A guide for Kiwis moving back to New Zealand

From the current COVID-19 travel restrictions to purchasing property once you're back, this guide will help you through every step of moving back to New Zealand.

Xe Consumer APAC

June 2, 2021 9 min read

Man from New Zealand looking out over Auckland

Written by Marcus Phillips of mortgages.co.nz

At any time, up to a million New Zealand citizens are believed to be living and working permanently overseas. Most are courageous, hardworking and talented people who sought a bigger stage for their lives. Attractive overseas incomes and career opportunities mean few had plans to return any time soon, if at all.

But priorities have clearly changed. Recent political and economic events, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic, have led almost half of New Zealand’s expats to indicate they now have plans to return home; half of those within the next two years.

The smaller, more secure stage of Aotearoa—with its lack of COVID-19, open spaces and attractive lifestyle choices—now seems a better fit for many Kiwis who previously saw their future overseas. However, with only so many quarantine facilities available, along with the changing nature of travel connections, the predicted wave of long-term expats returning was more like a slow-but-steady stream in 2020 and 2021.

Starved of migrant talent, and facing skill shortages in many areas, New Zealand is keen to welcome talented expats and their families back home.

Does that sound like good news to you? Here are some tips to help you plan your relocation back to New Zealand.

What are the current COVID-19 restrictions on travel to New Zealand? (June 2021)

New Zealand citizens (and residents with valid travel conditions) have a legal right to enter New Zealand. However, there are specific requirements related to pre-departure COVID-19 testing and two-week managed isolation or quarantine on arrival, which includes periodic COVID-19 testing.

First, you'll need to obtain a voucher for a place in a government-run managed isolation facility, as airlines cannot let you board a flight to New Zealand without a voucher. You can do this online. Places are very limited, but availability can change as people alter their travel plans.

If you are travelling from Australia, The Cook Islands or Niue, managed isolation or quarantine may not be required on arrival into New Zealand. However, travel from these countries to New Zealand may still be paused if they experience community outbreaks of COVID-19.

To keep New Zealand safe, the country’s travel restrictions will continue to adjust, to reflect the evolving global pandemic. Make sure you stay up-to-date and keep monitoring New Zealand government sources for information, such as Unite against COVID-19.

Where should you live when you return to New Zealand?

A 2020 survey of Kiwi expats revealed that many of those returning home intend to live in a different region to where they lived before.

As with the rest of the world, the gig economy has flourished in New Zealand. Connectivity is good and what were once holiday and lifestyle destinations are increasingly home to permanent remote workers and flourishing small businesses. At the same time, the major cities have grown rapidly, putting pressure on housing stock and fuelling significant inflation in property prices. This has also had a flow-on effect into the regions.

If you’ve been overseas for a while, things will have changed quite a lot of course. Once you’ve completed quarantine and taken a few weeks to find your feet, you may want to spend some time re-visiting places of interest to explore what they now offer. With few tourists in the country, short-term accommodation is widely available, despite Kiwis' newfound love of touring their own country.

If you’re undecided about where to live, or open to fresh possibilities, you might want to check out New Zealand Now. It’s a government website for people moving to New Zealand, though bear in mind that its content currently reflects conditions and outlook before COVID-19. Check the New Zealand Regions section for information about New Zealand's regions and major cities.

What to know about buying (and financing) a house when you return to New Zealand

Many expats looking to return home are surprised at how expensive real estate has become, particularly in the main cities like Auckland and Wellington. Owning a rental property has long been a way for Kiwis to fund their retirement and house prices have been climbing for decades.

However, low interest rates from COVID-19 economic measures, an existing housing supply shortage and a lack of familiar financially-rewarding investment alternatives recently combined to cause a surge in demand for houses and, consequently, housing prices. The government has since introduced changes to rental property ownership laws to reduce some of the benefits and cool the market, without going so far as to create a dangerous downward spiral. However, capital gain on your sole or main home is still not taxed.         

Apart from the high purchase prices, buying a home in New Zealand is still relatively straightforward. You’ll typically need a deposit of at least 20% of the purchase price. Banks will usually lend up to 80%, provided they believe you can afford the regular mortgage repayments.

Auction sales are popular with vendors these days. This can mean you spend money on due diligence, such as valuations and inspection reports, then miss out at the auction and have to repeat everything on subsequent properties. Of course, you’ll need to have your finances in place and a lawyer lined up for advice. If you haven’t owned property in New Zealand before, or it’s been a while since you did, check out the government website Settled.govt.nz, which will offer guidance on every step of the process.

For free and independent guides to New Zealand’s mortgage (home loan) types, current mortgage rates, tips on house buying and managing a mortgage, plus the latest market news from economist Tony Alexander, visit mortgages.co.nz.

Opening a bank account in New Zealand

Many people opt to open a New Zealand bank account a few months before making the big move to New Zealand. Most banks will let you do this up to 12 months before you depart. You can then transfer money to the account before you leave, so it’s ready for you on arrival. Not all of the main New Zealand banks have nationwide coverage, so be sure to check the bank you choose has a branch where you’ll initially be staying.

Once you’re in New Zealand, you’ll normally need to provide identity documents and your New Zealand address to activate the account. If you won’t have a permanent address immediately, ask the bank about your options before setting up the account with them. Most of the main banks have specialist teams to help people like you who are migrating to New Zealand.

If you intend to buy a property in New Zealand, you don’t have to open this initial account at the bank you’ll eventually arrange a home loan with. In fact, it pays to shop around once you’re here or use a mortgage broker to find the best deal for you. There’s usually no charge for using a broker, as the banks pay them a fee when you draw down your loan.

How to send money to your New Zealand bank account

If you do a little online research, you'll see that you can pick from several options to transfer money to your New Zealand bank account. Which one should you choose?

These are some of the qualities you should investigate in a good money transfer provider.

  • The rates you'll get. The currency markets are always moving, and exchange rates are constantly fluctuating. Though the rates are subject to change, it's still key to cross-check rates and quotes from different providers to get an idea of which provider will give you the most for your money when you transfer.

  • Any transfer fees. Ask about transfer fees and whether they offer a discount for larger transfers typically associated with people who are migrating. Be wary of providers that claim to offer "fee-free transfers" or "no fees", as they're likely to offer unfavourable rates in exchange.

  • Ease of use. Another important consideration is how easy their service is to use.

  • Is the brand trustworthy? Sending money to another country can be nerve-wracking, especially when you do so over the internet. Look for well-established providers and take a look at review sites such as Trustpilot for an idea of their customer experience.

Many people choose to arrange this transfer through their current bank, and facilitate a transfer to their New Zealand bank accounts through the bank's channels. This is a popular option because it can be comforting to work with a business that you already have experience with, but banks do have an unfortunate habit of offering unfavourable exchange rates and adding numerous fees (some hidden) to their transactions.

Another option is to use an experienced international foreign exchange company. You simply transfer your money to them while in your home country, then they convert the currency and deposit it into your New Zealand bank account.

Which international foreign exchange company do we recommend? Well...

Send money to New Zealand with Xe

With Xe, you can make your money transfer completely online in just a few minutes. Over 1 million customers around the world look to us for competitive rates, fast money transfers, and knowledgeable help from our currency experts. If you have any specific requirements (such as a scheduled transfer, or an ideal exchange rate) we offer multiple different money transfer options to suit your transfer needs.

You can send up to NZD 750,000 per transfer with our online service. If you need to send more than that, you can contact our team by phone to arrange a larger transfer. We also have a team ready to help anyone sending more than the equivalent of USD 70,000 a year, or to offer you any assistance you may need throughout the process.

In addition to sending money, you can also use Xe to quickly check exchange rates, set rate alerts, or view charts for historic currency data.

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How to send money to New Zealand with Xe

  1. Sign in or sign up. If you don't have an account, it takes just a couple of minutes to sign up.

  2. Let us know what you want to send. Enter your currencies and the amount to get your quote. You can get a quote before initiating the transfer on our International Money Transfer page.

  3. Enter your recipient information. You'll need to provide their name, address, bank name, bank account number, bank code, and BIC/SWIFT code. If you're sending money to your own account, just provide these details about yourself and your New Zealand bank account.

  4. Provide your payment details. You can pay by bank transfer, card payment, or direct debit.

  5. Confirm and pay. If you're satisfied with everything, confirm your transfer. We'll take it from there.

Get a quote

You’ll find more about the ins and outs of currency exchange and money transfer in our section on money transfer and currency tips.

This article was written by Marcus Philips of mortgages.co.nz. For further information and insights on New Zealand mortgages and property purchases, visit the Learning Centre.