10 things every international student should know about studying in New Zealand

For international students looking to study in New Zealand, here are some things you should know before heading to the island nation

September 16 2020
New Zealand, university, study abroad, international student

I’m that student. Always have been. I’ve studied in five countries – in Hong Kong from kindergarten through Year 13, Chicago for my undergraduate degree, London for my MBA, Madrid for my culinary diploma, and now I’m in Auckland for my postgraduate diploma in communications. Here are some of my views about what international students should know when embarking on studies in New Zealand.

1. Enjoy top-notch cafe food and world-famous wine

Kiwis excel at serving up brunch-style food You can easily find excellent flat whites and well-made egg benny’s (eggs Benedict), French toast, meat pies and fruit smoothies, especially in big cities such as Auckland and Wellington. However, be aware that cafes here close quite early, often shutting their doors around 3pm.

Outside these hours, you can visit one of the popular eateries around the country to enjoy a meal made from fresh produce and a drink, maybe the country’s world-famous Sauvignon Blanc.

2. Groceries (and other goods) are not cheap

While you may want to cook at home to save money, note that groceries aren’t cheap in New Zealand, especially during the winter. I remember spending US$2 on an average supermarket bell pepper the first winter I arrived. That surprised me, as I had assumed that fruits and vegetables in an agricultural exporter would be inexpensive.

New Zealand also imports a whole range of goods, including fuels, vehicles, machinery and construction material, adding to the costs of living.

3. Working while studying

To help defray the high living costs, most university students have a part-time job. Those holding a full-time student visa can work 20 hours during the school term and 40 hours during holidays.

Build your résumé by seeking a job related to your major. If your faculty has a close relationship with the industry, it can be a good source of insight and introductions. Leverage them to find work – especially since “local experience” and “local references” are quite important to Kiwi employers.

4. Sport is social

Kiwis relish sport in all its manifestations – rugby, football, netball, kayaking, sailing, triathlons and extreme sports. They watch and compete in equal measures.

Boost your health and your social life by participating. Gyms are dotted around most cities and campuses, and they are relatively inexpensive. Or gather your friends to take a walk at the nearby beaches or nature trails and hikes, which are abundant across the country. If you’re feeling daring, head down to Queenstown, the centre of activities such as skydiving and bungee jumping.

5. Get out and about

Being an island nation, New Zealand is renowned for its clear blue skies, green hills and mountains, rugged landscapes and abundant lakes and beaches. For example, in Auckland, it is easy to access the enchanting Waiheke Island with its many vineyards and beaches, or Devonport with its harbour views and quaint main street.

There are heaps of cheap flights around the country, too, so take advantage of long weekends to visit beautiful Queenstown, cultural Wellington or Christchurch (the “Garden City”) among other places.

If you are up for driving, road trips are popular ways to spend some time off. Around Auckland, you could explore Coromandel, Lake Taupo, Hobbiton or Hamilton. What has impressed me most so far are the Waitomo Caves, where I saw myriad fireflies illuminating the ceiling of an underground cave.


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6. It’s all casual

Kiwis are laid back and down-to-earth. You will never call your university instructors “Dr Dave” or “Professor Paula” – they always insist on just “Dave” or “Paula”. Typical classes emphasise critical thinking and self-directed learning, and you will be expected to do a lot of reading in your own time. Group work and collaboration with peers is common – this is how Kiwi educators believe we learn best.

The casual attitude can also manifest in corporate settings as well, and you will be encouraged to speak up and contribute in office meetings.

7. Accommodation alternatives

To build friendships with Kiwis and other students, opt for university accommodation for a period of time. Moreover, these facilities are usually conveniently located close to the city centre.

Once you have built up a solid social circle, you can choose to venture out into the suburbs, which generally offer better air and more space. Flatting (renting a flat with others) is common in New Zealand, and the most popular place to seek out a cool flat or find flatmates is via e-commerce platform Trade Me.

8. Trade Me is key

Not only is it the number one destination to browse property-related options, Trade Me is also the go-to place to buy a used car, trade electronics and even find a job. Get acquainted with this quintessential Kiwi website as soon as you come to New Zealand.

“Retail therapy” is not an important leisure activity for Kiwis, and I find shopping to be more exciting in other cities I’ve lived in. However, people here dress casually, and you will often see people wear “jandals” (Kiwi slang for flip-flops) or even walk barefoot into supermarkets!

9. Plan your healthcare

Be prepared to take charge of any health emergencies. International students are required to purchase health insurance before entering the country, however maintenance aspects such as medical check-ups and upkeep of physical and dental health are not usually covered. Explore your options for sustaining these aspects outside standard insurance coverage. Find out where your university’s clinic and your closest emergency room is in advance.

10. Explore Maori culture

New Zealand places a high value on Indigenous culture, and there are many opportunities to experience its unique Maori heritage. For example, some universities host Maori events for international students, where you can meet Indigenous people in a Marae (a Maori meeting place), take part in Maori cultural performances, learn their arts and crafts, and take part in a hangi, a traditional Maori feast.

Read more: Best universities in New Zealand

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