How to Apply For a Working Holiday Scheme in New Zealand

So you want to work and travel in New Zealand for a year?  Good news: For many people, New Zealand has one of the most accessible work and travel visas in the world.  In fact it’s so easy I was mostly convinced the application process was a scam.  I’m here to reassure you it’s not a scam and really is quite simple for many people to apply and obtain a working holiday visa.

What is it?

Working Holiday is a fancy way to say “temporary work visa.”  It’s a 12 month* visa given to people interested in working backpacker-type jobs while primarily focusing on travel and immersion in New Zealand.  Think travel first, make money second.  The jobs are not career desk jobs and are intended to be short term to encourage you to move around the country.  Permanent employment on this visa is not allowed.

*Canadians and UK residents can extend for up to 23 months.  Yippee!

What Type of Jobs Are Available?

Jobs in the tourism and hospitality industries are very popular for those on a working holiday visa.  Examples would be waiting tables, cleaning hotels, working at hostels, ski resorts, vineyards, and farms.  These are not jobs that require a high level of technical knowledge or skill so it’s easy to jump from job to job.

Age Restrictions:

New Zealand’s famed working holiday visa does have some age restrictions attached to it.  To apply for the visa, you must be between 18 and 30 years old at the time of your application.  For those outside of this age range, the rest of this information is going to be mostly irrelevant.  There are certainly other ways to obtain a New Zealand visa but for the Working Holiday Visa specifically, you need to be 18 and 30.

Country of Origin:

New Zealand has working holiday agreements only with the following countries:

Argentina, Denmark, Ireland, Mexico, Slovakia, United States of America, Austria, Estonia, Israel, Netherlands, Slovenia, Belgium, Finland, Italy Norway, Spain, Brazil, France, Japan, Peru, Sweden Uruguay, Canada, Germany Korea, Poland, Taiwan, Chile, Hong Kong, Latvia, Singapore, Thailand, China, Malaysia, Turkey, Czech Republic, Malta and the United Kingdom.

Check New Zealand’s immigration website for additional requirements based on your country of origin.  

Health Requirements:

New Zealand is really freaked out about Tuberculosis, perhaps stemming from dairy herds that once posed as a serious source of TB infection for many years.  If there’s a chance you have TB or have been exposed to TB, you will have to jump through some additional hoops to secure a visa.  Don’t worry; even the additional hoops aren’t very intensive.  

If you are from or have lived in a country within the last five years that is not considered as being low risk for TB, you will need medical clearance from a pre-approved doctor in the form of a chest X-Ray.

In my case, I had lived in Spain for four months which was not on the low incident list so I needed to schedule a chest X-Ray.  New Zealand immigration has a list of doctors who can provide this x-ray for you so do not assume you can go to your regular family doctor and be on your merry way.  Click here to search approved medical facilities that are authorized to perform the chest x-ray.

In my case, there were two authorized doctors in Illinois.  I saw Dr. Arrons at Park West Family Physicians.  They had a lot of availability so I was able to get in with no problem. They do have some later/earlier appointments to accommodate the work day but be aware the appointment in total last about three hours so plan accordingly.  This will not be a quick in-and-out trip.

I showed up to the office, filled out the paperwork, briefly talked to Dr. Arrons who snapped my passport photo and shuffled me out the door.  He sent me to another facility a mile away that actually takes the x-ray.  Once the x-ray was done, I walked back to Dr. Arron’s office, signed off on the papers and $217 later, I was on my way.

Dr. Arrons sends everything electronically to the immigration office in New Zealand.  Other than your regular visa application, you do not need to submit any further documentation (such as passport photos).  They literally take care of everything else for you.

Response Time:

Within a few days of receiving the x-rays, New Zealand Immigration emailed me with my visa and I was all set.  I asked a few questions of the immigration officer, mostly to prove they were human and this super simple process was actually legally legitimate.  The woman who responded was cordial, friendly and helpful.  After hearing horror stories of immigrants coming to the USA, I think our immigration office could stand to take a few lessons in New Zealand hospitality.

If you are not required to submit chest x-rays, the application process should take you no longer than 30 minutes.  It could not be any easier.  

 If you have ever dealt with an immigration office from any country, you know how agonizing and painful the process can be.  You are greeted with expressionless stares from deadpan zombies who show nothing but the utmost disdain for you.  I don’t think it gets any easier than dealing with the New Zealand Immigrant office.  Five out of five stars, would recommend.

Should I go through a third party program to get my visa?

This is entirely up to you, of course, but my advice would be no.  This process is so easy and self-explanatory that it seems like a huge waste of money to pay someone to tell you how to do it.  I’m telling you right now for free!  (But if you’d like to pay me, by all means please send me an email.)

I looked into third parties but didn’t see any added value.  Some will pay you for a few nights in a hostel and will counsel you on how to get a job but from the digging I’ve done on the internet, this is all very doable on your own.  Save yourself the $1,000 extra dollars and spend it on something fun like a cruise through Milford Sound or a heli-hike to Fanz Josef Glacier!  

And if my experience isn’t enough, call up or email the office that handles New Zealand immigration and I promise you they will give you straight forward explanations on what exactly they need from you.

I received my visa months and months in advance which probably wasn’t all that necessary.  You could probably get apply and get your visa in a month, but I’m a control freak and like things to be written in stone as soon as possible.  

If you are applying for this visa, enjoy it!  You will likely never have another immigration experience quite this pleasant. 

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