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Residency guide to New Zealand

New Zealand is undoubtedly one of the world’s most beautiful countries, featuring stunning natural scenery and highly liveable modern cities. It also is one of the most, maybe even the most, tax-friendly country among the major English-speaking nations. This guide covers how to acquire residency, how taxation works, how to open a bank account along with some useful travel information.

Residency options

If you have been researching residency options for a while, you have probably noticed a trend. Most countries offer either a high standard of living or a number of tax benefits. Very few offer both. New Zealand is one of those few, thanks to its four year tax exemption on foreign-sourced income and the absence of a capital gains and dividends tax.

This, combined with a large number of potential immigration routes and a fairly low barrier of entry in terms of capital required, makes New Zealand one of the most interesting residency options out there.

While there are many different routes to New Zealand residency, four stand out when put into the context of location independence. They are listed below along with their respective requirements.

Partner of a New Zealander Resident visa

This visa allows the partner of a New Zealand citizen or resident to move to New Zealand for an unlimited period of time and work in an unrestricted capacity (you can change jobs as often as you want). To qualify, all you need is to have been in a genuine and stable relationship for at least 12 months. This is definitely the easiest route to residency if you are in such a relationship.

Entrepreneur Work visa

This visa allows anyone with a solid business plan to move to New Zealand and run that business, for up to three years. There is a 100000 NZD capital requirement although information technology businesses can apply for an exemption provided they meet a number of requirements. After two years spent in-country, you can apply for an Entrepreneur Resident visa, which allows for an unlimited stay in New Zealand and removes most of the restrictions imposed on Entrepreneur Work visa holders. It is also possible to apply after six months but this requires creating a number of local jobs and investing a larger amount. It is important to understand that while you are not required to follow your business plan to the letter and will not be penalized for missing your targets, you must follow the spirit of it and run the business you described in your visa application. It is also important to note that you must run your business for at least two years, even if you qualify for the Entrepreneur Resident visa earlier.

Skilled Migrant Category Resident visa

This visa works in a similar way to Canada’s famous points-based system. In short, you receive a score based on your personal circumstances and if your score is high enough you can submit an expression of interest. If it is approved, you can then submit a visa application. You can take the test here to find out if you qualify (you need 160 points). This visa allows for an unlimited stay in New Zealand although it is not a permanent resident visa and can lapse in some circumstances. It is also important to understand that you may be subject to restrictions such as a minimum salary and a minimum period of time spent in employment.

Silver Fern Job Search Work visa

This is a bit of an odd one but it can still be interesting depending on your personal circumstances. Essentially, 300 migrants between the age of 20-35 are allowed every year in New Zealand for a period of nine months to look for work. Those who find skilled work can then convert it into a Skilled Migrant Category Resident visa and remain in the country indefinitely. Those who do not find skilled work must leave the country once their Silver Fern Job Search Work visa expires.

Permanent residency and citizenship

After living for two years as a resident, it is possible to apply for permanent residency. The main difference between permanent residency and the many visas which allow for indefinite stay is that permanent residency is granted for life and cannot expire. It also removes nearly all conditions of stay. It is important to understand that for the application to be successful, you must have spent at least 183 days every year in-country (and qualified as tax-resident).

After living for five years as a permanent resident (or under a visa allowing permanent stay), it is possible to apply for citizenship. During those five years, you must have spent at least 240 days in-country each year, and 1350 days across the 5 years. You must also be of good character (no criminal convictions) and intend to continue living in New Zealand. Obviously, you must be fluent in English but this should not be a problem if you can read this article.

Visa running in 2022

As long as you respect the conditions of the visa waiver program, visa running in New Zealand is very easy (although time consuming, given the long flights required). That is especially true if you are the citizen of one of the supported countries for eGate.

Taxation

When it comes to personal taxation, New Zealand is friendlier than most other countries. Rates are progressive but reasonable (under 20% up to 70000 NZD), capital gains and dividends are exempt and a number of credits are available. There is no wealth tax, inheritance tax, capital or stamp duty. There is a social security scheme (KiwiSaver) but it works on a voluntary basis, registration is not mandatory.

New Zealand also offers a four year exemption on foreign-sourced income to new residents and citizens returning home (after ten years or more abroad). This is very powerful as it is possible to become a permanent resident within that four year period, using any of the routes listed in this guide.

To benefit from New Zealand’s taxation system and the exemption, however, it is necessary to become a tax resident. Qualifying requires that either 183 days be spent in-country in any given year OR the presence of sufficient ties (domicile rules).

As a side note, it may interest some to learn that the profits from the sale of cryptocurrencies can be exempt from taxation if you can prove that they were originally bought for portfolio diversification (as opposed to day trading).

Business taxation in New Zealand is where things get a bit difficult. Profits are subject to a flat tax rate of 28%, there is a VAT (locally called GST), strict remote management and CFC rules and all local companies must have at least one resident director or partner.

Compliance

The tax year in New Zealand starts on the 1st of April and ends on the 31st of March. A personal tax return must be filed if any income was received unless said income was already assessed under the PAYE system. This can be done online, directly on the IRD’s website. Businesses must file a number of returns (usually three) although consolidated returns are also allowed in some circumstances. If registered, a GST return must be filed every month (it is also possible to file bimonthly or every six months).

Powerful tax strategies

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Banking

New Zealand may not be the first country that comes to mind when thinking about banking jurisdictions but it is nonetheless, in my opinion, one of the most interesting. For one, there are plenty of quality banks and fees tend to be on the lower side. There is a decent selection of credit cards, including a few with solid benefits. PayPal is fully supported and so are many of the most popular payment services. Customer service is excellent and in most cases, you will be able to have problems fixed remotely (and new cards courried to you, regardless of where you are). Best of all, opening an account is fairly easy, even as a tourist.

Opening an account

Opening a New Zealand bank account is easier if you are a citizen or a resident. In most cases, all you will need to do is to visit a branch in person with a proof of ID, a proof of address and a few dollars. Accounts are usually opened on the spot, however, be aware that most banks are not equipped to print debit cards in-branch and will instead mail them to you.

In my experience, ANZ offers the best products at the best prices. They have an all-digital account which has no monthly fees and a pretty decent credit card selection.

Opening an account as a tourist

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International transfers

The local banks allow international transfers to be initiated online but the fees are rarely competitive. TransferWise is a better option in most cases. Both debit cards and local transfers are supported and you will struggle to find a better rate especially when changing to the USD, EUR and GBP.

Travel

New Zealand is not only an interesting residency option but also a fabulous travel destination. It has beaches, mountains, lush forests, plains and valleys. It has modern cities and pleasant villages. It has good food, produced with clean local ingredients. English is the spoken language, making it easy to connect with the locals. It also is fairly affordable, contrary to popular belief.

While the entire country is worth visiting and there are plenty of guides covering all its attractions, I specifically recommend Mt Maunganui as a base for those running location independent businesses. Of all the places I have spent time in, this is the one I felt offered the best combination of good food, beautiful nature, fast internet and easy socializing. There is some decent surfing too if that is something you are interested in.

APEC cards

APEC cardholders are allowed to visit New Zealand for up to three months at a time. They are allowed to work but only for the business tied to their card (if any, otherwise any business in their APEC card country).

Local SIM cards

If you only need a SIM to get a local number (for example, for banking purposes), I recommend buying the Skinny SIM card they sell in Countdown supermarkets. If you want a local data plan or a full-featured plan, Spark is likely to be your best option. That said, mobile plans are expensive in New Zealand and it can often be a better deal to use a foreign SIM card instead. Google Fi works very well, China Mobile Hong Kong Global plans and Three UK are also good options.

GST refund

It is currently not possible to request a GST refund on purchases made in New Zealand. It is possible, however, to avoid GST by asking the retailer to ship said purchases overseas (export) or by having them delivered to an airside location (to be collected before your departure from the country).

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