By BrocheAroe Fabian
Planning a Year in New Zealand
My move to New Zealand happened after almost three decades of daydreaming, yet when the moment came, it was still a surprise. New Zealand will award free, year-long, working-holiday visas to American citizens only if they are age 30 or younger. A few months before my 30th birthday, the time constraint became all too real–it was now or never.
The light bulb went off in March. By May, I had the visa. By September, I had a ticket, and in October, I stepped off a plane in Auckland, New Zealand. Within a day of landing, I had a NZ cell phone plan; within a week, a bank account; within a month, a car.
The research I conducted ahead of time helped immensely. Here are my tips:
1) Apply for a working-holiday visa
Working-holiday visas for Americans are the official document that allows you to enter New Zealand and work in temporary jobs, getting legally paid for your work, for up to 365 days. You must be 30-years-old or younger to apply, but you then have up to a year to use it. For instance, I could apply at age 30, enter the country at 31, and not leave until I’m 32.
Though the visa itself is free, the catch is you need about $5000 USD sitting in a bank account. The visa asks for $4200 NZD to prove you’re not going to live off the government, amounting to about $3500 USD. Add that to the funds for a plane ticket to-and-from NZ and you’re at about five grand. You don’t necessarily have to provide the bank account information. It’s something they might ask you about either during the application or when you arrive at the airport and are going through customs.
I chose the simplest option, by calling Air New Zealand to book the flight. After landing in the morning, I stayed awake the entire day, and managed to immediately adjust to New Zealand time. For no extra charge the agent will reserve a taxi for your arrival.
Everyone will tell you not to over pack. While that’s great advice, do bring things that are crucial for your itinerary. For instance, I love camping, so I brought a backpack, lightweight tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and sleeping sheet in addition to my regular luggage. Outdoor gear is very expensive in New Zealand, so even with extra baggage fees, I saved money by bringing it with me. Be warned: New Zealand has very strict policies on making sure invasive plant life doesn’t come into the country, so don’t have muddy stuff!
My transition was made much easier by having a local New Zealand contact. One Kiwi friend arranged for a two-week flat-sit upon my arrival, allowed me to piggy-back on his cell phone plan, and let me use his address for my permanent address when banking and filling out other official documents. Here are BrocheAroe’s tips on meeting locals in a new country.
Unlocking cell phones is now legal, so switching to a local phone upon arrival is a breeze! Before departure, call your American phone service provider and ask them to put your plan on hold for the allotted amount of time; then get a local SIM card and phone plan when you arrive. For iPhone users, iMessages and FaceTime calls are free to other iPhones. You can also use apps like Skype, Viber, and WhatsApp for texting and calling. No excuses for losing touch while abroad!
6) Banking and taxes
While the only sureties in life may be death and taxes, I was impressed with the careful banking process in New Zealand. Because I had a “permanent” address (my friend’s), I was able to apply for an account right away. After receiving a validation of address letter, I brought it back to the bank and opened the account.
Initially, I looked for an international bank with offices in America and New Zealand. Unfortunately, there was no seamless transferring even at those banks. Instead, I put money into a Bank of America account, opened a NZ account, and transferred one lump sum to minimize transfer fees. I chose to bank with ASB in New Zealand. They don’t charge an exchange fee, so when making a transfer from the US, I decline the US exchange fee, getting the money exchanged for free upon arrival by ASB. Also, Bank of America has an international partnership agreement with New Zealand’s Westpac Bank, so I can withdraw money from their ATMs if needed. You can also bring cash and get it exchanged at a post office or local bank without incurring transfer or exchange fees, though I believe you have to declare bringing anything over $10,000 into the country.
In terms of taxes, here is what the New Zealand working-holiday visa has to say about getting paid:
“If you are going to work or open a bank account in New Zealand you will need an IRD number for tax purposes. You can download an IRD number application form (IR595) from www.ird.govt.nz [keyword IR595]. The form has information on what supporting documentation you need to provide.”
Read the form prior to leaving the US, as you will need to bring supporting documents with you. Once you have your IRD number, call your NZ bank and tell them to lower your tax rate. You could pay as high as up to 33% on taxes, but could pay as low as 10.5% if you’re making below $14,000/year in New Zealand, so that IRD number is an important thing to have.
Fun fact: Once you have a bank account, get an official letter proving your New Zealand address. With that, you can apply for a library card or get into local attractions for free as a resident! No NZ ID required.
7) Buying a car
While I did look for cars on Craigslist, or the New Zealand equivalent called TradeMe, in the end I went to the Auckland car fair and purchased one there. The car trade in New Zealand has steady turnover, as backpackers come through looking for something cheap. A Jeep was too expensive so I settled on a station wagon, which could fit my belongings while leaving me room to sleep.
Helpful tips for buying a car in NZ:
- Check when the “reggo” (registration) is up. Use this as a bargaining chip for lowering the cost if the reggo is up soon or already expired.
- Kiwi cars need a WOF, or warrant of fitness. Try to purchase a car that’s recently had their WOF renewed.
- Ask if the car has a cam belt, making sure it’s in good condition. Also check the oil isn’t sludge, tires don’t have worn treads, head/taillights aren’t covered with tape (this will pass a WOF inspection, as long as there are no visible holes), battery is new, and that the doors lock.
- Join AA. Not Alcoholics Anonymous, but the New Zealand Automobile Association. They have a personal membership option, similar to AAA in the US, providing roadside assistance, and they also have service centers that will check out cars for you. They are at the Auckland car fair, for instance. They also provide car insurance.
- Speaking of which, insurance isn’t required in New Zealand, but I purchased full coverage because the last thing I need is to spend $5000 fixing another person’s car.
In the grand scheme, do you need to be this prepared to move? No. I’ve met travelers with a backpack, no cell phone, and no car, who were getting on just fine by sticking out their thumb. I needed a little more security than that and the peace of mind has been worth every minute of research. When I’m driving down the open road in my Mitsubishi with a full tank of gas purchased with my ASB card, listening to the music on my iPhone while the miles tick away on my GPS, I know that no matter where I end up that night, I’ll have a place to sleep, food to eat, and a smile on my face in the morning.
BrocheAroe Fabian (pronounced bruh-khuh a-roy) is an American by birth who grew up traveling the world with her Anthropologist parents. She has an MFA in Writing Literature for Children, and currently works as freelance writer and marketing consultant. She enjoys fostering cross-cultural understanding through her travels. You can connect with her online at
WildlyTraveled.com and Facebook.com/wildlytraveled