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4 Steps to a Successful Working Holiday Visa in New Zealand

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Justine Lieberman
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I visited New Zealand in early 2019 and had only planned a short 2.5 week trip with the group travel company Contiki. But when I was there, I just didn’t feel like I could get enough of it and completely fell in love with the city of Queenstown.

I had previously planned a month in Australia right after NZ, and continued on my travels. In the back of my mind was always Queenstown, New Zealand. 

I arrived back in Los Angeles, USA and felt like I had made such a mistake not staying in NZ for longer. On a whim, I decided to apply for the Working Holiday Visa (WHV) just to see how easy the process was to get it.

Within 48 hours, I got my visa - it was so quick and painless!

The best part was that I didn’t have to go to NZ straight away. From the day you get the visa, you have 1 year to start your NZ journey. From the day you set foot on New Zealand soil during that year, is when the visa officially starts for 1 whole year.

So timeline for my experience:

  • I got my approved Visa on April 24, 2019 (expiry date: April 24, 2020 for stepping foot in NZ)
  • I landed in New Zealand on October 30, 2019
  • My WHV expires officially October 30, 2020

 Before you settle on New Zealand, explore other visa options in Australia, Japan and Thailand.

What are the steps to a successful WHV?!

STEP ONE: Apply for the visa

- To Apply From Any Country: Head to the official government page and follow the prompts.

Just click which country you are from and it will give you more details from there on what is required to apply

- To Apply Specifically from the USA, go ahead and skip to here.

 

Solo female standing at summit on a beautiful clear day overlooking more mountains and a lake in New Zealand
This country never disappoints with the views

GENERAL REQUIREMENTS for a USA passport holder:

  • Age: You need to be 18-30 years old to apply (You must apply and get to NZ before you turn 31 years old for this visa)
  • Identity: You must prove your identity (Your passport)
  • Health: You must be in good health
  • Character: You must be of good character
  • Intentions: You must have genuine intentions (only to stay the length of time of the visa)
  • Citizenship: Your passport country must match the visa you applied for
  • Onward Travel: You must have funds in the bank to prove to them upon arrival that you can buy a ticket home
  • Funds: You must have $4,200 NZD in your bank account to prove you have enough funds to live on that money in the country
  • Medical Insurance: You must have medical insurance that covers the length of your stay
  • No Previous NZ Visa: Never having had a New Zealand WHV before 

When I went through the process, it was super easy! They have you create a login, fill out the application completely online, and lay it out for you - very straightforward. You can even save your progress and come back to the application. I think it took me about 20-30 minutes to go through the whole thing.

I also was not asked for any extra proof when I applied - but I hear that they ask some people to get a health physical, criminal records, or other things before they can be accepted.

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STEP TWO: Get ready to go

PAPERWORK:

I prepared a folder with the following:

  • 3 copies of my Passport (and had my actual passport, duh)
  • 3 copies of my approved WHV
  • 2 copies of my health insurance coverage
  • 2 copies of my bank account statements

I had all the above items ready to go and funny enough they did NOT ask me for any of it. I am honestly not sure if this is the norm.

 

TIME OF YEAR:

New Zealand is beautiful all year round. The South Island is a bit more mountainous and stunning in my opinion, but the North Island is beautiful as well. 

The South Island is the place to be in the winter if you’re into skiing and snowboarding. I’ve heard it does get quite cold down there. In the summer, it is beautiful weather for road tripping and exploring, although for this SoCal gal, it was still a bit chilly for “summer.” The North Island has lots of great places to be for both seasons, although I believe the weather is not as dramatic for each season.

It should be known though, that New Zealand weather is quite unpredictable. I would never trust weather apps because honestly if it was not the day of, it was usually incorrect.

I spent most of the 2019-2020 summer in Queenstown on the South Island. It was beautiful, and everything I wanted it to be! I then moved up to Auckland in mid-February to finish out the summer on the North Island for a different job opportunity. I enjoyed both places for the summer. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, I unfortunately cannot comment specifically on winters in NZ.

PACKING:

I recommend not packing too much - just the essentials. New Zealand is so down to earth and carefree. I wore a dress out once and people asked me if I was going to a wedding LOL - it’s just not a super fancy place. Normal clothes are perfect. Lots of options though of shorts, pants, tanks, t-shirts, etc. Don’t forget PJs! (I literally always forget pajamas lol).

I highly recommend a good rain jacket and solid hiking shoes - I ended up buying both of these there because they had better quality options. Make sure any shoes you bring are as clean as possible when bringing them into NZ. The land is very sensitive to invasive species, so that is a big thing they check out when you come over. No dirty shoes people!

A girl about to jump off the platform to go bungee jumping over a lake in New Zealand
Getting ready to jump right in!

STEP THREE: Once you are there

You made it!! Now what? Below are my recommendations if I could do it over again:

EXPLORE the country:

If you know where you want to live that’s totally awesome. But I would definitely recommend giving yourself time to explore the country first to really see if there’s a place that sticks out to you. I would say that 2 months is a solid amount of time, and that you should look into travel options (buy/rent a car, Kiwi bus, Straya bus, Contiki, etc.) If I could do it over - I would try to buy a car ASAP.

The country is pretty rural and getting around on your own accord can be difficult without a car. Driving on the left side of the road is pretty easy once you get used to it! This obviously all depends on your budget and intentions though of course. I rented cars most of the time if I needed one, but that adds up $$!

Checking out the country will give you peace of mind when you finally pick a place to settle down. It also allows you the opportunity to stop and work (if you want) along the way. Maybe you really like a little town and there’s an opening for a one-month gig there...BOOM, employed. You give yourself options and can find opportunities this way!

 

Find a JOB*:

*If you want. This is not an expectation, but can be financially helpful if you’re on a budget. Regarding expenses - bigger cities/towns are quite pricey. I’d say all around the country is pretty affordable, but it all adds up of course!

Finding a job is super easy in NZ - specifically if you’re open to any position.

When you get your visa, they will send you information on where to look up jobs online. It’s cool to get a job ahead of time, but I think it’s much easier to find one in person. There are tons of hospitality and tourism jobs available all around the country.

My first day in Queenstown I walked around with my resume/CV and popped into any stores/restaurants that tickled my fancy. Just from hitting about 6 places, I was asked to come in and interview at 2 of them. ⅓ isn’t bad! And that was just 30 minutes of my time + I had fun exploring the town. I was offered both positions - it’s nice to have options!

The job that I moved to Auckland for, I applied via email and interviewed over Facetime. That was a special situation!

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Get your IRD NUMBER:

An IRD number is your Inland Revenue Department number - which is your tax ID number. For US citizens, it's like your social security number. You need to have an IRD number before you start to work in New Zealand in order to get the correct taxes deducted from your pay. You can get this before you get to NZ or when you first get there.

Visit the official IRD website for additional information and the proper forms. 

In your visa approval email it will tell you exactly which form you will need to get your IRD number. You can apply for this with OR without a bank account in New Zealand. There was some confusion for me and my friends regarding this originally. I applied for the IRD number before I had my bank account set up. I got my IRD number around the 3rd day I was in New Zealand, and my jobs were patient with me sorting that out.

 

Open a BANK ACCOUNT:

For most jobs, you will need to open a bank account in New Zealand for your pay to be directly deposited.

You can walk into basically any bank and schedule an appointment, where they can show you your banking options and get you set up. OR I found that with KiwiBank, I could do almost everything online! I applied through the website, got my bank account set up, and had online banking ready to go. 

Keep in mind that regardless of how you open an account, you will need to go into the bank to confirm your identity. The banks have alternative ways of confirming your identity, but going directly to the bank was easiest and most convenient for me.

When confirming your identity make sure you have the following items:

  1. Passport
  2. Visa information Hard Copy
  3. Letter for proof of living in the city Hard Copy - on proper letterhead, signed & properly dated (Mine was from the hostel I was living in)

Once your identity is confirmed at the bank, you are able to take out money and get a proper debit card. So exciting!

A female expat in New Zealand o the working holiday visa standing at the shore of a lake laughing into the sunlight
I mean, just look how happy NZ made me!


Find ACCOMMODATION:

My biggest recommendations for where to live is to start in a hostel. Hostels in New Zealand are INSANELY AWESOME. They are typically beautiful, clean, safe, have friendly guests/workers, and are in good locations. The YHA in Lake Tekapo is one of the most beautiful places I’ve stayed at ever (including hotels and AirBnBs around the world). 

Living in a hostel to start has the below benefits:

  • You can get to know the city/town better (where is good to live, work, etc.)
  • You will make friends (all my friends were people I met at the hostel I lived at in Queenstown - Absoloot Queenstown)
  • There could be openings to “Work for Accommodation” (working about 3 hours/5 days a week in exchange for room & board)
  • Discounts on local outings, events, and activities


Finding a place to live can be very overwhelming. I tried to do it ahead of time and it just created unnecessary stress. I truly think starting at a hostel is the way to go!

After some time though, when you do really need to look for a more permanent option, everything in New Zealand is on Facebook. They have town groups that people post for housing, cars, job opportunities, news, and more. Also Facebook Marketplace is very reliable there. Obviously always be cautious when meeting up with strangers!

female posing behind purple flowers and in front of a lake and mountain backdrop in New Zealand
You'll never run out of beautiful places to explore


STEP FOUR: Have a ‘Sweet As’ time

New Zealand is my favorite country in the world. Enjoy every moment you have there. Relax, explore, and enjoy the view. I’m sitting here wishing I could seriously do it all over again! The hardest part is the small steps to getting there, but once you’re there, it’s easy to fall right into the wonderful lifestyle and country. 

I only had 5 months there due to COVID-19. It was the most fun and adventurous time of my life. If you are not sure about doing this, all I can say is that you will NOT regret this experience. It was sweet as, mate

Xo,
As Seen by Justine


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