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Your Complete Guide to Living and Studying in New Zealand

All you need to know about being an international student in New Zealand.

New Zealand, already well-known for its jaw-dropping scenery, is becoming a hotspot for international students looking for world-class higher education and a thriving, inclusive culture to boot.

It’s no wonder that New Zealand is ranked number one as a study abroad destination based on a survey of over 20,000 international students.

Why Study in New Zealand

New Zealand is a great destination for international students, offering a world-class education system.

All its institutions adhere to global standards, besides being regularly tested and monitored by the government so as to ensure consistent quality and standards.

New Zealand possesses a progressive, responsive education system, combining traditional principles of teaching with innovation and technology, leading to globally recognised and respected qualifications.

It is a member of the Lisbon Recognition Convention, which means its certificates, diplomas and degrees are recognised in all 50 participating countries.

Global rankings

With so many to choose from, picking the right course is always a tough decision. Considering that every student, course and university is different, it’s an important decision to get things right, with research showing that course preparation plays a big role in an international student’s satisfaction.

University rankings are a great way to help compare key performance indicators across different universities. Impressively, all eight New Zealand universities rank well on the latest QS 2019 rankings.



QS Ranking 2019 (Within NZ)

QS Ranking 2019 (Global)


The University of Auckland




University of Otago




Victoria University of Wellington




University of Canterbury




University of Waikato




Lincoln University




Massey University




Auckland University of Technology




Work benefits

New Zealand offers several unique working advantages for international students including the ability to work full-time during holidays and the option of applying for a six-month work permit to gain points for a residency application.

Natural beauty

New Zealand is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world and offers an amazing choice for anyone who looks for adventure. Study during the week and choose from activities like bungy jumping, skiing, hiking, rafting or exploring the local culture in your free time.

Education System in New Zealand

The education system in New Zealand is hugely diverse and one of the best in the world, maintaining excellent standards in literacy, mathematics and sciences and ranking well consistently by global standards.

New Zealand education is also becoming increasingly international, influenced by wide employment markets and an increasingly mobile network of teaching staff, researchers and a well-travelled population of students.

How it works

New Zealand’s education system has three levels – early childhood, school and university. Students can progress through a variety of flexible pathways in the system, supported by a range of institutions that offer a variety of courses and programs. University is the highest level of education and qualifications at all levels are governed to ensure students gain a relevant and meaningful qualification.

Students attend university to undertake bachelor degrees or postgraduate courses (including certificate, postgraduate diploma, master and doctoral programs). Vocational courses focus on practical skills and industry training. Vocational training courses are offered in government-funded institutions, including TAFE (Technical and Further Education), or other private institutions. Many colleges offer students credit towards university courses.

Qualifications framework

The New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF) is the core of the education system. All qualifications are listed on this framework, assuring quality that is recognised and trusted worldwide.

Fees and scholarships

New Zealand is an ideal place to enjoy a world-class education and outstanding quality of life, but there are several expenses to consider before you study overseas.

Tuition fees for international students vary according to the type and length of the course. Each university in New Zealand sets its own tuition fees, depending on subject and level of study. The average undergraduate (bachelor) degree costs between NZ$22, 000 to NZ$30,000 a year. The average postgraduate degree costs between NZ$25,000 and NZ$35,000 a year.

Teaching and learning style

New Zealand offers a very supportive environment for its international students. The number of students per classrooms is often smaller than other western countries, allowing for more personalised attention. As teaching methods are constantly developing, you will experience a wide range of teaching techniques and environments. The support for international students goes even further than the classroom, with the New Zealand Government being the first in the world to create a code of practice that outlines a standard of care for international students both in the classroom and outside of it.

You can study at all levels of education from vocational education and training (VET), English language courses to higher education (including universities), both undergraduate and postgraduate studies. Tertiary education includes higher education (including universities) and vocational education and training (VET).

Higher education

Higher education courses can be taken by students to earn an advanced degree and continue their studies in New Zealand. There are three main types of higher education that lead to bachelor, master and doctoral degrees. Teaching at universities normally takes place in large group lectures and small group tutorials.


A vocational education and training (VET) qualification can provide a pathway to entering the workforce or university. There are many vocational training courses in areas such as information technology, business services, art and media, tourism and hospitality, childcare, transport and logistics, construction, mining, manufacturing and rural industries.

Pathway programs

There are also many pathway programs to higher education for international students including foundation studies and English language preparation programs. These ensure that students receive the extra support and assistance they need to succeed.

Academic year

The New Zealand secondary school system starts each year in late January or early February, while vocational and university students start at the end of February/early March. Most secondary schools have three or four terms; universities and vocational colleges have two semesters. Exams are held at the end of each semester (June and November), with 2-4 week breaks between each semester and a longer break over the summer from November/December to February. In some instances, you may be able to choose a course that offers a summer program, which means you can do a third semester in the year.

Learning English

Learning English is probably the most important factor when planning your studies in New Zealand. If your proficiency in the English language is limited, you may be advised to enrol in an English language school before starting your program of study.

Courses are available from a wide variety of organisations and learning institutions and can be either full-time or part-time. Private English schools provide a variety of courses for all ages and can include a business or adventure focus! Some universities offer a Certificate of Attainment in English Language, which is a full-time course. When you arrive, your English is assessed and you will be placed in an appropriate level.

After graduation

The New Zealand Government offers pathways for recent graduates to live and work in New Zealand. Depending on the area of study, you may have the opportunity to stay and work in New Zealand for up to four years initially.

Your graduate pathway has two steps: a post-study work visa that offers you up to 12 months to find a job in a related field of study, or an employer-assisted work visa that allows you to stay in New Zealand for either two or three years to gain work experience related to a specific job with a specific employer.

Postgraduate study

If you are finishing your bachelor degree, how do you know if undertaking postgraduate study in New Zealand is the next step for you? Deciding to go on to postgraduate study is a big step. It means sacrificing more time and staying out of the workforce a bit longer, but it can also be a very worthwhile investment in the long term.

New Zealand Culture and Way of Life

New Zealand comprises two main islands – the North Island and South Island. More than 90 per cent of New Zealand’s population lives on the North Island, which is also home to the country’s capital city, Wellington.

As a country with no land borders situated in the Pacific Ocean, New Zealand’s landscape has an extraordinary amount of natural beauty. Its landscape, which features towering mountains, long and winding rivers, open plains, amazing coastlines and vast stretches of farmland, makes it the perfect backdrop for lifestyle and leisure activities.

Population and cities

New Zealand is home to nearly 4.7 million people, and is predominately made up of two cultural groups – the Māori, who are descendants of Polynesian settlers, and people of European ancestry. More than 53 per cent of its population lives in the four largest cities – Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch (North Island) and Hamilton (South Island).

The country’s history is largely influenced by Māori, European, Pacific Island and Asian cultures – making it a multicultural community.


New Zealand is located in the Southern Hemisphere, making the seasons opposite to those living in the Northern Hemisphere.

The weather seasons in New Zealand are:

  • Summer (December to February)
  • Autumn (March to May)
  • Winter (June to August)
  • Spring (September to November)

While the country’s climate is generally mild, with moderately high rainfall and many hours of sunshine, it is influenced by two main geographical features: the mountains and the sea.

In the warmer months, you’ll find the average daytime temperature is around 16 – 25˚C, while in the colder periods the average daytime temperature is between 12 – 21˚C. It’s important to note, the average temperature decreases as you travel south, with inland alpine areas of the South Island experiencing temperatures as cold as -10˚C in the winter months.

Remember, it’s a good idea to wear a coat or warm sweater as the weather can change dramatically and quickly in New Zealand.

Politics and government

New Zealand is part of the British Commonwealth – a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government. The head of state is the British sovereign and the Governor General represents the Queen in New Zealand.

The country operates under a system of ‘responsible government’ - a system in which government Ministers must first be elected as members of the House of Representatives. The government can only remain in power while it has a majority of members in the House of Representatives.

Every three years, New Zealand hosts a general election in which the public votes.

Ethnicity and religion

New Zealand is a multicultural country with the five largest ethnic groups being New Zealand European, Māori, Chinese, Samoan and Indian. As a multicultural society, its people are very welcoming and friendly towards visitors from other ethnicities, making it easy to make friends, build relationships and assimilate into society.

As well as its ethnic diversity, the country is also home to many different religions. Although Christianity is the predominant religion in New Zealand, many also follow Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, as well as Ringatū and Rātana.

Indigenous people

The Māori people were the first inhabitants of New Zealand and their culture is still at the core of the nation’s identity. The Māori people – otherwise known as ‘Tangata whenua’ (people of the land) are recognised by New Zealand law due to their strong connection and traditional relationship with the land.

Since the 1850s, the Māori population has experienced strong growth and their presence, history and culture has become increasingly recognisable in everyday life in New Zealand.

Language and accents

As a former British colony, English is the main language of New Zealand and is spoken by 98 per cent of the population. Māori, is also an official language and is spoken by the indigenous Māori people.

New Zealanders, or ‘kiwis’ as they are also known, have their own unique form of slang language, so you’ll soon become familiar with words like ‘brekkie’ (breakfast), ‘cheers’ (thanks) and ‘g’day’ (hello).

Health and Support Services

If you need assistance, we are here to help.

Moving or travelling to a new country is a big change. If you find yourself struggling to adjust, or feel someone has treated you unfairly, there are many support services available. These support services can be provided by your educational institution as well as government departments.

As a first point of contact, you may like to contact your IDP representative who will be able to offer you advice and guidance on what to do next.

If you are unsure about your consumer rights, you can visit the Consumer Protection website for more information.

Staying healthy while you study

While you’re studying, you might find you are in need of medical support. 

If you need emergency medical assistance, call 111. It’s a free call, and connects you to police, fire and ambulance services. 

For general medical support, you can find health service centres or medical clinics either on-campus or in your local area. It’s a good idea to register with a local doctor or medical centre when you first arrive in New Zealand.

The Accident Compensation Corporation provides 24-hour personal injury and accident cover for all visitors to New Zealand, meaning you will be eligible for accident compensation cover.

Although the public health system is subsidised by the government, there may be some charges for services when private providers are involved. When enquiring or booking an appointment, you can ask if there will be any extra charges before visiting the doctor or specialist.

You can also locate a dentist by searching online, but bear in mind, dental care is not covered under government health insurance, so you may need to get supplementary insurance to cover your dental care needs.

If you are interested in studying abroad, we can help you. Just fill out the form on this page to book an appointment with an IDP Education Counselor and we'll assist you from school and visa application until pre-departure activities.

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