Relocate to a better work-life balance in New Zealand

Rated by the Global Peace Index as the second safest country in the world, and by HSBC’s 2017 Expat Explorer Survey as the number one destination for overall expat experience, it isn’t difficult to see why relocating to New Zealand might be a great idea.

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Boasting an inclusive culture and emphasis on supportive workplaces, there are many aspects of a new life in New Zealand that might appeal. Expats in New Zealand are 60% more likely to enjoy outdoor activities than their counterparts elsewhere in the world, they report greater improvements in their family’s wellbeing post-move than expats in any other country and perhaps as a result, they’re 30% more likely to stay in their new home for five years or more than other expats.

With skills shortages across numerous industries, the New Zealand government are keen to ensure that expats continue to move to the country for work. Opportunities for career progression are plentiful, but what many prospective expats want to know is how their new work-life balance will stack up. Luckily, locals and international workers alike can’t stop shouting about the relaxed way of living, and how the friendly culture and beautiful landscapes team up to make living in New Zealand hard to beat.

Work and Workplace Etiquette

The list of in-demand skills in New Zealand is fairly extensive, with options filtered by whether they are immediate, long-term, regional or a combination of the three. If you’ve got qualifications and experience in any of these desirable skills, securing a job offer, working visa and residence visa will be much easier than if you’re looking to move without skills that New Zealand currently lacks. Construction, engineering, health, energy, ICT and even hospitality are just a few of the areas listed.

As far as working life, The Kiwi Importer’s Sarah Ayala says expats should expect things to be kept casual. “(Compared to the USA) not only do we dress more casually at work, I think we behave more casually too.” She says. “Typically we’re all on a first-name basis in New Zealand. Even your boss or someone in a position of high authority is likely to be addressed by their first name.”

Employee Assistance Programs are increasingly common in larger businesses, and these can be useful lifelines for expats who are still settling in as well as offering ongoing support. Even in smaller companies – which make up around 40% of New Zealand’s economy – a supportive atmosphere is championed. Many businesses employ 14 people or less, but this means that there’s plenty of opportunity to be involved in multiple aspects of work – and more opportunity to expand your skillset and progress.

Finding Balance

Expats moving from the USA are often enamoured with the legal requirements for paid holiday and parental leave, with New Zealand workers guaranteed four weeks’ paid holiday per year on top of 11 public holidays. And as well as up to 18 weeks of parental leave, workers are also entitled to use sick leave entitlement if their children are ill, as well as when they themselves are unwell.

It’s also a legal requirement in New Zealand that if an employee with dependents requests flexible working hours, the request has to be considered. Even for those without others to care for, a survey by Employment New Zealand found that 90% of respondents had employers who were happy to adjust working hours and days to fit around personal needs. Finding a good work-life balance is not just important here, but actively promoted.

New Zealand Culture

When it comes to inclusivity and diversity, this is a country that works hard to take care of its citizens. New Zealand’s three official languages are Māori, English and New Zealand Sign Language, and those working in the public sector will find that Māori culture is actively intertwined with working life. Don’t be surprised to see job descriptions and performance objectives that cite ‘understanding Māori culture’ as part of your role, as efforts are made across the board to ensure that newcomers to New Zealand understand and appreciate the indigenous culture.

There are some aspects of New Zealand living that may surprise expats coming in from other stereotypically western countries like the USA, but which may feel more familiar to those relocating from elsewhere. “Most houses typically don’t have central heating and cooling systems,” Sarah went on to say, “we just open up the windows when it’s hot and put on a jersey when it’s cold. We have fewer disposable items, and instead buy more permanent items that we wash and reuse.”

As well as a sustainable lifestyle, Sarah also highlighted differences in other social norms, such as not tipping in restaurants. Tipping isn’t generally ‘the done thing’ in New Zealand, as servers are paid a living wage that is covered by the cost of your meal or drinks.

Space to Breathe

With low population density and a temperate climate throughout the year, there’s plenty of room to enjoy a healthy lifestyle as a New Zealand inhabitant. Around 60% of the expats surveyed by HSBC last year said they’d moved to New Zealand to improve their quality of life, and with 74% planning to remain there into retirement it seems that expectations are being met.

Ann-Louise Riddell, Marketing Manager for Queenstown Rafting and Kiwi Discovery, says that it’s New Zealand’s ‘relaxed outdoor lifestyle’ that made her want to stay in the country permanently. “People still work hard, but they spend less time commuting so there’s more time to enjoy the natural surroundings.”

If you aren’t already familiar with what nature has to offer in this part of the world, a look at photos of Mount Taranaki and the Milford Sound waterfall should start to pique your interest. You can venture from surf to summit in a day, with opportunities to try your hand at skiing and snowboarding as easy to find as underground caves, sunny hiking routes and hot springs.

The Cost of Living

While the cost of living does come in higher than countries across Asia, 2017 data ranks New Zealand as cheaper overall than countries like Australia and the USA. Auckland and Wellington – New Zealand’s biggest cities – each come with living costs around 20% cheaper than those of London and New York. Auckland also holds coveted status as one of the top ten most ‘liveable’ cities on Earth, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit who rank cities according to things like economic stability, healthcare, education and infrastructure.

“Alcohol in New Zealand can be expensive because of the taxes,” Kiwi Importer’s Sarah Ayala continued, “but education and healthcare aren’t as expensive as they are in the US.” When it comes to food shopping and restaurant meals, newcomers can expect a variety of fresh, locally grown produce. “Eating out is also sometimes more expensive in New Zealand than in the US, but the food is so fresh and really good quality. There are great farmer’s markets in New Zealand!”

While it may be worth looking into global health insurance options, to help you access the full range of available health services as a non-resident, the Accident Compensation Corporation provide accident cover for visitors to New Zealand as well as permanent residents. This means that if you need emergency care as the result of an accident, you won’t need to worry about footing the bill. Once you gain residency, or if you have a working visa valid for more than two years, you’ll be able to access government-funded healthcare free of charge.


Overall, it seems New Zealand is a hard place to beat when it comes to quality of life. Only Singapore and Norway managed to push past to the top two positions in the Expat Explorer league table, despite ranking lower for overall experience. From breath-taking scenery to a balanced work life and all-round relaxed lifestyle, there’s sure to be an opportunity in New Zealand that appeals.


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