How much does it cost to live in New Zealand? This is one of the most common questions I get when travelling. The answer is naturally more than a simple yes or no. What you consider expensive is probably influenced by what you think is normal where you live already, and what costs you consider staples, versus the take home income at the end of each month.
In recent times, moving to New Zealand has been a hot topic given the attractively small number of cases of coronavirus in the country. Everything you will find below is information that I have tried to keep as recent and relevant as possible, while at the same time giving context based on my life in New Zealand. If you are looking for hard facts and numbers, I have included a range of resources for you to follow, but the intention of this article is to put those numbers into perspective based on my cost of living and realisations on life in New Zealand. Having relocated to a few different countries, I find that having the insider knowledge is the most important thing, as numbers alone sometimes do lie.
So what does it take to move to New Zealand? and how much does life in New Zealand cost?
Cost of living in New Zealand
Let's talk about basic costs, and I mean by that is rent, and basic household bills. Rent in New Zealand can be horribly expensive, and forget what I said before about expensive being relative to what you consider the norm. Auckland rent is expensive by all objective measures! Most households regardless of the size can expect to spend at least 50% of their income on rent alone.
Property prices in the main cities of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch have been on the rise for years. For a single person the average cost of rent in any of the above is 900 USD. Shared accommodation or boarding is a common practice for students and young professionals, which can be a lot more affordable but do expect to share bathrooms, and little rooms.
A quick note to also say that New Zealand is in the middle of a housing crisis, and finding a house to buy is definitely not the easy way out of the renting situation. To top it all off, housing quality in New Zealand is quite poor (compared to other developed countries) so don't be surprised if you see rental advertisements that make a big deal of a property having central heating or double-glazed windows, as those amenities are truly not the norm.
On the bright side the cost of telephone, internet, electricity and water is more reasonable, with lots of options to choose something that suits your situation. On average, all of the above will cost a single person around 210 USD per month. Again, there is a lot of flexibility here, and there is no one size fits all. Onboarding and cancelling services like this tends to be very easy in New Zealand, as they are almost all exclusively run by private companies and not the government. I have also found that there is remarkably less paperwork and hassle compared to other countries.
Cost of common goods in New Zealand
Let's talk groceries! The thing we all came to love and hate in 2020.
There are two main companies that run all supermarkets in New Zealand. Depending on where you live you might be able to find lots of smaller vendors as well, but there are many areas that that you will only have one option of where to shop. The cost of imported products tends to be quite high in New Zealand. That's mainly because of the relatively small and very spread out population of the country.
To make this a little simpler I will divide this section into the good and the bad news, and give you some concrete numbers in the end so you can make your mind up for yourself.
The good news:
New Zealand produces a lot of high quality meat and dairy products. Yep, all these sheep and cows that make this country very famous also work very very hard. So expect to find very good quality meats and cow dairy products, if that's a staple in your diet. Specialty items, especially cheese, is almost always imported, and the variety of the local things can be quite average. I have also noticed that Americans tend to be impressed with the quality of store-bought produce here, however most Europeans are not.
The bad news:
The cost of healthy food and vegetables can be exorbitant. Just to put that into perspective paying 2 dollars for a single bell pepper is normal. In addition, the variety and quality of produce tends to fluctuate a lot with the seasons. As a rule of thumb, I think if you enjoy the food of anywhere that gets wet by the Mediterranean sea, you will not be impressed by the food in New Zealand.
Alcohol and cigarettes are heavily taxed and therefore very expensive in New Zealand. If that is something that features regularly on your diet, you might find the restrictions around certain items relatively high.
To find out more about the average cost of common goods and certain items in New Zealand you can use this tool.
New Zealand as a digital nomad
If you work online and think of relocating to New Zealand on a remote work schedule, this is for you. I think it would be a diservice to write an article without taking into consideration the great number of people that are working remotely, independently, or embracing any other type of digital nomad lifestyle.
In my experience so far working on the go, there are a few things that become super important and wifi accessibility definitely tops the list. In most places in New Zealand the 4G network or Wifi is very reliable and affordable, even in smaller towns. However, especially around the south island, there are long periods of time that you will not be connected while on the road.
Overall, I don't think New Zealand is the perfect spot for digital nomads, for a few reasons.
Firstly, taxes can be quite high, and if you are travelling away for long periods of time, it's quite likely that you will need to be taxed in two different countries. Although, doing your taxes and incorporating a company in New Zealand (if you have the legal right to) can be a lot easier, cheaper, and straightforward than most other countries. If you want an easy tool to calculate some of these costs, Immigration New Zealand has made that a little easier.
Secondly, if the reason why you work remotely is to travel and explore as many places as possible, setting a base in New Zealand will come with a high cost of flights and accommodation. At the moment, New Zealand is one of the most restrictive countries to enter, with the government having taken a zero-tolerance approach to covid. This might be a positive at the moment, but it will be interesting to see what it means in the long-term if we need to find a way to coexist with this virus.
Lastly, if you are a freelancer working for companies based in the US or Europe, it may be easy to deal with the time difference for a few months but in the long run it's definitely something that becomes stressful and quite difficult.
A great alternative to setting up a more permanent base in New Zealand is looking at whether you qualify for a working holiday visa, and spending a prolonged period of time exploring New Zealand, which will allow you to keep costs low and explore more.
An amazing tool to calculate the cost of living as a digital nomad in cities around New Zealand and all around the world is found here. Nat has done an excellent job of thinking what it really takes to have a remote lifestyle, and I love going into the calculator and finding out about the cost of living in other parts of the world.
My personal experience living in New Zealand
I have to preface this section with a big disclaimer. I spent the majority of my childhood and teenage years living in developing countries... third culture kid remember? I also come from Greece, a place vastly different in culture from New Zealand, so naturally what I value most in a permanent place of living may be very different than others. To make this even clearer, having a location independent lifestyle has been at the core of what I value the most.
For that reason, I think life in New Zealand can be enjoyable if it doesn't have the prerequisite of being a full-time thing. The quality of life here can be excellent, and there is a lot of natural beauty and sights to discover. I can see my self spending a few months a year here. However, if I had to chose a single place to live for the rest of my life, it would not be in New Zealand. The feeling of being at the edge of the world, and the toxic island mentality of people around are things that have driven me away from New Zealand in the past.
I believe it is important to show the pros and cons of every place, as traditional media sometimes labels countries as "good" or "bad" with little consideration to the hundreds of nuances, systems, and metrics that make places ideal to live in. While New Zealand commonly features in the top spots of the most desirable places to live in the world, it also features at the top of childhood homeless and youth suicide, obesity and domestic violence statistics as well. These are issues that take a lot more than a simple number to fully understand and unravel, and although not an expert in any of these fields, I think they are important things to recognise and consider when thinking of relocating to New Zealand.
Cost of living is one of the main factors when considering a relocation, but it's far from being the only thing. Keep in mind that I am writing this article with the comfort of two passports, one of which gives me the right to work and live in 27 European countries. This is a right that I don't take lightly and comes with an incredible amount of privileges that I will always be grateful for.
I hope this helped you discover a few more things about life in New Zealand, and gave you a little insight of what everyday life in New Zealand is like.