New Zealand travel guide
About New Zealand
Widely held to be one of the most breathtaking countries on the planet, New Zealand is a phenomenal travel destination. The rugged mountains and remote valleys that thrust the destination into the world’s spotlight through The Lord of the Rings trilogy tell only part of the story – you’ll also find beaches, fjords, lakes and gorgeous swathes of forest, not to mention age-old Maori culture, forward-looking cities and, famously, a world-class array of outdoor activities. Not only does it pack a punch as hard as an All Black tackle, but it's also incredibly easy to travel around. What’s not to love?
Split into two main landmasses – the North and South Islands –New Zealand is a deceptively diverse and complicated destination that rewards both first-time and repeat visitors. The North Island is less visually dramatic than its southern counterpart, but it is home to around two thirds of the country’s inhabitants. The majority of the major urban centres are here, including the capital, Wellington, and the increasingly dynamic city of Auckland. But nature is still a major player, thanks to volcanoes, thermal regions and the magnificent Bay of Islands.
The South Island is home to far fewer people, but boasts the country’s most spectacular scenery. Empty beaches, soaring mountain ranges, glaciers, fjords, wide-open expanses – they’re all here. Outdoor enthusiasts can take their pick from tramping (hiking), cycling, climbing, white-water rafting, caving, zorbing, sky-diving, bungee jumping and more. Christchurch, a city bouncing back with extraordinary creativity from earthquake damage, is also here.
New Zealand has also developed into one of the cleanest and greenest countries in the world. There are 14 national parks throughout the country and almost a quarter of New Zealand is protected land. What else? There’s wildlife, wine and a cultural resurgence that’s seeing local films, literature and art gaining more and more attention.
A blend of Maori and European culture, coupled with breathtaking landscapes, provides New Zealand with a truly unique character.
270,534 sq km (104,454 sq miles).
4,565,185 (UN estimate 2016).
16.4 per sq km.
Queen Elizabeth II since 1952, represented locally by Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy since 2016.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern since 2017.
Last updated: 22 November 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
The British High Commission Offices in Wellington re-opened on 14 November after a temporary closure due to earthquake damage. If you’re a British national in New Zealand and need assistance, please telephone 04 924 2888 (local number) to be connected to a consular duty officer.
To learn more about what to do before, during and after an earthquake, see the New Zealand Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management, New Zealand Earthquake Commission and Get Ready Get Thru websites. If a major earthquake or landslide occurs close to shore, you should follow the instructions of local authorities, bearing in mind that a tsunami could arrive within minutes.
The 14 November 2016 earthquake caused significant damage to roads and rail in the Canterbury region between Christchurch and Picton, making some areas inaccessible. For the latest information on road closures, see the New Zealand Transport Agency website.
If you’re visiting remote areas of New Zealand, make sure your journey details are known to local authorities or friends/relatives before setting out. Weather conditions can quickly become treacherous, especially in winter.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in New Zealand, attacks can’t be ruled out.
Around 200,000 British nationals visit New Zealand every year. Most visits are trouble-free.
There’s no British representation on the Cook Islands, or the islands of Niue or Tokelau. You should contact the New Zealand High Commission if you need consular assistance on the Cook Islands or Niue. If you need consular assistance on Tokelau, contact the British High Commission in Wellington
The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.
Safety and security
Crime levels are generally low, but street crime occurs in major towns and cities. Thefts from unattended vehicles, especially hire cars and camper vans in major tourist areas (the Coromandel Peninsula, Rotorua and Queenstown) have increased. There has also been an increase in the number of thefts from hotel rooms in some tourist areas. Don’t leave possessions in unattended vehicles even if out of sight in a locked boot. Don’t leave valuables in hotel rooms. Use the hotel safe if possible. Keep passports, travellers’ cheques, credit cards, etc separate.
There have been a number of tragic accidents involving British visitors, including during extreme sports activities. If you are taking part in extreme sports check that the company is well established in the industry and that your insurance covers you. If you are visiting remote areas, check with local tourist authorities for advice before setting out. Make sure you register your details with a visitor information centre or leave details with family or friends. Weather conditions can quickly become treacherous in some areas. Keep yourself informed of regional weather forecasts.
You can use a UK driving licence to drive in New Zealand for up to a maximum of 12 months.
Although road conditions are generally good in New Zealand, it takes a while to get used to local driving conditions. Even the main highways can be narrow, winding and hilly. Read a copy of the Road Code - the official guide to traffic rules and traffic safety - before driving. Car rental companies should provide you with information about Whats Different About Driving in New Zealand.
In 2013 there were 254 road deaths in New Zealand (source: Department for Transport). This equates to 5.6 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2013.
You should take out private motor vehicle insurance. Accident victims don’t have a legal right to sue a third party in the event of an accident in New Zealand. Instead the Accident Compensation Commission (ACC) helps pay for your care if you’re injured as a result of an accident. However, the ACC only covers the cost of treatment in New Zealand and delayed travel or loss of income in a third country isn’t covered. You should therefore make sure you have adequate travel and accident insurance.
Helmet laws are in force in the Cook Islands. Anyone using a bicycle, motorcycle or scooter must wear an approved helmet at all times.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in New Zealand, attacks can’t be ruled out. You should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be in public places including those visited by foreigners.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
Importing illegal drugs is punishable by up to 8 - 12 years’ imprisonment.
New Zealand has an established tradition of tolerance towards homosexuality, but there are still isolated incidents of homophobic related crimes. Gay and lesbian travellers should be aware of local sensitivities, particularly when visiting rural areas.
If you travel to the Cook Islands or the Islands of Niue or Tokelau, check local customs and courtesies with local visitors’ offices.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of one month from the date of exit from New Zealand.
New Zealand’s immigration rules are strict, particularly regarding employment. Anyone wishing to work will need a visa allowing employment.
British passport holders can enter New Zealand as a visitor for up to 6 months on arrival without a visa, provided you can satisfy an Immigration Officer that you meet the requirements of the immigration rules. Visitors must have an onward ticket.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are valid for entry into New Zealand when accompanied by a permanent residence, work or study visa. ETDs are accepted for holiday-makers as long as New Zealand is not the final destination. ETDs are also accepted for airside transit and exit from New Zealand.
Quarantine and bio security
New Zealand has very strict bio-security regulations. It is illegal to import most foodstuffs (meat and meat products, honey, fruit, dairy produce) and strict penalties are handed out to those breaking these rules. Take care when importing wood products, golf clubs, footwear, tents, fishing equipment and items made from animal skin. The immigration arrivals card has full details. If in doubt, declare items to a Ministry of Agriculture official or dump them in one of the bins available at the airport. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in a heavy fine of up to $100,000 or imprisonment.
There are some restrictions on bringing medication into New Zealand. Visit the New Zealand Customs website for more information. If you arrive in New Zealand with any prescription medicines, you must declare it on your passenger arrival card.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
If you’re travelling to the island of Niue, check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
New Zealand is located in a seismic zone and is subject to earthquakes. There are also a number of active volcanoes in New Zealand. Follow the advice of the local authorities and emergency services in the event of a natural disaster. To learn more about what to do before, during and after an earthquake, see the New Zealand Earthquake Commission and Get Ready Get Thru websites.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
Under a reciprocal health agreement, UK nationals who live in the UK and who are on a short-term visit to New Zealand are eligible for immediately necessary healthcare under the health system on the same terms as citizens of New Zealand. You should show your UK passport when requested.
Despite this reciprocal agreement and the Accident Compensation Commission you should make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
Medical facilities in the Cook Islands and the islands of Niue and Tokelau are limited. In the event of a medical emergency, evacuation to mainland New Zealand is likely to be the only option for treatment. Make sure your insurance policy covers this eventuality.
Mosquito borne viruses, including dengue, chikungunya and Zika, have been reported in the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau (although there have been no reported cases of Zika virus within the last 9 months). You should take suitable steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. The type of mosquito that is able to spread these viruses isn’t normally found on mainland New Zealand.
Research has shown that asthma sufferers may be more at risk of an attack in New Zealand and sufferers should be suitably prepared.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 111 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.