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What it’s like living in New Zealand!

Covid has changed so much hasn’t it? When I originally wrote this post, Donald Trump had just been voted in and Americans were Googling countries to move to.

As I type, New Zealand is starting on a wave of Omicron that is sweeping through the country.

We’d prided ourselves for keeping Covid out for two years while we watched the rest of the world suffer and managed to get over 92% of our eligible population vaccinated.

By mid-March 2022 our Prime Minister, having lost her elimination strategy battle, reckons we’ll be through the worst of it and can finally, as one of the last countries in the world, open our borders again to visitors.

Move to New Zealand

So if you’re thinking of getting out of dodge and starting a new life in New Zealand, I’ve put this little post together to give you an idea about what life here is really like. For Kiwis that is – and more on what a Kiwi is in a bit.

But first, you probably need to get a handle on our accent from this hilarious American woman who has managed to figure out how to nail the Kiwi accent.

For years New Zealand has been that country that no one knew quite where to put on the map. Or at least people in the northern hemisphere didn’t. We were tucked away in a quiet little corner of the planet that no one had heard much about.

Morning in Russell
In the Bay of Islands, mornings like this make you want to pack your bags!

I spent a year in an American high school in the 80s and I was asked, ok by a 13-year old freshman, how we managed not to fall off the globe since we were underneath it. Not even joking!

I replied that we all wear suction cups on our shoes and the sound of New Zealand is squelching. His eyes nearly popped out of his head. I still wonder if he told that to anyone else!

But even last year my husband and I were in America and were asked if everyone speaks English here and another had us pegged next to Greenland.

And try telling an American that we have Christmas in summer and their brains nearly explode.

Christmas in New Zealand
Summer Christmas!

What with Brexit and ISIS (actually, what IS happening on the ISIS front?) and now Coronavirus, global fear has been the best marketing for New Zealand since Lord of the Rings.

And not only are people looking to visit New Zealand, but the stats show that they’re also searching for information on moving here.

So this post is for those who want to know what living in New Zealand is really like.

It is packed with helpful guidelines for assimilating into our country…

•  We have a total population of 5 million people in a country the size of the state of California (which has a population of 40 million) or Great Britain (with a population of 66 million).

Consequently things are quite expensive here as we don’t have the tax base to pay for infrastructure or the power of bulk buying for imported goods.

• We are Kiwis. Kiwis are birds. We are not birds. A kiwi is not a kiwifruit. That’s about as silly as saying passion and passionfruit or grape and grapefruit are the same.

This is a road sign to beware not to run over Kiwis. Birds that is.

•  We have three official languages but most Kiwis only know one: English. Maori and sign language are the other two.

There is a huge interest in learning Te Reo (Maori language) from us Pakeha (people of European descent). It would pay you to learn a few Maori words before you get here as we do throw them into our every day speak without realising.

Look up kia ora, haka, mana, puku, whanau, ka pai and if you learn the little ditty about how to to pronounce Maori vowel sounds, you’ll be a leap ahead of most when trying to say Tauranga…

•  We also have rugby. Rugby is about as important as language and the All Blacks are super heroes. Don’t even question that. They always start their international matches off with the haka. A Maori war dance. You can read the lyrics to the haka here.

All Blacks rugby haka
The All Blacks in formation to perform the haka for Australia

•  We drive – and walk – on the left. In fact when I walk into a shop I begin browsing to the left. I wonder if we all do that?

•  We merge like a zip when we enter the motorway. But then we treat the rest of the journey like a race and don’t let other cars in.

Renting a camper van is a great way to see New Zealand, especially the South Island. Here are my tips for campervanning in New Zealand.

Campervans keeping left on NZ roads
Keep left!

•  Our cops are not armed. Well not routinely. They have guns locked in the boot (trunk) of their cars, and we have armed cops called the Armed Offenders Squad (AOS) who we ring when we need them, but our normal run-of-the-mill copper is not holstered and bolstered and the chances of being shot in New Zealand is about the last way you will die. If you do indeed die here. Which I hope you don’t.

•  We eat fresh food. Right now citrus is lying on the back lawns of most of my neighbours. We eat grass-fed beef because we have a lot of grass. The only beef that eat grain are ones that get massaged and called wagyu. We catch fish, or buy it fresh. My cousins get so many crayfish (rock lobster) in Hawkes Bay that by the end of summer my aunty longs for a barbecued sausage rather than another lobster meal.

•  We drink coffee. Espresso coffee none of that drip or Starbucks stuff. Oh don’t get me wrong, Starbucks is here, but if I go in there it’s for a frappacino. We like our coffee beans roasted locally and the flat white is a New Zealand institution. I have tried countless times to explain to an American barista how to thicken the milk and shake it through my coffee to make the perfect flat white. Pffft *rolls eyes.

Flat white coffee in New Zealand
Mmmm a delicious flat white

•  We make wine. Lots of wine. New Zealand is blanketed in 10 wine regions and a gazillion rows of vines. We drink the wine. But not until 5 o’clock. Unless it’s the weekend. Or 5 o’clock somewhere else in the world.

• We have free healthcare. That’s for residents and citizens of course. But it means if you get sick here, you’ll get hospital treatment for free. If you’re visiting, get travel insurance.

You can have a baby at no cost. We do have private hospitals and lots of people also have private medical insurance in case they need specialist treatment and don’t want to wait on the public list.

Getting a covid test
Me getting a free Covid test. Negative!

•  We rarely discuss our political allegiance. We do not turn up to huge public political rallies. (Protest marches and sit-ins are a different thing). Maybe a few people will head along to a local town hall to listen to some candidates, but never by the stadium full. We get out and vote, sure, but we don’t discuss it at dinner parties. You will be safe here. Until someone brings it up!

Visit NZ
Just a winery view…

There, that’s it for starters. Feel free to add more helpful tips in the comments for our wannabe immigrants!

If you’re really serious about moving to New Zealand, you’ll want to jump onto the official government website see if you can qualify for a Skilled Migrant Visa.


If you’re planning on coming for a holiday, you might like to read my Ultimate New Zealand Itinerary!Save



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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!