How to Get a New Zealand Working Holiday Visa

Cape Reinga, Northland, NZ

If you’re naturally of adventurous disposition but you don’t have the money to just backpack around the world, working abroad is an attractive alternative. You still get to see a new country, but you don’t have to worry about where you'll find your next dollar.

And, what better place to work and travel than in beautiful New Zealand?

Land of Lord of the Rings, New Zealand has been enticing intrepid individuals for some time now. With some of the most sublime scenery on earth, there are definitely worse places to work.

The country has bountiful opportunities for young people looking for employment and, as luck would have it, New Zealand is one of the few countries in the world that make getting a work visa incredibly, stupidly easy.

The beauty of a New Zealand working holiday visa

New Zealand and all of her beauty…

Why New Zealand?

Before you even start applying for a New Zealand Working Holiday Visa you should be sure that you actually want to go to New Zealand! Here are a few reasons why New Zealand is great to help you make up your mind.

  • It's been ranked the second safest country on earth, just behind Iceland. The only imminent threat is maybe getting sunburned—pack that SPF!
  • The landscapes are out of this world, from the rugged green mountains to the sparkling coastline.
  • Kiwis are friendly and are generally good fun (also potentially a bit less rowdy than their Australian neighbors… potentially.)
  • You won't experience much culture shock–Kiwis speak English and are pretty similar to the UK and US, culturally.
How to get a New Zealand work visa

Waves crash on the northern coast of New Zealand

How to Get a New Zealand Working Holiday Visa

Okay, so you’ve decided that you’re going to give New Zealand a go (excellent choice!). Now you need to start the application process to obtain your New Zealand Working Holiday Visa. Here are the requirements:

  1. To begin with, you need to be between 18 and 30, although in a few countries the age limit is 18 to 35. You’ll need to check for your own country.
  2. In order to work in New Zealand as a foreigner, you must be able to prove that you are going to leave at some point and that you can support yourself. New Zealand’s authorities have different requirements for people from different countries.
  3. As an American in New Zealand, you must have at least $4,200 NZD to live on during your stay and you must be able to afford a ticket home.
HOT TIP: There is a way to get a New Zealand work visa even if you're over 30. Keep reading to find out how!

Be aware that you cannot bring children or partners with you on your visa—if your significant other wants to tag along they will need their own visa. You can also only get the Working Holiday Visa once in your lifetime (*exception below*) so plan wisely.

It's easy to check the visa requirements for your country so make sure you do.

For example, people from certain countries must have proof of full medical insurance for the duration of their stay. Be diligent and find out if this applies to you before you set off.

If you aren’t fully versed in what is needed from you, you could end up in some serious trouble, namely being denied entry to New Zealand.

How to work in New Zealand with a working holiday visa

Not your average view while on the road…

Applying for a New Zealand Working Holiday Visa

Are you ready to apply for a New Zealand Working Holiday Visa? Fortunately, the application is as simple as can be.

You will need to register on the New Zealand immigration website and then fill in a few pages of information like:

  • Personal details
  • Health
  • Intentions for going

Once you’ve filled in the form you'll need to pay the application fee, which is around $208 NZD though, for some nationalities, it's free (if you’re from the USA then it will cost you a big fat zero to apply)!

You will usually find out if you’ve got a visa or not within about 14 days.

That’s literally the whole process for you in a nutshell. Easy, eh?

The only snag could be if your country’s quota has already been filled. Essentially, each country is allotted a certain number of New Zealand work visas each year, and when it’s full, it’s full. The only thing you can do is wait for the next batch to become available or explore other visa options (or go for a BUNAC visa—keep reading!).

getting a New Zealand working holiday visa

A bench worth sitting on! Waiheke Island, New Zealand.

What You Get With Your New Zealand Working Holiday Visa

If you are granted your New Zealand work visa—and it is very unlikely that you won’t be—this is what you can expect to receive:

  • The right to work in New Zealand for 12 months (or 23 if you are from the UK or Canada, you lucky sons'a…)
  • Study or train for up to six months in total
  • Multiple entries—This means you can go in and out of New Zealand as many times as you want, and the time you spend out of New Zealand won’t be added to the time on your visa.

You don’t need a job before you land, so don’t worry about frantically searching job postings in the weeks before your departure. Once you get to New Zealand and get a lay of the land, it will be a lot easier for you to find employment.

If your home country is a part of the Commonwealth, you'll be able to apply for a New Zealand Working Holiday Visa Extension after doing three months of agricultural work. If you've stayed in New Zealand for nine months and don't want to leave, you can work on a farm for a few months and you'll be granted an extra year. BAM!

A Second Chance to Get a New Zealand Work Visa

Perhaps you're reminiscing about your time in New Zealand and are fiending to get back or maybe you're reading this and dripping with jealousy because you've just aged out of the visa. I might have some good news for you, my friend.

BUNAC has special powers (permission from the government) to offer a certain amount of extra New Zealand Working Holiday Visas for individuals who want this visa and are over 30 but under 35.

It's a pretty sweet deal and is worth looking into if you're keen on spending some more time in New Zealand with the option to work. If you've already used your work visa or you're just too old (womp, womp), check them out and see if they can help!

Where to Live in New Zealand

Once you’ve got your Working Holiday Visa for New Zealand, you are going to want to think about where you want to live. When it comes to finding jobs and meeting new people, it is always better to start in one of New Zealand’s main cities. These cities are an excellent place to start your journey, especially if you've arrived without a job and don't know a soul:

  • Auckland—New Zealand’s biggest city with plenty of opportunities for jobs and partying
  • Queenstown—A slightly smaller city with lots of tourists and great food places
  • Christchurch—Centrally located and a pretty big city
  • Wellington—Capital of New Zealand and full of backpackers (also, my personal favorite)

Of course, once you’ve settled somewhere, you're not obligated to stay there for the whole time.

Wellington Harbor in Wellington, NZ

Wellington Harbor in Wellington, NZ

What Kind of Work Can You Do in New Zealand? 

The final thing you need to do on your quest to work abroad in New Zealand is actually find yourself a job.

Depending on what you have in mind, this can range from mundane work to something much more exotic. Farming and bar work tend to be plentiful, whereas something more white collar could be a struggle to find.

Luckily, New Zealand has a list of key industries for people with highly sought-after skill sets.

The following industries tend to be popular with travelers working in New Zealand:

  • Hospitality & Catering
  • Skiing
  • Farming
  • IT
  • Construction
  • Tourism
  • Volunteering

This isn't a comprehensive list, so don’t be disheartened if you don’t see your dream job up there. There is plenty more work to be found.

You should have a good grasp of the resources available online to help you find jobs. This New Zealand careers portal provides a pretty detailed breakdown of the whole job process for you, which is a good place to get your bearings.

The following websites also have loads of postings:

  • TradeMe—A marketplace that also offers job postings
  • Seek—One of the best job searching sites that goes beyond jobs in NZ
  • Careers NZ—A combo of career education and job searching
  • Jora—Jobs sourced from other NZ job sites all in one place
  • WorkHere—An in-demand-skills job board

There are a lot of other websites out there as well that specialize in particular industries. Dedicate a few hours to Googling things if you’re trying to get an idea of what's out there.

Of course, word of mouth is also a great way to nab a job. You'd be surprised how many jobs you can find just by asking around and making new friends.

As mentioned, once you get to New Zealand it will be much easier to find a job. Ask the people at your hostel if they know of anyone who's hiring, or just wander around the city with your resumé and see if you can get any leads.

Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

The Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

Useful Tips and Resources for Working in New Zealand 

Before you fly the coop and leap into the great unknown, you should know a few things about working in New Zealand.

Firstly, the minimum wage is $15.75 NZD ($11.30 USD). This is important to know so that you don’t get taken advantage of (some will try to pay less), but it's also important to know that New Zealand isn't the cheapest country in the world.

Minimum wage won't go as far as it will if you're working and traveling in Australia.

That said, working abroad, especially in New Zealand, will be one of the best things you do.

That’s not an exaggeration. I’ve done it time and time again, and every single experience has been unique and unforgettable. It’s natural to feel nervous about going abroad, but if you follow these tips I guarantee you'll have the sickest time ever!

  • Say yes to (pretty much) everything. This is the best way to make friends. If anyone invites you to do stuff (go for drinks, play a sport, road trip/adventure), just say yes. You will thank yourself when you’ve made some new mates.
  • Keep an open-mind. Like anywhere else in the world, there will be differences in culture. Keeping an open mind is always the best way to blend in and learn a new way of life.
  • Don’t let setbacks get you down. And there will be setbacks. Don’t think for a second you will touch down in New Zealand and land the perfect job within 24 hours. You will need to work hard just to find a job in the first place, but it will all be worth it in the end.
  • Save before you go. This goes for any adventure in life. Always save up money for travel before jetting off. You may be coming here to work but you'll need a few month's worth of money in the bank just in case (and as a requirement for the visa). Don't try to skip this step!
Queenstown, NZ

Overlooking Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown, NZ.

Going abroad and experiencing New Zealand on a Working Holiday Visa is a life-changing opportunity that disappears once the clock strikes 35.

Take advantage of it while you still can.


READ NEXT: Is Travel Insurance REALLY Worth It?

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