So, you’ve made the decision to take a trip to New Zealand? Have you decided you want to work, live in your vehicle and basically be the envy of all your friends (or the cool ones at least)? I did the same thing, but I didn’t have this list to guide my way.

Follow these five steps – in order – and you will find yourself living a life of freedom in no time.

1. Apply for a Working Holiday Visa

You can (and should) apply for your visa from the comforts of your home. This way, you will know that you have been approved for a Working Holiday Visa before you get to New Zealand.

Go to the Immigration New Zealand website and begin the process. You need to create a login and password for the site, but once you actually get to the form it will take less than ten minutes to complete.

Now wait.

You should have a reply within three days. Incredibly fast, free and efficient.

Print this piece of paper out and keep it with you at all times. I was asked for it multiple times by airline representatives while I was still in the United States. Not to mention the fact that every employer will need a copy of this to hire you.

2. Apply for an IRD number

This can be done online, but it’s easier to do once you are in New Zealand. This number is similar to your SSN in the United States, it’s how the tax man keeps track of your income and is necessary if you want to get a job.

Go to any New Zealand Post Office and ask for an IRD form.

Fill out the form – be sure to make copies of your Working Holiday Visa and Passport.

Go back to a New Zealand Post Office and turn in your paperwork.

It will take at least two weeks to process, so make sure to ask your hostel if they will hold your mail. After two weeks you can usually just call your hostel and they will open your mail and give you your IRD number over the phone.

3. Open a New Zealand bank account

Ask the hostel you are staying at to give you a ‘Proof of Residence,’ this states that you have an address and are basically living in New Zealand. Don’t worry that you won’t actually be at that address for more than the time it takes to receive your bank card. Everyone does this and it is completely acceptable.

Take your ‘Proof of Residence’ form to the bank along with your passport.

There are various banks to choose from, some of the popular ones for backpackers are Kiwi Bank, ANZ, and BNZ. These three have ATMs all over the country.

Your account will be opened in thirty minutes, you will receive a bank card and you now have your very own New Zealand bank account – with no money in it.

Transferring money from your overseas bank account can be a pain. I tried the whole PayPal, MoneyGram, WesternUnion, credit card cash advance thing, but nothing worked better than sucking it up and spending $40 to send a wire transfer directly from my U.S. account to my New Zealand account.

4. Find a vehicle

Once your money has transferred successfully, you can buy a vehicle. While you are waiting for the money, make sure to start looking online for sales, contacting owners and test driving a few favorites. This can get overwhelming but it will be worth it in the end.

Don’t buy the first vehicle you see! This is going to be your home for the foreseeable future, make sure you look at a few different options before deciding on one. Read this to avoid a few common backpacker mistakes when vehicle hunting.

Best vehicle resources online: GumTree, TradeMe, Backpackers New Zealand

Best vehicle markets: Saturday Market, Sunday Market 

Tip: If you want the best deal, consider planning your trip at the end of New Zealand’s high season. Many vehicle owners will be looking to sell quickly, at reduced prices. High season run from November – March. If you can time it right and sell during the high season, you might be able to travel an entire year and make a PROFIT on your vehicle. 

5. Find a job 

What kind of job are you looking for? Many sectors of New Zealand’s economy rely on seasonal workers to function. Work is available at orchards, vineyards, and farms from December – May. During New Zealand’s winter season, May – October, many backpackers find work at ski resorts on the South Island.

Throughout the year work is available across the country for those wanting to work in restaurants, hotels, or bars. And, if you don’t hate kids, you could always work as an au pair.

Online work resources: Pick NZ, Pick the World, Au Pairs, Trade Me

I, honestly, haven’t had much luck with online resources. Your best bet for finding seasonal work is to identify which part of the country you want to find work in and go there. Look in local newspapers, check boards at grocery stores, talk to locals. Be sure to stay in a local hostel for a couple of days as you look for work, they usually have connections with local employers. If you aren’t shy, try just stopping in at local farms or vineyards to ask if they need help. We have managed to make a few great connections with such a simple gesture.

Have a great adventure and if you are currently on the road in New Zealand, let’s meet up and be friends.


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