Congrats! You've already hit the first step in your Working Holiday adventure- the research!
This post is based on our experience of quitting our jobs in Hawai'i to move to New Zealand under the Working Holiday Scheme, which allows U.S. citizens to live, travel, and legally work in New Zealand for a maximum of one year.
Preparation for Your Adventure in New Zealand
Visa Requirements for U.S. Citizens
The best resource we came across for Working Holiday Visa information is the New Zealand Immigration website. You can use this site to explore visa requirements coming from countries other than the United States and it's easily navigable with drop-down menus to help narrow down your specifics.
It's important to note that if you are planning on staying in New Zealand less than 3 months you will require a Tourist visa, not a Working Holiday visa which is what we are talking about in this post.
Requirements are as follows:
- Must be 18-30 years old
- Must have at least $4200 NZD which is equivalent to $2785 USD (at the time this post is written) and you must have enough money to buy a ticket home
- Full medical insurance coverage for the duration of your stay in New Zealand (more info on this below)
- No children may accompany you
- If you plan to travel with a partner your partner will need to apply for his/her/their own visa
Applying for a Working Holiday Visa
We applied for our Working Holiday Visas on the NZ Immigration site- link in the Visa Requirements section. You may only apply for this type of visa online. It is a super straightforward process and we got a response within the week! This visa is only available to you once in your life so take advantage of it while you can!
Quitting Your Job
This is the easy part! You will definitely want to make sure prior to leaving your current job or career that you have sufficient funds to sustain your travels including a plane ticket to New Zealand, a plane ticket out of New Zealand, accommodations, food, transportation, and spending money for activities/adventures/souvenirs, etc. The thing to remember when taking a big step like quitting a job or career is that if you're truly passionate about it and it's the right fit that opportunity will be there for you when you return. I left a company that I loved and have worked for over the past 6 and a half years so I felt like I had to find an identity outside of how I'd seen myself throughout that time. It's scary and intimidating but at the same time it's so incredibly freeing and now I have the opportunity to create whatever I want out of this blank space in my life. Additionally, and this is a revelation I've had in the past few days, is that if we were back home and not on this Working Holiday journey I wouldn't necessarily have the freedom and time to explore and develop these new skills that I am going to use for the next chapter in my life: freelance writing and grant writing. My partner, Val, similarly has been exploring alternatives to the traditional job for avenues to share his art for financial freedom.
Medical Coverage Without a Job?
How do you prove that you have full medical coverage in applying for this visa if you've quit your job? We purchased travel insurance through Orbit Protect after a lot of research to determine the best one for our needs. World Nomads is another popular company that popped up in our searches and one we were considering but we found Orbit Protect to be the most cost-efficient based on what we planned to do with our time in New Zealand. Check with your credit card company as many provide travel insurance if you have the right package/service through them. It's also a good idea to travel with a credit card for unexpected expenses, but I recommend that you do not use it unless you have the means to cover the expenses you incur.
To be honest, we were back and forth on purchasing medical travel insurance because we had come across many blogs out there of the opinion that it wasn't entirely necessary because they hadn't been checked at the border or didn't need it. We were skeptical because of this information and we actually weren't asked for proof upon entering the country. Here's the thing: there is a chance that you will be checked upon entering the country and if you are unable to provide proof you may be turned away. Medical travel insurance with the companies we researched does go active upon purchase but in my opinion, it's not worth the risk or hold up when trying to get through Customs. Additionally, the benefits of having it far outweigh the initial cost. We paid roughly $570 NZD for the both of us to be covered for one year! That's cheaper than the insurance we had at home! And we used it. It's no fun to be sick while you're camping and that's exactly what happened to me, heading to the Queenstown Medical Center to get checked out. As a foreign citizen not working in Queenstown I paid $180 NZD to be seen + $120 NZD for prescription antibiotics. I submitted a claim and was reimbursed $200 NZD which was definitely welcome back into our bank account!
Made It To New Zealand- Now What?
Getting a Job
First and foremost you need a visa but that's not the only thing that will be required for legally working. The other thing is called an IRD (Inland Revenue Department) number which is similar to what we call a Social Security Number and you'll also need a bank account. Getting a bank account will be detailed below. Applying for an IRD number is a straightforward process as well and can be completed here and if you do not have one by the time you start earning money you will end up paying a higher tax rate.
Requirements for Applying for an IRD Number:
- Your passport details
- Your visa details, specifically your visa approval number
- Your most recent overseas tax number
- Your NZ bank account info including name and account number
What we have found regarding actually getting a job largely depends on the type of job you are looking for and who you connect with as the online backpacker job boards receive tons of applications so if you are going this route it's best to submit applications for a couple of jobs to better your odds. One thing to keep in mind and that we did not think would be as much of an issue is the season when you will be looking for a job. For example, if you are looking for a hospitality job in the winter (at least in our experience) there may not be as many businesses hiring because this is considered the slow season for tourism on the South Island. If you are looking for a job in the agriculture industry picking fruit, you should look up what fruits get picked when and coordinate your job plans this way. Our original intention was to go as far south as possible before it got cold and follow the warm weather as north as possible, camping/traveling for the first six months and getting jobs the second half. While we wouldn't change our experiences for the world we have realized we could have been more strategic when it came to looking for work.
Getting a Bank Account
There are many options for banks such as ANZ, BNZ, ASB, and KiwiBank to name a few. We chose ANZ because our initial plan was to head to Australia after our time in New Zealand for a Working Holiday visa there and was told that ANZ operates in both. I recommend making an appointment for setting up a bank account as we flew into Auckland and were only planning to be there a few days, expecting the bank account set up to be an in-and-out process. We were wrong and the appointments were all booked up three weeks out- all of the other backpackers arriving in Auckland on the wildly popular Working Holiday Scheme had the same idea! We ended up heading down to Rotorua after spending three days getting acclimated in Auckland (and waiting for the bags that Jetstar lost) and ended up calling ahead down there and making an appointment. Here's another twist. You need an address when you apply for a bank account and we've heard you can typically use the address of the hostel if you're traveling. We've also heard that you can get something from the hostel to confirm that you are staying there. We were no longer staying in a hostel and we had rented a driveway off CamperMate. As it was someone's actual residence it was only right in our eyes to request permission from the homeowners to use their address for our bank account application. We did and they were gracious enough to allow us to use it! We were so lucky that our hosts were customers of ANZ because apparently your "sponsor" or the address you are using needs to be a member of the bank as well. The first banker we spoke to did not share this information with us but all aligned and we walked out of the bank with two debit cards, one with a chip for Paywave and the other simply an ATM card.
Here's another helpful tidbit: it helps to have a New Zealand SIM card already set up for your phone (we are sharing one phone to save on expenses as Val's crapped out right before we came to New Zealand) because there is an app for ANZ online banking called GoMoney which allows you to check your balance online. This can only be downloaded if you are on the New Zealand App Store and this can only be accomplished if you have an NZ SIM.
Living and Eating for Free
Sound too good to be true? It's not, we've been doing it for months! And I'm about to tell you how you can do it too:
WWOOF stands for We're Welcome on Organic Farms (although I had always understood it to mean WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms and most recently we were told it means Willing Workers On Organic Farms... I guess they all work!). Under this scheme, you are offered three meals a day and accommodation in exchange for working 4-5 hours a day. Other scenarios can apply but are usually outlined directly in the host's profile as are details about the type of work you will be doing. This is an incredibly flexible way to see the country as you work with your host to figure out a preferred number of days to stay and work, availability of both parties and did we mention the free food and warm bed? In addition to the benefits already outlined, we have come away from our WWOOF experiences having learned SO much and made new friends that we will definitely stay in touch with after our Working Holiday adventures come to a close. You do pay to join this platform ($40 for a single profile or $40 for a couples' profile- yes it's the same price) but consider it an investment or an upfront payment compared to all the money you save! The longer you WWOOF the more it saves you.
HelpX stands for Help Exchange and is another wonderful scheme for exchanging labor for three meals a day and accommodation. This one is a nice platform if you aren't necessarily interested in working on an organic farm as it offers a variety of work you can complete in exchange such as general yard maintenance, painting, working in a pub, beekeeping... you get the idea. It's 40 euro for a two-year membership which also makes it an incredibly cost-effective way to travel. We have found that more people have reached out to us on the platform to invite us to work for them than any other platform which can be convenient. The search function is also highly effective and responsive. We have found the work arrangements to be a bit more strict with WWOOF than HelpX.
Kiwi House Sitters
Kiwi House Sitters is a platform that takes a bit more finesse. It is people trusting you with their homes and pets and you will likely be asked for a face to face meet and greet prior to getting an offer to house/petsit. This is especially helpful if you are looking to be in an area for a while working and looking for free accommodation while you get your bearings as it offers you a buffer window to find a place to rent or another place to stay. We are house and pet sitting for five weeks currently and it has been a great experience, primarily because we love dogs and get to hang out with two cool ones! The cost of joining this platform is a bit more expensive than the others and will probably not be a good option if you are looking to party and travel quickly.
Workaway is a platform that operates all over the world and offers similar packages to WWOOF and HelpX although I'm not too sure of the specifics as I've only explored the website, not used it personally. A friend of mine used it and was working in a motel in exchange for accommodations and her hosts sent her on a trip to Milford Sound and had a pizza party as a thank you for her help. I can't say that every host will offer this treatment but it sounds like a pretty sweet gig to me!
Keep an eye out for other posts detailing our experiences using these systems!
Sending Things Via Mail to the US
Postcards cost $2.40 NZD to send to any "zone" in the US.
We have not attempted to send anything heavier than a small snowglobe but that cost the same as sending artwork to the States which is roughly $15 NZD plus the cost of the packaging that is available at the post office. Unlike in the US you MUST pay for the packaging, they are not like flat-rate packaging where you can walk in and grab what you need and leave to package your contents paying only when you go to send it.
There are many post shops around and they are often combined with KiwiBank and some are in the same location as a pharmacy/chemist. A quick google search will point you in the right direction, they are usually open until 5:30p.
Things We Did Not Think About
- Apps on your phone that are US-App Store only such as some banking apps and budget apps
- This is not an issue if you are retaining your US phone number and SIM card, for us it is because we opted to cancel our US phone numbers after Verizon was going to charge us $160/month to keep our phone numbers suspended. They do allow you to do this for up to 90 days free of charge, however, it is a one-time option according to the representatives that were coordinating with me and we decided that 9 more months at $160/month was not a reasonable expense we were interested in maintaining. A few challenges that have come up because of this are any apps or accounts you have connected to that phone number as a security feature (i.e. security codes when accessing from a different device) and that you no longer have access to the US App Store.
- If you are going to be here between January and April you should also bring or have access to any important documents you'll need to prepare your taxes remotely unless you plan on hiring someone else to do this for you while you are away.
Please let me know in the comments if there's anything I didn't cover that you'd like to know about or just general feedback. Hope this helps you start the process of having a once-in-a-lifetime adventure!