6 MIN READ
Here’s How You Can Spend 6 Months in New Zealand, Even If You’re Not Rich
If you’re like me, you dream of traveling the world.
Dreaming is one thing. But the reality is a tad daunting. Between buying plane tickets, paying for accommodations and tasting authentic local cuisine, traveling can quickly take a toll on your wallet.
Maybe that’s why so many people avoid traveling regularly. Or they save for months, even years, to afford a trip to Italy or a Caribbean cruise.
When I graduated college in 2014, I was excited to travel. My best friend from high school had moved to New Zealand a few years earlier, and her stories and photos had me itching to visit Middle Earth.
Tourists commonly rent cars and drive from one end of the country to the other. These trips usually last about a month.
However, I wanted to stay in New Zealand longer than just a month. And I knew I could find a way to afford this luxury.
Then my friend gave me the scoop. She recommended I apply for a working holiday visa.
What is a Working Holiday Visa?
A working holiday visa is a document for young people who are primarily traveling, but also plan on working while they explore a country.
Working holiday visas are well-known in New Zealand — people from all over the world take advantage of the opportunity. In larger cities like Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown, companies are eager to hire enthusiastic foreigners to work in restaurants, coffee shops and clothing stores.
These visas are for foreigners ages 18-30 and are valid for one year after entering the country. You also need to be healthy and have a clean criminal record to apply.
Australia has a similar working holiday visa arrangement. Depending on where you’re from, you may be eligible for this kind of visa in other countries, too.
How a Working Holiday Visa Extended My Travel Budget
I arrived in New Zealand with around $4,000 — just under NZ$5,500 — which probably would have been enough for me to take the classic one-month trip across the country.
I found a room for rent on a reliable website and made arrangements to live there before I landed in the country. In the capital city of Wellington, landlords are used to young travelers coming through, so mine was more than happy to let me stay for only six months.
And thanks to my working holiday visa, I was able to get a job serving tables in Wellington before I even arrived. My friend set me up with a job through someone she knew. Due to my previous experience in customer service, the restaurant manager hired me, even though she knew it was a short-term gig.
Employers in the customer service and hospitality industries are used to foreigners with working holiday visas looking for work. They often care more that you’ll be a good worker than whether you can stay with the company for years.
Unlike the United States, where servers live off tips, New Zealand servers are paid a higher hourly wage. When I lived in the country in 2014, minimum wage was NZ$14.25, although it’s a little higher now.
I usually worked about 30 hours per week. My starting wage was NZ$15 per hour (about US$13), so I made an average of NZ$450 per week (US$395) — easily enough to pay for housing, a phone plan and food.
My employer knew I wanted to travel and even tried to avoid scheduling me on weekends so I could have a couple of days at a time to explore the country. When I needed additional time off on short notice, she was almost always accommodating.
Thanks to my job, I was able to put aside enough money to travel around Australia for two weeks and discover New Zealand’s two main islands during my time off.
What could have been a one-month drive across New Zealand instead became a six-month exploration of one of the most beautiful countries in the world!
I didn’t come back home broke, either. In New Zealand, employers take a certain percentage of your paycheck and put it in a holiday pay budget. This budget is intended to go toward employees’ paid leave when they go on vacation.
However, I chose to take unpaid leave when I went on trips. I saved my holiday pay and requested it right before I left my job to move back to the U.S.
Saving my holiday funds made my transition back to the States much easier. When I left, the fund contained about NZ$850, or roughly US$600. I also got back my $175 apartment deposit.
How to Apply for a Working Holiday Visa
You can apply for a working holiday visa on New Zealand's immigration website. The application is free for U.S. citizens, and I received my confirmation email and visa within a week. It all seemed too good to be true!
Don’t worry, the government gives you plenty of time to get everything in order for your big move. I chose to head to New Zealand six months after I received my visa, but could’ve waited longer to save more money.
Once you get your visa, you have one year to arrive in New Zealand. For example, if you got your visa email on Oct. 1, 2016, you’d have until Oct. 1, 2017, to enter the country.
All you have to do is show your visa to officials at the airport. As long as you’ve arrived within that time frame, you’re good to go! You can then stay in New Zealand for exactly one year with your working holiday visa.
New Zealand wants applicants to have at least NZ$4,200 in the bank, or about US$3,000. The government simply wants you to have enough money to get yourself going and live comfortably while you’re in the country.
You don’t need to have the money when you apply for the visa, but you should have a printout of your bank statement to show with your visa at the airport when you arrive in the country.
Saving $3,000 may seem like a lot of money. The number intimidated me too, but I was able to save it in six months waiting tables in the States. In the end, I was grateful I had to save so much money before going to New Zealand. Being financially stable made my transition to a new country much easier.
My six months in New Zealand were the best of my life. I’m thankful I didn’t let the fear of finances stop me from extending my adventure.
Your turn: Would you get a working holiday visa to expand your travel budget?
Laura Grace Tarpley is a 24-year-old who worked multiple jobs through college to pay for school and her travels. Currently, she is working as much as possible to travel to Scandinavia with her fiancé.