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Study in New Zealand

Study in New Zealand

New Zealand attracts students from all over the world for a number of reasons. For most, New Zealand is a somewhat exotic destination due to its far flung location. It is also a country with a unique culture and a stunning natural environment with endless possibilities within adventure and sports. Last but not least, New Zealand also has a very high quality education system, well accepted all over the world.

New Zealand is approximately the size of the UK, but has a population of just over 4 million. The population is largely urbanized, leaving great areas of country side very sparsely populated. The natural environment offers everything from snow-capped mountains to rolling green farm land and great surfing beaches. The long stretching islands making up New Zealand also mean that the country has a very varied climate from sub tropical to continental – all depending on where you choose to spend your time. For those of you interested in flora and fauna, New Zealand has some truly unique species to offer. Its long lasting isolation has meant that there are an enormous variety of indigenous and unique species here that can be found nowhere else.

New Zealand Education System

The New Zealand education system is currently ranked as number 7 in the world – far better than many OECD countries. As a former British colony, The New Zealand education system is strongly based on the European system, with some minor differences. Primary school lasts for six years, with students often starting at 5 years of age. Intermediate school is years 7 to 8 and secondary school incorporates years 9 to 13. The naming of these divisions may differ depending on what portions of the education systems are offered at a particular school. School is compulsory until the age of 16 (year 11), and state financed. As in other parts of the world private schools are available, but require 70% of the school fees to be paid by the student’s family.

Higher Education in New Zealand

The Higher Education System in New Zealand is to an even greater degree based on the British system with a very similar structure. This means that qualifications gained in New Zealand or partial qualifications can often be transferred freely within New Zealand and with institutions in both the UK and Australia. All education institutions must be accredited through The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA).

New Zealand’s higher education institutions are split into universities, polytechnics and institutes of technology, colleges of education and Private training providers. Universities are largely research based and state owned. They offer courses from certificate to doctorate level with most courses lasting a full year. Some courses will run only one semester, and these can sometimes be started mid-academic year.

Polytechnics and institutes of technology are also state owned and offer courses equivalent in to those offered at universities. These institutions are more vocationally oriented and offer a more practical approach to learning than many university courses. Polytechnics and institutes of technology offer education from certificate level to degrees. Many also offer postgraduate courses of very high standing on the international scale.

Colleges of education are teacher training institutions most commonly closely affiliated with or merged with the nearest university.

Private training Providers often offer training in a specific discipline, such as tourism management, hospitality management, cooking or business. These institutions are also vocationally oriented and aim to get you into qualified employment after graduation. Private Training Providers are also very welcoming of international students and often offer many distance learning options.

The New Zealand Academic Year

The Academic year in New Zealand corresponds to the calendar year starting in late February or early March and ending in October. Some universities may offer summer school courses and the possibility to start your university studies in July, but it is by no means a given. Some polytechnics may also offer courses lasting just one semester, in which case you may be able to start half way through the academic year. In general the system is base on two semesters, although exact start days and holidays may vary between institutions. Count on your first week at the start of the semester to be action-packed with orientation activities, live music and events.

Degree structure in New Zealand

The degree structure within higher education corresponds very closely to the British system running from certificate to doctorate level, although the complete span is only offered at university institutions. Polytechnics and institutes of technology generally start at certificate level and run up to postgraduate courses. Private training generally offer certificate and diploma qualifications.

A bachelor degree generally takes 3 to 4 years to complete. After this, you are free to enter a postgraduate course getting you a Graduate diploma, Master Degree or Doctorate. The Master degree takes 1 to 2 years to complete and will require a higher level of study, including some research not generally included in the diploma courses. Further continuance with more research etc will grant you a doctorate.

Postgraduate study is based on your previous degree, and requires for you to stay largely within the same field of study.

Entry Requirements

Entry into undergraduate education in New Zealand will require a senior high school diploma considered equivalent of the education provided in New Zealand. If you are from a non English speaking country, you will have to have these documents translated. In some cases the institution you are applying to may ask you to have your qualifications assessed by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA). This will cost NZ$450 and take up to 8 weeks.

For Postgraduate education the same applies to translation and assessment, although most countries with a similar degree structure will be acceptable for entry. You will generally need a previous bachelor’s degree within the field you wish to enter into for a postgraduate course.

The other main requirement will be proof of your proficiency in English. Proof of this can be given in a number of different ways from previous English speaking education to a TOEFL test result of 550 (paper based) or equivalent.

The Application Process

Applications for higher education in New Zealand are made directly to the school in questions. You will need to:

  • Complete the relevant application form or forms. Many will make this available as a web based alternative but you will still need to complete you application with documents sent by post or courier. Remember: You may need to include certified translations of your grades and diplomas.
  • If you are offered a place, you will receive a letter from the institution including information on start dates, course details and an invoice for your tuition fees. NB! You will need this when applying for your student visa.
  • Once you have paid the fees you will receive a confirmation letter. You will need this too for your visa application.
  • For stays longer than 12 weeks – you will need a student visa. See below what you may need and contact your closest New Zealand embassy or consulate. Your home country may have a visa free agreement with NZ. In this case apply for a permit once you arrive.
  • Once you have all your travel etc organized, contact the university for help with organizing housing, airport pickup.

Financial Matters

All higher education in New Zealand requires you to pay a certain fee per year of study. Although it is a substantial amount of money, compared to fees of many other developed countries, fees are relatively low.

  • Fees for undergraduate study can cost about NZ$18,000–$25,000 per year. Costs vary depending on your course.
  • Postgraduate courses can cost up to $40,000 per year.
  • Living costs can amount to: $100-200 per week for accommodation plus food
  • Text books and stationary: $500 a year
  • Photocopy cards: $100
  • Bus fares: $30 to $60 per week

In order to be granted a student visa, you will have to prove that you can not only pay the university/school fees during your time of study, but also that you can support yourself during that time. If you are not able to cover the costs through private means, here you have a few possibilities:

  • It is possible to be granted an extension on your visa for part time work up to 20 hours per week in term time and full time during holidays. – You will however have to prove that you can pay your way even without the job.
  • Any government grants, scholarships or loans granted from your home country.
  • The New Zealand government grants certain international scholarships, for both undergraduate and postgraduate study. You will find more information on these here:

If you are intending to stay for a period longer than six months, or intending to work, you will require an IRD number. This is your individual tax number supplied by the Inland Revenue Department (IRD). The reason you need this number even if you are not working, is that if you have money in a New Zealand bank, resident withholding tax (RWT) will be withdrawn from any interest you earn. Without an IRD number, this tax will be deducted at a higher non-declaration rate.

Preparing for departure – Visas and other good stuff

In most cases, you will require a student visa for studying in New Zealand longer than three months. For shorter stays it may be enough with a visitor’s visa. As with all immigration wherever you go, the procedure for issuing visas and other documents is only one of several steps you have to take on the way to studying abroad. Therefore the basic rule applies – Start well ahead of time!

In order to be eligible for a student visa, you must have a confirmation letter on having been accepted to an NZQA accredited course and on having paid the necessary fees. This documentation must include:

  • the name of the course and the minimum time required for completing it, and
  • proof that the course and course provider meet New Zealand’s requirements for international students, and
  • the amount of the fee for the complete course, or if the course is longer than one year, the annual fee, and
  • whether you have to pay course fees and whether the fees are domestic or foreign fees, and
  • whether you are studying full-time or part-time.


The institution application process itself may take several months if you have to have your qualifications assessed etc. In addition you will need a passport valid at least three months past your leaving date, and proof of sufficient funds to support yourself and to pay future education fees throughout your study.

Once you have all of the documentation ready, you submit your application to the nearest New Zealand embassy or consulate. For some nationalities and circumstances, special regulations apply so make sure to check with the New Zealand authorities before submitting your application that you have all the necessary documentation.

Once you have your permit there are certain conditions you must meet during your stay:

  • You must enroll and attend the educational institution noted in your permit. It is possible to change the course or intstitution in you permit.
  • You must show that you are passing your course
  • Only undertake work allowed through your student permit
  • Obey New Zealand laws
  • Only stay in New Zealand for the time allowed by your permit.


Most institutions will be happy to help you to find accommodation before you arrive. You have several options on where to stay:

Halls of residence or student hostels are usually located on campus or nearby. These will have you living close to classes together with lots of other students from all over the world in a very socially active setting. Rooms are single or twin, with basic furnishing, bed linen and cleaning provided. In many cases you will also be served meals in the communal dining hall. At some institutions you will have the option of living in self-catering hostels where 6 to 8 students live together with own rooms and sharing kitchen and living room areas.

Home stay or private board gets you a room with a family, normally in a suburban house with gardens. Meals will be provided by the family. What you must keep in mind here, is that you are living with the family and will be expected to respect them as your own family. It is not a hotel setting where you can simply come and go as you please, but instead you get a family that will include you in their life and culture and help you adjust to your new life in New Zealand.

Private renting of a house or apartment (flat)together with other students is also a common option. This is often referred to as ‘flatting’. This can be difficult to arrange for when you first arrive, as private lets are usually rented unfurnished with only the kitchen basics provided. Also, many choose to wait and get to know some other students to share a rental with. It is also worth considering that all utilities are usually extra and heating is not always provided in New Zealand. You will find listings on notice boards at your new school, in local newspapers and on the internet. Letting agencies may take up to a month’s rent in advance as deposit when you move in.

Find educations in New Zealand here 

Discuss studying in New Zeeland in the discussion forum here >>


    Last update: 19 Apr 2016

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