There are several ways to access New Zealand’s healthcare services, depending on what sort of help you need.
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If you need medical help and it is not an emergency, the first point of contact is a general practitioner (GP). Most GPs in New Zealand work in groups called a practice, operating out of a Medical Centre.
A GP is a fully trained medical doctor who can give you medical advice and refer you for further tests or specialist treatment if needed. Treatment may be either in the public health system (which is subsidised or free) or through private providers (user pays).
For emergency medical help, visit the local hospital's emergency department. They will assess and treat patients who have serious injuries or illnesses.
If you need medication, you can get it from a pharmacy (also known as 'chemist'). Pharmacies can sell you 'over the counter' drugs like everyday painkillers. For other medicine you need to go to a GP first for a prescription.
Our health system
The New Zealand health system is explained in this video from the Waitemata District Health Board. This video is presented in English, Hindi and Mandarin.
The Health Navigator website provides reliable and trustworthy New Zealand health information and self-care resources.
Help with healthcare costs
If you are eligible, you can get free or subsidised health, maternity and disability services in New Zealand. Check if there are going to be charges when you make an appointment.
Finding a doctor
There are over 3,500 doctors (GPs) in New Zealand located in almost every city, town and suburb. To find a GP you can look in the front of the White Pages telephone book, under ‘Registered Medical Practitioners and Medical Centres'.
You can also look at the Healthpoint website, which lists registered GPs by area.
Start looking for a GP as soon as you can once you have decided where you are going to live so that you can be enrolled for subsidised charges when you want to see a doctor.
Not all GPs in a practice will be taking new patients. Remember to check the fees the practice charges when you enrol. Practices usually give priority to people who live or work in their local area.
Get a copy of your medical records from your home country so you can give them to your GP here in New Zealand.
You can request a male or female GP and take a companion with you to an appointment.
To find out more about enrolling with a practice and finding a GP, visit the Ministry of Health web page. The 'Your Local Doctor' website also has easy to read information on how to enrol with a GP and the benefits of doing it.
If you have to see someone suddenly, you can use the after hours service that GP practices offer. You can use these services even if you are not enrolled with them, but you will pay a higher, unsubsidised price.
If you have questions or you do not know what to do or who to see, call Healthline on 0800 611 116.
If there is a medical emergency needing urgent attention, you can call for an ambulance. In New Zealand the number to dial is 111.
In the Wellington area, Wellington Free ambulance services are available at no charge. In other areas there may be a charge to use the ambulance, even if you do not call it. See the St Johns Ambulance website for more information.
Alternatively, you can go to the 24 hour emergency departments that hospitals run (sometimes called Accident and Emergency or A&E units).
The Ministry of Health has more information about what to do in an emergency.
Help if you have an accident
Most costs of injuries from accidents are covered by our Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) cover. This covers everyone in New Zealand, including non-residents and visitors.
If you are injured in an accident, your doctor or health provider will help you make a claim for ACC cover.
New Zealand has around 40 public hospitals spread across the country in cities and larger towns.
With minor exceptions, such as some kinds of cosmetic surgery, hospital treatment is free for those eligible for health care services. Nobody can be refused emergency care because they are unable to pay. But if you are not a New Zealand resident, you may have to pay for some services. If you are not eligible for health care services, we strongly recommend you take out a travel medical insurance policy.
Hospitals provide care for emergencies, serious health problems and illnesses. Their services include emergency departments and medical, surgical and maternity services.
Waiting times for surgery vary from hospital to hospital. If your case is urgent, you will be put on an urgent waiting list.
As well as the public hospitals, there are many private hospitals around New Zealand that you can access if you have health insurance.
Under the Talk Teeth programme, children get free basic care for their teeth until they are 18. Otherwise, dentists are not part of the free public health system. The Ministry of Health has information about dental care for families in New Zealand.
Dental care is provided by oral health care practitioners, such as dentists and dental hygienists, in private practices. Fees can vary widely, so remember to ask about them when you are looking for a dentist.
In New Zealand, if you need to see a medical specialist you have to start by going to your GP for a referral.
Specialists work in both the public and private healthcare systems. You can only choose a particular specialist if you go through New Zealand’s private health system.
The privately-operated website Healthpoint has useful information about specialist medical care in New Zealand, the treatments they offer and what you need to get referred.
Maternity services in New Zealand are arranged and coordinated by a Lead Maternity Carer (LMC) - usually a midwife.
The Ministry of Health and HealthEd have information about:
- whether you will be eligible for free maternity care
- how LMCs work with you
- where to find maternity services
- what screening programmes are available.
From birth to five years, all children in New Zealand qualify for a free health service called Well Child/Tamariki Ora. It gives children a range of health checks and provides support and advice for new parents.
Lead Maternity Carers will get you started on this programme if you are a new parent, or you can go to the website.
One of the providers of the Well Child service is the Plunket Society. Plunket provides a wide range of free support services for children under five and their parents. Its services include home and clinic visits, mobile clinics, and PlunketLine - a free telephone advice service for parents on 0800 933 922.
All children under 13 are eligible for free general practice visits, both during the day and after hours. This includes immunisations against serious disease, regular eyesight and hearing checks at school, and visits to the doctor. Basic dental care through school dental clinics is also free while children are at school. Not all GPs may provide free visits, so check with your GP first.
New Zealand offers a wide range of services to help the elderly in New Zealand. Services include home care, financial support, social support, rest homes and retirement villages.
For comprehensive information, call Senior Line 0800 725 463 or visit their website.
Mental health services
Mental health services are provided in each region. Generally, you need to start with your GP to get a referral, but emergency services are also available.
There are several phone services that offer help with mental health issues, including Depression Helpline (0800 111 757) and Lifeline (0800 543 354).
The Ministry of Health has more information on what to do in a mental health emergency and details of the other helplines and support services that are available.
Healthline is a free telephone health advice service. Talk to a registered nurse about whether you should see a doctor to get general health advice or to find the nearest doctor or pharmacy. Healthline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (24/7). Call 0800 611 116.
The Ministry of Health has a range of programmes that help prevent illness. Programmes range from help with addictions like gambling, alcohol or smoking, to immunisation programmes and advice about keeping active.
Some organisations, such as Asian Family Services, provide multilingual wellness support to migrants.
Help to stop smoking
Quitline is a service funded by the Ministry of Health to help people stop smoking. Quitline offers a support phone line and online and text support. If you are eligible for free healthcare services, you can also access free nicotine replacement products through your doctor.Quitline 0800 778 778
Complementary and alternative health services
New Zealand has a huge range of alternative health practitioners.
Alternative healthcare is not subsidised by the government. However, the costs of acupuncture and osteopathy for injuries caused by an accident are covered by the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC). For more information about the accident compensation scheme, see 'Injuries from accidents' on our 'Paying for healthcare services' page.