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The Complete Guide to a Working Holiday in New Zealand

New Zealand – a place which, for a lot of people, will bring up images of lush green rolling hills, Hobbits and sheep.

While you will find these, it is also easy to find snow capped mountains, interesting Maori/Pacific Islander culture, beautiful deserted beaches, geysers, dolphins, fjords, a laid back island lifestyle, rare Kiwi birds, volcanoes, and a surprising amount of cows.

Many people also believe New Zealand to be a ‘one in a lifetime’ destination due to its isolation from…well, pretty much everything.

If you do decide to embark on the marathon trip from North America or Europe to get to New Zealand (and I strongly urge you to), why not stay a while on a working holiday? Read on for a complete guide to going to a working holiday to New Zealand.

Updated and rewritten 2018.

There are affiliate links in this post. If you make a qualifying purchase through one of these links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Complete Guide to a Working Holiday in New Zealand - Marlborough Sounds views

Before you leave for your Working Holiday to New Zealand

Luckily, for most people, you don’t need to do much in preparation for a Working Holiday in New Zealand. If you prefer to be spontaneous, New Zealand is a great place to choose for a working holiday.

If you like planning, New Zealand is still an awesome choice too! Here’s exactly what you must do before leaving for your working holiday in New Zealand.

How to apply for a New Zealand Working Holiday Visa

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 are unlimited places (no quota) and you can apply at any time of the year.

The application is online, simple to complete and the processing time is only 48 hours for most applicants!

The conditions for the working holiday visa application usually state (it varies according to nationality) that you must;

  • be over 18 and under 30 (though some schemes allow people up to 35)
  • have a clean criminal record
  • have a passport valid for 3 months beyond the visa length you are applying for
  • be of good character and health
  • have proof of funds (to support yourself) to show on arrival
  • Proof of onward flight from New Zealand or enough extra funds to pay for one
  • Have not participated in the working holiday program for New Zealand before

Note that working holiday applicants do not need a job lined up in New Zealand.

23 month working holidays in New Zealand

British citizens and Canadians are able to select a 12 month or 23 month visa at the time of application. For the 23 month visa you will need to get a medical/x-ray certificate.

If you select the 12 month visa option and then once in New Zealand want to stay longer, you can apply for the extension if your first visa is still valid. You will still need to get the medical/x-ray certificate.

If approved, you will receive a New Zealand Working Holiday visa letter.

new zealand mountain views south island

New Zealand working holiday insurance

Having travel insurance (including medical coverage) is mandatory when doing a working holiday in New Zealand. The NZ government states that working holiday participants must ‘maintain your medical insurance while in New Zealand.’

They continue to say ‘we may ask to see evidence you’re insured when you arrive in New Zealand.’ If you arrive in New Zealand without travel insurance, you may not receive your working holiday visa. 

These are not the only reasons to have travel insurance for your working holiday in New Zealand. It is very unlikely anything unfortunate will happen during your trip, but it is better to be safe than sorry.

12 months is a very long time to be away from home. I never personally travel without travel insurance.

True Traveller offer insurance for British and EU citizens on New Zealand working holidays up to 18 months in length. Unlimited visits home are allowed. Coverage can start when already travelling and trips starting with a one-way plane ticket are fine.

Read More: The Best Travel Insurance for Working Holidays to New Zealand


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.

Accommodation in New Zealand on a working holiday

It is a good idea to book at least a few days (four or five nights is ideal) accommodation for your arrival in New Zealand. For a lot of people, this will be a hostel bed/room, hotel or Airbnb (never used Airbnb before?

Get a discount off your first stay when you sign up via this link). If you are planning to stay in one of New Zealand’s main cities, you may want to book for a week or two to allow time for searching for long-term accommodation.

Looking to book a stay in Auckland? Check out these great options:

Metro Adventurer Backpackers – Awesome central location

City Lodge Backpackers Accommodation – Good value for couples

Hobson Lodge – Highly rated on

Job hunting on your New Zealand working holiday

You may be thinking about trying to organise work before you even arrive in New Zealand. Yes, this is possible, but 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 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.

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 perfect person to look after their child(ren).

There are however a couple of things that you can do regarding work before leaving:

  • Rewrite your resume/CV. Resumes are always a little different in every country, so make sure yours is a similar format and style as those in New Zealand. This careers website is quite helpful. Save your CV onto a USB stick or on Google Drive, so you can easily update and print out as needed in New Zealand.
  • Make sure your phone is unlocked. Unlocking your phone at home so you can use a New Zealand sim card after arriving will save time later. A local mobile phone number is important for finding work.

On arrival in New Zealand

Your working holiday visa application was approved and you have the (usually) long flight out of the way. Welcome to New Zealand! Getting through immigration is the first, but necessary part, of your New Zealand working holiday.

Immigration in New Zealand

  • 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 but you absolutely need it.
  • 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.

TIP – New Zealand has very strict rules concerning what items can be brought into the country. It is illegal, for example, to bring in most types of food. This includes things like cheese and fruit. Do not risk 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 New Zealand working holiday.

Two things you do need and should try and sort shortly after arriving in the country:

  • A bank account
  • IRD tax number.
  • You then may also want to transfer money from your home country

Bank account

Having a bank account is essential if you plan to earn any money while in New Zealand on your working holiday.

Not only is it required to get your IRD number (see below), it is also useful 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 cards to pay for goods using the EFTPOS system. I opened a free basic account with the Bank of New Zealand.

I supplied:

  • My passport
  • Proof of address
  • A small deposit

Some banks charge a monthly fee to use them. It seems common for a fee to be charged if you withdraw money from ATMs not owned by your bank.

IRD Number

An IRD (Inland Revenue Department) number is an identifier that workers must have to earn money in New Zealand. If you do not have an IRD, you will automatically be charged 45% income taxes on your wage.

Since 2017, it has been possible to apply for your IRD online on the Inland Revenue website. This can only be applied for after arriving in New Zealand. You will need:

  • Passport details
  • New Zealand Application Number (from visa letter)
  • Most recent overseas tax number (if you have one)
  • Proof of an NZ bank account (bank statement showing name, account number and bank stamp)

Thinking of tax and earnings, did you know you may be eligible for a refund if you complete a tax return in New Zealand (or after leaving)?

One of the quickest and easiest ways of doing so is to use Their average tax return refund for working holiday participants in New Zealand is $500.

Transferring Money from your home country

There are a dozen different methods to accessing money across the world. Some examples include:

  • Bank transfer
  • Prepaid currency cards
  • PayPal

The easiest and most cost-effective way to use your money from home is to send it to New Zealand via a specialised online money transfer service.

These work on a peer-to-peer system in which the host website does not directly transfer money across borders, but instead re-routes payments between people in corresponding countries. I recommend:

  • TransferWise – 1.2% fee over $333CAD transfers from the UK. I used TW regularly and it usually takes 48 hours to transfer between accounts. One discounted (or free) transfer with this link. 
  • CurrencyFair – Fixed 3 Euro transfer fee and 0 to 0.5% (total transfer amount) service charge.One free transfer with this link.

For both of these services, the fees are lower than any other method and the exchange rate matches the ‘mid market rate’ – the one on live currency websites like XE

Each website is also upfront concerning the applicable fees and exchange rate. Depending on how much you are transferring, one may offer a better deal than the other.

New Zealand Working Holiday Guide -Thermal lakes in New Zealand

Finding Accommodation in New Zealand

Where you choose to stay entirely depends on your available budget and your personal plan for your working holiday in New Zealand.

Hostel life in New Zealand

Hostels are the most common form of accommodation available for travellers in New Zealand. They usually offer shared and private rooms with either shared and en-suite bathroom facilities for travellers. There is usually a shared kitchen and living space.

Some hostels are much bigger, cleaner, louder and more unique than others, but in all you will find somewhere to sleep for around $25-35 a night, depending on various factors including location and facilities. Some hostels have breakfast available and bars, others hot tubs/spas.

Some of the best hostels I stayed at in New Zealand included:

Hopewell Lodge, Marlborough Sounds

Te Nikau Retreat, Punakaiki

Lakefront Lodge Backpackers, Lake Tekapo

Choosing a hostel

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. 

The listings feature short description of each independent hostel with a location map and ratings from travellers. My favourite NZ hostels were all in the BBH guide.

Nervous about staying in a hostel?

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 halfway 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.

Other temporary accommodation options for working holidays in New Zealand

An alternative to hostels is Airbnb.  Airbnb allows you to rent a room or entire place in both popular and unusual locations all over New Zealand. Pricing can be very reasonable compared to hostels for couples or groups of travellers.

Travellers with a larger budget may consider booking a hotel to stay in occasionally. If doing so, I’d highly recommend to look out for those with some of kitchenette so you can at least make some of your own meals.

Long stay accommodation in New Zealand

Most hostels allow long stay travellers. Some travellers work locally and just want to live in the hostel for convenience/cost (a cheaper long stay rate can often be negotiated). Others decide to stay and work within the hostel in exchange for accommodation.

Otherwise, you have the option of finding private accommodation – either through private advertising on the internet (Trade Me 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.

There are also opportunities to find jobs with accommodation included or offered in exchange for work. See ‘Work’ section for more info.

New zealand

Working in New Zealand

Time to earn some money! New Zealand has a plentiful casual job market, though the availability and type of work does vary throughout the year.

Types of New Zealand working holiday jobs

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 (many travellers decide to work office jobs in the cities), but this is the general trend.

Keep in mind that the WHV program offers only a one-year visa (with possible extension for some nationalities) and so this does limit your employability somewhat.

Another thing to keep in mind is what the WHV actually is – for a working holiday. These programs were designed to allow people to travel long-term in a country and then occasionally work to top-up funds.

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.

Where to find work

My top three resources for finding work on a WHV in New Zealand would be:

Both Jean Robert and I found work through the Backpacker Board job listings section. Other places to look include hostel noticeboards, local newspapers and directly on business websites.

Working in exchange for accommodation

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 long-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 a restaurant and also as a Dive Master.

All about WWOOFing

While browsing job listings 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).

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 overall, but it is clear that some hosts work their WWOOFers harder than others.

Fruit picking in New Zealand

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.

Pancake Rocks - New zealand Working Holiday guide

Getting around on your New Zealand working holiday

One of the main reasons why I consider New Zealand to be such a great destination for so many types of travellers is the many transportation options.

Whether you decide to travel for six months or just two weeks of your working holiday, there is a travel method for you.

Hiring a car or campervan

Great for: short trips to New Zealand – with your own transport you’ll be able to fit as much or as little travelling in as you want and see exactly the sights you came all this way to see.

The hiring rules in NZ are pretty awesome in that the minimum age for some companies is 18, meaning even those straight out of school/college can hire a vehicle.

One big catch though; the hirer (main driver) usually needs to have a credit card. Another issue is that young drivers (generally under 25) may have to pay more per day than an older driver, and also will have a higher excess reduction cost.

This is another cost you have to pay per day that takes the excess down (i.e. the amount you’d have to pay before the insurance company would) if you damage the car.

Keep in mind that there are a few roads (like 90 Mile Beach in Northland) that most car rental company do not allow you to drive on.

Ace is my recommended rental car company – I hired with them a number of times for as little as $11/day.

Jucy, Spaceship and Escape all offer great campervan rentals in a variety of locations around New Zealand.

Buying a car or campervan

Great for: People who want the ultimate in flexibility during their working holiday in New Zealand.

Seriously consider this option if you’re visiting New Zealand for three months or more. The second hand car market in NZ is strong, making it easy to buy and sell a cheap car (less than $1000) quickly and easily.

Car insurance is not mandatory, though if you choose to buy it the prices are pretty reasonable. If planning to sleep in your vehicle or buy a campervan, please read the Freedom Camping rules in New Zealand.

My guide to buying and selling a vehicle in New Zealand is featured later in this article. My absolute favourite thing I did in New Zealand was buying my car. The freedom it gave me to visit every corner of the country was incomparable.

New Zealand Buses and shuttles

Good for: Travelling between cities and main towns, visiting ‘main’ attractions, short and straightforward visits, scenic routes, shuttles

If you just need to get from your local city or town to another for work purposes or to visit a friend, there are bus and shuttle companies that can help you for a really reasonable cost.

If you’re WWOOFing your way around New Zealand then this transport will especially work well for you. Yes, you could travel New Zealand at leisure using these too, but you’d be getting a bit of a limited experience. I say this from experience!

I initially planned to use the national buses at first, but then the limited timetables (sometimes only every day or every other or just in one direction!) slowly drove me mad.

I was having to plan my trip around where the buses actually went and when. It wasn’t really the travelling experience I had in mind!

SKIP offers cheap bus services on the North Island, while Atomic Travel operates routes on the South Island. InterCity is New Zealand’s national bus service.

Railway transport in New Zealand

The train network in New Zealand isn’t extensive but there are three main routes of appeal to visitors, mostly for the surrounding scenery rather than convenience.

The TranzAlpine is known as one of the best rail journeys in the world – it travels between Christchurch and Greymouth on the South Island’s Wild West Coast in four and a half hours.

Tickets for the TranzAlpine, CoastalPacific and Overlander are available from KiwiRail.

Local post service

There was a small comment in my New Zealand Lonely Planet referring to the post service on the East Cape (the area between Gisborne and Opotiki on the East coast of the North Island) offering travellers fixed priced non-stop shuttles.

I organised this with the I-Site (visitor information centre) in Gisborne. It was a five hour trip with the local postman from Gisborne to Hick’s Bay (at the top of the Cape) for $60, leaving at 10am.

We stopped many times en-route, and delivered some ‘special’ items….such as a cold Burger King meal from Gisborne, purchased some four hours ago.

A few days later I then took another post bus from Hick’s Bay (I was picked up at my hostel at 6am) all the way to Whakatane in the West, again for $60.

This one was a little shorter, but it took still much longer than a normal car would have done since we stopped everywhere – my driver basically knew everyone on the Cape!

It was definitely an interesting experience, especially in such a less-touristed area such as the Cape. Ask at a local I-Site to see if a post bus transport is available.

Hop-on, hop-off buses

Good for: Social travellers, action packed short trips, a balance between independent and organised travel, non-drivers

Ah, the ubiquitous hop-on/off buses. A perfect match for those wanting company and lack of organization stress but not to be on a tour bus. These buses offer beaten track routes on both islands, with many different route options.

The bus pass price only includes the bus transportation and sightseeing stops – no accommodation or attraction/activity costs are included.

Some of the passes offer special experiences that you might not otherwise be able to have – the Kiwi Experience’s East As pass gives the opportunities to meet some local Maori families and have a full tour of the local Marae (religious meeting house complex).

How hop-on hop-off buses work in New Zealand

The idea is to buy a pass and then use the bus as a means of transportation (that does stop at attractions and for activities on the way) and to meet other travellers.

The driver acts as a quasi-tour guide and can book hostel accommodation and activities ahead of time. The bus company will ‘recommend’ one hostel that usually has some sort of sponsorship deal with; often they are the large chain hostels such as Base.

If you find a stop you like, you can stay there and book onto a different bus to get to your next destination. The typical traveller on these buses is under 35 and looking to supplement their travelling with some late nights along the way.

Of course, there is always a variety of types of people and ages on each bus, so if you don’t click with the one you’re on, you can always get off and book onto the next one.

The main hop-on hop-off providers are Stray and Kiwi Experience. The latter has a more party-hard reputation than the other, but aside from that, they are pretty similar.

Traditional tour companies

Good for: short stress-free trips, meeting other travellers

I’m not going to write too much about tours as I’m sure the benefits and disadvantages are pretty obvious; you’re either a tour person or not. 

There is a huge variety of tours in New Zealand; from luxury wine and food trips to back-to-basics camping and trekking/tramping excursions.

At first glance, the prices might seem very expensive but don’t forget that most the time this cost includes accommodation and some meals.

Some tour operators include Flying Kiwi (camping) and Relaxing Journeys (small group)

Driving in NZ - Working Holiday New Zealand Guide

How to buy a vehicle in New Zealand

Buying a car in New Zealand was one of the best things I did during my working holiday. I really didn’t intend to buy one at all; in fact, I was pretty against it for my first few months in the country. I assumed it would be too much hassle, too expensive and besides, what did I know about cars?

Yes, my $400 car broke a few times, didn’t end up being SO cheap in the end, and I still don’t know a thing about cars, but it was so worth it.

I went where I wanted, when I wanted, and I had such a fantastic experience doing it.

Whether you’re just staying in New Zealand for three months or the full year, I really would urge you to throw the bus timetables and route maps out, and go your own way.

A plentiful market of second hand cars

There is a huge market for budget second-hand cars in New Zealand, including those bought and sold by backpackers. If you decided to watch hostel noticeboards and online adverts closely over a long period of time, you would be able to spot the same vehicles coming up for sale again maybe every six months, a year, two years.

Not only is the market for cars booming, there is also a large number of home-converted (as well as professionally done) campervans being consistently bought and sold every winter and summer season. I

t is not unusual to find fully-equipped converted vans complete with bedding, cooking pots and pans, AC adaptors (to charge laptops/phones), camping gear, guide-books/maps as well as station-wagons with merely a mattress slung in the back.

You only need to take a quick look on the NZ BackpackerBoard’s Car/Campervan noticeboard. Another good place to look is BBH’s billboards. 

Practicalities of driving in New Zealand

For most visitors, you can drive on your home license for up to a year. If it’s not in English, make sure you have an accurate translation. If you’re staying for longer than a year, you can apply for a NZ license, as long as you have I.D. (passport) and proof of address in NZ. For more info have a look on the Transport Agency’s website.

Wondering if you’re up to driving in NZ? Well, I had limited driving experience in the UK since I’d only passed my test the year before and I managed it.

I LOVED driving in New Zealand – the roads are quiet, in good condition and there aren’t many of them (making navigation easy, especially outside of cities). One thing though, New Zealand roads are WINDY (as in curvy, not blowy).

Do not underestimate this….certain journeys will take you much longer than you would have expected, and it can get tiring. Allow lots of time to get to your destination, especially if you’re in a mountainous or rural area.

I found it all part of the fun personally, but it’s pretty important to know this if you’re on a bit of a tight schedule….or just end up staying in some places longer than you expect!

New Zealand does not have many freeways/motorways, the only ones are found in the larger cities and are neither very long or big.

Most ‘main’ roads are single carriageway roads, which you can overtake only in appropriate places (when it’s not too windy). There are single road bridges and seemingly endless gravel roads…but again, this is part of NZ’s appeal to me. If you don’t like it, stick to Highway 1 but you will miss out!

Price of second hand cars in New Zealand

The value and price of vehicles do vary depending on the season – in December and January prices will be severely inflated due to it being the high season, while in April and May you will have pick of the bunch. This is the time when many travellers leave before winter comes.

I was told so many times that I wouldn’t find a car for under $1000 (regardless of how good it was!) when I was looking in Christchurch in January, but I did.

I bought my car for $400 from a local resident rather than a traveller, and hence the price was a lot lower. Realistically though you should budget at least $1500 for a car, and $4000 or so for a campervan.

Bear in mind that you could always grab a deal, as often travellers don’t leave enough time before they fly out to sell their vehicle…and hence need to sell it fast.

I’ve heard stories of travellers buying a car for $50 or for the price of a beer. There was even one time where the seller just pinned the car keys to a hostel noticeboard before leaving for the airport.

Searching for a vehicle in New Zealand

There are lots of different ways to find a vehicle in New Zealand.

  • If looking online, then check the BackpackerBoard and BBH listings as well as TradeMe and Gumtree.
  • In person, look at local noticeboards (in hostels, supermarkets), roadside sales and newspapers adverts
  • Talk to other travellers – you might be in luck and find someone in your hostel selling a vehicle, or knows someone who is.
  • Of course, there is always the last resort of a car dealer too.

When you’re looking, keep in mind the car will need to have a valid Warrant of Fitness (WOF) and tax after you’ve purchased it. The WOF is a compulsory six monthly (yearly if it’s a new car) test ensuring a minimum standard of roadworthiness.

It is therefore preferable for you to find a car with a good amount of time left on the WOF certificate, or be prepared to put it through the test and possibly pay for repairs/improvements.

Tax is, of course, inevitable wherever you are in the world, and NZ is no different. It’s referred to as licensing fees (or just car/road tax) so the more your potential car has, the better.

Note that it’s not necessarily cheaper to buy a diesel car since owners have to pay additional road user charges per every 1000 kilometres!

Purchasing a vehicle in New Zealand on a working holiday

Found a vehicle that looks and sounds good? Here’s what to do next.

Legal check (optional)

First consider getting a legal check (Vehicle Information Report) and/or a pre-purchase mechanical check. The former makes sure that the vehicle isn’t at risk of being repossessed (due to unpaid bills) or isn’t stolen.

To do one, you need the vehicle number plate details and approx. $20. There are lots of companies offering the service online such as LemonCheck.

Mechanical check (optional)

A mechanical check covers more legal and safety requirements than a WOF check does. Even if a car has a current WOF, it might still be a lemon. Bear in mind that it still mind be a lemon AFTER a mechanical check – like mine! Checks cost around $150, depending on the garage.

Registration papers

Once you decided to go ahead and buy a vehicle, you will need to register it. You can either do this online or at the PostShop (bring I.D.) The seller will complete a similar form and post it off. The fee to buy a car is $9.

Once you’ve handed the completed form back (or done it online) you will have a transfer receipt, which shows that you now own the car. A certificate of registration will follow in the post to the address where you registered the car.

Vehicle licensing – car/road tax

Every vehicle must be licensed to drive on New Zealand’s roads. In other countries, this would be referred to as car or road tax. It is strongly recommended to buy a vehicle with a current license.

Renewing the license is easy – again, either head to the PostShop or do it online. It is possible to pay for 3, 6 or 12 months worth at a time.

Insurance (optional)

It is not compulsory to have car insurance in New Zealand i.e. you can legally drive without any insurance at all. Really! Now, it is really up to you whether you decide to buy it or not.

Ignoring the fact the fact that the car you’re likely to have is not worth a whole lot (and hence maybe not worth getting fire/theft coverage for) it is important not to forget about the risk of accidents.

While you might not be thinking about yourself too much, consider other people – if you don’t have insurance and then have an accident with another vehicle, you will most likely have to pay out money to the other people involved. This is a very good reason to get insurance.

I decided to buy short-term insurance to cover my South Island road trip. My rationale was that I would be driving a huge amount during this time, while when I was back at my job a few months later I would be hardly driving at all, save for a few long day trips.

I purchased Third Party insurance with BBH – the hostel group – as it just seemed like the easiest option at the time since I could buy it at my hostel. I’m sure there are cheaper or more extensive insurance policies out there, but as a quick fix this one isn’t bad! I never had to use it luckily.

So with that all done, you’ll have your own car – well done, you made a good choice and am now free to explore the wonders of New Zealand!

View of Queenstown - New Zealand Working Holiday Guide

Working holiday in New Zealand: Frequently Asked Questions

If you’ve some got burning questions about going on a working holiday in New Zealand, you may just find the answers here. Still got a question? Ask in the comments following the post.

How much money do I really need for a New Zealand working holiday?

Firstly, I can’t recommend you take any less than the NZ gov requires you to….but on a practical level, it’s good to work out how much the first few months in NZ will cost you in case you don’t find a job so quickly.

The average hostel bed averages at around $30 so times this by 30, to get an average monthly cost for your accommodation. Times this by two or three and this is a good ‘buffer’ money amount to have.

Food-wise, if you’re from the UK or Canada or the US, change what you usually spend per week into NZ$ to create a weekly food cost figure. Yes, food prices are a bit different here and there, but largely it’s similar and this figure will at least provide you with an estimate of living costs.

Combine your accommodation and food costs, plus a decent contingency of three or four hundred NZ$ to cover travel and additional expenses and you have an idea of your absolutely basic cost to live in NZ for a few months.

Can I head out to New Zealand on a one-way ticket?

Yes, you can. The New Zealand government conditions state that you can arrive on a one-way ticket but you must have sufficient funds on entry to buy a plane ticket home.

A bit non-specific – how much exactly is enough? I would say a minimum of $1000NZD, which allows room for error.

I once purchased a return ticket to New Zealand for 520 pounds (including tax!) but it’s not worth getting into an argument with an immigration official about cheap flights…you’ll lose!

No-one will come to New Zealand with me and I’m worried about travelling alone. Will I be lonely?

Unless you are really anti-social and don’t stay in hostels, it is unlikely you will be lonely. For one thing, a lot of people travel solo in New Zealand, you won’t be the only one.

Hostels are social places, and as long as you’re friendly and open to meeting new people then you’ll be fine.

Remember, you always have at least one thing in common; a desire to travel and explore new places! It might seem intimidating, but the majority of travellers are very accepting and welcoming people.

You’ll probably find that you won’t be travelling alone for long; while exploring the South Island I had so many people who just joined me on my road trip for a few days, even a week or two, and then went off to do their own thing afterwards.

I gave rides to people from my hostel to the next town, picked up hitchhikers on the road, made new traveller friends in every new hostel – I really didn’t spend many days truly ‘alone.’

And of course, on my last trip to NZ I was travelling solo, but ended up meeting Jean Robert…and now I hardly ever travel on my own!

Isn’t it a bit scary to go and live on the other side of the world?

Maybe, but I assure you that New Zealand is one of the most welcoming and easiest countries for a first-time traveller to visit or live in. Plus, if you’re from the US/Canada/UK then it’s English speaking and you have little excuse!

A huge proportion of travellers currently in NZ at any one time are actually German speaking, which means you have even less to worry about than the average backpacker.

The idea of going to live in a foreign country sounds scary when you’re sat at home just researching online, but as soon as you land you’ll realise it’s really not that alien.

Try and ignore the inevitable people who will tell you how brave you are (for going to live in another developed nation? Never understood that one) but if you can’t, have a look at New Zealand close-up using  Google Streetview. View Queen Street in Auckland or Courtenay Place in Wellington and you’ll soon feel less intimidated.

Before you go, you can plan everything down to detail should you wis. The wonder of the Internet! On arrival or at any time after, you can easily Skype home or a friend if you’re still concerned.

If things really don’t go well for you, then you can fly home. It’s not the end of the world. I really would urge you to try and see if it’s for you, you might surprise yourself.

What if I don’t find a job on my working holiday?

As explained previously, there are a lot of casual work opportunities available in NZ. If you’re not picky (wanting a high paid long term job or one in a specific industry) then it won’t take you long to find a position.

Keep an eye on hostel noticeboards and the Backpacker Board website and move FAST.

If you’re open to working for accommodation then even better! Even temporarily, this can really help with finances and get you some NZ work experience.

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Wednesday 7th of September 2022

I already have a working holiday visa and haven't been able to use it due to Covid and starting Uni instead of going to NZ. Now my Visa expires in two weeks and I can only have one working holiday visa in my lifetime. But I want to go work in NZ after my bachelors degree. I can't reach the immigration NZ hotline due to high demands. Do you know what happens if I don't use the visa before it expires? Will I be able to apply again? Thanks for any information you might have!! Sophia


Thursday 8th of September 2022

Hi Sophia,

I do not keep up to date with NZ working holiday rules, but to my understanding, the government recently gave an extension to people who were unable to activate their working holiday visa due to Covid. If you don't activate your visa, then it counts as participation and you wouldn't be able to apply again, except through a working holiday company like


Thursday 28th of July 2022

Great article. I have a question though, in the present day, is this "can only work for 12 months even if you have a 23 month visa" still true? I haven't seen mention of this anywhere else, either on govt website, other blogs, I've never seen it mentioned. Is there somewhere it officially states that? Maybe I'm missing something...


Sunday 7th of August 2022

Hi Julian,

I haven't updated this article in a few years and with a quick google, it does seem like things have changed. Great to hear! Thanks for pointing this out.


Monday 2nd of May 2022

Hi there! Your post is fantastic. I am really considering coming to NZ for 2 years starting January 2023. I was wondering, if I am on the 23 month visa, and I leave the country for a month, does mean an extra month will be added to my visa since I left NZ for a month? Or does it just mean that I have exactly 23 months to be in the country. Thanks so much! Masha from Canada


Monday 2nd of May 2022

Hi Masha,

Glad this post could you help. If you leave the country, your visa will continue to run. The time on it is not stopped if you are out of the country. So if you leave for a month, you'll 'lose' one month of your visa.


Saturday 25th of May 2019

Incredibly helpful! Thank you so much :)


Tuesday 10th of November 2015

Thanks for the post, very useful :) I'm thinking about applying for a 23 month WHV, do you know the best insurance policies that would cover that long a time (I notice the one you mentioned only covers 13 months). Also, I hear that if you're planning on staying (and driving) in the country for more than a year you have to get a NZ driving licence, is this true and how would you go about it? Do you think it would be better just to go for 12 months? Thanks! :)


Tuesday 10th of November 2015

Hi Bethany,

Check out this post here for more info on insurance for working holidays. Alpha and True Traveller are the main providers for long term insurance for British working holiday makers, with the latter being my preference since they allow unlimited trips home.

As for drivers licenses, you need to change to a NZ one after a year, see here It's a simple swap though if you're from the UK - you don't have to take a practical test.

It really depends what you want for your NZ experience - you can't work for longer than a year but maybe you like the idea of working for a year and then travelling for the rest of the time. New Zealand really is a wonderful country to live and travel around. :)