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Moving to New Zealand from the USA

Looking for a change? Somewhere more relaxed, in a peaceful country where people look out for each other with 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.


New Zealand was voted No. 1 for work life balance in the 2020 HSBC Expat Explorer survey of 20,000 expats around the world (US was 36/40)

HSBC Expat Explorer Survey 2020

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 New Zealand

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 lucky to be far from the political issues troubling many other parts of the world. But we still take an interest in world affairs. We are active voters in our own country and enjoy a long tradition of calm and polite political debate.

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.

Housing in New Zealand

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 second for this on the OECD’s Better Life Index covering 40 countries (USA ranked 21st).

Families also feel very safe here. The 2020 Global Peace Index — comparing 160 countries for the risk of personal violence — rated New Zealand the world’s second safest country after Iceland. The USA ranked 121st.

Family friendly


Safe & secure

Better Life Index | OECD

Global Peace Index 2020 (pdf 3.6 MB)

High quality education

As the HSBC Expat Explorer puts it, “the quality of education in New Zealand is excellent.”

It’s well supported. Among OECD countries, New Zealand spends one of the highest proportions of its gross domestic product (GDP) on primary to tertiary educational institutions.

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).

Early childhood education

Early childhood education (ECE) is a priority for our government, so it fully funds the first 20 hours of ECE for 3 and 4 year olds, after which free primary schooling starts. It’s a great help for working parents trying to get ahead financially.

New Zealand’s ECE teacher: pupil ratios are excellent — three children for every teacher compared to seven on average across OECD countries.

Higher learning

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

Six of our universities are in the top 500 of the 2021 QS World University Rankings — three are in the top 300.

We’re considered among the world’s main ‘host nations’ for international students, a standing that at its peak made education our fourth biggest export earner.

Study in New Zealand

Education and schooling

World Educating for the Future Index | The Economist

Prosperity Index | Legatum

World University Rankings 2020

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 was the world’s sixth most expensive city in Mercer’s 2020 Cost of Living Ranking. LA was 17th and Chicago was 30th.

New Zealand’s biggest and most expensive city Auckland ranked 103rd. Wellington, the capital (and the only other NZ city surveyed), was 123rd. Smaller New Zealand towns will be less expensive still.

Both Auckland and Wellington were slightly less expensive cities to live in than Pittsburgh, Portland or Cleveland

Cost of living in New Zealand

Cost of living city rankings | 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.

However if your job or profession isn’t on a skill shortage list,  take heart. As the global response to COVID-19 takes hold there will be many more opportunities in New Zealand for people with the right skills.

Job market & key industries

Skill shortage list checker | Immigration New Zealand

Finding & applying for jobs

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.

Economically strong

Over the past 30 years, New Zealand has transformed into a successful and resilient free market with an open economy. Annual growth reached around 4% in 2016, easing back to 2.8% in 2018.

The government predicts post-pandemic GDP to rebound strongly with growth of 2.6% in 2022, rising to 3.8% by 2024.

Economic overview


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.

  • In 2020, the World Bank ranked us as the world’s easiest country to do business in): first also for ease of starting a business and enforcing contracts
  • Forbes magazine consistently ranks us one of the five best countries in the world for business
  • The International Tax Foundation’s 2020 index puts New Zealand third amongst OECD countries for tax competitiveness
  • Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) ranks us first equal with Denmark as the world’s two least corrupt countries out of 180
  • The Heritage Foundation’s 2020 Economic Freedom index judged New Zealand the world’s third most open economy .

A great place for business


Business enabling environment | World Bank

International Tax Competitiveness Index 2019 | Tax Foundation

Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 | Transparency International

2020 Index of Economic Freedom | Heritage Foundation

Getting a visa

COVID-19 pandemic aside, if you are interested in moving to New Zealand, or to come here to work for a while, once things return to something close to normal there will be 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, like the Skilled Migrant Category, let you access more state-funded public services and stay indefinitely.

Visas to work

HOT TIP: Visas during the COVID-19 pandemic

Due to COVID-19, applications from outside New Zealand for temporary visas and EOIs (Expressions or Interest) are temporarily suspended.

Check the relevant Immigration New Zealand web page for details of the visas you’re interested in and their current application status.

Even if you can’t currently apply, you can still make contacts and research options.

Living in New Zealand permanently

You can live and work in New Zealand indefinitely as a Permanent Resident — you don't need to become a New Zealand Citizen.

As a Permanent Resident, you also have many of the same rights as a New Zealand Citizen. You can:

  • get government-funded public services, including healthcare
  • vote in local and national elections
  • pay domestic fees for education, including tertiary education.

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.

Plan your move | NZ Ready

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.

Interested in coming to New Zealand?

Sign up to receive relevant job opportunities from New Zealand employers and practical advice on how to make your move to New Zealand a reality.