Answering the 15 Most Common Questions About Moving to New Zealand

New Zealand attracts many American physicians who are looking for an alternative to the American Health care system and who are hoping to enjoy the stunning landscapes, the progressive policies, and a more relaxed way of life.

This week, Kate McKendry, Recruitment Consultant and Director at NZDr, answers our community’s questions about moving to New Zealand.

1. How much time should I allot for the process of medical licensure, finding a job, to actually moving to NZ, and starting a job?

It is good to start the conversation as early as possible and we often speak with doctors years in advance and set out a time-line.

We can make things happen faster, however, and to answer the query above specifically, it will depend on the duration of time that the doctor is looking to be working here in New Zealand. This is because there are two types of registration for New Zealand for doctors that hold current board certification: Locum Tenens and Vocational.

Locum Tenens (LT) is a temporary form of specialist registration that allows a doctor to work as a specialist in New Zealand for up to 12 months. It takes 20 working days to process when complete paperwork is submitted. Please note that although it is called a Locum Tenens registration, doctors working in New Zealand for the first time via NZDr usually work a Fixed Term Contract with this registration. A fixed term contract is where the dates are for a set period and the doctor is paid by the District Health Board (DHB) as per the Multi Employer Collective Agreement (MECA) and holidays/CME etc can be pro-rated.

Vocational registration is a pathway to permanent specialist registration. The paperwork is more thorough and can take 6 months, sometimes longer, to process.

You can apply for both – LT and Vocational – at the same time. For example, if you had a permanent job offer and wanted to arrive in New Zealand ASAP then you could start work under the Locum Tenens application whilst waiting on the outcome of the vocational registration application.

2. Has COVID-19 made it harder for US-trained physicians to relocate to NZ?

COVID-19 has mainly impacted the immigration process as New Zealand has been in lockdown. Martin King, one of NZDr’s directors, is our in-house Licensed Immigration Advisor and he has been navigating this – so for NZDr and our doctors, the answer is no, it’s not harder. 

3. Will the physician recruitment agency help with the paperwork of medical licensure, immigration, credentialing?

Absolutely. Immigration advice and the processing of applications is a complimentary part of our service. We liaise with both the District Health Board and the doctor for Medical Licensure as paperwork is required from both parties. We are here to help.

4. I have medical registration in Australia; how easy is it to obtain medical registration in New Zealand?

Although Australia and New Zealand are closely linked and in many vocational scopes there is a shared college, they are 2 very different healthcare systems and run independently of each other. The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) registration does not guarantee eligibility for NZ registration. We would require further information on your specific experience and qualifications before we could provide a definite answer.

5.What medical specialties are most in demand in New Zealand?

We work across all specialties and demand varies. Right now, Psychiatry, Family Medicine, Dermatology and Radiology are the most in-demand specialties.

6. Are Critical Care physicians or Respiratory physicians in demand?

Vacancies in these areas of medicine do come up from time to time, but they are not the most in-demand specialties. For US-trained specialists in these areas, there can be registration eligibility issues depending upon the structure of training and length-of-work experience.

New Zealand medical graduates undertake at least 2 years of general hospital-based training before specializing, unlike the US where a medical school graduate immediately starts a residency programme. Therefore, the overall length of training in the US is considered shorter than what is required in New Zealand. This could cause an issue for a newly-qualified specialist Physician trying to obtain specialist registration. For those with more extensive work experience, the work experience in most cases makes up for the overall shorter period of training. On the whole, there will be opportunities if you are patient.

7. Are the majority of the jobs within the public health sector or in private practice?

The public health sector is the main employer of international medical professionals, and this is where NZDr is predominantly focused.  

8. Is it possible to do short-term locums, such as 6-months locums in New Zealand and then work 6 months in the US and go back and forth?

Yes, depending on demand.

If you hold full vocational registration with the New Zealand Medical Council, then even shorter periods in some sought-after specialties are possible. If this is your long-term plan, talk with one of our recruitment consultants to discuss how to make this happen.

If working in New Zealand for the first time, we would say that 6 months is the absolute minimum but would strongly advise you to consider working a full 12 months initially. Not only is 12 months more attractive to the employer, but it would also allow you to experience all that New Zealand has to offer year-round: beaches in summer, skiing in winter.

9. For psychiatrists, are most of the jobs available in large cities or in rural locations?

There are roles in both rural and urban locations.

10. Are most of the available jobs short-term positions or permanent positions?

Although the role advertised may be for a permanent doctor, it may be that the service is open to a fixed-term solution: your recruitment consultant can best advise you on this as they are in regular contact with the DHBs and Medical Centres.

11. What are the typical salary ranges for a family medicine physician, psychiatrist, OB/GYN, anesthesiologist, pediatrician, and critical care physician?

New Zealand has a Multi-Employer Collective Agreement (MECA) in place for DHB Consultants. This is a standard contract that all the DHBs adhere to, and it does not vary based on location. It includes salary steps, annual leave, employment benefits, etc. The base salary is calculated by the year in which you passed your boards and is the same for all specialties. The salary steps range from NZ$164,369 – $255,560. This is the base salary. In addition, there are allowances for on-call, availability, job size and CME; 6 weeks annual leave and 2 weeks CME; in addition to our 13 public holiday days. Lots of time to explore and be with family. Although, the salaries are dictated by the MECA, relocation packages can vary.


As a point of reference, for Family Medicine, the starting salary is NZ$165,000 based on 32 hours per week. This will then increase over time, with Practice partners earning upwards of NZ $250,000.

12. If I find a job through a physician recruitment agency does it impact my salary?

Finding a job via NZDr will not impact your salary. We are paid by the DHBs and the Medical Centers who are happy to work with NZDr as they know we have the doctors’ best interests at heart and help them through the relocation process. The salary negotiated on your behalf is completely independent from, and not influenced by, the fee we charge to the DHB or Medical Centre.

13. Many people fear working with a recruitment agency as they worry their salary will be lower than if they were hired by a clinic or hospital directly.

This is not the case with NZDr – in most cases the employer will pay your salary directly and salaries are set by the DHB collective agreement so there is complete transparency. Other agencies may work differently, in particular those that are paying you directly rather than you  being paid by the DHB.

14. Does the physician pay the physician recruitment company to help them be placed in a vacant position?

No, NZDr does not charge doctors a fee for securing a position in New Zealand. Recommending us to your colleagues is a perfect thank you.

15.When being placed in a job through a physician recruitment agency, are there any benefits provided such as reimbursement of costs associated with airfare, relocation, housing, a car etc. ?

Each DHB has its own relocation policy and package. NZDr can help negotiate the best package for yourself and your family. Expenses covered can include: airfares, accommodation and a car for a set period of time. Location and duration of time that the doctor will be working in New Zealand are the variable factors that help determine the offer.

Bottom Line

If you are interested in working here in New Zealand, please contact NZDr for an initial chat at any time. In some cases we start planning journeys literally years in advance, in others we work to get individuals/families here as quickly as possible. Everyone’s journey is unique and we move at your pace. You can also reach NZDr via email at nz@nzdr.nz or via telephone +64 21 288 6937.

Kate McKendry is a Recruitment Consultant and Director at NZDr and has been working in Medical recruitment for close to 20 years with 10 years focused on New Zealand. Originally setting up a New Zealand branch of an international agency, in 2018 Kate went independent and set up NZDr.

The NZDr team has since grown and now includes a team of experienced recruitment consultants, a dedicated administration team and a Licensed Immigration Advisor.

Kate relocated to New Zealand in 2008 and lives in Auckland with her husband Patrick, 3 school age children, their dog and cat. With Kate originally being from England and Patrick being a Kiwi, they had many choices of where to live and bring up a young family: NZ won – family friendly, great schools, relaxed lifestyle and beautiful scenery.

“I love England and I had a great time growing up there, but New Zealand is very special and it’s a real pleasure to live here and enjoy all the lifestyle opportunities on offer. As a family, we love camping with friends in summer: campsites here in NZ are in some of the best beachside locations in the country. You don’t need to spend a fortune to get the best view/location – it’s there for everyone to enjoy. In winter, there are many skiing options, and we spend a lot of time mountain biking – the tracks around the country are fantastic and cater for all levels, ages and abilities.

I think what makes NZDr so good is the genuine love that the team has for New Zealand and the ability to empathise with people who are coming to live here. It can be a long way to travel, there is a lot to think about and it can be overwhelming. As the team has all lived overseas and all relocated, we get it. We are here to make the journey as smooth as possible.”

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