What You Need to Know About Immigrating to New Zealand

A big thank you to NZDr for sponsoring this Q&A! NZDr is a New Zealand owned and operated specialist medical recruitment agency. They are one of several preferred suppliers to the national public health system, Te Whatu Ora-Health New Zealand. They recruit Hospital Specialists and GP’s across New Zealand. NZDr assists with finding the role and location that is right for you, be it Locums, Permanent or a Fixed Term contract. They provide a tailored vacancy search, guidance through the Medical Council registration process and manage the immigration process through their own in-house licensed immigration advisor.

Lured by the Southern Alps, world class tramping, and a focus on work-life balance, New Zealand remains one of the most popular destinations amongst US-trained physicians looking to move abroad. For many physicians, a 1-year stint, turns into a more permanent move. Curious about what it takes to immigrate to New Zealand?

This week, immigration specialist Martin King, and recruitment consultant Kate McKendry, both of whom are also Directors at NZDr, answer your questions about Immigrating to New Zealand!

1. What is the general immigration process for a physician moving to NZ?

There are 3 core components to the process: 

  1. Secure an offer of employment 
  2. Obtain medical registration 
  3. Apply for a visa that suits the circumstances. 

Visa options will depend upon personal circumstances/preferences and nature of contract offered. A work visa would be appropriate for a shorter or temporary stay and a residence visa provides long term rights to live and work.

Work visas are mostly the Accredited Employer Work Visa or AEWV, these are issued for up to 3 years. Shorter term contracts up to 12 months as locums use the Specific Purpose Work Visa.

You can apply for Residence under a new fast track pathway. All specialist doctors can apply and it provides an immediate pathway with similar processing timeframes as work visas.

It’s really important you talk with a reputable recruitment agency that can support you though the whole process. NZDr advises upon and manage all aspects of the process for our clients internally with our specialist team. 

2. Do you need a job offer in hand to immigrate to NZ?

Yes, you must have a job offer for skills based migration whether it’s a short term contract or longer term permanent move. 

3. Can you work part time and still qualify for a work visa? Is there a minimum number of hours per week to get a work visa?

Work or Residence Visas require a contract of full-time employment, which is defined as a minimum of 30 hours per week. 

4. Is there a maximum age limit for immigrating to NZ?

There is no age limit for work visas, however there is currently an age cap of 55 to apply for residence. 

In some cases, it is possible to request an age waiver, which is a discretionary request made directly to the minister of Immigration. If this applies to you, please arrange a call to discuss this with NZDr’s Licensed Immigration Advisor, Martin King. 

5. What is the average cost of immigration in terms of applications, interviews etc?

US citizens applying for work visas from outside of New Zealand do not pay application fees as there is a fee waiver scheme in place. The application fee for residence is NZ$4890. Interviews are usually conducted by Zoom or Microsoft Teams so there are no travel costs for this.

For visas of more than 12 months, medical exams are required; these must be undertaken at an approved clinic and costs vary from provider to provider. 

Independent immigration companies charge for processing visa applications. NZDr will fully manage the work visa process for you and your family as part of their complementary service offering, when working with them exclusively to secure employment. Residence applications can also be fully managed at very favourable discounted rates.

6. If you immigrate to NZ, how long does it take to become a permanent resident, and then a NZ citizen?

Once you have held a resident visa for 2 years you can apply for a permanent residence visa which is an indefinite, unrestricted visa to live and work in NZ.

Citizenship eligibility requires holding a resident visa for 5 years and during that time spending a minimum required time in NZ in each year and collectively over the 5 years.

7. Is there a quarantine period due to COVID-19?

No, there are currently no quarantine or travel restrictions and this has been the case since October 2022. There are currently COVID-19 vaccination requirements to be eligible to work within Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand.

8. How does immigration to New Zealand work with a spouse and kids?

Partners you live with can apply for a partner visa if you’re applying for a work visa, or can be included in a resident visa application.

  1. If applying for a work visa of more than 6 months duration a partner can receive a work visa in their own right. The visa doesn’t require an offer of employment and comes with open work conditions permitting employment or self-employment with any employer, and no restrictions on hours that must be worked by your partner. 
  2. Dependents under the age of 20 can be included in temporary visa applications, and under 25 in resident visa applications.
    • School age dependents can apply for student visas and receive domestic student status, the same as an NZ citizen, when applying for temporary visas. 
    • Dependents over 19, if applying for temporary visas, must apply in their own right and will be treated as international students to enter tertiary studies. 
    • Residence visa status affords domestic student status to all dependents including tertiary study. 
    • Dependents are defined as children that are wholly or substantially dependent upon an adult, are single and with no dependent children of their own. 

9. Can other dependents, like aging parents, come along too?

Currently, there aren’t options to include parents as dependents, however there are both visitor visa and residence options that can be applied for once you are settled and hold resident visa status. 

10. Can a visa be denied because of a dependent’s health conditions?

Yes, it’s possible for any applicant, principal, spouse or dependent, to be declined a visa on health grounds.

Conditions that are considered to be high cost, due to the treatment required, high burden, due to the services required, or specialist educational services can be prejudicial to the process.

Any known current or historic health conditions of any type should be assessed and advised upon before starting the recruitment process. 

In some cases when applying for a resident visa, a medical waiver may be possible. A medical waiver balances the risk of cost/burden with potential contribution to determine an outcome.

11. How does the process work for moving to NZ with a pet?

New Zealand has very strict bio security rules and this is included in the  process for importing domestic pets, which is managed through the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Process and requirements will depend upon criteria including breed and country of origin. A step by step guide can be found here.

12. When does the school year start and end in NZ for kids?

The school year starts at the end of January and runs until mid-December. There are 4 terms that make up the school year. 

13. Can kids transfer into school in the middle of the year?

Yes, new arrivals can start school upon arrival once settled whenever that is during the school year.

14. Are there options for childhood education for children with learning disabilities (dyslexia, etc)? Are there specific cities or schools that are better able to support children with disabilities?

Most schools will have the appropriate support for children with milder learning difficulties and particularly more readily available in cities and larger towns. 

Children who require more individualized or specialist education services may not meet health requirements. Their requirements should be reviewed and advised upon before engaging in the recruitment process.

15. Is the job contract negotiable?

The employment contract is a collective agreement that all specialist doctors in the public health system work to, which includes salary bands based upon years of experience. Most features of an offer are predetermined however there may be some flexibility to negotiate the hours to be worked and the overall package.  

The relocation package is usually done as an allowance ‘up to’ a certain amount and may include such expenses as flights, accommodation and a vehicle for a period of time, and shipping of furniture. Factors influencing this include location and duration of contract. The amount will invariably be bonded.

16. Can I get a mortgage to buy a house in NZ – or do you have to be a NZ citizen to buy a house?

To purchase residential property you must have a resident visa and have been physically present in NZ for 12 months, prior to making the purchase. Mortgages are readily available subject to an individual’s credit assessment.

Bottom Line

Choose one agency that has the knowledge and resources to help you navigate all the critical requirements, checking your eligibility for medical registration and immigration at the earliest opportunity, and create the best options for you and your family. These are discussion points for your initial conversation: contact NZDr and we can guide you through, introducing you to our team of experts within our field. 

Now we want to here from you!

How do these answers affect how you think about moving to NZ? Let us know in the comments below!

Martin King and Kate McKendry, are directors of NZDr a leading specialist doctor recruitment advisory in New Zealand. Martin is a recruiter and licensed immigration adviser providing immigration advisory to all NZDr clients. Kate is a specialist recruiter with 20+years medical recruitment experience. Meet the team and start your journey to New Zealand today.

Kate and Martin will be at the American Psychiatric Association Conference in San Francisco this May 20-24. Head to their stand and/or email directly to set up a meeting in advance: nz@nzdr.nz



1 Comment

  1. Femina

    How to work as junior doctor in New Zealand after qualifying PLAB 2 exam?


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