Despite being a fairly isolated island country in the southwestern Pacific, expats who are familiar with other Western countries are unlikely to experience a significant amount of culture shock in New Zealand.
Maori culture does play an important role in public life and has influenced the dominant culture in the country. That said, New Zealand is broadly recognised as a Western country. As a former British colony, it still retains the British monarch as its head of state – despite being independent and having its own government.
Open-minded expats who make an effort to learn about the local culture and are realistic about the pros and cons of living in New Zealand are likely to enjoy life in their new host country.
Socialising in New Zealand
New Zealanders are known to be friendly, helpful and egalitarian. Local residents also tend to be laid back. All of this is reflected in the informal dress code adopted at social gatherings.
Children in New Zealand are highly valued and residents take the safety and upbringing of children very seriously. New Zealand societal attitudes focus strongly on the community, and expats are often pleasantly surprised by how helpful and generous strangers can be.
Although locals are generally warm and courteous, they can be reserved, which may feel isolating at times. While instances of outright discrimination against foreigners are not frequent, many expats feel, for instance, that the job market is more skewed towards locals. Some expats may also struggle to cement lasting friendships with local residents.
Aside from feelings of homesickness, however, expats will mostly find themselves adjusting rather easily to the culture of the country. Some expats have trouble understanding local slang words, but this problem is quickly overcome once they start settling in and mingling with the locals.
Expats may be surprised by the drinking culture of New Zealand, as it plays a rather significant role in weekend (and weekday) activities.
Outdoor lifestyle and sports in New Zealand
New Zealanders share a love of the outdoors and staying healthy. Most suburban neighbourhoods have parks where families often take their children in the evenings. There is also usually a national park or a range of outdoor activities within driving distance of any city.
As can be seen by the amazing playing fields throughout New Zealand, sport is at the centre of local culture. While sports such as cricket, netball and soccer are popular, rugby is decidedly the favourite national pastime. The national team, the All Blacks, are one of the strongest sides in the world, having won the Rugby World Cup several times.
Adjusting to life in New Zealand is further influenced by how sparsely populated the country is. This sense of space may take some getting used to, though many new arrivals end up finding it highly enjoyable to have a beach or golf course all to themselves.
Environment and weather in New Zealand
The country's general climate can be a slight culture shock for expats choosing to settle in New Zealand. While rainy and cold weather won’t be unfamiliar for many expats, the standard of insulation in many of the houses in New Zealand is a point of contention for foreigners from countries that are better equipped to deal with the cold.
An accepted part of life for most New Zealanders, and a point of concern for some expats is the constant threat of earthquakes. The country is situated along the Pacific Ring of Fire, which results in New Zealand experiencing thousands of earthquakes every year, although the vast majority of them aren’t even felt.
Many residents have an emergency kit in their garage, for use after a bad earthquake, that consists of water, food and medical supplies. This prospect may leave many new arrivals feeling uneasy, but it's only a safety precaution. Before the tragic earthquake in Christchurch in 2011, the last time that an earthquake caused substantial casualties was in 1931.
►For more on housing in the country, see Accommodation in New Zealand.
►Doing Business in New Zealand gives more information on the local working culture.
"A good tip to meeting locals would be to join Facebook groups in the area and introduce yourself by asking if anyone would be keen to show you around. Most people are eager to help and make life in NZ as enjoyable as possible." Learn more about Savannah, a South African expat, and her move to New Zealand.
"Meeting people in small towns is fairly easy as you have many neighbours and if you’re working outside and someone walks by, more than likely they’ll stop and talk to you. Same for grocery stores or other places you might be hanging out." Read more about Steph, an American expat, and how she adjusted to life in New Zealand.
Are you an expat living in New Zealand?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to New Zealand. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
Expat Health Insurance
With 86 million customer relationships in over 200 countries, Cigna Global has unrivalled experience in dealing with varied and unique medical situations and delivering high standards of service wherever you live in the world.
GeoBlue is one of the best international health insurance plans for US expats abroad or internationals residing in the USA. The GeoBlue Xplorer plan includes worldwide coverage and great customer service with access to a premium international network of hospitals and doctors including the Blue Cross Blue Shield network in the USA.
Sirelo has a network of more than 500 international removal companies that can move your furniture and possessions to your new home. By filling in a form, you’ll get up to 5 quotes from recommended movers. This service is free of charge and will help you select an international moving company that suits your needs and budget.