Both public and private healthcare is excellent in New Zealand. Public care is funded through general taxation, which means residents receive free or subsidised medical care. Alternatively, the private sector is more costly, but provides speedier treatment.

Emergency medical care in New Zealand is offered by three organisations, each run by both volunteers and permanent staff.

Public healthcare in New Zealand

The public healthcare system in New Zealand gives permanent residents access to free or heavily-subsidised hospital care, and emergency treatment. In order to access free public healthcare, expats need to have permanent residency status in New Zealand. Other free medical services include standard medical tests, children’s immunisations, and prescription medication for children under six years old. Visits to a General Practitioner (GP), the purchase of prescription drugs, and ambulance services are all subsidised.

In order to access healthcare in New Zealand, expats will have to register with a GP. There is no restriction on which doctor an expat has to register with, but some doctors may specialise in certain areas of medicine. It might therefore be best for new arrivals to research the practices in their area to find the GP who best suits their individual needs.

Although state healthcare in New Zealand is of a high standard, the biggest downside is the long waiting periods for non-emergency procedures. Waiting times vary between hospitals, so it helps to find the most time-efficient option.

In addition to the national healthcare scheme, there are district-funded healthcare initiatives known as Primary Health Organisations (PHO) which provide further subsidies to medical costs. That said, there are some non-subsidised items that expats and residents have to pay for in full. Most New Zealanders and expats are members of a PHO in their residential district and expats are advised to join a PHO as soon as they arrive in New Zealand, as the application process generally takes up to three months to be processed.

Private healthcare in New Zealand

Many New Zealanders who choose to use private healthcare do so in order to jump the queues for non-emergency procedures. Private healthcare users are, however, still able to use free public health services.

There is a wide range of clinics and private hospitals that provide healthcare services such as general surgery, recuperative care and specialist procedures. Private testing laboratories and radiology clinics are also available.

Health insurance in New Zealand

In comparison to other expat destinations, health insurance in New Zealand isn’t overly expensive. Some employers even offer medical cover, and expats should therefore check with their company or negotiate medical insurance as part of their employment contract.

Both public and private hospitals in New Zealand accept health insurance. Expats will be able to choose between international health cover and local health insurance providers.

Pharmacies in New Zealand

The New Zealand government set up PHARMAC (Pharmaceutical Management Agency of New Zealand) in 1983. This agency aims to make subsidised medications available and negotiates low drug prices. Currently, about 2,000 drugs sold in the country are either partially or fully subsidised by PHARMAC. A lot of medication can be purchased over the counter, but a prescription from a GP may be needed to obtain more expensive or specialised medications.

Pharmacies in New Zealand are plentiful in urban areas, and expats will find large pharmacy franchises as well as independent, and online services. While most Western medicines are available in New Zealand, 24-hour pharmacies are rare.

With specialist hospital procedures, expats should remember that New Zealand is a small island country and advanced or specialist care is better sourced abroad. It might be best for expats with a medical condition to stock up on their medication before arriving in the country.

Health hazards in New Zealand

Unlike Australia, New Zealand has few deadly animals. It only has two rare species of poisonous spiders and there are no snakes. New Zealand does have sharks, but shark attacks are rare because of the cold water that keeps both tourists and sharks at bay. 

As New Zealand is situated along the Pacific Ring of Fire, which is a seismically active area, natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic activity are prevalent, but the country is particularly prone to earthquakes. 

While not as bad as cities such as Mexico City, Los Angeles and Beijing, smog in Christchurch has been a problem for quite some time. Expats with chronic lung problems intending to live in the area should therefore consult their doctor about ways to compensate for this.

Emergency services in New Zealand

Pre-hospital emergency medical care is largely conducted by trained paramedics. Emergency medical services in New Zealand are operated mostly by St John's Ambulance and Wellington Free Ambulance. Both of these companies have air ambulance services that operate out of Auckland and Wellington.

New Zealand has a programme called Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC). The programme is funded from the public tax pool and levies obtained from all businesses, vehicle registration, petrol and employees. It offers no-fault injury cover to residents and visitors. So, when someone is involved in an accident, they will receive free medical care under this programme. Services provided include medical cost, prescription drugs and surgeries.

  • Emergency number (fire, ambulance, police): 111 

Expat Health Insurance

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If you’re thinking about taking out private health insurance, our trusted partner Cigna Global is very aware of all the difficulties that expats can face when it comes to healthcare in a new location, so they have created a range of international health insurance plans specifically designed for expats, which you can tailor exactly to the needs and ensure access to quality care for you and your family.

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