- Download our Moving to New Zealand Guide (PDF)
Healthcare in New Zealand is a crucial aspect of the country's infrastructure, and fortunately, the nation boasts a robust healthcare system that offers both public and private care options to its residents. The country's public healthcare system is funded through general taxation, making it widely accessible and affordable for all permanent residents. The government's commitment to universal healthcare has resulted in free or heavily subsidised medical care for New Zealand residents, which has contributed to the nation's reputation for quality healthcare.
In addition to public healthcare, New Zealand's private healthcare sector is thriving, offering expedited treatment options for those who can afford it. While private healthcare in New Zealand is more expensive than public care, it provides several benefits, such as shorter wait times, access to specialist doctors and more personalised care.
Emergency medical care in New Zealand is offered by three organisations, each run by both volunteers and permanent staff.
Public healthcare in New Zealand
The public healthcare system in New Zealand gives permanent residents access to free or heavily subsidised hospital care and emergency treatment. To access free public healthcare, expats need to have permanent residency status in New Zealand or hold a work visa that is valid for two or more years. Other free medical services include standard medical tests, children’s immunisations, and prescription medication for children under six years old. Visits to a general practitioner (GP), the purchase of prescription drugs, and ambulance services are all subsidised.
Expats will need to register with a GP to access healthcare in New Zealand and get a National Health Index (NHI) number. There is no restriction on which doctor an expat has to register with, but some doctors may specialise in certain areas of medicine. It might therefore be best for new arrivals to research the practices in their area to find the doctor who best suits their individual needs.
Although state healthcare in New Zealand is of a high standard, the biggest downside is the long waiting periods for non-emergency procedures. Waiting times vary between hospitals, so it helps to find the most time-efficient option.
In addition to the national healthcare scheme, there are district-funded healthcare initiatives known as Primary Health Organisations (PHO) which provide further subsidies to medical costs. That said, there are some non-subsidised items that expats and residents have to pay for in full. Most New Zealanders and expats are members of a PHO in their residential district and expats are advised to join a PHO as soon as they arrive in New Zealand, as applications generally take up to three months to be processed.
Private healthcare in New Zealand
Many New Zealanders who choose to use private healthcare do so to jump the queues for non-emergency procedures. Private healthcare users are, however, still able to use free public health services.
There is a wide range of clinics and private hospitals that provide healthcare services such as general surgery, recuperative care and specialist procedures. Private testing laboratories and radiology clinics are also available.
Health insurance in New Zealand
In comparison to other expat destinations, health insurance in New Zealand isn’t overly expensive. Some employers even offer medical cover, and expats should therefore check with their company or negotiate medical insurance as part of their employment contract.
Both public and private hospitals in New Zealand accept health insurance. Expats will be able to choose between international health cover and local health insurance providers.
Pharmacies in New Zealand
The New Zealand government set up PHARMAC (Pharmaceutical Management Agency of New Zealand) in 1993. This agency aims to make subsidised medications available and negotiates low drug prices. Currently, about 2,000 drugs sold in the country are either partially or fully subsidised by PHARMAC. A lot of medication can be purchased over the counter, but a prescription from a GP may be necessary to obtain more expensive or specialised medications.
Pharmacies in New Zealand are plentiful in urban areas, and expats will find large pharmacy franchises as well as independent, and online services. While most Western medicines are available in New Zealand, 24-hour pharmacies are rare.
With specialist hospital procedures, expats should remember that New Zealand is a small island country and advanced or specialist care is better sourced abroad. It might be best for expats with chronic medical conditions to stock up on their medication before arriving in the country.
Health hazards in New Zealand
Unlike Australia, New Zealand has few deadly animals. It only has two rare species of poisonous spiders and there are no snakes. New Zealand does have sharks, but shark attacks are few and far between because of the cold water that keeps both tourists and sharks at bay.
As New Zealand is situated along the Pacific Ring of Fire, which is a seismically active area, natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic activity can happen.
While not as bad as cities such as Mexico City, Los Angeles and Beijing, smog in Christchurch has been a problem for quite some time. Expats with chronic lung problems intending to live in the area should therefore consult their doctor about ways to possibly mitigate the impacts of this.
Emergency services in New Zealand
Pre-hospital emergency medical care is largely conducted by trained paramedics. Emergency medical services in New Zealand are operated mostly by St John's Ambulance and Wellington Free Ambulance. Both of these companies have air ambulance services that operate out of Auckland and Wellington.
New Zealand has a programme called Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC). The programme is funded from the public tax pool and levies obtained from all businesses, vehicle registration, petrol and employees. It offers no-fault injury cover to residents and visitors. So, when someone is involved in an accident, they will receive free medical care under this programme. Services provided include medical cost, prescription drugs and surgeries.
Emergency number (fire, ambulance, police): 111
►Learn about expat finances in Banking, Money and Taxes in New Zealand
►For help with moving to the country, see Shipping and Removals in New Zealand
"The healthcare is good! I have been to the A&E once and waited for about two hours to be seen because my injury was not life threatening. I was treated well, with respect and kindness, and I felt like I was in very capable hands." Read more about Savannah, a South African expat, and her experience living in New Zealand.
"We have socialised medicine here so we pay a small amount to visit a doctor and typically, the rest is covered such as lab tests and x-rays. One good thing is you can go to a chemist here and actually get a prescription-type medication instead of going to the doctor." Read more about Steph, an American expat, and how she settled into her life in New Zealand.
Are you an expat living in New Zealand?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to New Zealand. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
Expat Health Insurance
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