What to expect on arrival in New Zealand

Learn what you will need to travel to New Zealand and what to expect when you arrive in New Zealand.

Entering any country all by yourself for the first time can be scary, and it can make you feel like a deer in headlights.

So the better you prepare yourself for entering New Zealand and knowing what to expect, the less scary the whole experience will be.

Three official sources you can use to prepare yourself for entering New Zealand are:

  1. New Zealand Immigration
  2. New Zealand Customs Service
  3. Ministry for Primary Industries

Warning / disclaimer:

Everything I’ve written in this article is based on personal experience. I do not work for the New Zealand government, neither am I qualified to provide immigration advice.

You are strongly advised to verify your entry requirements for New Zealand yourself before you leave your country or to seek advice from a qualified person or entity.

What you need to enter New Zealand

Before you step on an airplane to New Zealand, you must make sure that you have a passport that is current and valid for at least 3 months past the date that you plan on leaving New Zealand.

For example, if you plan to stay in New Zealand from November 3 to November 21, your passport must be valid up to at least 3 months after November 21, so at least till March 12. If it expires before that date, try to renew your passport before you leave your country.

In addition to a valid passport, you will also need to have proof that you will be leaving New Zealand by having, for example, a return ticket and proof that you have enough money to fund your stay in New Zealand. See entry requirements for more detail.

The second thing you might need is a visitor’s visa. Not everybody requires one, though, to enter New Zealand. If you are a citizen of one of the visa-waiver countries, then you do not need a visa to enter New Zealand if you plan on staying less than three months or less than six months if you are from the United Kingdom.

However, all visitors – whether they’re coming for a holiday, to visit friends and relations, or to study for a short time – who are eligible to travel to New Zealand without a visa will need to hold an NZeTA (New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority) before they board their flight or cruise from October 1, 2019.


Therefore, you should check whether you need an NZeTA and request one if necessary. The email I received from New Zealand Immigration stated that if you already hold a valid New Zealand visa – such as a visitor, study, work or resident visa – you don’t need to request an NZeTA.

If your country is not on the visa-waiver list, you will need to apply for a visa before you leave your country.

Australian citizens and permanent residents do not generally need a visa to enter New Zealand.

Note that if you have a criminal past, you can be denied entry into New Zealand. So again, seek advice if this is the case for you.

What happens on the airplane before it lands in New Zealand

Disclaimer: Because I have not left and arrived back in New Zealand since the change of requiring an NZeTA and because I would not need an NZeTA to enter New Zealand, the process you go through might differ from what I have described here. The process described in this article is the process before NZeTA came into existence.

Before you get off the airplane, you might get a New Zealand Passenger Arrival Card that you must fill out for customs and immigration.

If you do not get one, you should be able to pick one up and fill it out in the customs and immigration hall.

The passenger arrival card asks questions about you, the purpose of your visit, and what you are bringing into New Zealand.

This information is used to determine your suitability to obtain a visitor’s visa on the spot – if you are from a visa-waiver country – and also to determine whether you can be allowed into the country.

Never make false declarations on your passenger arrival card.

You just have to be aware of what you can and cannot enter with in the country, so take some time to look at what kind of information you must fill out on the passenger arrival card – you can download one – and read about what you cannot bring into New Zealand.

Generally, I avoid bringing in any food, plant, or animal products. Basically, I just carry only my clothes, photo gear, laptop, and other electronics; and make sure that my hiking shoes are sparkling clean without any mud on them.

This has always worked for me, not only when entering New Zealand, but also any other country in the world.

And don’t carry too much money in cash – you must declare anything over $10,000 – but do carry enough money in cash and as plastic cards that you can spend to survive and take care of yourself during your entire stay in New Zealand.

What happens when you arrive at passport control

When you arrive at passport control, you must hand over your passport and the arrival card you filled out.

The view from Queenstown Hill in winter, South Island, New Zealand

The view from Queenstown Hill in winter

The immigration officer may ask you a few questions based on the documents you handed over but also general questions such as how long you will be staying, what the purpose of your visit is, whether you are visiting family or friends, etc. etc.

General rules I use for answering questions and which have always worked wonders for me everywhere I’ve gone in the world, are:

  1. If you are asked a Yes/No question, give a Yes/No answer with no elaboration.
  2. Keep your answers as short as possible with no chitchatting.
  3. If you are asked to elaborate, do so, but still keep it short.
  4. Always know where you will be going, where you will be staying, and what you will be doing in New Zealand because that information is usually at the top of the list of questions asked.

And remember, as a solo traveler, you probably do not have friends or family you are visiting. It is totally okay to say that you are alone in New Zealand and that you will not be visiting anyone.

I’ve done this tons of times, everywhere. It might trigger a few more questions, but if you just follow the general rules for answering questions, you should be fine.

What happens when you arrive at customs

After you get through passport control, you must collect your luggage.

While waiting for your bags to arrive, a customs officer and a dog might pay you a visit. If you are asked to put your belongings (for example, a small backpack) on the ground, do so.

This is for the dog to sniff for prohibited items, which includes food. Did you remember to ditch the food? If the dog indicates that there might be prohibited items in your bags, the customs officer might ask to search your bags.

Mount Cook and State Highway 80 on the South Island of New Zealand

Mount Cook and State Highway 80 (gouache on paper)

Once you have your luggage and are walking toward the exit, you might have to put your bags through x-ray for screening. Customs officers might also ask to manually search your bags.

And finally, there might be another customs officer waiting to collect your arrival card, and perhaps ask you about items you may have marked on the card. This is for biosecurity reasons. For example, if you have camping gear checked on the card, you may be questioned about it. The same goes for hiking shoes.

Before you leave home, make sure that everything is sparkling clean, so without any mud on them, and you should be good to go.

One thing I can say about New Zealand is this: New Zealand is very strict about biosecurity. So make sure you follow the rules and guidelines.

What happens when you get into the arrivals hall

After you have gotten the green light from both customs and immigration, it is time to really enter New Zealand.

When the doors to the arrivals hall open, you might see a thousand eyes immediately pointing in your direction; or at least, that is the way it might feel. These are just people waiting to greet and pick up family or friends.

This is probably the scariest part of arriving in a foreign country, especially if you are a solo traveler, since nobody will be waiting to greet or pick you up.

Just ignore everybody, and if you have done your homework of studying airport maps, you should know exactly in which direction to walk to quickly avoid those stares being prolonged and exit the airport.


This article falls under Travel Guide.

Note: This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm all details
directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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