What immigrants should expect when planning to live or work in New Zealand

If moving house is a big deal, moving country is probably one of the most stressful things a person can do.

If you’re planning on moving to New Zealand, then here’s the good news; this country was voted one of the easiest in the world for setting up finance and property matters, coming second for ‘ease of settling in’.

But no matter how much planning you’ve done ahead of time, once you step off that plane you’re facing challenges. This blog post will help you with some of them.


First thing’s first, you need somewhere to stay once you arrive.

Most people will have something organised for at least the first few nights, usually with family, friends or an employer. Whoever it’s with, you’ll need somewhere to live for the first few weeks while you look for something more permanent.

A good website in New Zealand to search for accommodation is Wotif. It lets you search a wide range of different types of accommodation, including hotels and motels, self-catering apartments, backpackers and B&Bs.

Phone and internet is a priority once you land. SIM cards can be bought at the airport on arrival, and this will give you a New Zealand phone number you can then use to sort everything else out, including accommodation.

Most SIM cards will also come with data for you to get online, but free Wi-Fi hotspots can be found around the city in cafes, restaurants and public places.

The settlement curve

Everyone has a different story with their migration. Some people hit the ground running and never look back, others struggle and wish they never left their own country. While everyone’s journey is different, many people can fit along something called “the settlement curve”.

The settlement curve is usually broken into the “five F’s” - different stages over the course of a couple of years. It can vary in time depending on the person, but as a general rule, this is what it looks like…

1 – Fun

On arrival in New Zealand, you feel excitement. Everything is so different and new. It is fun!

2 – Fright

Then, you might have a bad experience that gives you a fright. Living in another country is perhaps not as easy as you thought.

You may experience the feeling that life ‘back home' is going on without you and you are missing out on important family milestones. You may feel down and very homesick.

3 & 4 - Flight or Fight

You may not experience the ‘fright’ phase for a few months or even years. But if and when it happens, it can make you question whether you should go back to your old life (flight) or try and make your new one work (fight).

This is the time when you need to face the challenges of living in a new country and get support to help you achieve your goals.

Having someone to talk to is a big help at this stage. Think about setting up informal support networks right from when you arrive. Make friends with other new arrivals to share experiences with or find a counsellor to talk to.

5 – Fit

This is the final stage of the settlement curve, when you start to fit in with your new surroundings and feel at home in your new country.

Helping family to settle into New Zealand

Migrating with a partner can be both simultaneously easier and make things more difficult, especially if the other person wasn’t fully on board with the decision.

Having someone to go through the challenges with can help, but it can also add stress to the relationship. One of you may feel homesick and vulnerable without your family and old friends, while the other may really be enjoying the new experiences.

Adding children to the mix also brings with it more stress, but bringing children to New Zealand for a better life is one of the main reasons people migrate.

Luckily, parenting support is available from several Kiwi organisations. Parents Centres are a great place to start. They are available throughout the country. Check the Parents Centres website for more information. 

Everyday things

There are big things you need to sort out as soon as possible, like accommodation and a phone number, but there are also other things that need to be taken care of as soon as you have time.

It’s a good idea to apply for an IRD number so you are taxed at the correct rate from the moment you start work. If you do not have an IRD number, you will be taxed at the highest possible rate!

You can generally drive in New Zealand on your overseas driver’s license for the first 12 months but after that you will need to convert your license to a New Zealand one. If your overseas licence is still current or has expired less than 12 months ago you can apply to convert it to a New Zealand licence. It's also important to get to know the New Zealand road rules if you plan on driving here.

Once you find somewhere to live, you’ll need to find a doctor for you and your family. You will also need to enrol with the local Primary Health Organisation (PHO). Their contact details are listed on the health page for each region.

Again, once you know where you’re living, if you have children you’ll need to enrol them in a school nearby. Early Childhood Education for younger children is optional but children aged 6-16 years must go to school.  New Zealand has an education system that is world-class, modern and responsive.

Māori culture

Kiwis are warm, friendly and welcoming, and Māori culture is an important part of that.

As a migrant, you will have a better understanding of the country if you understand the influence of Māori culture and language on New Zealand society. It influences our food, our language, our attitudes, what children learn at school and how the country is governed.

Te Reo – the Māori language - is an official language in New Zealand, along with English and New Zealand Sign Language. Many government websites are presented in both Māori and English, with some English place names officially replaced by Māori names.

A great way to learn about Māori culture is to experience it for yourself, for example by visiting a marae (a Māori meeting ground).

If you would like to know more about Māori culture and history, Te Ara (The Encyclopedia of New Zealand) has some excellent information about the history of Māori arrival and settlement and gives an overview of Māori culture to the present day.

Migrant settlement strategy

Settled migrants are generally happier, stay longer and contribute more to society than unsettled ones, which is why the NZ Government wants to make the transition to Aotearoa as stress-free as possible.

The New Zealand Migrant Settlement and Integration Strategy supports migrants settling in New Zealand.

The Strategy provides settlement information and services to support migrants in five areas:

  • Employment
  • Education and training
  • English language
  • Inclusion
  • Health and wellbeing.

You can read more about the Strategy on the Immigration New Zealand website.