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Living in New Zealand - A Guide for Students

by Mark Bennett & Study Options

Nobody said postgraduate study abroad couldn’t be an adventure – and if they did, they definitely weren’t thinking of studying in New Zealand!

With picturesque landscapes ranging from snow-capped ski resorts to sun-drenched surfing beaches, life for Masters students in New Zealand takes some beating. And that’s before you take the country’s excellent universities into account!

We’ve put this guide together in association with Study Options, the official Application Support Service for UK-based students wanting to apply to university in New Zealand and Australia. Study Options offer free, independent course and university counselling and are the organisation responsible for handling applications made to New Zealand universities from the UK and Ireland.

On this page you can find answers to many of the questions you may have as a prospective international student – from working while you study to accommodation and living costs.

If you’re looking for a more general guide to studying in New Zealand, check out our article on Masters degrees in New Zealand and our overview of postgraduate fees and funding

What’s it like to study abroad in New Zealand?

Like its neighbour, Australia, New Zealand doesn’t struggle to appeal to international students: postgraduate life in Aotearoa (Land of the Long White Cloud) has something to suit all tastes.

Sports and leisure activities

New Zealand has plenty to offer fans of the active life. You can try your hand at skiing, surfing or climbing in some of the world’s most stunning settings, or just kick back and watch sports such as cricket or rugby, at which New Zealand excels internationally.

Alternatively, if you’re interested in more contemplative pursuits, you can explore New Zealand’s landscapes and culture - including its unique wild species and three UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Food and drink

If you’re a culinary enthusiast you’ll have plenty to try while living abroad as a student in New Zealand.

New Zealand’s rich farmlands and the seas around its extensive coastline provide some of the world’s best quality produce.

The standard of food throughout the country is excellent, with a huge emphasis on fresh, seasonal, local ingredients. New Zealand lamb and green-lip mussels are already internationally famous, but Kiwi yoghurts, fresh fruit, seafood and ice cream should all be on the must-try list of any food lover.

New Zealand is also home to famous vineyards, with the Marlborough region in particular producing some of the most highly regarded sauvignon blanc in the world. Whether you’re a budding oenophile, or a complete newcomer to wine, it doesn’t matter – postgraduate study is about education, right?

Beer drinkers shouldn’t despair either. New Zealand hop varieties such as Nelson Sauvin, Wai-ihti and Pacific Jade are becoming globally popular with fans of real ales and craft beers.

One postgraduate study destination to rule them all. . .

Yes, there’s the elephant (or ‘oliphaunt’) in the room: New Zealand is now also famous as the location for the critically acclaimed blockbuster Lord Of The Rings and Hobbit trilogies.

The country’s landscapes were beautiful before Peter Jackson put them on the world’s cinema screens, of course, and they’re just as attractive to the hobbit-averse as they are to avid Tolkien-enthusiasts. But if you’re studying a Masters in modern film-making or twentieth-century literature, well…

North Island and South Island

The nation of New Zealand is made up of several islands, the two largest and most important of which are known as the North Island and the South Island.

Their English-language names may not sound particularly interesting, but both islands are associated with rich traditions of Maori legend and heritage:

  • The North Island is known as Te Ika-a-Maui, or ‘the fish of Maui’ – caught by the Maori hero, Maui. There five universities on the North Island of New Zealand: AUT University, the University of Auckland, Massey University, Victoria University of Wellington and Waikato University.
  • The South Island is known as Te Waipounamu, or ‘the canoe of Maui’ – said to be the vessel from which the hero, Maui, caught the great fish of the North Island. There are three universities on the South Island of New Zealand: The University of Canterbury, the University of Otago and Lincoln University.

Key facts for Masters students in New Zealand

Looking for some helpful information about studying in New Zealand or trying to check some details about the country before you set off? Here’s some essential knowledge for postgraduates living abroad in New Zealand:

  • Like Australia, the academic year in New Zealand runs between February and November. There are two individual semesters, between February and June and July and November.
  • Traditional Masters programmes in New Zealand usually last for two years. The first year is taught and the second is research based.
  • New Zealand universities are also increasingly offering shorter taught Masters courses, particularly in business and related subjects. These are usually 1 year or 18 months long.
  • Nearly 41,000 international students live and study in New Zealand.
  • New Zealand has three officially recognised national languages: English, Maori (te reo) and New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL). English is commonly used, but Maori is spoken by a substantial section of the population, is used alongside English on road signage and official Government documentation (much like Welsh in Wales) and is protected as part of the country’s heritage. Maori words pop up throughout everyday Kiwi English.
  • The currency of New Zealand is the New Zealand Dollar (NZ$).
  • New Zealand has a population of a little over 4.5 million.
  • New Zealand is governed as a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament. As in Australia, the Queen of England is the head is state.
  • New Zealand is a largely secular society, with no state religion. Freedom of worship is allowed for all faiths.

Masters student accommodation and living costs in New Zealand

The cost of living for international students in New Zealand varies slightly between the country’s two main islands.

  • Universities estimate that students on the South Island should budget between NZ$15,000 and NZ$20,000 per year.
  • Those on the North Island are advised to have slightly more – between NZ$18,000 and NZ$25,000.

Your own costs will depend on your lifestyle. If you’re happy to relax and soak up the climate, you’ll find that life abroad in New Zealand isn’t too expensive; if you’re planning on skiing every mountain, surfing every wave and sampling every wine… you may want to budget accordingly!

Accommodation for international students in New Zealand

Whatever you get up to while studying abroad, accommodation will almost certainly be your biggest expense as a student in New Zealand.

You’ll have two main options available to you in most cities: university accommodation and private rentals.

University accommodation

Universities in New Zealand are used to welcoming international students and will usually have rooms in their own halls of residence available to you. Demand for these may exceed supply, however – particularly if a university’s facilities also cater to large numbers of its undergraduates.

Where available, university accommodation will be the simplest and most convenient option for you while studying abroad. You won’t need to arrange property viewings and can trust that the standard of the facilities offered will be suitable for your needs as a postgraduate student.

The cost of university accommodation in New Zealand will vary between institutions. The price you pay will also depend on the services provided (most rental contracts will include utility bills, but some will also be fully catered, with meals in a student canteen included):

  • The cost of fully catered university accommodation in New Zealand will usually be between NZ$250 and NZ$350 per week.
  • The cost of self catered university accommodation in New Zealand will usually be between NZ$100 and NZ$250 per week.

Private accommodation

If university accommodation isn’t available to you (or if you’d prefer to make your own arrangements) you can rent from an independent landlord.

University cities will have plenty of private accommodation available, but you will probably find it harder to hunt for student housing (or fellow housemates) from outside the country.

You may be able to get around this difficulty by arriving a few weeks ahead of your course. Your university might also be able to help by providing a list of recommended landlords – or a match-making service for students looking to share rentals.

The price of private student accommodation in New Zealand can vary considerably. As a guideline, you can expect to pay between NZ$100 and NZ$300 per week. This may be cheaper than university accommodation, but it won’t usually include utility bills or food.

Living costs for international students in New Zealand

After accommodation, your main expense while living in New Zealand will concern food and other maintenance costs (such as utilities, transportation and internet access). You’ll also have to budget for any entertainment and leisure activities you enjoy (it’s important to take a break from your studies once in a while, after all).

This is where your personal interests and lifestyle will make a big difference to your costs. Here’s a rough guide to prices for common food items in New Zealand:

  • NZ$2.50 for a litre of milk
  • NZ$16 for a large pizza
  • NZ$3.50-5 for a takeaway coffee
  • NZ$15- NZ$40 for a main meal at an inexpensive restaurant
  • NZ$14 for a cinema ticket (student concession)

As a general rule, you should budget between NZ$70-150 per week for food and basic utilities – assuming these aren’t provided as part of your accommodation.

Working whilst studying a Masters in New Zealand

You can work while studying a Masters in New Zealand, according to the terms of your student visa. This will usually permit you to work for up to 20 hours per week during term time and up to 40 hours per week in the holidays.

One of the best ways to find part-time work may actually be through your university – all run a student job search service.

You shouldn’t rely on work to meet your main accommodation and living costs. Instead you should think of employment opportunities as a chance to get out and about, meet new people and make more of your time studying abroad. That’s not to say you can’t use the money you earn to fund other opportunities to explore New Zealand, of course.

Other useful information for Masters students in New Zealand

Hopefully the information on this page has answered your main questions about student life in New Zealand. There are a couple of other things you may want to check before you head off though.

Travel and transportation

Maori folklore tells of the hero Mauri arriving on a canoe and raising the North Island, but you should probably aim for a more mundane (and modern) mode of transport.

Both the North Island the South Island are well served with airports, the largest of which are in Auckland and Christchurch, respectively. Both of these run regular international flights to and from other parts of the world. Travel between the north and south islands is made easy by regular ferry services.

Within New Zealand itself you’ll have access to a range of public transport services. University cities are also well-served with metropolitan buses and taxis.

However, New Zealand’s geography means it isn’t well served by inter-city rail networks. Most residents fly or drive when making long distance journeys – domestic air travel is easy and relatively affordable.

Of course, if you’d just like to get out and explore, well, there’s nothing stopping you from putting on a pair of hiking boots or hiring a bike.

You can read all about transport in New Zealand on the official New Zealand tourism website.

Money and banking

You’ll probably find it easier to organise your money through a local bank account while studying in New Zealand. This will allow you to receive income from any employment (or funding) as well as manage any regular payments for bills and services.

Provided you can supply identification and proof of address you should have no problem opening an account once in New Zealand. Your university may recommend a bank, or you can simply inquire at local branches. Some banks may also offer student accounts with appropriate special offers and services.

If you are applying from the UK or Ireland through Study Options they can help you set up a bank account in New Zealand before you leave home.

Health insurance

Health insurance is mandatory for international students living in New Zealand and having a suitable policy in place for the duration of your studies will be a formal condition of your New Zealand student visa.

Your university will have its own preferred provider and will offer you the option of taking out a policy at the point of accepting your offer. This is usually the simplest and most cost-effective way to go.

More information

If you are based in the UK or Ireland and have more questions about student life in New Zealand, you can get free and impartial help and advice from Study Options. Their team offer expert assistance and application support to all students lodging applications to New Zealand universities from the UK and Ireland.

This article was produced by FindAMasters.com in partnership with www.studyoptions.com. It may not be reproduced without permission.

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