Moving to New Zealand from the USA

Looking for a change? Somewhere more peaceful where people look out for each other and have services like subsidised healthcare? New Zealand could be just the place you’re looking for.

Find out how New Zealand compares to the USA, and how you can get a visa to experience our lifestyle.

Children walking in green hills of new migration country in New Zealand

New Zealand provides wide open spaces even minutes from our busiest cities.  Mt. Kaukau, Wellington

How New Zealand Compares

New Zealand and the USA have a lot in common, including great scenery. We enjoy much of the same popular culture and share English as our most-used language.

People who have moved here from the USA say that Kiwis are relaxed, friendly, and easy to get along with.

Where we’re different is our pace of life. Many US expats find New Zealand is quieter and gentler with a great work/life balance.

Envied work-life balance

New Zealand is known worldwide for its quality of life and relaxed pace.

New Zealanders have a strong work ethic but also believe in having a good work life balance. Even in our biggest cities, you are never too far from a beach, bike trail, or national park. We love the outdoors, and like to make time for rest and relaxation with our friends and families.

In the 2020 HSBC Expat Explorer survey New Zealand was voted No.1 for Mindset (cultural values, personal development and personal achievements), No. 2 for Living, and No. 3 Overall.

Balanced lifestyle

New Zealand was voted No.1 for future outlook, No.2 for lifestyle, No.3 Overall in the 2021 HSBC Expat Explorer survey of expats in 46 countries. 

Great climate for outdoor living

New Zealand has a temperate climate, which means we have relatively warm, dry summers — December to February — and mild, wet winters — June to August.

We don’t get the extreme weather that some parts of the USA do, so you will find it easier to enjoy a healthy, outdoors lifestyle all year round.

New Zealand is a relatively long country so the weather is different depending on where you live — warmer in the north, cooler in the south. For example, Queenstown near the bottom of the South Island gets winter snow, but that is very rare in a North Island place like Wellington.

Famous scenery

New Zealand is renowned for its scenic beauty — from sweeping surf beaches, densely-wooded native forests and snow-covered volcanoes in the North Island to the mighty Southern Alps, unique braided rivers and deep fjords in the South Island. The breath-taking landscape is why New Zealand often features in movies with dramatic outdoor settings, like The Lord of the Rings.

The USA has incredible scenery too, but ours is more concentrated. You’ll be amazed at the diversity you can explore in the four (or more) weeks of holiday New Zealanders enjoy annually.

Clean & beautiful

Unique indigenous culture

New Zealand has a unique culture with strong Māori and Polynesian influences. 

Māori tikanga (protocols and customs) runs deeply through New Zealand's culture.

One of the most important Māori customs is 'Manaakitanga'. This means hospitality, kindness and generosity. As a multicultural nation, we welcome everyone.

Māori culture

Peaceful and democratic

In New Zealand, we are geographically distant from political issues troubling many other parts of the world, but we still take a strong interest in world affairs.

We are active voters and enjoy a long tradition of calm and polite political debate.

In New Zealand we use a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system.

In general elections, each enrolled New Zealand citizen or permanent resident has two votes.

  • the electorate vote is for the candidate you want to represent the area you live in (your electorate)
  • the party vote is for the party you want to represent you

Political parties must get at least 5% of the party vote or win an electorate seat to have a seat in Parliament. 

Usually no party gets enough votes to govern alone. Parties often need to come to an agreement with others to form a government or pass legislation. 

Unlike the US, New Zealand does not have a president, we have a Prime Minister.

The combined parties that make up the majority of Parliament choose the Prime Minister. 

How government works | New Zealand Government

What is MMP | Electoral Commission

Our constitution

Many housing choices

If there is one major difference between the USA and New Zealand housing, it is space.  When you are looking for a home here, you have plenty of choices.

Whether you want a large home in the suburbs with a garden and room for children and pets, open space and land in the countryside, or a smart downtown flat in the city, New Zealand has options for the lifestyle you’re looking for.

Unless you settle somewhere particularly remote, you can expect to enjoy your home without wasting hours of your life commuting.

Many of our houses tend to be built for our temperate climate and often don’t have some of the creature comforts (e.g. central heating, double glazing) people may be used to in cooler parts of the world.

Housing

Subsidised healthcare

Public healthcare in New Zealand is free or low cost — if you are a citizen, resident or hold a work visa valid for 2 years or more.

The New Zealand Government pays for some of our healthcare fees, which means you only have to pay a part of the fee when you see your local doctor — also known here as general practitioner or GP.

This makes healthcare much more affordable than in the USA.

Accident and emergency treatment at hospitals is free, but you may need private healthcare for elective procedures.

Healthcare for temporary visa holders

Even if you hold a temporary visa, you may still be able to get a range of services in some situations. Check your eligibility on the Ministry of Health website.

If you cannot access publicly-funded health services, we recommend you get comprehensive travel insurance that includes health insurance.

Accident-related medical care

If you are injured in an accident, much of your medical and recovery costs are likely to be covered by our Accident Compensation scheme (ACC) — even if you were at fault. It is paid for by levies that get taken from your salary. Because of ACC, we do not sue for injuries in New Zealand.

Healthcare services

Guide to eligibility for publicly funded health services | Ministry of Health

Injuries we cover | ACC

Great environment for families

New Zealand is a great place to start and raise a family. Along with affordable, quality education, we give children the opportunity to get close to nature and enjoy a diverse range of healthy sport, recreation, and adventure activities.

Expat families find New Zealand has a great sense of community. We rank 8th for this on the OECD’s Better Life Index covering 41 countries (USA ranked 17th).

Families also feel very safe here. The 2021 Global Peace Index — comparing 163 countries for the risk of personal violence — rated New Zealand the world’s second safest country after Iceland.

The USA ranked 122nd.

Family friendly

Safe & secure

Better Life Index | OECD

Global Peace Index 2021 | Vision for Humanity

High quality education

New Zealand's education system is ranked as the 12th best in the world according to the 2021 Legatum Institute Prosperity Index out of 167 countries, the US is ranked 20th.

Education here is very focused on preparing young people for tomorrow’s world. We ranked third out of 50 leading countries — just behind Finland and Sweden — in The Economist’s 2019 Worldwide Educating for the Future Index (WEFFI).

Education & schooling

Prosperity Index | Legatum Institute

World Educating for the Future Index | The Economist

Childhood education

In New Zealand, the government subsidises early childhood education (ECE) for children under 5 years old.

State primary and secondary schools are free for domestic students. However, they can ask for donations towards their running costs and parents usually need to pay for things like school uniforms, stationery, exam fees and some course-related costs.

State-integrated and private schools usually charge parents compulsory fees.

20 Hours ECE | Ministry of Education

The school system

Higher learning

New Zealand also offers top quality higher learning. We have eight universities and 16 institutes of technology that provide domestic and international students with internationally recognised qualifications.

All of our universities are in the top 500 of the 2023 QS World University Rankings — five are in the top 300.

QS World University Rankings 2023 | QS Top Universities

Comparable cost of living

New Zealand’s cost of living is similar to other western OECD countries.

Depending on where in the USA you come from, you may actually find the cost of living in New Zealand cheaper than you are used to.

For example, New York City (NY) was the world’s 7th most expensive city in Mercer’s 2022 Cost of Living Ranking. Los Angeles (CA) was 17th and San Francisco (CA) was 19th.

New Zealand’s biggest and most expensive city Auckland ranked 95th. Wellington, the capital (and the only other NZ city surveyed), was 120th.

Smaller New Zealand towns will be less expensive still.

Both Auckland and Wellington were ranked less expensive cities to live in than Honolulu (HI), Washington (DC), Boston (MA), Miami (FL), Chicago (IL), Atlanta (GA), Seattle (WA), Philadelphia (PA), Dallas (TX), Pittsburgh (PA), Minneapolis (MN), Houston (TX) or Portland (OR).

Cost of living in New Zealand tool

Cost of living | Mercer

Working in New Zealand

New Zealand’s job market has been strong over recent years, with many people from the USA finding good jobs and careers here. 

Notwithstanding the pandemic, because New Zealand has remained relatively unaffected, workers continue to be needed to fill posts in a range of highly skilled occupations, particularly (but not solely):

  • healthcare and social services
  • construction, trades and infrastructure
  • education
  • engineering
  • ICT, electronics and telecommunications
  • agriculture and forestry

Currently if your skills are on the official critical skill shortage list, you may still be able to find a job and get a visa.

Job market & key industries

Skill shortage list checker | Immigration New Zealand

Finding & applying for jobs

Economically strong

New Zealand has a successful and resilient free market with an open economy.

Annual GDP growth reached 5% in 2021.

As with other countries around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic slowed economic growth in New Zealand. 

The OECD predicts New Zealand's GDP growth will ease to 3% in 2022 and 2% in 2023.

In comparison, the US's GPD is predicted to grow 2.5% in 2022 and 1.2% in 2023.

New Zealand Economic Snapshot | OECD

Global orientation

International trade makes up around 60% of New Zealand’s total economic activity. With trade so important, our economy is very outward looking.

As the international centre of economic power shifts away from Europe towards USA/Asia, we’re increasingly well-placed geographically.

We enjoy vibrant trade links with the USA — our third biggest export destination behind China and Australia.

We have Free Trade arrangements (FTAs) with China, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, and Asean Asia-Pacific nations including Indonesia and the Philippines.

We’re also part of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), cementing links with existing partners and also Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, Peru, and Vietnam.

More FTAs are under negotiation with the UK, the EU and other trading partners.

Stable and safe for investing

New Zealand is one of the world’s most stable and corruption free democracies. There are exciting investment prospects in New Zealand, both in traditional sectors and in ‘sunrise’, export-oriented sectors like ICT, biotech, agricultural research and more.

  • the International Tax Foundation’s 2021 index puts New Zealand third amongst OECD countries for tax competitiveness
  • Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) ranks us first equal with Denmark and Finland as the world’s three least corrupt countries out of 180
  • New Zealand was rated the world’s fourth most free economy in the Heritage Foundation’s 2022 Index of Economic Freedom

Taxes

International Tax Competitiveness Index 2021 | Tax Foundation

Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 | Transparency International

2022 Index of Economic Freedom | Heritage Foundation

Getting a visa

If you are interested in moving to New Zealand, or to come here to work for a while, there are different visa options you can consider.

  • if you’re aged 18-30, a working holiday visas can give you up to 23 months in New Zealand.
  • work visas let you live and work here for a set period and some can lead to residence.
  • resident visas let you access more state-funded public services, own property and stay indefinitely.

Visas for New Zealand

Organising the move

Once you make a decision to come to New Zealand, there will be a lot to organise. Your top priorities after finding work and getting a visa will be deciding where you want to live and finding accommodation, sorting out money and banking matters and, if you have a family, finding the best schools for them.

Our NZ Ready tool can help you with your planning and ensure you don’t forget the most important things.

NZ Ready planning tool

Interested in coming to New Zealand?

Take the first step to a new life by registering your interest with Immigration New Zealand. We’ll send you personalised emails about job opportunities in your profession, life in New Zealand and choosing the right visa.

It’s free and there’s no obligation.