Getting to New Zealand on a working holiday visa has been quite a journey: it has felt like a series of diplomatic hurdles that either were surprisingly difficult, stupid easy, or just required some patience and perseverance.

In this blog post I’ll detail everything you need to do to live and work in New Zealand for a year: how to get a working holiday visa, working holiday visa advice, obstacles you might face, and everything you need to do on arrival.

What is a New Zealand Working Holiday Visa?

Hobbiton is my happy place

A working holiday visa is a special visa for young people from 45 different countries (to date) to travel and work in New Zealand for a year (or two for the UK and Canada). The primary purpose of your trip must be to travel, so you can only get a temporary job.

New Zealand immigration lists the countries that have a working holiday visa available here. Each country has slightly different rules and requirements, so be sure to check for your specific country.

What are the Eligibility and Requirements?

Coromandel Peninsula

Although these are slightly different for each country, there are similarities. There’s an age cutoff, you need to have a certain amount of money, you usually need health insurance (UK citizens are covered by a reciprocal health agreement), and you can’t get a permanent job. I summarize the requirements for the US, Canada, and the UK below.

Age Range18 – 3018 – 3518 – 30
Length of Stay12 months12 – 23 months12 – 23 months
Money in Bank$4200 nzd$4200 nzd$350 nzd/month
Health InsurancerequiredrequiredNo
Previous visa approvalsNoNoNo
Health (more on this below)GoodGoodGood
Cost$0$245 nzd$245 nzd

What is Good Health?

What is good health, and how do you prove it? The good news is, there’s a good chance you won’t have to! The bad news is that if you do happen to have to prove it, it’s obnoxious and cumbersome, at least if you’re in the US.

Do You Need a Chest X-Ray?

New Zealand uses X-rays to check for tuberculosis (TB). You need to provide New Zealand with an X-ray if:

  • You’re staying for more than 12 months
  • You’re from a country that doesn’t have a low incidence of TB
  • You’ve spent more than 3 months in the last 5 years in a country that doesn’t have a low incidence of TB

Here’s a list of all the countries that DO have a low incidence of TB. If you’re from or have spent more than 3 months in a country NOT on that list: you’ll need an X-ray.

Unfortunately for us, we had just spent 3 months in Southeast Asia, in countries not on the list. This is where it gets super annoying if you’re from the US.

When they inform you that you need a chest X-ray, you’re only given 2 weeks to complete it and send it to immigration! So if you think you’ll need an X-ray, learn from our mistakes and plan in advance!

The other incredibly inconvenient thing is that you need to go to a ‘panel physician’, which is a doctor who’s been approved by New Zealand to complete X-ray certificates. Of which there are 25 IN THE WHOLE USA!! That is an absurdly low number, and a lot of people would have to fly to a different state to do this, including us. (Canada has 33 approved panel physicians, and the UK has 8, which also seems low, although I don’t have personal experience with this.) Find approved panel physicians here.

If you find yourself in this situation, my advice is to shop around. We called multiple panel physicians and their prices and availabilities varied by a huge amount.

Do You Need a Medical Examination?

You need to provide New Zealand with a medical examination if:

  • You’re staying for more than 12 months

You also need to go to an approved panel physician.

How to Apply for a New Zealand Working Holiday Visa?

Kerosene Creek

As long as you’re from one of the 45 countries that have a NZ working holiday visa scheme, are within the age range, and have enough money saved up, it’s pretty easy to apply for a NZ working holiday visa.

  1. Go to the immigration New Zealand website and make sure your country has a working holiday visa scheme.
  2. Click on your country, and make sure you meet the specific eligibility requirements.
  3. Find out if you’ll need to prove that you’re in good health: if yes, plan ahead by booking an appointment with a panel physician soon after you plan on applying for the visa.
  4. Apply online!

How Much Does a New Zealand Working Holiday Visa Cost?

The price varies by country. For US citizens, it’s free to apply for a New Zealand working holiday visa. It costs $245 nzd for Canada and UK citizens. Check your specific country requirements here.

How Long Does it Take to Get a New Zealand Working Holiday Visa?

Tongariro Alpine Crossing aka my teen dystopian book cover

If you apply online, Immigration New Zealand says that 90% of visas will be completed within 22 days. I’d triple that to make sure you’re not one of the unlucky 10% and end up WWOOFing in Hawaii while waiting for the visa to come through… yep us again!

How to Get a New Zealand Working Holiday Visa Over 30?

This is super easy! Step one: be Canadian! Just kidding, as awesome as it is that the Canadian working holiday scheme is for people 18 – 35, the rest of us aren’t so lucky.

If You’re 30

Good news, you can still apply up to the day before your 31st birthday! After you’re granted the visa, you have a year to start using it, so you can work abroad in New Zealand on a working holiday visa as a 31 or 32 year old.

If You’re Over 30

When we decided that we wanted to work and travel in New Zealand, my boyfriend was 31, so we have some experience in this. Currently I have a working holiday visa, and he has an IEP work exchange visa.

As far as I’m aware, New Zealand and Canada are the only countries where US citizens can get a working holiday type visa over 30.

You can do this with the IEP Work Exchange visa, available through the company BUNAC. (info for UK citizens here)

IEP Work Exchange Visa

The IEP Visa is a visa for people 18-35 that’s very similar to the traditional working holiday visa scheme. It’s also available to people who’ve already had a working holiday visa and would like to get an extra year! The table below summarizes the essential information.

Age Range18 – 3518 – 35
Length of Stay12 months12 months
Money in Bank$4200 nzd$4200 nzd
Health Insuranceyesno
Previous visa approvalsokok
Cost$695 usd£745

There’s a limited number of spots for this visa, so be sure to plan way in advance for this one.

Is the IEP Visa Worth it for People 30 and Under?

Since I have a working holiday visa and my boyfriend has an IEP visa, I can directly compare them.

If you’re over 30 and want a working holiday experience, or have already had a working holiday visa and want an extra year, an IEP visa through BUNAC is your only shot, so it’s 100% worth it.

If you’re 30 and under, I recommend getting a working holiday visa instead for the following reasons.

  • It’s way cheaper: With an IEP visa, you get two free nights in a hostel. Even booking last minute at the same hostel, I payed $70 nzd, which is nothing compared to $695 usd
  • Information is easy to find online: IEP provides an orientation and helps you set up a bank account and an IRD tax number, but it’s easy to do this yourself with online resources (like this blog!)
  • New Zealand is an easy country to travel in: IEP provides resources and support, but I haven’t found any of that necessary: New Zealand is super travel friendly.
  • It’s easy to meet people and make friends at hostels, campgrounds, or at your job: IEP has social events to make friends, but there’s many travelers eager to socialize.
  • My boyfriend’s IEP visa took much longer to get than my working holiday visa: having a middleman was more of a hindrance

The bottom line is I don’t recommend going with an IEP visa unless you have to. If you do have to, it’s a great option.

What You Need on Arrival to New Zealand on a Working Holiday Visa

We spent the winter living on the Otago Peninsula

OK, so you saved up money, got the working holiday visa, got a plane ticket… now what? Just make sure that you’re prepared to enter the country and get through security!

What Documents Do You Need at the Airport?

We didn’t need to show any documents except for our passports, but you should have the following readily available:

  • Passport
  • Proof of health insurance: approval letter from insurance company
  • Proof of funds: bank statement
  • Your working holiday visa: print it out!

How to Get Through Bio-Security

New Zealand bio-security is no joke! Which makes a lot of sense now that we’ve traveled around and learned more about New Zealand biodiversity: before people came to these islands, the only land mammal here was a bat! The birds and vegetation are just not prepared to deal with many of the mammals and diseases from other parts of the world. In particular, the beloved kauri trees are dying from kauri dieback disease, for which there is no known cure.

Because of this, New Zealand bio-security is intense. Your hiking shoes and camping equipment should be very clean! We didn’t know about this, and were flying straight from working on a farm in hawaii… ouch. We were called ‘the dirty people,’ and our shoes were soaked in disinfectant. Sometimes they won’t allow them in at all!

Learn from our mistakes, and make sure the soles of your shoes are washed really well. If bringing a tent, make sure that there’s no dirt or soil anywhere.

First Week in New Zealand on a Working Holiday Visa

Okia Flats

Your first week in New Zealand on a working holiday will be all business. There will be a lot of ‘adulting’, and it will be tiring.

In order to be able to work in New Zealand, you need to set up a bank account and get an IRD number. Getting New Zealand phone service is important for communicating with employers.

How to Set up a New Zealand Bank Account

You must have a New Zealand bank account in order to work in New Zealand.

ANZ has a free account that is easy to set up. Go in person to the location closest to you to set up an appointment. If you’re on a tighter schedule, ask for the earliest appointment in all the surrounding locations: the central one is much busier than ones just a bus ride away.

Make sure to bring with you:

  • Passport
  • Copy of your visa
  • Know your ‘tax identification number’, which is your social security number in the US
  • Proof of address: ask the hostel you’re staying at for proof of address, they’ll print out and sign a standard form

How to Get An IRD Number

You also need to apply for an IRD (Inland Revenue Department) number, which is a number for tax purposes, and a requirement for getting a job in New Zealand. It takes up to 10 days to receive your IRD number, so make sure do this in advance of when you want to get a job.

You can apply online, just make sure that you have all of these documents and numbers ready:

  • Passport
  • Visa application number (not your visa number, find this on your visa approval letter)
  • Overseas tax number (social security number for US citizens)
  • New Zealand bank account number

For online applications, you’ll need to upload copies of documents. I used a phone scanner app to do this. Make sure you have copies of:

  • Passport information page
  • Proof of permanent address: this can be from your home country, you can use your drivers license or a bank statement
  • Copy of your visa
  • Proof of New Zealand bank account number: you should have received this when you signed up for your bank account

I personally found the online form a bit buggy, but got it to work in the end.

How to Get Phone Service in New Zealand

Setting up New Zealand phone service is pretty easy, and super important to communicate with employers.

Spark and 2Degrees are the main options, with comparable prices.

We went with 2Degrees, because you just have to choose one. If you go to one of their locations, they make it super easy to sign up.

They have various monthly plans. We pay $95 nzd per month for 25 GB for two people, because we’re extra and liked a lot of data when we lived in our van. They have cheaper plans, and also an unlimited option. If you’re like me and can’t speak gigabites, 25 GB for the two of us is plenty to do as much interneting as we want, but we have to be super careful with videos.

Should You Buy a Van?

How to buy a van in New Zealand: Van in New Zealand with Southern Alps
Our van: Crazy Ivan

I strongly recommend buying a van on your working holiday visa. I write about how to buy a van here: how to find one, how much should you pay, why you should go for a self-contained vehicle, and what to look for.

For a guide to New Zealand van life, check out my campervanning in New Zealand guide here.

Final Thoughts

That’s it! It’s a shit ton of bureaucratic steps, but then you get to live and work in New Zealand for a year! Your next step is to get a job, so go check out my blog post on how to find a working holiday job in New Zealand.

So far it’s been 100% worth it, it’s a gorgeous country with kind people and incredible scenery, and you get a whole year to explore!

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