New Zealand’s healthcare system is funded mainly through income-based taxation, and publicly funded healthcare is available for all permanent residents of New Zealand – or for holders of work permits lasting for more than two years. If you are only a temporary resident of the country (i.e. your permit only allows you to live in the country for less than two years) then you will need to take out private health insurance. To gain access to public healthcare in New Zealand, you simply need to register with a local GP – it is up to you which doctor you choose to register with, but you will need to provide identification which includes proof that you are resident in the country.
However, publicly-funded healthcare does not necessarily mean free. While a number of healthcare services procedures in NZ do come without any cost – including most hospital treatment, children’s immunisations and healthcare during pregnancy and labour – some will not be so easy on your wallet. Prescription drugs, ambulance services and even visits to your GP will all cost you money (although fees for children under 6 are often waived).
The amount these procedures will set you back, however, can be significantly reduced if you join a Primary Health Organisation (PHO). PHO’s are government-funded bodies which are operated by all District Health Boards and are free for all NZ residents to join. For example, by enrolling in a PHO you will cut the cost of a visit to your GP (which ordinarily costs around NZ$50 – but will be far more outside of normal working hours) by roughly half, while you will see similar subsidies given on other wallet-draining healthcare services too. To enroll in a PHO, you need to find a general practice which itself belongs to a PHO (most do) and ask the doctor, nurse or medical centre receptionist for a form to fill in. Once you have competed and submitted this form then you can expect your application to take around three months to be processed. Therefore, expats are advised to make joining a PHO one of the first things they do when arriving in NZ.
As New Zealand’s public healthcare system is of a high standard and not too expensive (especially if you join a PHO) there is not as big a demand for private healthcare in the land of the long white cloud as seen in other countries. However, due to the popularity of the public system, long waiting lists for some non-emergency treatments have developed and those Kiwis that do choose to go private usually do so to jump the queues. As mentioned earlier, temporary residents will also need some form of private health insurance. There are a number of private health insurance providers in NZ with Southern Care Healthcare Group being the most popular. Anyone with private health insurance is also fully entitled to use public facilities as well.