What is it like living in New Zealand as an expat for 1 year 1

What is it like to live and work in New Zealand for 1 year

Hi! We are Lizette (34) and Leon (30), aka The Salty Beachbums. We are two Dutchies who love to travel. Around May 2018, we left the Netherlands for a world trip. The classic “Quit our job and sold everything” move.

We applied for a Working Holiday Visa in New Zealand and stayed for a whole year. After New Zealand we continued our travels to Australia, Indonesia, Cook Islands, Philippines, Thailand and Cambodia. Just before Covid we arrived back in The Netherlands. I can’t believe how lucky we are.

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What is it like living in New Zealand as an expat for 1 year - kopie
Hello from Tongariro National Park!

What to expect in this article:

What we do for a living

Leon has his own company in plastering and is an independent contractor. He started working as a plasterer since he was 15 years and he turns every wall or ceiling of your home into a masterpiece!
Lizette works as a web designer and copywriter, also independently. It’s hard work having your own company, but definitely worth it.

What is it like living in New Zealand as an expat for 1 year 1

Working in New Zealand

Compared to The Netherlands, New Zealand is so relaxed. The people are very kind and helpful.
We were often surprised by how easy-going everyone was. As we had a great work ethic, we could tell that our employers appreciated that.
We tried all different kinds of work: from childcare and farming to painting and cleaning in a Holiday Park. Leon tried to get a job as a plasterer, but it was totally different than back home.
Working together is something we both like, so in the end, we only choose jobs that we could do both.  

What is it like living in New Zealand as an expat for 1 yearWhat is it like living in New Zealand as an expat for 1 year
Swinging in New Zealand!

Living in NZ is great because it’s so diverse.

The country is easy to drive through and there are so many amazing places. If you like people around you, there are cities to explore and if you like nature and some quiet time, you will find plenty.
After work, there are so many things to do! You can go on a hike, walk along the beach, go fishing, or go for a horse ride. Grab a beer with locals and watch the sunset. 
Next to that, it’s super easy to connect with locals. Most will start talking the moment they are near you, so we made bonds for life!

What is it like living in New Zealand as an expat for 1 year
Coromandel - a beautiful destination in New Zealand

The food

In general, the food is good. I mean, there are normal supermarkets and you can get everything you need. We didn’t go out for dinner much, as that’s quite expensive. The prices are pretty much the same as in Europe. I would say some things are cheaper, but then alcohol, meat, and vegetables are more expensive, so same same altogether.

See these other articles about living abroad:


New Zealand has an awesome culture and a big part of that is the Maori culture. Skip all the touristy places, but dive into their history if you are interested.

Tip: Visit the National Museum in Wellington! The entry is free  you have hours of history and exhibits to explore.

Living and working in New Zealand feels sometimes like going back in time for ten years, especially when visiting smaller rural towns. Most houses are from wood, built in a specific way.
Quirky cafes and cute bakeries are all over the place.

A big part of all the land in New Zealand is farmland, which means grazing herds of sheep and cows.
Next to that, nature is stunning. We came across snow-covered mountains, icy blue lakes, golden beaches, huge forests, and hidden caverns. Sometimes all in the same day!

What is it like living in New Zealand as an expat for 1 year
Hiking in Paparoa National Park

Advantages of living in New Zealand

There are so many advantages!

  • Firstly, we love that nature is so diverse. Wildlife is around every corner. Dark skies dotted with millions of shiny stars like you have never seen before. We were feeling one with nature at some times. 
  • It’s not as crowded as in The Netherlands, so we feel like people enjoy their life much more. 
  • There is less stress. The year that we lived and worked in NZ felt like a dream. It went all so fast, but our memories will last forever. Even though we are back for 1 year already, we still talk about it every day.
  • Besides that, living in New Zealand is fun. It’s easy to adapt and everyone is super friendly.
  • Lastly, there are a lot of other expats, so you will not feel alone!
What is it like living in New Zealand as an expat for 1 year

Disadvantages of living in New Zealand

  • A disadvantage is that it’s really hard to stay longer than a year. The New Zealand Government doesn’t hand out free stays. Applying for a working holiday visa for a year was easy, but if you like to stay and work for a longer period of time, it’s not easy.
  • You have to prepare a lot of things in order to get a work permit. And it costs a lot of money too. So if you are planning to live and work in New Zealand, make sure you get to know all the rules and regulations.
  • Next to that, the salary isn’t great. With almost every job that we took, we earned around 18 – 20 NZD per hour, which is about 11 euros and tax still has to be deducted from this amount. Of course, we didn’t have the most difficult jobs, but don’t expect to get paid a lot.
  • The last disadvantage is that New Zealand is far away from our home country. Basically from every country, apart from Australia (still a 4-hour flight minimum). Family and friends are not going to get to you easily, as flights are expensive.
What is it like living in New Zealand as an expat for 1 year
Isn't this a dream?

Tips for people who want to do the same

I would definitely stay for a longer period of time if you like New Zealand. It’s one of the more easy countries to adapt to, with good facilities.
A working holiday visa is not for everyone, it’s limited to people that are aged 30-35 years. When you have passed that age, you can’t get a working holiday visa anymore. The easiest visa to apply for next is a Tourist Visa. However, with this visa, you are not allowed to work, which is a bit hard if you want to make money too.

Take it easy the first week of your arrival. Then the week after, it’s time to arrange a bank account, tax number, and transportation (a car or van is most common).
You are free to go wherever you want. Oh, decide whether you want to work in the South or the North Island because crossing to either island takes a couple of hours by ferry.

So just apply for a visa, book a flight, pack your things and go!
Do check if your passport is valid and get an international driver’s license if you want. Finally, also take a credit card, just in case.

What is it like living in New Zealand as an expat for 1 year

See these other articles about living abroad:

Favorite destination in New Zealand

This is an impossible question to answer as all National Parks are awesome!
New Zealand takes care of its nature for sure. We normally choose the more off-the-beaten path and luckily New Zealand has plenty of opportunities for that.
Especially if you have a 4×4, but with a normal car as well.
For us, the highlights were the Tongariro Crossing,  Queenstown area, Milford Sound, Marlborough Sounds, Abel Tasman NP, Coromandel Peninsula, and Northland.
These are areas filled with breathtaking nature, volcanoes, beaches, and wildlife.

What is it like living in New Zealand as an expat for 1 year
Leon of the Salty Beachbums

What do people really have to know about New Zealand?

Did you know that their favorite sport is cricket?
If you want to fit in and like team sports, learn and try for yourself. Rugby is also popular.
Another thing you might not know is that kiwi’s (the animal, not the fruit) are really hard to find in the wild. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen them.
Finally, did you know there are more sheep than people in NZ? So spring is the time to go because cute lammies are everywhere! 🙂 

What is it like living in New Zealand as an expat for 1 year

App and website suggestions

  1. The app Campermate if you travel by car or in a campervan.
  2. govt.nz for everything on visa and rules.
  3. We used Airbnb or Booking.com to find most of our accommodations.
  4. If you look for a job, try backpacker board.
  5. Also a great experience: https://wwoof.nz/ where you work for accommodation and food. On this website, you can meet locals and get used to living there while helping out.
What is it like living in New Zealand as an expat for 1 year
Lizette in Queenstown

Biggest differences between Netherlands and New Zealand

Well, the biggest difference is that there are no traffic jams in NZ!
It has a lot more space compared to The Netherlands, but less the amount of people. Sometimes it’s unbelievable that we live so close together here!
We showed a farmer our house on Google Maps and he was shocked haha! That is all because they are used to wide open gardens and big spacey homes.

Another difference is technology. New Zealand is a bit slow on innovations and trends. Not bad perse, as it has its charms, but it is super annoying to find out that free wifi is non-existent there. Only in the bigger cities, you may expect free wifi. Paying for wifi is something we can’t imagine in The Netherlands.

New Zealand is the whole world in one. If you have seen The Lord of the Rings movie (who hasn’t?) you know what we mean. The Netherlands is flat and you can’t say that from New Zealand!

We hope you liked reading about our working adventure in New Zealand!
If you have any questions or want to read more, you can visit our blog thesaltybeachbums, or our Instagram.

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