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Living in New Zealand – A Guide for PhD Students

Written by Ben Taylor

Home to some of the most breath-taking landscapes in the world, New Zealand is also a popular destination for international PhD students seeking to experience its cosmopolitan cities and excellent universities.

This page will give you an idea of what to expect about life as a doctoral student in New Zealand, from accommodation and living costs to local culture and transport.

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Student life

Situated just over 4,000km from Australia, New Zealand’s geographical isolation has given this island nation a completely unique character. Stunning fjords, lush rainforests and deserted beaches are matched by some of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.

Culture and tourism

New Zealand’s unique geography sees the country split between North Island and South Island (with around 600 smaller islands). The largest city, Auckland, is on North Island and is incredibly diverse, hosting world-class cultural institutions and surrounded by wonderful nature reserves. The Goat Island Marine Reserve, for example, offers stunning snorkelling opportunities.

Wellington is New Zealand’s compact capital, situated on the southern end of North Island. It’s known as a global leader in special effects for film (Peter Jackson’s legendary Weta Workshop is based there). Zealandia is a pioneering ecosanctuary on the city’s outskirts, giving visitors the chance to witness some of New Zealand’s truly unique bird species (including the kiwi, of course!). If your PhD is in Conservation or Ecology, you’ve definitely come to the right place – New Zealand is a world leader in these areas.

Indigenous Maori culture plays an important role in New Zealand, forming a significant component of the national identity. Located in Wellington, Te Papa is New Zealand’s national museum, featuring an excellent collection of Maori artefacts as well as a morae (Maori meeting place).

Sport and leisure

New Zealand is home to the world-famous All Blacks, who have won the Rugby World Cup on several occasions. Their pre-match haka is an intimidating tribute to the Maori war dance. Football and cricket are also popular sporting activities.

Tramping (hiking) is a national past-time, with many excellent and well-maintained walking routes through the stunning New Zealand countryside.

Food and drink

New Zealand cuisine often features fresh, local ingredients, taking advantage of the country’s access to seafood as well as its sizeable sheep population. Wine production is big in New Zealand, which is famed for sauvignon blanc and pinot noir.


There is a wide range of accommodation on offer for PhD students in New Zealand. As a guideline, the average weekly rent for one bedroom apartment in the city is approximately $235 to $370 (USD $145-$229).

University accommodation

University-owned halls of residence are a popular choice for international students in New Zealand. These can come in the form of dormitories, shared flats or self-contained studios. Often university accommodation will be within walking distance of the campus.

Private sector accommodation

Private accommodation offers a bit more flexibility in terms of size and location but is normally more expensive than university-owned lets.

Another option for international students looking to experience New Zealand life is a homestay, where you live in a New Zealand’s house in a spare room. Meals are usually provided in this kind of accommodation and it’s a good way to immerse yourself in the local culture.

Living costs

In general, the cost of living in New Zealand is higher than in most Western European countries, but not quite as expensive as Australia. The New Zealand government requires that students have at least NZD $20,000 (USD $12,384) to support themselves during the first year of their studies.

Prices in New Zealand

This table will give you an indication of some of the typical student expenses you’ll encounter during your time in New Zealand.

Student Cost of Living in New Zealand - 2024
Restaurant Meal NZD $25 (USD $15.48)
Cinema Ticket NZD $18 (USD $11)
Monthly Travel Pass NZD $200 (USD $124)
Monthly Utilities NZD $234 (USD $145)
Based on crowdsourced data published by Numbeo.

Working during your PhD

International PhD students in New Zealand are allowed to work full-time both during term-time and the holidays. Of course, you’ll need to be able to juggle this work along with your PhD so part-time employment will probably be a more sensible option. Please note that you’re not allowed to be self-employed.


If you’re an international student, opening a bank account in New Zealand is a relatively simple process that can either be done online in advance of your arrival in the country or in person at a local bank branch. You’ll usually need to have proof of ID and a letter of acceptance from your university.


In terms of area, New Zealand is slightly larger than the United Kingdom but has only a fraction of the population, making it one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world.

Rail travel

The most scenic way to get around New Zealand is via the country’s train network, with routes passing through the country’s unforgettable natural scenery. Auckland to Wellington takes just over 10 hours by train (or eight and a half hours by car), while Wellington to Christchurch involves a stunning three-hour ferry journey, then a six-hour train ride.

Air travel

If you’re in a hurry, Air New Zealand offers domestic flights between the country’s major urban areas.

Inner-city travel

Buses are the main way of getting around New Zealand cities, although Auckland and Wellington have suburban train services. Taxis are safe and reliable.

Find a PhD in New Zealand

Ready to start browsing some current PhD opportunities in New Zealand? Alternatively, you can look at our other guides to PhD study abroad.

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Last Updated: 04 December 2023