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Everything to Know About Planning Your New Zealand Working Holiday

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Elen Turner

Elen Turner is a travel writer and editor based in Kathmandu, Nepal. She has a PhD from the Australian National University, which examined feminist...

Insider Tips for a New Zealand Working Holiday
Photo by Sierra, The Education Abroad Network New Zealand Alum

New Zealand is a dream travel destination for many travelers: it's naturally beautiful, with a rich culture, and it's generally pretty safe, with easygoing people. But, unless you live in eastern Australia or a handful of tiny Pacific Islands, New Zealand is also really, really far away.

Because New Zealand is quite expensive to get to and travel around, many travelers want to spend an extended period here. But, unless you have some very substantial savings, it may not be possible to spend months on end touring the land of the long white cloud.

That's where the Working Holiday Visa comes in. Getting a New Zealand Working Holiday Visa lets certain people work to support their travels around the country; this is a great way to extend your time in New Zealand without running through all of your funds. More useful information can be found on the New Zealand Immigration website, but here are a few important things you need to know about the visa, and about living and working in New Zealand, if you're thinking of applying.

Eligibility for the New Zealand Working Holiday Visa

Many people are eligible for the New Zealand working holiday visa, but there are some important restrictions. Working holiday visas tend to work reciprocally with other countries, so the conditions for your nationality may depend on the conditions that your country puts on travelers from New Zealand.

Here are the basic eligibility requirements of New Zealand's working holiday visa:

  • First, you must be a 'young person.' This is defined as between 18 and 30, or 35 for some countries. (You can be up to 35 if you're from Argentina, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Uruguay).
  • You must show that you have adequate funds to pay for a return ticket, and depending on your nationality, funds to support yourself while in New Zealand (this can range from NZ$2000 to $4000+).
  • You must also demonstrate that you're mainly coming for tourism purposes, and working will be your secondary activity. That is, you need to be a bona fide tourist with the intention of supporting your travels with a bit of work.

The intake from some countries is restricted by a quota; once that quota is full, applications will close until the following year. It's a good idea to get your application in early during the calendar year if you're from a country with set quotas.

If you meet all these criteria, you can easily apply online on the New Zealand Immigration website.

Differences Between the New Zealand Working Holiday Visa & Other Visas

Only citizens of certain countries can get a Working Holiday Visa in New Zealand, while anyone can apply for a non-working holiday work visa (in theory, of course⁠—not everyone will get one).

Working Holiday Visa holders probably won't need to show evidence of English language ability, educational qualifications, or to undergo a full medical (there are exceptions to all of these).

A Working Holiday Visa will only be granted for 12 months for most nationalities, or 23 months for travelers from the U.K. or Canada. You can't accept a permanent job while on this visa, so this is certainly not a way to emigrate to New Zealand. If you want to move to New Zealand permanently, you'll need to apply for a different category of work visa.

If you have a New Zealand partner, especially if you've been together for a while and have documentation to prove it, you'd probably be better off applying for a Partnership Work Visa. (Just expect to be thoroughly and unpleasantly grilled about your relationship history for this one).

Finally, if your intention is to make a lot of money, the Working Holiday Visa isn't really the visa for you. The goal of this visa category is to allow you to work to support your extended stay in New Zealand. The jobs most receptive to seasonal foreign workers are not usually the highest-paid. If you're a qualified lawyer, medical doctor, or professor seeking to move to New Zealand, look into other visa categories.

Once You Receive Your Working Holiday Visa

Getting your New Zealand working holiday visa might actually be the easiest part of the process. Knowing what to do next might make or break your trip, or at least determine how much 'work' and how much 'holiday' you get on your Working Holiday Visa.

Decide on Which Season to Work in New Zealand

Insider Tips for a New Zealand Working Holiday: Where Can You Work
Photo by Katie, Victoria University of Wellington Alum

New Zealand has distinct peak tourism seasons, but in reality, there are things to see and do year-round. If sightseeing and enjoying beautiful New Zealand are your priority, you can do this at any time.

However, if you really do need to find work to fund your travels, you need to be ahead of the curve when it comes to the peak seasons. The summer (December-February) is the busiest time throughout the country, as this is when the weather is best. Ski season also operates from about June to September.

Many jobs that are open to seasonal, working-holiday travelers (see below) will be restricted to places with an influx of travelers in the peak seasons. Places like Queenstown, Rotorua, and Nelson see a huge increase in tourists at certain times of the year and need workers then. But, if you show up out of season because that's what suited your travel plans, you may struggle to get a job.

Determine What Work You Can Do

You also need to be aware of the kinds of work you're most likely to get:

  • Bar, restaurant, kitchen, and cafe work
  • Cleaning work in hotels and hostels
  • Fruit picking work
  • Skilled guiding work if you have strong qualifications or experience
  • Fundraising jobs⁠—the people who stop you on the street and sign you up for worthy causes tend to be travelers

If you're a fresh graduate with an English Literature or Physical Therapy degree in your hand, coming to New Zealand on a Working Holiday Visa is not really the time to put that to use.

If you're looking for a job that utilizes your existing skills and experience, such as in the outdoor adventure industry, you need to set things up in advance. Seasonal jobs as ski instructors, for example, are very popular. It's not enough to show up at the beginning of the ski season and ask for a job. You need to apply several months in advance and go through an interview process.

If you're looking for a less skilled job, like cleaning in a hostel (sometimes in exchange for free or subsidized accommodation), or picking fruit, you probably don't need to apply way ahead of time. But you still need to arrive at, or just before, the beginning of the season.

Be aware that, at the time of writing, the minimum hourly wage in New Zealand is NZ$17.70 per hour. No employer is allowed to pay you less than this. Taxes will be taken out of your weekly or monthly pay, so what you get will be less than this. That figure is below what has been calculated as the minimum living wage in New Zealand, which is NZ$21.15 per hour⁠—the minimum required to provide the basic necessities of life.

Consider Housing Options

Housing is another important consideration for Working Holiday Visa holders. 'Normal' city or suburban housing in New Zealand can be very expensive, especially if you're on a minimum-wage job, and usually, require a long-term lease agreement and quite a stringent background and credit checks.

Many travelers on a working holiday live in hostels, either in a cheap dorm or in exchange for service, like cleaning. Others buy a van to live in, park at campsites, and then sell it on before leaving the country. You may be able to find a room in a shared house with other travelers or local students, or house-sitting if you have local connections.

Decide Where to Live in New Zealand

Insider Tips for a New Zealand Working Holiday: How Do You Call People
Photo by Pablo, Victoria University of New Zealand Alum

Finally, perhaps one of the most exciting considerations: where should you go? New Zealand is actually a geographically diverse country, despite its small size, and there are amazing things to see and do practically everywhere. Where you settle will partly depend on where you can find a job, but also on what sorts of places and experiences interest you.

If you'd rather be in a big city (by New Zealand standards!), check out Auckland. If smaller cities appeal to you more, try Wellington or Dunedin. To make the most of wonderful tourism opportunities on your doorstep, head to Queenstown or Nelson. To work in orchards, try Motueka or Napier. If a warm climate is important to you, stick to the North Island and the top of the South Island. If you're into the snow, head to the central North Island and lower South Island.

If you meet the requirements of the New Zealand Working Holiday Visa, this can be a great opportunity to travel and live in New Zealand without having extensive savings in the bank beforehand. Just remember that legally – and in spirit – the purpose of this visa is to allow holders to travel in and experience New Zealand, not necessarily to further your career plans. Keep this in mind and you can have the experience of a lifetime.

This post was originally published in September 2015, and updated in October 2019.