How to Go to New Zealand on a Working Holiday Visa

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

I wrote about my first three months in New Zealand. As you might remember, it wasn’t that fun. The rest of the milestones—six months, nine months, a full year—I didn’t mark, mostly because I was miserable. In fact, I was pretty darn miserable the whole time I was there. I’ve only recently started to process those feelings and unfold them, layer by layer. But! I’m not here to talk about that today. In fact, I wanted to describe the process for anyone who feels like starting a similar adventure on their own.

I went to New Zealand on a Working Holiday Visa. Simply said, a WH visa enables you to stay in the country for up to a year (or more if you’re from the UK or Canada) and work legally. You don’t have to work, but the rationale is that not many people have the funds to just travel around the country for a year, so here’s a way for you youngsters to meet our beloved Aotearoa and earn some cash while you’re at it.

The important thing is that you can stay up to a year, which is much more than on a regular Tourist Visa, and that was the main reason I applied: I had always wanted to visit New Zealand, but visiting as a tourist meant that I could only stay for a little while, and rumor has it that NZ is beautiful. Basically, if you go there on a WH visa, you can work some time to earn money to travel, then travel, then work again when you’re out of money. That’s what most people do anyway. Others come hoping they will score a job good enough to grant them a full Working Visa. I know a lot of people who did that. I left Europe with no agenda: I thought to myself, if I like it so much that I want to stay, okay, I’ll work on it.

Knowing I’m in Serbia typing this away, you may guess that didn’t pan out for me. Looking back now, I know that I hated my time there for a variety of reasons that have all contributed to me not wanting to stay in NZ. If I had gone three years earlier or three years later, I might have thought differently. Who knows?

The bummer in the WH Visa story is that not every country qualifies. Only countries with which New Zealand has the agreement on this type of visa qualify, and you are eligible if you are a citizen of any of those countries. You can see the list of countries here.

You don’t need to live in one of them, as long as you have the citizenship and the passport.

Another bummer is that a WH Visa has a restriction in age. I mean, that’s kind of expected—the entire setting where you work a bit, travel a lot, work a bit etc. sounds like something a young person would enjoy and peruse. But now I have an issue with this that I hadn’t had before—I feel just as young as two years ago. I’ll be turning 32 later this year, and I was eligible for the visa ages 18–30. For some countries, it’s okay to be under 35. Again, if interested, you’ll have to check requirements for your own country.

Some countries have a so-called quota on how many WH visas they get every year. For example, for Croatia, the citizen of which I am, it’s 100 visas a year. Other countries don’t have anything similar imposed and are awarded unlimited visas. What does it mean in practice? Different countries get different “opening dates” when it is possible to apply for a visa. If the demand is high, the quota will get filled quickly. If it’s not, it will be possible to apply for the visa months from the opening date.

How Do I Apply?

Ok, so you saw that your country is eligible for the NZ Working Holiday Visa application. Great! You also need to check if there’s a date you have to pay close attention to. Or, if there is no quota, it basically means you can apply anytime, maybe even today. I also assume you checked whether you’re between the ages of 18 and 30 (or 35 if applicable)... And let’s clear out a common misconception. Say you are 29 and worry you cannot apply because you’d be 30 on your planned day of flying into New Zealand. There’s nothing to fret about, because they are literally so kind they will let you in the country if you are 30 years and 364 days old. So it’s just necessary that you are UNDER 31 (or 36) on the day you enter the country for the first time on the WH visa.

Another thing worth noting is that your Visa is valid for a year from the date of issue.

Here’s how it went for me:

I applied in August, at 27 years & 11 months old.
This means my visa was valid until I was 28 years and 11 months old. I could have flown to NZ at any point throughout that one year.
Eventually, I did enter at 28 years 11 months. So I could have stayed until 29 years 11 months.

One may apply on their 30th birthday, but then need to enter the country before the next one. Say your 30th birthday is this August. You could fly to NZ in September or May next year or July next year, or August, really, as long as you’re not yet 31.

And then, you get to stay for a full year. You basically have up to two years from the moment your visa is issued to the moment you have to leave the country—but only if you waited for a year before entering for the first time. So there’s a one-year “validity period” during which you may enter New Zealand. Once you do, your timer starts, and it counts the one year in the country. You may use up your one-year validity period, or not. Depends on your personal circumstances, work, relationships... and also whether you want to enjoy the summer on the Northern Hemisphere before moving down south :)

Hope that’s clear.

So, onto the application process. It happens online.
You’ll have to make an account on the Immigration website. You need an email address for this.

You’ll need to fill in basic information, pay the fee of NZD 190 (a little bit less than US $120 or EUR 110), and confirm you will undergo the medical examination.

In your application, you will have to confirm you have no ongoing or previous medical issue that would require hospitalization in New Zealand, nor that you have been criminally charged in the past.

As for the upcoming medical exam, there’s a list of certified medical professionals where you can do this. For a Working Holiday Visa, this will be a Chest-Ray examination. You can choose any of the accredited physicians from the approved list. You’ll have 15 days from the application date to do this. Your doctor will then have to upload the results to the Immigration portal.

And that’s it! Await the email with your visa shortly!

One of the first photos I took in NZ: Home-grown lemons in the garden!

Are There Any Other Requirements?

Yes. You need to be able to prove to have NZ $4,200 on your account when you enter New Zealand. Someone decided that’s a formally sufficient amount to take you through a year in New Zealand, and to that someone, I say: hahaha! When I was working in an okayish job, so not good, just okayish, my monthly net pay was a bit lower than that. So it’s nowhere near to take you through a year, but on the bright side, that means you need to prove you have significantly less than you will eventually need. And to be honest, in my part of the world, i.e. the almighty Balkans, that’s a pretty hefty sum anyway. A lot of people I know took a loan from the bank or borrowed the money from friends or family, because you only need to have the proof you have that money in the bank upon entering the country. And that’s a rule not every customs officer obeys: for example, no one asked me about the money. However, do not rely on chance and pure luck. It’s better to have the money and not be asked, but the other way round.

You also need to be insured for the whole duration of the visa. When I had looked into domestic insurers, I remember being shocked because insurance for travel so far away and for so long cost hundreds if not thousands of euros. Luckily, I found Orbit Protect, an agency from New Zealand specialized in insurance for Working Holiday visas. This is not a paid partnership—I wish it was. But it was the only insurance that I could afford. Relocating to the other side of the world is bound to be expensive. Why not save where you can? It’s been two years since I bought this, and there are probably other agencies as well. This is merely my experience, so if anyone finds it useful—yay!

There’s that. I think I covered the basics.

Things worth noting:

You need to have a valid passport throughout your whole intended stay in New Zealand, and for at least three months after you plan to leave.

Once you enter New Zealand and your one-year’s visa starts ticking, you’re free to exit and enter the country as many times as you want throughout that one year.

Depending on what you want to do, finding a job is easy as or a bit more complicated. If all fails, you can always resort to the hospitality industry like I did in the beginning. But later on, I had better jobs that were also better paid!

You’re much much much better off if you drive. Used cars in New Zealand are cheap, so if I could have, that would have been the first thing I would have done back then.

Whether you end up loving New Zealand or not, this is likely one of the best things you can do for yourself. :) I know it was for me, and I feel so so apologetic to this country I didn’t get it back then.

IMPORTANT: Due to the Covid-19 situation, all Working Holiday visa applications are currently on hold. You may want to save this post for later!


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