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Just how much of a difference is there between what’s expensive and what’s free?
Living as an expat is never exactly easy, but it has its distinct advantages. Things are different when children come along, however, and suddenly so much that you took for granted in your own country comes under question – about the most important issue of which revolves around schooling. You may have been sold on New Zealand for its clean air, relaxed culture, and ridiculously delicious confectionery – but are New Zealand’s super-easygoing schools really going to give your kid the kind of rigorous academic background you’d expect in your own country? Most crucially, will New Zealand’s public education system provide the kind of upbringing you want for your children, or are you going to have to opt for expensive, private education to give them a step up in life? New Zealand’s basic school system has undergone many changes over the past century, but today the majority of schools fall into one of three categories – public, private, and integrated (which are public with some of the characteristics of private schools). Public schools – otherwise known as state schools – educate around 85% of New Zealand’s children, with integrated schools enrolling about another 10%. Private schools, with their expensive annual fees, educate just 3-4% of children in New Zealand. Public schools operate almost entirely on government funding, with the level of support they receive largely dictated by the number of students each school has enrolled. New Zealand’s education system is strictly secular, and is free to all citizens and residents from the age of 5. Children of expats who hold temporary visas are treated as domestic students, and are not required to pay international fees when attending primary or secondary school. Attendance at school is compulsory, in fact, for all children up to the age of 16. They are permitted to stay at school until the end of the year of their 19th birthday, although this is rare. Disabled students may stay a further two years if necessary.
How does this country’s English education rate?
New Zealand’s English industry has grown enormously since its first tentative opening to the international education market in the late 1990s. Once considered a budget option for ESL learners who couldn’t afford to study in a larger country such as the United States, New Zealand’s market position as an English study destination is now far more favourable, with many students seriously considering undertaking their studies here purely based on its reputation for high standards alone – and as a bonus, the sheep are pretty cute too. As a native English-speaking country, New Zealand is fairly well-positioned to deliver a strong educational base for language study, not only on campus but in everyday life. English is essential to navigate life in New Zealand, so there will be plenty of opportunity to practice while you’re in the country. One thing you must be careful of, however, is to limit your social interactions with people from your own background, otherwise you’ll find that the only English you speak in the course of your studies will be in the classroom, and you’ll miss out on the advantages that being in an English-speaking culture can bring to your learning. One factor you’ll have to take into consideration, of course, is the New Zealand accent. New Zealanders are known for their quiet, slightly reserved accent which is neither as punchy as the American dialects nor as rounded as the Queen’s English you’ll be instructed in if you study in Great Britain. If you’ve never been exposed to it, catching on to the way New Zealand people speak will be challenging at first – the ‘r’s are absent where you’d expect to hear an American say them, and the vowels are a lot shorter than the more resonant British English. If you’ve been in contact with Australians, however, you’ll find it a lot easier-going: the two accents share a lot of similarities.
The academic flame of the nation.
Things used to be very simple in New Zealand – one country, one university, and it was free to attend. Those were the days of the University of New Zealand , a federal educational institution with four campuses established in the country’s largest cities of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin. It lasted for almost 100 years before being dissolved and its power to confer degrees given over to the boards of each former constituent college. It wasn’t New Zealand’s first university – that distinction rests with Otago University in Dunedin, which opened in 1871. It ran independently for only three years before being reluctantly absorbed into the new national university system – it fought and won for recognition as a university in its own right, although its degrees were issued under the name ‘New Zealand University’ rather than its own. In fact, the institution only managed to issue one single Otago University degree before the new system was introduced – that degree went to Alexander Watt Williamson, who remained the only person to have ever been awarded an Otago University degree until 1961. By 1878, a fifth New Zealand University campus was established in Christchurch that focussed on agricultural studies. This was joined by a sixth based in the city of Palmerston North, called the Massey Agricultural College. These two colleges remained subsidiary to what became New Zealand’s four universities proper upon the dissolution of the federal university system, although they eventually gained recognition and status as independent universities in their own right. By that stage, a seventh varsity had been established in the city of Hamilton – the University of Waikato. These seven institutions maintained New Zealand’s university tradition alone until the unexpected conversion of a technological institute in Auckland saw it become the country’s eighth university in the year 2000. The school applied for and gained university status almost unannounced, drawing significant criticism from the existing universities. Many commentators claimed that a technical institute by nature focuses more on practical application of knowledge than the academic tradition of research upheld by the university system. Auckland University administrators were particularly disturbed by the fact that the new institution’s name would be unconscionably similar to their own. Others suspected that the move was more of a rebranding exercise, designed to artificially improve the reputation of the technical institute – it had been less than a decade since its somewhat comical relaunch as the ‘Auckland Institute of Technology’ (AIT) from the former ‘Auckland Technical Institute’ (ATI).
Don’t believe the Australians – the flat white is ours.
Watching Aucklanders while away their precious leisure hours at central-city cafés, you might be forgiven for thinking that an addiction to caffeine has never been anything less than the norm here. In fact, for most of the last century (as with any country sporting a Union Jack on their flag) the whole of New Zealand was a bastion of English tea, with coffee regarded as a somewhat less refined choice, preferred by those on society’s decadent edge. There were cafés in Auckland – usually pronounced “kaffs” – although espresso-style coffee wasn’t routinely on offer until well into the 1990’s, and wasn’t available anywhere in the city until just a decade before that. Old-style cafés were typified by racks of cheaply-produced sandwiches, pies, and fatty cakes, with a cup of coffee being the last consideration made before handing over your handful of coins at the ‘till’. It was typically poured bitter and over-boiled out of chunky Cona filter machines – and often brewed from instant coffee (which, incidentally, was invented in New Zealand back in 1890). You’ll still see cafés like this in the country’s rural areas and even in some Auckland suburbs, although with the gradual gentrification of the entire country, they’re becoming something of a rarity. Most commentators accept that espresso coffee began to grow in popularity in Auckland during the mid-1980s with the advent of a small number of dedicated European-style cafés based in the city centre. While Miller’s was one of the first to take things seriously, importing a dazzling Italian six-cup espresso machine back in 1984, the most seminal of these was Cafe DKD , tucked away behind the historic Civic Theatre before the refurbishments of the mid-90’s transformed the entire block into a commercial cineplex. DKD’s was co-founded in 1981 by Derek Townsend, a pioneer of Auckland’s café culture who went on to launch the successful local coffee firm Karajoz . Owing to the venue’s somewhat bohemian nature and vibrant décor – most notoriously, a wall covered with fish adorned with politician’s heads in the bathroom – it quickly took on iconic status and became a platform for the popularisation of European-style coffee in the city.
There are many roads to one country.
If there’s one thing that pretty much every New Zealander is convinced of, it’s that they have a beautiful country. Love it or hate it, New Zealand has a lot going for it in terms of looks – and if you’re thinking of staying here for that reason alone, you wouldn’t be the first. There are a great deal of options for foreigners who want to enter New Zealand for short or long-term stays, and it is one of the countries that allows for a path to full citizenship for non-nationals. It’s not the easiest of procedures, but if your goal is to actually become a New Zealander, there are avenues available to you. Your first point of entry, of course, is the visa. Depending on whether you want to work here, study, invest or simply enjoy a visit, New Zealand has a very detailed system in place to assess your suitability as a candidate for any given visa type and respond accordingly. The best match for your situation will largely rest on the length of time you intend to stay, whether or not you have a job opportunity waiting for you, and if your particular abilities are considered to be in demand in New Zealand. Most people need to apply for a visa to visit New Zealand, unless they’re citizens of a visa-waiver country and are limiting their stay to between two or three months, depending on the terms for that particular country (it’s six months for citizens of Britain, and there’s no limit if you’re an Australian). Some people who meet certain other conditions (such as airline crew members and diplomats) can enter the country for a limited time period without needing to make any prior arrangements in terms of visas. For more specific details, check our article on Visitor Visa Exemptions