Ahh, traveling the world. Who hasn’t dreamed of ditching their desk job and jet-setting off to a remote location with nothing but a backpack full of clothes?
For most people, this daydream quickly ends after realizing that travel requires money and money does not grow on trees. If only there was an easy way to travel and make money on the road. Fear not, hungry travelers! New Zealand has a way for you to live in a foreign country and supplement your budget during your travels.
New Zealand’s Working Holiday Visa is a great option for young travelers looking to live and work abroad for a year. I get a lot of questions every year on how to visit on a working holiday visa and what to expect once you get here so let’s get into it. Here’s everything you need to know about coming to New Zealand on the Working Holiday Visa.
What are the requirements?
Requirements and application costs vary depending on your country of origin so it’s best to check the Immigration New Zealand website directly. The website will tell you everything you need to know and if you have more specific questions, call the immigration office. Immigration offices are notoriously hard to deal with but New Zealand has some of the most helpful and pleasant people I’ve encountered when it comes to visas.
In general, the Working Holiday Visa is available to people aged 18-30 (or 18-35 in select countries) and allows the recipient to work for up to 12 months (or 23 months if you’re from the UK or Canada).
You must have a return flight purchased or be able to show you have sufficient funds to buy a ticket out of the country. You will need a medical check (which could also require a chest x-ray and vaccination records depending on where you have lived and traveled over the past 10 years) to prove you’re in good health. Upon entry to the country, you may also need to show bank statements showing you have enough money to live on while you’re in New Zealand.
The Immigration New Zealand website is interactive and very helpful.
How to apply
Apply online at Immigration.govt.nz. The application is remarkably short and easy and it’s typical to get your visa within a few weeks or in some cases even a few days.
There are third-party organizations and licensed immigration advisors who will do the visa process for you and promise to help you get settled in New Zealand, but in my opinion, this is a waste of money. The process is so simple and New Zealand is fairly friendly and easy to navigate once you’re here so I recommend applying on your own directly through immigration.
Once approved, your visa will be sent electronically so no need to send off your passport. Congratulations! You’re ready to buy your ticket and pack your bag.
How much money do I need to save?
This will vary from person to person. Immigration requires you to have $4,200 NZD saved up to get you by until you find a job (you maybe be asked to prove this at the airport. I wasn’t but many people I know were required to.) Some people opt to travel the country straight away before working while others seek employment immediately.
Obviously, if you’re planning on traveling a lot and working a little, you’ll need more money saved up. For the first few weeks while you’re getting settled, plan on spending $40 – $60 a day, depending on how frugal you are.
If you’re planning on buying a car, you should have $1,500 – $3,500 NZD saved up. Petrol runs around $2.00 per liter so if you’re planning on driving a lot, factor in fuel costs. Food is pricey in New Zealand but you can save money by cooking your own meals at hostels. Eating out costs around $15-$20 per meal.
I’m ready to go! What now?
First things first, print off all your documents: visa, bank statements, return plane tickets if applicable. It’s a good idea to have copies of your passport and drivers license since you’ll need them once you’re in the country. Check to see if you need an international driver’s license.
There are a few things you can do before leaving that will make your transition much easier. One tip I wish I would have known before is that you can actually open a New Zealand bank account before you arrive in the country. Some banks require your IRD (tax) number to open a bank account while others only need your proof of identity and visas.
I recommend you open your bank account and transfer some money before you leave your home country. All of the following banks are reputable and plentiful throughout the country: BNZ, ANZ, Kiwibank, Westpac, ASB. For example, WestPac is part of an alliance with Bank of America which can mean reduced fees.
Before you leave your home country, you will also need to purchase traveler’s insurance. This is mandatory for your visa and you’ll definitely want it if you need to visit the doctor for any reason during your stay. New Zealand’s universal healthcare does not apply to travelers.
If you’re planning on working, you’ll need to apply for an IRD number (similar to a SSN in the USA or National Insurance Number in the UK) which you can apply for at any of the post offices.
It’s a quick process but you do need a physical address and two forms of identification. If you don’t have a place to live yet, ask your hostel if they can receive your IRD mail.
How to get a job
Let me be clear if you looking to earn and save a lot of money while you’re traveling, New Zealand’s working holiday visa is not for you.
You can easily make enough money to get by and supplement your travels but this is not a visa for those wanting permanent, high-paying jobs. Be prepared for low-skilled, temporary jobs. Waiting tables, washing dishes, picking fruit and cleaning hotels are all common jobs for travelers. Minimum wage is $15.75 and you can expect to earn $15.75 – $17 an hour for backpacker jobs.
While the pay can be low and the work monotonous, these jobs also come with extreme flexibility. It’s common for travelers to work for a month or two then take off to another part of the country.
Keep your work expectations low and remember why you are in New Zealand and you’ll get by just fine. It’s a very easy country to move to.
Finding work in cities like Auckland and Wellington will be more difficult than smaller towns with less competition. Websites like TradeMe, seek.co.nz, and Backpackerboard will give you a good idea of what type of work is available. Most towns will also have their own community Facebook group or local news publications which are both common ways to find work. Many travelers also find work by walking around town and handing in physical CVs.
There’s really no point in trying to organize work before you arrive so be prepared to hit the job search once you land.
It’s important to know that for most towns in New Zealand, seasonal timing is everything. Hot tourist areas like Queenstown and Wanaka (where we live) boom in the summer and winter so arriving mid-season will make getting a job much harder. If you’re planning on living in a tourist-dense town, plan to arrive in the Spring or Fall, giving yourself plenty of time to find work.
Make sure you have enough money to live for a few weeks until you get a job. If you want to get a job for the summer, you should be in the town by November. If you want to get a job for the winter, ski fields start hiring in March. Most employment is taken by May in ski towns.
Where will I live?
Every traveler will have a different preference on this topic and it mostly depends on what you’re comfortable with. If you’re on an extreme budget, look for work in exchange for accommodation. WOOFing and HelpX are great resources for finding farms, families or small business looking for help in exchange for a room.
Some travelers prefer to spend their year living in and out of hostels. Hostels cost around $20-40 depending on time of year and location. If you’re staying in a location for an extended period of time, most hostels will have a “long-term” resident room offered at a discounted price.
HOT TIP: It’s essential to book your hostel well in advance before landing in Auckland. Auckland is where most backpackers begin their journey and if you think you can land in Auckland and walk into the first hostel you find and get a room, you’ll be unpleasantly surprised. Hostels in Auckland, Wellington and Queenstown book up fast so if you want a roof over your head, book in advance.
Many travelers opt to buy a camper van, which ranges from $2,500- $5,000 NZD. Pick up a DOC campground brochure at the airport or at an iSite to find all of the available campgrounds throughout the country. Campgrounds cost $5-$10 per person.
Freedom camping is permitted in select areas but most require you to have a self-contained camper. Don’t be a dick. Follow basic camping etiquette. Don’t camp where you’re not supposed to, use designated toilets to do your business, and for the love of god take your rubbish with you.
For those who like to feel a bit more settled, renting a flat or a house is a great option, especially if you’re planning on being in one spot for a while. You can find rooms on TradeMe, Facebook groups, local bulletin boards, or rent your own place through a real estate company. Depending on where you live, rent generally costs $100-$200 per week, but can go up to even $400 in shared houses in competitive places. Depending on your location, finding your own room can take time so make sure you have enough money saved up to last you until you find a home.
There you have it. If you follow these tips and guidelines you’ll be well on your way to a comfortable and easy transition to life in New Zealand. Congratulations and enjoy your year in one of the most beautiful countries in the world!
Have you ever moved abroad? Have you considered coming to live in New Zealand? Share!
Erica is an American mountain muse living an unconventional life in New Zealand. Part time barista, full-time type II fun seeker, follow more of her adventures on her blog The Adventure Venture and on Instagram.