Getting a working holiday visa to New Zealand is straight forward and cheap compared to other countries. If you’re an American and you apply outside of New Zealand for the working holiday visa, it’s free! Now for those of you who don’t know what a working holiday visa is, it’s a visa that allows you to travel to a country on holiday and work at the same time. Technically, a working holiday visa is supposed to be mostly about the holiday part supplemented by occasional work but for many, you will leave the country with more than you entered with if you spend wisely and will still enjoy a nice holiday as well.
New Zealand, like most countries with working holiday schemes, has different restrictions for different nationalities. A working holiday visa is available to citizens from the following countries: Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Czech, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Poland, Singapore (work exchange programme), Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay, and Vietnam. If your country is not listed, it probably does not have a working holiday agreement with New Zealand but you may be eligible for a different visa. Many of these countries also have a quota meaning they only give out a certain number of working holiday visas to citizens of your country per year. Be sure to check New Zealand’s Immigration Website for details. If you are from the United States, we are not subjected to a quota system so no need to fret about that one.
Typically, the visa is good for an entire year but you do have the option of extending it for 3 months if you spend 3 months doing agricultural work. If you’re like me and more of a city person, you won’t venture out into farm land so you don’t have to worry about applying for the 3 month extension. When your year is up, it’s up and you best exit the country. However, if you are determined to squeeze every last hour out of your working holiday visa, be sure to check into this little known extension! In addition to only being valid for a year, you can only get a working holiday visa to New Zealand once, regardless if you have dual or multi citizenship.
Now regarding work, the countries that are listed above have different restrictions so you will need to visit Immigration New Zealand’s website for full details. The most common restriction is that you can only work for the same employer for a maximum of 3 months. Now this restriction applies to about half of the countries, for the other half, there is no maximum amount of time you can stay at one employer as long as your visa is valid (Americans can work at the same company during their entire working holiday if they so please). One interesting visa restriction that applies to all nationalities that is a little strange is that you cannot work as a prostitute (prostitution is legal in New Zealand). Other than that, you are free to work where ever!
Now that you have some of the facts about the working holiday visa in New Zealand, you are ready to lodge your application. It is all done online at http://www.immigration.govt.nz/migrant/stream/work/workingholiday/ Just click the country you are from and follow the instructions. Do note the following (from their website)
- usually be permanently living in <the country of your passport> – this means you can be temporarily visiting another country when you lodge your application
- have a passport from <the country of your passport> that‘s valid for at least three months after your planned departure from New Zealand
- be at least 18 and not more than 30 years old
- not bring children with you
- hold a return ticket, or sufficient funds to purchase such a ticket*
- have a minimum of NZ$4,200 available funds to meet your living costs while you’re here
- meet our health and character requirements
- hold medical and comprehensive hospitalisation insurance for the length of your stay
- be coming to New Zealand to holiday, with work or study being secondary intentions for your visit
- not have been approved a visa under a Working Holiday Scheme before.
If you are already in New Zealand you also need to hold a valid temporary visa.
*You are required to hold sufficient funds for the duration of your visit and for the purchase of an outward ticket from New Zealand. Such evidence may be requested on arrival at the border.
Obviously they aren’t going to check all of this in detail. I certainly didn’t arrive with NZ$4,200, an onward plane ticket, hold comprehensive hospitalisation insurance, have a police clearance certificate or health certificate but I still got into the country. It all depends on how you fill out the application. If you declare that you are healthy, not a criminal, have a plane ticket out/NZ$4,200 no one is going to be the wiser. Keep in mind however, they do randomly select people (I seem to be this guy when it comes to Australia. I’m currently being required to present a police certificate which is more of a pain than anything since I need to get fingerprinted and contact the FBI to show my record is clean before they issue my working holiday visa for next year. More on that debacle later.) out once in while before approving the application, that is when you will need to provide them with the required information. If you lied on the application about being healthy and you can’t prove it, you’re not getting in obviously. So really, you need to out weight the risks of being honest or lying and possibly being caught and prevented from entering the country for many years. Honesty is the best policy when it comes to dealing with immigrations and custom officials.
Once you have submitted your application, you will usually hear a response from them in a few working days whether your visa was granted, denied or additional information is required. My visa was granted in 3 working days and no additional information was required (unlike Australia, grrr but that’s for another post). Depending on your country of origin, you will either get a physical visa label to attach to a page in your passport or it will be “electronically attached”. Once your working holiday visa is approved, you have a year from the issue date to activate it. To activate the visa, simply arrive in New Zealand. If you do not activate the working holiday visa within a year from it being issued, it’s gone and you can never get it back so be sure to only apply for it if you plan to use it otherwise you’re shit out of luck.
Once you are ready to travel to New Zealand, be sure to bring a printout of the visa (if it was “electronically attached” that is). This is mostly for the airline officials to show that since you have a working holiday visa, you do not need proof of an onward ticket. However, it may speed up the process through immigration if there are any problems. Immigration didn’t even look at my printout as it was already “electronically attached” to my passport number.
After that, it’s time to open a bank account, obtain an IRD (tax) number, and finally, find a job. Like I said, the New Zealand working holiday visa is pretty straight forward to obtain and the information posted above is from my experience and the collective experiences of those I have met here as well. You may experience something different and if that is the case, please post a comment about it so we know what happened and what we might expect in the future. Immigration laws are constantly changing so be sure you are up to date with the ones of the nation you are travelling to. Just because I said something back in December of 2012 doesn’t mean it is true years down the road!
*IMPORTANT* There are many websites online that promise a working holiday visa for money. Although some may be legitimate websites that can help you get your visa, some may be fake as well. Always research any company before paying them to get you a visa. In all honesty, you do not need a company to help get you a working holiday visa anyway because it’s the least complicated visa of them all (after a tourist visa at least). Save your money and just apply for the visa directly from Immigration New Zealand, the official website of New Zealand Government’s Immigration Department.