New Zealand Working Holiday Visa: complete guide updated 2020

New Zealand Work Visa

Sammy and Bob received their college certification in America and both wanted some kind of a break abroad. What about New Zealand, Bob had proposed? It sounded financially utopian since neither could afford to pack up and traipse off to a foreign country for a few months. But Sammy reminded him that both had no formal work experience. Then a friend told them all about The New Zealand Working Holiday Visa, where they did not need to apply for a traditional NZ Visa. If admitted they could enjoy all the benefits of working in New Zealand for up to a year. During this period, they could legally earn an income while experiencing the country. Sammy and Bob applied and received with Visa. Now they have many helpful suggestions for young Americans willing to have the same experience.

Let’s dive into Sammy and Bob’s experience in all details because you too might be able to apply for an NZ Working Holiday Visa.

New Zealand Working Holiday Visa requirements for US citizens

Depending on your country of origin or the passport you hold, the conditions for New Zealand Working Holiday Visa differ. This is because the country’s immigration policy works reciprocally with other countries. Let’s concentrate just on visa requirements for US citizens:

  • Make sure the information provided during the online application exactly matches that shown in your passport;
  • Your passport must be valid for at least 15 months from the date you first arrive in New Zealand;
  • You will have to answer some questions about your character. It might happen that you will be asked to submit a Police Certificate;
  • Having good health is necessary. You might be asked to undergo a send a medical examination and/or a chest x-ray;
  • Showing your genuine intention to meet the conditions of the Working Holiday Visa. It’s essential to submit true and comprehensive information about yourself;
  • If you have been approved previously for the same type of NZ Visa you can’t receive it a second time;
  • You’re not allowed to take your children with you;
  • Partners must likewise travel on their own Visa.

How do you prove your genuine intentions for Working Holiday Visa purposes?

It is not as daunting as you would first imagine. You must have a valid passport, confirming you are a US citizen and that you are between 18 and 30 years old. You should also have a return ticket to leave New Zealand or prove that you have the money to buy a ticket for onward travel.

While we are talking about money, you should have enough to cover your cost of living for the time that you are in New Zealand. At the time of writing, this was a minimum of NZ $4,200. You might have to prove these funds with bank or credit card statements, travelers’ cheques, or bank drafts. Your permanent place of residence must match the country named in your application. You can prove this with any letters addressed to your home address or using references from employers.

Working Holiday Visa deadlines

There is a quota system. This means only a few US citizens will be granted the New Zealand work visa. The Visa is valid from the date of entry in the country. If you were already in NZ when the Visa was granted, it will be valid from the date that Visa is issued. After that day, you have 12 months to land or remain in New Zealand.

Pay careful attention to leave New Zealand before your visa expires or that will for sure bring you trouble. On the other hand, you can always apply for a Visa extension if you decide you would like to continue your working holiday for longer than a year.

As a US citizen, you must have medical insurance for as long as you are living in New Zealand. Your medical insurance must cover hospitalization. Proof of insurance may be in the form of a copy of an insurance certificate or an approval letter from the insurance company.

Death and taxes, everywhere!

It is essential that you have a New Zealand bank account if you want to get your pay. You will need your passport to start the process of applying, as well as proof of address. Consider that when proving a local address that not all banks will accept a letter from a hostel. Sammy and Bob found it best to compare the options. Compare the different banks, what they have to offer, the various bank account types and the fees charged.

You must also have an IRD number so that you can be taxed correctly while you are working in the country. Apply online through Inland Revenue Department as soon as possible after you arrive in NZ. Photocopies of two forms of ID are a prerequisite upon application, so get ready for it. Your IRD number should be forthcoming within 10 days.

Employment Opportunities in NZ

What you do on your Working Holiday abroad may very well land up determining or influencing your career for the better part of your future working life. Bear this in mind when you review job possibilities during this invaluable opportunity. The New Zealand Working Holiday Visa allows for the holder to engage in any form of employment but there are a few parameters and restrictions:

  • You may not be permanently employed;
  • The job must be legal: for instance, sex-related services cannot be provided as part of the job;
  • You may also not invest in or run a business that offers commercial sexual services;
  • It’s possible to study or undergo training in New Zealand but not for longer than 6 months of your stay.

Most common Jobs

Sammy and Bob, along with many of their American gap-year predecessors, found the easiest jobs to land with an NZ work visa to be in the following areas:

  • Restaurant, bar, kitchen, and cafe work;
  • Cleaning work in hostels and hotels;
  • Fruit picking and harvesting;
  • Skilled guiding work for those suitably qualified or experienced;
  • Fundraising jobs.

Sammy’s Reflections

With experience comes knowledge. Sammy suggests you ask yourself the following questions while considering what you may want to do during this Working Holiday:

  • What interests you? Desk work, outdoor jobs, people, animals, nature, figures, and calculations?
  • What type of person are you? Active and energetic types will prefer adventures and outdoors to lab and office, administration or computer work.
  • Are you open to learning new skills? Teaching jobs are many and varied if you have an interest in education or skill development. Winter sports and trail guides are always sought after if you are willing to apply yourself to on-the-job training to take on these types of jobs.
  • How much money do you have? If you are reliant on the money on offer on a Working Holiday, then volunteer work is not for you. On the other hand, volunteering opens many doors you might never have known about.
  • In case you have in mind landing skilled work in whatever line, apply ahead of time. If you prove your particular qualification, you will be more likely to land the most suitable job.

Living It Up in New Zealand

Where to live would feature as the main concern for those considering long term prospects in New Zealand. Youngsters armed with a kiwi Work Visa have a range of accommodation options open to them. Some may not strictly qualify as ‘housing’ itself, but you only live once, right?

Since the gist of a Working Holiday is largely to travel, and tourism has to be the primary reason for your visit to qualify for the Visa, you don’t want to be attached to any town, city or house. Our intrepid travelers booked into a hostel to overcome their jet lag and have a safe and secure base from which to consider their options. New Zealand has such a variety of accommodation options to choose from, depending on your personality, budget, time of year and season, and location.


Camping is definitely not for everyone, but it opens a whole different perspective to living in a new country. Campsites abound in New Zealand, and the picturesque scenery lends itself perfectly to this option. It is also the most cost-effective alternative.

Camper Vans

The Vans are a favorite for those wanting the freedom to explore on their own terms.  You will need the money to buy the camper van, though, unless you want to go with the more expensive option of renting one. Buying is the best option if you intend staying for longer than 3 months. You can easily sell it on before you leave the country and you won’t have lost the initial cash outlay. Bear in mind that in this case, you are killing two birds with one stone: transport and accommodation! Campsite fees and fuel cost less than bus tickets and hostels. Just make sure it is registered and has the equivalent of a United States DMV certificate before forking out the money.


This option is always in demand. Apartments to share offer opportunities to live with the locals in your own space.

Gap Work Programs

Such programs will almost always include Accommodation or Assistance in finding somewhere to stay. This is a money saver but takes any personal choice out of the equation. Socializing is absolutely a pro with gap year program accommodation, and you will have no shortage of like-minded youngsters with whom to mix.

Gap Year Hostels

Backpackers love Hostels. The amenities are all provided at a low cost, albeit without the frills and luxuries.

Hotels or Rentals

They offer more of a chance at home away from home living or luxuries, but at a cost. This will, however, be more of a long-term option than most of the others.

Applying for the New Zealand Working Holiday Visa

But how to get a work visa for New Zealand? You can apply online only and of course just in English language. The process is quite simple, you just have to access this website and create an account. After that, just log in and apply, filling in the necessary information. Some tips about it:

  • Documents that are not in English will require certified translations. This also includes police and medical certificates. English translations must be made by the translation service of New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), an embassy or high commission, or a private or official translation business. Translations are not acceptable when done by the applicant, any family member, or an immigration adviser assisting with the application.
  • You might be emailed to provide more evidence to support your application. By the way, we suggest you keep an eye on the spam folder during the whole application process.
  • Any update in your application such as its approval will be sent to you by email as well;
  • You can check the status of your application on the same website. If your application status shows as “approved”, congratulations, you are in!
  • If you are already in New Zealand, do not worry if your temporary visa has expired before your new visa is approved. You will get an interim Visa to remain in the country lawfully.

Did you ask yourself about this application cost? There you go: NZD 35.00. New Zealand immigration policy for US citizens charges just the International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy (IVL). That’s it. IVL covers the cost of the application fee. Please consider that the entire processing takes around 27 calendar days.

Entry Requirements for New Zealand

A New Zealand Working Holiday Visa allows you unlimited entry and exit to and from the country for as long as the Visa is valid. You must fill in an arrival card to get permission to enter New Zealand when you arrive. You will receive it before landing or also right after your arrival.

Based on the information provided on this form and during application for the Visa, your entry can still be denied. You must comply with the character requirements. If your circumstances have changed since you received the Visa, it might have an issue.

Refusing a request for your photo to be taken, fingerprints to be checked, or your iris to be scanned may cause you to be refused entry. You must have proof of onward travel or enough money to satisfy the required funds stipulated in the Visa.

How long does a New Zealand Work Holiday Visa last?

The answer is based on the type of New Zealand Work Visa you have:

  • Essential Skills Work Visa: allows employment in New Zealand for between 1 and 5 years.
  • Work to Residence Visa: this Visa type is a gateway to residency, in case the job comes from an accredited Employer or on the Long Term Skill Shortage List.
  • Working Holiday Visa: this one allows eligible Americans between 18 and 30 years of age to travel and work in New Zealand for 12 months.
  • Specific Purpose Visa: for a specific period of time or a specific goal.

New Zealand is waiting for you!

With Working Holiday Visa, your foreign experience in New Zealand gets much easier. Completing the online application is pretty simple and anyone 18 to 30 years of age who meets the criteria can apply. The Visa gives you an exciting opportunity to work your way around this amazing country for a holiday of a lifetime.

Now that you know all the must-dos and must-haves, and opportunities for traveling New Zealand on a Working Holiday, who knows? This might be the only chance you get to see the world on your own terms before buckling down to make a life for yourself. It may also lead you to the life you want for yourself, but never knew existed. With the unexpected twists, and turns, and opportunities, it might bring about a base on which to build a meaningful and fulfilled life.