Before you go –
Luckily, for most people, you don’t need to do much in preparation for a Working Holiday in New Zealand.
If you’re fortunate to be a citizen of the participating countries (Canada, many EU countries, USA, UK et al) then you can get a one (1) year Working Holiday Visa (WHV), easily available from the New Zealand government’s immigration website. When I say easily available, I mean for most countries there is no upper limit to the number of visas given out, and you can apply online and often here within the week whether you have been successful. Note – Do not apply for the visa through any other site – it will be a scam and/or a rip-off.
The conditions for this usually state that you must; be over 18 and under 30 (though some schemes allow people up to 35); have a clean criminal record; have a valid passport. You are also required to have a minimum amount of money, to show you are able to support yourself until you find work.
For UK participants only, at the time of application you need to select a 12 month or 23 month visa. If you want the 23 month visa you will need to get a medical/x-ray certificate – find more info about this on the immigration website. If you select the 12 month visa option and then once in New Zealand want to stay longer, you must apply for the extension while in country and while your first visa is still valid. You will still need to get the medical/x-ray certificate. Note that you can still only work for 12 months, no matter whether you choose the 12 or 23 month option. One bonus is that if you originally travelled to NZ on the 12 months and want stay longer, you can apply for the extension within New Zealand before your first visa runs out.
If you just want to visit New Zealand for a short amount of time and not work, then most travellers from North America and Europe can take advantage of the Visa Waiver agreement and stay in New Zealand for up to three (3) or six (6) months. For Brits, it’s six (6). Otherwise, have a look at the New Zealand government website here.
You need travel insurance. Travel insurance for a Working Holiday is a bit different than the standard however.
Firstly, most travel insurers are aimed at people who go on holiday maybe once or twice a year for a week or so at a time. You will need something that covers a lot longer; often these policies are advertised as ‘Backpacker’ or ‘Traveller’.
Secondly, if you’re seriously planning to work at all while in New Zealand, whether fruit picking or in an office, you need insurance that will specifically cover work. Why? You need to disclose this type of thing since insurance companies will do whatever they cannot to pay out if you try and claim – a lot of standard travel insurance policies only cover pleasure activities on a holiday. If you worked on one of these policies and then was injured, any claim could be completely invalid. Another thing to look for in the small print is whether you can fly to New Zealand on a one-way flight if this is what you plan to do. Again, many companies will not cover a trip with you leaving your home country without a return flight.
Don’t be sucked into buying insurance policies sold by travel agents (even student/young people focused ones…) without looking around first since they may offer poor value or not even what you really want/need. If you are planning to do any ‘extreme’ activities such as skiing/snowboarding, bungy jumping, skydiving, rafting etc, then you need to make sure they are also covered. Often activities such as these are covered but at an extra cost or with a high excess (you pay a set amount of your treatment before the insurance companies pays out) if you got injured doing them.
Other factors to consider if you’re planning to stay in New Zealand for a long time would be whether you can extend your policy while away and if the policy allows you to return to your home country if the worst happens (close family member’s death) or for something great like a wedding! Often, returning to your home country effectively cancels insurance coverage – pretty important if you’ve paid for two years in advance!
I always use ACE Insurance when I travel; I have not ever had to claim so I can’t vouch for how they are regarding that, but they cover everything I want and need. The Traveller Insurance is available for up to 13 months, covers work (there is a list of applicable jobs) and extreme activities and has good medical/personal liability cover. Leaving the UK on a one-way flight is also acceptable, as well as returning to the UK for a short visit. Only catch is, their insurance is 13 months and no more – meaning that if you do the quite sensible thing and fall in love with New Zealand and never want to leave, then you’ll have to find another insurer who is happy to start coverage outside of your home country (not common I’m afraid).
As mentioned before, you will need a lump sum of money in your bank account in order to satisfy the NZ immigration officials that you can support yourself while job searching once in the country. The amount depends on your country; refer back to the Immigration website for the exact amount. To prove this amount to the officials, you will need to show a recent bank statement. You may not be asked however – I wasn’t!
You may be thinking about trying to organise work before you even arrive in New Zealand. Yes, this is possible, but it’s not easy and I don’t recommend trying too hard. The kind of work available for people on WHVs in New Zealand is, on the whole, casual. I will go into this more later, but in essence; most of these employers are looking for immediate help and the hundreds of travellers currently in New Zealand at any given time are able to satisfy that request. Yes, you can still try and make some in-roads before you leave your home country but it is pretty unlikely that a typical backpacker employer is going to wait until you travel the thousands of kilometres to get to New Zealand – after all, worst case scenario, you might chicken out last minute, or get rejected at immigration. There are some exceptions, such as au-pairing. Often these positions are advertised in advance so the parents can make sure they choose the right person for the job.
Have your passport, visa confirmation print-out and proof of funds evidence (recent bank statement) ready to show the immigration officer on arrival. You may not be asked for any of this documentation besides your passport – I wasn’t. All being well, you will receive a stamp in your passport that shows you are legally entitled to work in New Zealand until your visa runs out.
You made it! Now you’ve probably arrived into Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch. Either way, you’re in a city with all the amenities you will need to start your Working Holiday in NZ. Two things you do need and should try and sort shortly after arriving in the country: IRD (tax) number and bank account. Aside from that, take time to explore the city, meet other travellers and relax a bit!
This is fairly easy; you could do some of it before even reaching New Zealand. Download IRD form from NZ’s Inland Revenue website, print and fill-out. You will also need photocopies of two identification documents – see the first page of the form to see what you can use. The most obvious for a Working Holidaymaker would be your passport (photo page plus NZ work visa stamp) and drivers license. Then you’ll need to take the copies and the forms to a NZ Post Shop or Automobile Association office. Your number will be sent to the address on the form within 8-10 days – I used my hostel address, but best to check with your hostel/hotel before you do this. Some are happy to hold mail for guests, others not.
This is essential if you plan to work for money (rather than in exchange for food/board), also really useful just for day-to-day expenditures since many debit/credit cards rack up high fees when used abroad. With most bank cards in NZ you can use them like a debit card; in shops and at petrol stations to pay for goods using the EFTPOS system. I opened a free basic account with the Bank of New Zealand, and they need to see and record IRD number plus my passport. They also needed a minimal amount of money to open the account. Jean Robert opened a similar basic no frills account at KiwiBank – available at PostShops – and did not need his IRD number.
Pre-paid Sim Cards
Connecting your mobile/cell phone to a New Zealand network is pretty easy. You need to make sure your phone is ‘unlocked’ before you leave your home country so that it will accept sim cards from other networks. In the UK this costs around 10 pounds, depending on your network provider, phone and where you get it done (by the provider or in a local market…)
NZ has three mobile phone providers –
I had a sim card with Vodafone which I never had any problems with. I believe I paid around $20 for the sim card in a Vodafone shop on Queen Street in Auckland when I arrived. Jean Robert also bought a Vodafone sim card and signed up a great deal in which he received cheap calls (I’m talking a few dollars for a few hours of talk) to many international locations. He also purchased a cheap mobile phone for around $50, which did work when he came to live in the UK but not in Canada as it was not GSM enabled.
Unfortunately mobile phone coverage is a bit patchy within New Zealand, but it’s kind of understandable considerable the amount of inhabited land. Expect to get perfectly fine coverage in cities and towns, but don’t count on it elsewhere. I especially had problems with signal when travelling along the south coast of the South Island, within the Catlins area south of Dunedin and east of Bluff. Also note that the caller pays all call related charges within NZ – you do not pay to receive calls or text messages unless it is an international call.
Hostels are the most common form of accommodation available for travellers in New Zealand. Hostels offer shared and private rooms with shared and en-suite bathroom facilities for travellers, with a shared kitchen/living space. Some are much bigger, cleaner, louder and more unique than others, but in all you will find somewhere to sleep for around $22-$30 a night, depending on various factors including location and facilities. Some hostels have breakfast available and bars, others hot tubs/spas. There are hundreds of hostels all over New Zealand, most in cities and towns but plenty out in the middle of nowhere, in places you wouldn’t expect. Some are independent, others part of a chain such as Base. I used the BBH guide to choose many of my hostels; it’s a network of independent hostels all over New Zealand. The guide has a short description of each one with a location map and ratings from travellers. Take a look at my favourite hostels here.
If you’ve never stayed in a hostel before then you’re probably thinking that the idea of shared rooms/facilities doesn’t really appeal that much. Hostels however are the best way to meet fellow travellers of all ages, nationalities and walks of life….and are also the cheapest place to stay temporarily by a long shot! Quite a few people in your first hostel in Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch will be in a similar situation to you; just arrived in New Zealand and am looking for work or travel opportunities. Others will be half way through their trip, or right at the very end. Regardless, you’ll be able to make friends and get tips and advice from people who are, who have been, in a similar position to you.
To book or not to book? I would definitely advise you to book at least your first few nights in a hostel on arrival in New Zealand. Past that, unless you are travelling around/arriving in December or January (peak season) or wanting to stay in a specific hostel in a remote area then there is little need to book. With so many hostels around, in the unlikely event that your chosen hostel is full you can walk a few hundred metres and find another. If you are concerned and have a NZ cell phone or sim, you could call on the day or day before to confirm or book a bed. I only once encountered a full hostel, and that was during January in Lake Tekapo where there are few hostels in the town and no more for quite a distance!
Most hostels allow long stay travellers; either those who are working locally and just want to live in the hostel for convenience/cost (a cheaper long stay rate can often be negotiated) or want to stay and work within the hostel for accommodation. Otherwise you have the option of finding private accommodation – either through private advertising on the internet (www.trademe.co.nz is popular) or through a rental agency. You could also group up with other travellers from your hostel if you find others wanting to do a similar thing. Many NZ jobs available for travellers come with accommodation included or in exchange for work; see ‘Work’ section for more info.
- Paid and exchange jobs
Let me tell you straight – unless you have some sort of amazing skill or talent that convinces a top employer to pay you thousands, you are unlikely to make a fortune while in New Zealand on a WHV. The most common jobs for travellers in NZ are those of a casual nature or in industries with a high turnover i.e. hospitality, tourism and agriculture. Of course, there are exceptions, but this is the general trend.
Why? Well, the WHV is only a one-year visa (with possible extension) and so this does limit your employability somewhat; why would a Kiwi employer choose someone who might only stay six months rather than a local Kiwi who could stay ten years? Another thing to keep in mind is what the WHV actually is – for a working holiday. If you’re setting out to NZ just to try and make money, then you’re kind of going against the whole point of the WHV (at least from the NZ’s gov viewpoint), which is to enable visitors to fund a longer trip to travel the country.
Luckily, NZ has huge tourism and agriculture industries and these handily offer lots of job opportunities to travellers. In my experience the majority of working holidayers find work in bars, restaurants, hostels (reception and cleaning), ski resorts, shops, offices (temp work), on farms (fruit picking and other manual work) and also in private homes as au pairs.
Some of these jobs will be paid; others will be in exchange for accommodation and/or board as well (food). Exchange work isn’t necessarily bad; it can set you up with a place to stay really easily and quickly and also will most likely provide you with a unique NZ experience. One of the most common exchange work opportunities is in hostels; many will advertise for cleaners to work 2/3 hours a day in exchange for a dorm bed. This is a pretty good deal if you need something to tide you over while looking for longer term paid work or are unsure what to do next. Accommodation is often the biggest dent in daily expenditure, so cutting that out can really help your budget, especially if it’s near the end of your trip and/or is pretty low!
Both my boyfriend and I had ‘exchange’ jobs in NZ. I was working 17 hours a week in a local shop in exchange for accommodation in a shared house. Jean Robert worked 22 hours a week at the same shop a few years later and received cooked meals too. He later also worked as a paid chef in restaurants and cafes and also in a dive shop.
- Where to find work
The NZ Backpacker Board’s Job listings are a great resource; either to find current jobs or just to get an idea of what’s currently out there. Both Jean Robert and I found work through this website. While browsing this site you might see positions referring to ‘WWOOFer wanted.’ The terms WWOOFer and WWOOFing are used pretty loosely in NZ, but they refer to the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms program (sometimes known as Willing Workers on Organic Farms instead)– see website here. The idea of people working for a number of hours a day in exchange for room and board is so widespread that Kiwis often use the term to advertise for helpers, even if not part of the organization.
The actual WWOOF program requires you to pay to sign up and receive the host listings. You should note here that an ‘organic farm’ (another loose term!) can mean anything from a full-on dairy farm to a yoga retreat with an organic vegetable patch. Nonetheless, you’re sure to have a uniquely NZ experience wherever you end up, especially as many of the hosts lead what you’d call an ‘alternative lifestyle.’ I’ve never done ‘proper’ WWOOFing and I’ve heard good and bad tales….mostly good, but I know of hosts who work their WWOOFers harder than others.
If you’re not adverse to a bit of hard (and dirty) work and need a bit of cash, then consider fruit picking. The main areas for fruit picking area the Bay of Plenty, and Hawke’s Bay on the North Island and Marlborough on the South Island. There are many hostels in these areas that are popular with traveller working a picking season – consequently some feel more like shared houses than hostels. The New Zealand gov’s webpage on job opportunities for working holidayers has some really good links for information about fruit picking and the various picking seasons.