- Download our Moving to New Zealand Guide (PDF)
Despite it being a fairly isolated island country in the southwestern Pacific, expats who have experience living in other Western countries should be able to adjust to the local culture in New Zealand with ease.
Maori culture plays a vital role in public life and has heavily influenced the country's dominant culture; that said, New Zealand is generally regarded as a Western country. As a former British colony, it still retains the British monarch as its head of state – despite having an independent government.
Open-minded expats who try to learn about the local culture and are realistic about the pros and cons of living in New Zealand are likely to enjoy life in their new host country.
Socialising in New Zealand
New Zealanders are known to be friendly, helpful and egalitarian. Locals also tend to be laid back, and all of this is reflected in the informal dress code adopted at social gatherings.
Children in New Zealand are highly valued, and residents take the safety and upbringing of children very seriously. New Zealander societal attitudes focus strongly on the community, and expats are often pleasantly surprised by how helpful and generous strangers can be.
Although locals are largely warm and courteous, they can also be reserved, which may feel isolating at times. While outright discrimination against foreigners is rare, expats may feel that the job market favours locals. Some expats may also struggle to cement lasting friendships with locals.
Apart from homesickness, expats usually adjust to the country's culture with ease. Some expats have trouble understanding local slang words, but this problem is quickly overcome once they start settling in and mingling with the locals.
Expats may be surprised by New Zealand's drinking culture, as it plays a rather significant role in weekend (and weekday) activities. Newcomers to New Zealand may also be surprised by Kiwis' love for walking barefoot, even in public spaces such as supermarkets and restaurants.
Outdoor lifestyle and sports in New Zealand
New Zealanders are outdoor and fitness enthusiasts. Most suburban neighbourhoods have parks where families often take their children in the evenings. There is typically also a national park or a range of outdoor activities within driving distance of any city.
As can be seen from the multitude of amazing playing fields throughout New Zealand, sport is at the centre of local culture. While sports such as cricket, netball and soccer are popular, rugby is decidedly the favourite national pastime. The national team, the All Blacks, are one of the strongest sides in the world, having won the Rugby World Cup several times.
Adjusting to life in New Zealand is further influenced by how sparsely populated the country is. This sense of space may take some getting used to, though many new arrivals end up finding it highly enjoyable to have a beach or golf course all to themselves.
Climate in New Zealand
The country's general climate can be a slight culture shock for expats choosing to settle in New Zealand. While rainy and cold weather may not be unfamiliar to many expats, the standard of insulation in many New Zealand houses can be a point of concern for those from countries better prepared for the cold.
An accepted part of life for most New Zealanders, and a point of concern for some expats, is the constant threat of earthquakes. The country is situated along the Pacific Ring of Fire, which results in New Zealand experiencing thousands of earthquakes every year, although the vast majority of them aren’t even felt.
Many residents have an emergency kit in their garage for use after a bad earthquake, which consists of water, food and medical supplies. Although this may make new arrivals feel uneasy, emergency kits are only a safety measure. Before the tragic earthquake in Christchurch in 2011, the last time that an earthquake caused substantial casualties was in 1931.
►For more on housing in the country, see Accommodation in New Zealand
►Doing Business in New Zealand gives more information on the local working culture
"A good tip to meeting locals would be to join Facebook groups in the area and introduce yourself by asking if anyone would be keen to show you around. Most people are eager to help and make life in NZ as enjoyable as possible." Learn more about Savannah, a South African expat, and her move to New Zealand.
"Meeting people in small towns is fairly easy as you have many neighbours and if you’re working outside and someone walks by, more than likely they’ll stop and talk to you. Same for grocery stores or other places you might be hanging out." Read more about Steph, an American expat, and how she adjusted to 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.
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