So far, this whole New Zealand thing was just a funny thought experiment? We’ve been there too. But now it’s time to make the dream come true by creating hard facts. Applying for a visa is the first step in the process that requires you to spend money. Once you managed to take that step, you have made a commitment.
Before you start: Can you afford your 1-year adventure?
This is probably the biggest hurdle to clear for everyone who considers staying in a foreign country for a while. You not only have to save enough money to finance a whole year of living, but also make sure your leave doesn’t permanently kick you out of your current job position.
Talk to your employer about your New Zealand project and try to find an arrangement. We’ve heard of people who made an agreement with their employer to get a lower salary for e.g. 2 years to accumulate money for their travel year, where they would remain hired and keep receiving their monthly wages as usual. The employer benefits from a delayed payment and you don’t need to change your whole life, just reduce your spending for a while.
New Zealand visa options
New Zealand is very strict when it comes to immigration. No matter if you want to stay for 1, 3, 6, 12 or more months, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) needs to issue you some sort of visa before you can enter the country. The following overview is by no means complete or guaranteed to be correct. Visa options are plentiful and depend on a number of factors such as country of origin, purpose and length of your planned stay. The policies are modified every couple of years too.
We have found the following visa options to be suitable for families with children:
Stay up to 3 months: No visa application required
It’s relatively easy to stay in New Zealand as a tourist for a short period of time. Most developed countries fall under the visa waiver program, so you just need to fill a form at the arrival airport and you’re good. Just make sure you can show your return ticket or the immigration agents may think you want to stay longer. You’re not allowed to work in New Zealand though. There are no extra costs involved with this option.
Stay up to 9 months: Apply for a visitor visa
You need to apply for visitor visas in advance. They allow you to stay in NZ for 9 months in any period of 18 months. The INZ website gives detailed instructions how to do so. A visitor visa application usually costs less than $200.
Get an immigration adviser
If you intend to stay longer than 3 months, we strongly recommend you get in touch with a registered immigration adviser. Only they are allowed to provide legally binding assistance to get you a visa. Costs may vary but a series of rejected applications because you ticked a wrong boxes on those endless forms doesn’t help you either and can delay your NZ adventure significantly. Check the website of the NZ Immigration Advisers Authority.
The following immigration advisers are recommended by us or our friends (all of them also immigrated from Germany to New Zealand):
Special case: Student visa
A student visa allows students to stay for up to 4 years, if they have an offer for a place at a school/university and enough funds to provide for themselves for the whole stay. Student visa holders typically have to pay significantly higher school fees as they are not supported by the government. A clear downside is that all family members would need to enrol at a school, which is quite costly.
For young folks: Working Holiday visa
If you are between 18 and 30 years old, you can get a Working Holiday visa that allows you to stay for up to 6 months if you can show your return ticket and proof that you have enough funds for your stay.
Stay 12 months: A bit complex, but possible
The interesting thing is, that if the student is a child, one parent can get a guardian visa for the whole length of the student visa. Unfortunately the second parent can’t use this option, even if you have two children. But there is a relatively hidden option that we used to get our visas for the whole family: There is a way to get a visitor visa extended for up to 12 months if you can provide a strong reason to INZ. Such a strong reason e.g. is that the rest of the family is staying in NZ. That way, the children can get their student visas, one parent a guardian visa and the other parent an extended visitor visa up to 12 months. The whole application process will cost about $2000-3000, including the immigration adviser fees.
Stay longer: Residency application
If you want to stay longer, you’ll need to apply for a permanent residency visa (a life-long green-card to stay and work in NZ). There are many ways to get a residency, but they are all more or less complex to get. New Zealand’s policy on immigration can be summarized with one sentence: If you can contribute something to the overall wealth of the country, you’re welcome, but if you are likely to cost the country money on the long run, you have to stay out. A permanent residency is an expensive thing though. Immigration adviser, application fee, IELTS English test, medical certificate, etc. it all sums up several thousand dollars.
Make sure you reserve enough time for the visa application process. It can take several months until you get the precious sticker in your passport.