimated that only 20 to 30 per cent of vacancies are advertised. So networking plays an important role when searching for work. Companies also place importance on personal recommendations from existing employees.
The Irish community actively helps new arrivals to find work, so linking in with the local Irish association and joining online networks for Irish people can be helpful.
Information about jobs and vacancies is often posted by Irish people on the Irish People Living in New Zealand Facebook page.
Seek.co.nz is the biggest jobs website for professionals, while trademe.co.nz has extensive listings for professionals and blue-collar workers. careers.govt.nz has a full list of job and recruitment websites, and tips on finding work.
The Earthquake Commission, the agency responsible for the residential repair programme in Christchurch, advertises directly for workers on its website www.eqc.govt.nz, as does the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team. Fletcher Construction is managing many of the repair projects and has a lot of jobs advertised on its website, Fbcareers.co.nz.
Opportunitycanterbury.org.nz is a government-run website listing jobs for all occupations and professions in the region.
Recruitment agencies are also hugely helpful, Lowney says. “Apply to as many as you can, but make sure you are transparent. If you are presented to a company by one agency, make sure another agency doesn’t present you for the same job.”
Local recruitment agencies are most useful for temporary office or farm work, while international companies like Robert Walters or Cobalt Recruitment are better for professional positions. Applicants can register with recruiters before leaving Ireland. Immigration New Zealand has a section on its website on working and finding a job.
Depending on the type of visa you have, you may or may not be eligible for subsidised medical treatment in New Zealand’s public health system. Residents and those on migrant work visas of two years’ duration or more should be covered. If you are on a visa for less than two years, full charges will be applied for healthcare but most costs of injuries from accidents are covered by the accident compensation scheme (ACC). Check your eligibility on the Ministry of Health site.
No matter what, you will be treated in a public hospital in an emergency. 111 is the Kiwi version of 999.
As in Ireland, many New Zealanders take out health insurance, particularly to avoid long waiting periods in the public system. There are two main types of health insurance: comprehensive, which covers both hospital treatment and everyday medical costs, such as GP or physiotherapist visits; and elective surgical and specialist care cover, which takes care of hospital bills, but not other medical treatment.
You can learn more about the health insurance products on offer at Southern Cross Health Society or comparison shop for cover on insureme.co.nz. Your monthly premium is likely to cost between NZ$40 (€ 23) and NZ$100 (€ 58), depending on your age and cover needs.
Dental treatment is free for children under 18, but adults must pay for private treatment. As ever, shop around for the best value.
Education in New Zealand
In New Zealand, children must attend school from age 6 to 16, but most start at age 5. Primary school runs through to year 6 (age 10), then children attend intermediate school for years 7 and 8, before going on to secondary school for years 9 to 13. Confusingly, intermediate schooling might be in a separate school, or in a primary school or a secondary school. Secondary schools are sometimes called high schools, grammar schools or colleges.
Expect to pay a voluntary contribution to the school. This ranges up to NZ$800 (€467) a year, and depends on the “decile ranking” of the school, which indicates where it sits on the socioeconomic scale. These “voluntary” fees can be as much as NZ$4,000 (€2,337) in integrated schools, which are former private schools that are now part of the state system.
There is also plenty of information about the different types of school and choosing a school on the New Zealand Now site newzealandnow.govt.nz and the Ministry of Education site minedu.govt.nz. For more information on all levels of the education system in New Zealand, take a look at Education New Zealand’s website studyinnewzealand.govt.nz.
The third-level system is not dissimilar to here, although fees can be high for international students, ranging from NZ$20,000 (€11,685) to NZ$75,000 (€43,820) a year. Children of parents on working visas may qualify as domestic students, which brings fees down to a starting point of NZ$5,000 (€2,921).
The outdoor life is brilliant - as long as you are not on ‘sunshine wages’
We asked a few New Zealanders to tell us what they love about “Godzone” (God’s own), as they call their country.
“Kiwis are traditionally laid-back and self-effacing to the point of being painful,” says Richard Irvine, who is external digital channels manager at Fonterra, a multinational dairy co-operative. “We pride ourselves on being practical, good with our hands and laconic. Generally, we like our lifestyle outdoor-orientated, with sport, BBQs, mountains, beaches and boats making up most folks’ ideal weekends.
“I live in Auckland and we’re working to make it a proper, grown-up international city rather than just New Zealand’s biggest town by default,” he adds. “It’s multicultural, awash with superb restaurants, does big events and sport pretty well and is set between two wonderful harbours If we could just focus on the ‘play hard’ instead of ‘work hard’, we’d be doing pretty well.”
Cate Murphy is a tattooist and artist from Nelson, in the north of the South Island. She agrees that New Zealand has a good multicultural atmosphere and likes the fact that Maori culture is highly visible. “New Zealanders also love outdoor activities, such as mountain biking, hunting, fishing and hiking.”
She enjoys living in Nelson, citing being near the sea, regular music and art festivals, a family-oriented society, friendly people, good food and coffee as the benefits of the small city. There is also a downside, she says.
“Many people find themselves in a low-income situation with on and off employment, involving lots seasonal work. They call it ‘sunshine wages’ here.”
The cost of living in New Zealand is generally on par with Ireland, although specific costs might be higher or lower than at home and wages tend to be lower. Dublin ranked 66th on Mercer’s Cost of Living survey in 2017, while Auckland was 61st and Wellington 86th. For more detailed cost of living information, take a look at New Zealand Now, which has a cost of living calculator.
The first cost of moving will be your visa. Making a formal expression of interest in applying for a skilled migrant visa costs from NZ$530 (€309) if you do it online, while the actual visa costs NZ$3,085 (€1,802). A working holiday visa costs NZ$208. See the Immigration New Zealand website for more information.
Rents vary but the national median rent for a four-bedroom home was NZ$550 (€319) a week in April 2018. This rises from between NZ$600 and NZ$1200 a week in Auckland. Renting a room in a shared apartment or “flatting”, as Kiwis call it, costs NZ$155 (median cost based on a three-bed flat) a week on average, but it can be as much as NZ$230 a week. You can check likely costs on New Zealand Now and look for somewhere to live on Trademe.co.nz or Flatfinder.co.nz.
You will have to pay at least two weeks’ rent in advance and a deposit, which is called a rental bond, of four weeks’ rent. Bonds are held by a government agency, rather than by landlords. If you are going to Christchurch, expect the rent to be higher as there is still pressure on supply there following the earthquakes.
It makes sense to open a bank account before you leave Ireland so you will have a debit card ready to use when you get there. You will need it. New Zealanders pay for almost everything with cards and tend to use cash for small day-to-day purchases only. You can open an account online through any of the main banks: ANZ, ASB, BNZ, Kiwibank and Westpac.
Learn more about the different savings accounts, credit cards, insurance and other financial products available in New Zealand on sorted.org.nz and on consumer.org.nz.
Once you are in New Zealand and want to start working, you can apply for an Inland Revenue Department (IRD) number so that you don’t pay tax at a “no-declaration rate” (similar to emergency tax in Ireland) of 45 per cent, rather than the usual tax rates of between 10.5 per cent and 33 per cent. You can apply through the Inland Revenue site, where you can also find detailed information on income tax rates, how to make returns and how to join KiwiSaver, the government retirement savings scheme.
When you are budgeting for your life in New Zealand, bear in mind that most Kiwis have cars and, unless you are living in one of the largest two or three cities, you will almost certainly need one.
New Zealand may be far from home but there are plenty of ways to meet other Irish people, from GAA clubs to Facebook
As much as New Zealand has to offer, its remote location means expats can feel very far from home at times. If you find homesickness is starting to set in a while after you move, it might be time to seek out the Irish in New Zealand. There’s a vibrant Irish community there, which organises regular sports events and other get-togethers.
The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs recently published The Global Irish Diaspora Directory, a great resource for people looking to connect with Irish communities around the world.
Gaelic Football and Hurling Association of Australasia: australasiangaelicgames.com
Auckland GAA: https://www.aucklandgaa.nz/
Harps Gaelic Football Club: harpsgaa.com
Celtic Gaelic Football Club: celticgaa.nz
St Pats GAA (Auckland): facebook.com/stpatsemeraldcity
Marist Rangers GAA (Auckland): maristgaa.co.nz
Wellington GAA: wellingtongaa.com
Christchurch GAA: facebook.com/ChristchurchMcKennas
Bohemian Celtic (soccer in Auckland): bohs.nz
Language and culture
New Zealand Society Genealogists Irish Interest Group: https://www.genealogy.org.nz/Irish-Lwr-Nth_471.aspx
Community, Support and Social Groups
Directory of Irish bars: irishabroad.com/Pubs
Auckland Irish Society: aucklandirish.co.nz
Christchurch Irish Society: christchurchirishsociety.co.nz
Wellington Irish Society: wellingtonirishsociety.com
Hutt Valley Irish Society: huttirish.org.nz
Kapiti Coast Irish Society: facebook.com/kapitiirishsociety
Irish People Living in New Zealand: facebook.com/irishpeoplelivinginnewzealand
St Patrick’s Festival Trust, Auckland: http://www.stpatrick.co.nz/
Consulate General of Ireland: ireland.co.nz