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

How New Zealand compares

New Zealand and the USA have a lot in common, like great scenery, fast food, and the English language. People who have moved here from the USA say that Kiwis are relaxed, friendly, and easy to get along with. Many US expats find that New Zealand has a quieter, gentler pace of life and great work/life balance.

Work/life balance

The quality of life in New Zealand really is very good compared to many other countries and the pace is relatively relaxed.

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.

New Zealand's balanced lifestyle

New Zealand was voted No.1 for Overall Experience, No. 2 for Family and No. 2 Overall in the 2018 HSBC Expat Explorer survey of over 22,000 expats in 31 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. We have 4 seasons that each last 3 months. Depending on where you live in New Zealand, the weather is different. For example, Queenstown will get more snow than a place like Wellington. Our temperate climate means weather is fairly consistent, so year round you will find it easier to enjoy a healthy, outdoors lifestyle.

Scenic beauty

New Zealand is famous for its beautiful scenery — from scenic surf beaches, attractive native forests and snow covered volcanoes in the North Island to the great Southern Alps, braided rivers and deep fjords in the South Island. This is why we often feature in movies with dramatic landscapes, like The Lord of the Rings.

The USA has incredible scenery too, but ours is more concentrated - you can see it in just a matter of weeks. If you move to New Zealand, you can use your annual 4 weeks of holiday to explore the whole country.

Clean & beautiful New Zealand

Unique culture

New Zealand has a unique culture with strong Māori and Polynesian influences. This distinctive and dynamic ‘Pasifika’ feel to life here is like nowhere else.

In everyday life there is a spirit of welcome that Māori call Manaakitanga, which means looking after guests. 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

Housing choices

If there is one major difference between the USA and New Zealand, 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, a plot of land in the countryside, or a chic downtown flat in the city, New Zealand has something for everyone. Whatever your choice you can usually enjoy it 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.

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.

If you have an accident

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

Benefits for families

New Zealand is a great place to start and raise a family. Along with affordable, quality education, your children will be able to get close to nature and enjoy a diverse range of healthy sport, recreation, and adventure activities.

New Zealand ranks second for ‘community’ on the OECD’s Better Life Index covering 40 countries. The 2019 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 128th.

Family friendly


Safe & secure

Better Life Index | OECD

Global Peace Index 2019 (pdf 5.9 MB)

High quality education

New Zealand’s education system scores well in world rankings.

  • New Zealand ranked third out of 50 leading countries — just behind Finland and Sweden — in The Economist’s 2019 Worldwide Educating for the Future Index (WEFFI).
  • The Legatum Institute’s 2019 Prosperity Index ranked New Zealand 10th out of 167 countries for our education system.

Early childhood education

Early childhood education (ECE) is considered a priority by our government, which fully funds the first 20 hours of ECE for 3 and 4 year olds. This means parents can continue to work without spending all of their income on childcare.

Higher learning

New Zealand is also known for the quality of our higher learning. We have 8 universities and 16 institutes of technology that provide domestic and international students with internationally recognised qualifications. All 8 universities are in the top 500 of the 2019 QS World University Rankings — 5 are in the top 300.

Study in New Zealand

Education and schooling

World Educating for the Future Index | The Economist

Prosperity Index | Legatum

QS World University Rankings 2019

Cost of living

The cost of living in New Zealand is similar to other western OECD countries. Depending on where in the USA you come from, you may find the cost of living in New Zealand cheaper than you are used to.

For example, New York was rated the world’s ninth most expensive city in Mercer’s 2019 Cost of Living Survey, LA was 18th and Chicago was 37th.

By comparison, New Zealand’s biggest and most expensive city Auckland ranked 89th — close to Detroit. Wellington, the capital, was 114th — cheaper than Portland. Living in smaller towns will cost you less.

Cost of living in New Zealand

Cost of living city rankings | Mercer

Working in New Zealand

New Zealand needs migrant workers to fill some highly skilled occupations, for example:

  • business services
  • construction and utilities
  • healthcare and social assistance
  • education.

If your skills are on any of the skill shortage lists, you will find it easier to find a job and get a visa.

If your job or profession is not on a skill shortage list, don’t worry. There are other 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

Ready to take the next step?

Complete a short form to tell us about your skills and occupation. We'll provide you with helpful information on finding jobs, and living and working in New Zealand.

Global focus

New Zealand enjoys 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. 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.

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 2019, the World Bank ranked us as the world’s easiest country to do business in and first in the world for ease of starting a business.
  • Forbes magazine consistently ranks us one of the 5 best countries in the world for business.
  • The International Tax Foundation’s 2019 index puts New Zealand second amongst OECD countries in terms of tax competitiveness.
  • Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) ranks us as the world’s least corrupt country out of 183.
  • The Heritage Foundation in 2020 ranked our economy in the Index of Economic Freedom, just behind Singapore and Hong Kong.

A great place for business


Doing Business 2020 | 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

If you want to move to New Zealand or come here to work for a while, there are different visa options to suit your plans.

  • If you’re aged 18-30, working holiday visas can give you up to 12 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

Special visas for investors

New Zealand is actively seeking international investors to settle or spend time living here. There are exciting investment prospects in New Zealand, with a lot happening in traditional sectors and in export sectors like ICT, biotech, agricultural research and more.

The government has set up special immigration pathways for investors and entrepreneurs. Visa options include:

  • Investor visa — if you plan to invest a at least NZ$3 million over 4 years
  • Investor Plus visa — if you plan to invest NZ$10m or more
  • Entrepreneur visa — if you plan to purchase or set up a business.

Investor visas

Entrepreneur visas

Hot tip

Visas during the COVID-19 pandemic

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

Check the relevant INZ web page details for visas you are interested in.

Read more about the investor visa requirements or get in touch with one of our Investment Market Managers by selecting Invest on our registration form

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.

NZ Ready planning tool

Want to know more?

Take the first step to your new life by registering to receive emails from Immigration New Zealand.

We’ll send you personalised, practical advice on how to choose the right visa and make the move to New Zealand, and relevant job opportunities from New Zealand employers.

It’s free and there’s no obligation

Interested in coming to New Zealand?

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Page last updated: 23/10/2020

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