Know Before You Go: New Zealand

By Caitlin Hornik

Visiting New Zealand for the first time? Here are some helpful tips and tricks before your trip!

Visas and Customs

When entering New Zealand, you may be questioned at the airport even if you don’t have anything to declare. This is because of the strict laws in place to preserve the country’s biodiversity. If traveling with any outdoor gear (hiking boots, poles, etc), it is recommended to clean them thoroughly before traveling to New Zealand. This also applies to the shoes you’re wearing to enter the country! It is best to clean the soles before your arrival. If traveling with food, it must be packaged in recognizable wrappers and completely sealed. Be aware that you have to declare all food items and any gear that you’ve used previously in an outdoor environment upon arrival.

As of Fall 2019, New Zealand is requiring visitors to obtain an electronic visa waiver, or eTA. The form can be completed entirely online. Once completed, it is valid for up to two years and multiple visits!

Weather & Clothing

New Zealand’s summer and winter months differ from those in the United States. If traveling to New Zealand between March and August, be prepared for cooler temperatures during their fall and winter! Travel between September and February to experience the spring and summer months and warmer temps. The North Island is generally warmer than the South Island. However, the country as a whole tends to experience moderate temperatures, significant rainfall, and an abundance of sunshine!

Speaking of sunshine, New Zealand’s sun is very strong. Due to the lack of air pollution, the UV rays are stronger than you may be accustomed to. It is super important to remember to pack a hat, shirt, and sunscreen for sunny days on the beach!

It is important to pack for all four seasons, as the weather is known to change rapidly in New Zealand. This is especially true if you plan to participate in outdoor activities during your trip. A raincoat, light layers, and a hat are all essential when visiting New Zealand! Overall, New Zealand has a laid-back, casual vibe, so you won’t need anything too fancy unless you have formal dining plans!


English is the primary language in New Zealand. However, the strong accents of New Zealanders might make some of the language difficult to understand. The slang and phraseology is different from what you may be accustomed to, so be sure to listen carefully and ask questions! Other recognized languages in New Zealand are Maori and New Zealand Sign Language.


The Maori culture is predominant across New Zealand. The Maori people named the country and continue to have a profound impact around the country today. Participating in a Maori cultural experience should be at the top of your New Zealand to-do list! Rotorua is a top destination to experience Maori culture first-hand. The Whakarewarewa Village and the Tamaki Maori Village offer incredible experiences, including a traditional hangi meal or an overnight stay at a marae. Be sure to familiarize yourself with Maori customs and etiquette before your visit so that you remain respectful of the culture and the people!

In general, New Zealanders will often ask you what you think of their country. They are proud of their land and love sharing it with visitors! Use these interactions with locals to ask them about their favorite secret spots, foods, cafes, and more!

Coffee and Wine

The coffee is strong in New Zealand! Across the country, and even moreso in Wellington, the coffee is delicious and strong. There is no drip or filter coffee, with most of the coffee having an espresso base. The Flat White is a popular and readily available option.

New Zealand is home to some incredible wine country. Marlborough is the most well-known region, and Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most popular wine varieties produced. Both the North Island and South Island have amazing vineyards waiting for you to discover!

Medications & Vaccinations

There are no required vaccinations to visit New Zealand, but some are recommended. Measles, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and all other routine vaccinations are strongly encouraged prior to your visit.

Aside from any prescription medications you may be taking, it is encouraged to pack altitude sickness medication, a pain reliever, and a basic first-aid kit. These are all travel staples that you should bring on every trip you take!


Generally speaking, sales tax (GST) is included in the price listed on goods, so what you see is what you pay. Tipping is not customary in New Zealand.


If renting a car, be prepared to drive on the left-hand side of the road!

In some cities, shuttles or buses assist in getting around to all of the top attractions. Other cities are super compact and walkable.

There are trains that connect most major cities, allowing you to experience a variety of destinations. The trains are all scenic and not high-speed, allowing you to sit back, relax, and soak up the sites!


You may be surprised by the lack of WiFi or noticeably slow connections. This is common throughout New Zealand. Free WiFi isn’t as easy to come by as you’d think, so be prepared to either pay for your internet connection or disconnect and put your phone down during your trip!

Packing Essentials

As previously stated, the strong UV rays emitted from the sun make sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses a necessity! As with any trip you take, you want to make sure you pack your passport and hard copies of your travel documents and itinerary.

Fun Fact

The Kiwi is the national bird of New Zealand, which is why New Zealanders are often referred to as “kiwis.”

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