Doing Business in New Zealand

Expats planning on doing business in New Zealand are sure to find that the country's friendly yet professional corporate atmosphere is well suited to their ambitions.

The country has a reputation for encouraging foreign investment. In addition to this, its openness to international trade, lack of government and business corruption and free-market economic reforms mean that it is recognised as one of the most business-friendly countries in the world.

In fact, New Zealand impressively ranked first in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business list for 2020, particularly excelling in the criteria of starting a business and getting credit – where it is ranked first out of 190 countries. The areas where New Zealand didn't score as highly included trading across borders (63rd) and resolving insolvency (36th).

Its stellar reputation for business does, however, mean that there is a high degree of competition. Having an awareness of the country’s business norms will give expats an added advantage in the corporate environment.


Fast facts

Business hours

Generally, from 8am or 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday; and sometimes 9am to 12.30pm on Saturdays.

Business language

English

Business dress

The business dress code in New Zealand is difficult to pin down, although appearing well-groomed and presentable is highly valued. In more formal business settings, men tend to wear traditional dark suits while women wear business suits or appropriate dresses. Some industries do, however, exhibit a relaxed dress code where jeans and sports jackets are not an uncommon sight. The dress code of the office is entirely dependent on the industry. 

Greeting

Greetings in New Zealand are usually casual and consist of a handshake and direct eye contact. 

Gifts

Gifts are not usually exchanged during business meetings. However, if invited to a colleague's home, be sure to take along wine, chocolates or flowers to say thanks. Gifts are usually opened in the presence of the giver and should not be overly expensive.

Gender equality

Women are treated as equals in the New Zealand workplace, often rising to senior corporate positions.


Business culture in New Zealand

In some ways, the business culture in New Zealand conforms to a typically British model in that it is formal, reserved and conservative. However, New Zealand's corporate culture distinguishes itself with its characteristically South Pacific warmth and friendliness. This creates a relaxed yet professional atmosphere that is founded on egalitarianism.

Business structure

Although the general approach to management in New Zealand is hierarchical, with decisions being made by senior-level executives, ideas, input and collaboration, from all members of the organisation are also highly valued. At the same time, while most New Zealanders shun formal titles, it would be a good idea for expats to use these until instructed otherwise.

Work ethic

Business etiquette in New Zealand will be familiar to expats who have worked in Western corporate environments before. New Zealand businesspeople tend to favour forthrightness, honesty and hard work over self-aggrandisement and empty promises. They will be far more interested in what someone actually does, rather than what they say they can do.

Communication

Although Kiwis can initially be reserved, they are generally friendly, hospitable and willing to help. Rewarding personal relationships are often developed between business associates.

When raising a point or responding to someone else's ideas, present points directly with supporting facts and figures. While a relaxed, human-orientated atmosphere is prized in the New Zealand workplace, business decisions remain unemotional and are motivated by the business' best interests.

Expats should expect some informal conversation before getting down to 'the agenda' at business meetings. Sport is a massively popular topic of conversation, and expats may want to have one or two complimentary things to say about the All Blacks, New Zealand's national rugby team, for good measure.

Meetings and punctuality

Business meetings should be scheduled at least a week in advance. They should then be confirmed a few days before they are due to take place. Be punctual. Lateness can be seen as a sign of unreliability or even indifference. If at all possible, avoid scheduling meetings in December and January. This is holiday time in New Zealand, and many people will be on leave.

Maori culture in the New Zealand workplace

Expats who want an added advantage when doing business in New Zealand should keep in mind that although the country is largely Western in character, the indigenous Māori culture plays a significant role in the lives of many residents. As such, while it may not be necessary to learn the intricacies of traditional protocol, displaying an awareness of their culture is sure to go down well with Māori business associates.

As an example, there is no specific protocol for the exchanging of business cards in New Zealand, although it is typically done when meeting a potential associate for the first time. A really nice touch, if meeting with someone with a Māori background, would be for an expat to get one side of their card translated into te reo Māori, the local language.


Dos and don'ts of doing business in New Zealand

  • Do be polite and reserved, yet willing to develop personal relationships with colleagues

  • Do get involved in 'team-building' exercises; these are taken quite seriously in New Zealand

  • Don't try to prove your credentials by talking about them. Rather, show your worth to employers and associates, by getting on with it and working hard

  • Don't make unfavourable comparisons between New Zealand and its neighbour, Australia – this is a sore point for many Kiwis

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