Don’t Risk It: Why Travel Insurance for New Zealand Visitors Is a Must

Do I Need Travel Insurance for New Zealand? Why you shouldn't visit without it and how to find doctors in NZ.

by Layla
Published: Updated:

Get travel insurance for New Zealand and find doctors in NZ when you’re travelling, with this helpful guide.


Do you need travel insurance for New Zealand when travelling there as a visitor? Whether you’re planning a gap year on a NZ working holiday visa, backpacking for a few months, or simply embracing van life — travel insurance for New Zealand visitors, is an important thing to consider.

Whatever you’re doing in the Land of the Long White Cloud, take it from me, getting ill whilst travelling is no fun. Dealing with illness on the road can make even the most cheerful, bouncy traveller turn into a grouch, and it can make a pretty dent in your travel budget too.


Travel Insurance in New Zealand: New Zealand’s Healthcare System.

New Zealand’s excellent public healthcare makes it an attractive destination for immigrants, expats, and visitors seeking a new life or gap year.

In New Zealand, citizens and permanent residents have their emergency care covered by a universal health care system. They also receive publicly funded emergency and essential medical care, including surgeries and cancer treatment.

However, despite its strengths, New Zealand’s healthcare system has its flaws. One of the biggest issues is the long wait times to see specialists, which can stretch on for weeks or even months. As a result, many New Zealanders and expats opt for private health insurance.

In this post, I’m sharing my experience of finding a NZ doctor, being in a hospital and experiencing the health system, whilst I was travelling and living in New Zealand. 

Find out how accidents are covered and if visitors really do need travel insurance in New Zealand.

I’ll also cover the process of finding doctors in NZ and how it works when you’re a traveller or visitor — plus tips on where to go for medical help.


Do I Really Need Travel Insurance for New Zealand? 

The short answer is YES, you do need travel insurance for New Zealand. 

To start, I’ll briefly explain how the New Zealand healthcare system works and why you definitely do need travel insurance for New Zealand, when you’re a visitor there.


How Does New Zealand’s Healthcare System Work?

New Zealand’s healthcare system is quite different to the completely free NHS system in the UK or the subsidised Medicare system in Australia, despite it being a fellow Commonwealth nation.

There are no reciprocal health agreements between New Zealand and other countries and there is no free healthcare in New Zealand for travellers or visitors. 

This was a surprise to me because I come from a country with universal healthcare (the NHS) for all residents and visitors.

I’ve also travelled and lived in Australia and experienced their Medicare publicly funded healthcare system, which gives access to free or lower-cost healthcare (free if your home country has a reciprocal health agreement).

Publicly funded healthcare is only available to eligible residents and citizens of New Zealand. This means doctors in NZ can only enrol people who are eligible for publicly funded health services.

As a traveller or visitor to New Zealand, you won’t be eligible for publicly funded healthcare, so you’ll always pay top dollar to see a GP or Doctor.

The exceptions to this rule are:

  • If you’re a New Zealand Permanent Resident or Citizen.
  • If you’re an Australian Permanent Resident or Citizen.
  • If you have had an NZ work visa for more than two years or you can show proof of continuous work visas (without gaps) equaling more than two years—otherwise you won’t be classed as eligible.
  • You’re a Commonwealth Scholarship student.
  • You’re a refugee, an interim visa holder or have protected status. 


Seeing a doctor in New Zealand without travel insurance as a visitor, can be very expensive.


As a Visitor to New Zealand, Am I Eligible to See a Doctor for Free?

If you’re a visitor or travelling in New Zealand and you get ill or sick (and it’s not an emergency) you should visit an NZ doctor or a medical centre.

However, as a visitor or traveller, you will have to pay a casual patient fee to see a doctor in New Zealand.

You cannot permanently register or enrol with any NZ doctors or medical centres unless you’re eligible. And once again to be eligible, you must either be: 

  • A New Zealand or Australian resident or citizen
  • On a work visa that’s two years or longer
  • On a scholarship or a refugee or protected visa 

And assuming you’ve landed on this post because you’re either travelling around or are visiting New Zealand, then you won’t fall into those categories.

So as a traveller, you’ll always be treated as a casual patient and you’ll have to pay ‘casual patient fees’ every time you see a doctor in New Zealand.

Unfortunately, these fees are much higher than what NZ residents would pay.

Why is this? GPs and medical centres are privately owned in New Zealand, so they can set their own fees. So, casual patients pay a much higher fee than enrolled patients.

This is exactly why you need travel insurance when you’re travelling in New Zealand.

Having travel insurance is essential if you want to see a doctor in New Zealand.


My Experience With New Zealand’s Healthcare System

The rule is, you get access to the same publicly-funded medical treatment as NZ Citizens if you’re:

  • An Australian citizen or permanent resident who has lived, or intends to live, in NZ for 2 years or more
  • In NZ on a work visa that’s valid for 2 years or more — your work visa starts on your first day in NZ.

If you’re not, you’ll need to pay for all your medical care.

And that means being on the 23-month NZ working holiday visa STILL doesn’t get you access — because it’s only a 23-month visa — not two years.

One time I was living in Matamata in the Waikato region, where my partner had landed himself a job at Hobbiton. One day, I got ill and had to go to the local medical centre.

Although I had proof that I’d previously had the 23-month NZ Working Holiday Visa, then a 1-year NZ work visa, and then another 1-year NZ work visa after that, I was still denied the lower GP consultation price.

Because although I’ve held NZ work visas for almost 4 years in total, it wasn’t a continuous work visa of more than two years.

Another time when I got ill with a chest infection in the small town of Te Aroha, the local doctor’s clinic wouldn’t even see me, because their policy was only to see enrolled patients.

So I had to travel to the next town (Matamata) to get a doctor’s appointment. As I didn’t have a car, I had to get a ride there with someone I lived with who left for work at 5 am – that was not a happy day!


Who is Eligible for New Zealand’s Publicly Funded Health Services?

You might be able to access free or subsidised healthcare services in New Zealand if you’re:

  • a NZ citizen or permanent resident
  • an Australian citizen or permanent resident who’s lived, or intends to live, in NZ for at least 2 years
  • a work visa holder who’s eligible to be here for 2 years or more
  • an interim visa holder who was eligible immediately before you got the interim visa
  • a New Zealand Aid Programme student receiving Official Development Assistance funding
  • a Commonwealth scholarship student
  • a refugee or protected person, or in the process of applying or appealing for refugee or protection status

But you’ll notice neither the NZ tourist visa, NZ visitor visa, nor the New Zealand working holiday visa are on that list.

Not a happy puppy, ill, and trekking to the next town for a NZ doctor at 5 am.


Travel Insurance for New Zealand: How Much Do Doctors in NZ Cost?

The majority of travellers who come to New Zealand are usually only on a 1 or 2-year (23-month) New Zealand Working Holiday Visa, so you won’t be eligible for publicly funded healthcare — because the length of these visas is never over two years.

So you’ll always have to pay the higher casual rates to see a doctor. And they can be very expensive, even higher at weekends or out-of-hours. 

TIP – Ask for a receipt for any medical treatment or GP consultation fee, so that you can use it to claim your money back with your travel insurance provider.

So, to give you an idea of the costs of healthcare in New Zealand:

For general consultation with a NZ Doctor or GP, expect to pay around:

  • $80 – $95 NZD to see a doctor as a ‘casual patient’ within normal business hours
  • $100 – $120 NZD to see a doctor as a ‘casual patient’ out-of-hours or at a walk-in clinic.

For a dental consultation:

  • $90 – $120 NZD to see a dentist for new patient consultation check-up & x-rays 
  • $135 – $350 NZD per sealant or filling
  • $350 – $1000 NZD per surgical extraction – including wisdom teeth

For an optical check-up:

  • $60 – $70 NZD per eye test


Needing Travel Insurance for New Zealand: Accidents and Hospital Admission with ACC

<<<Trigger warning: image of moderate injury coming up>>>

So, the bottom line is, if you have an accident whilst you’re travelling in New Zealand and you don’t have much money or decent travel insurance, don’t worry you won’t be left bleeding in the street.

Genuine accidents in New Zealand are covered by something called ACC. It stands for Accident Compensation Corporation and it’s New Zealand’s no-fault personal injury or accident cover. 

Everyone in New Zealand is covered by ACC’s no-fault scheme if they’re accidentally injured or in an accident, no matter whose fault it was.
No matter if they’re working or unemployed and it also includes visitors and travellers to New Zealand.

So yay for that!

So if you’re injured or are in an accident, either go to the Accident & Emergency at a hospital or a health professional at a medical centre. The health professional will treat you, then help you fill out an ACC claim form and send it to ACC for you.

If you had to pay a cost for this initial health professional’s visit, don’t worry you’ll be able to claim it back later once ACC has accepted your claim, so keep your receipt for your travel insurance claim.

ACC can help cover the cost of your care for:

  • Treatment costs
  • Prescription medication costs
  • Physio or rehabilitation costs
  • Compensation for lost earnings
  • Help to get back to work
  • Transport to and from the place of treatment


Experiencing the hospital system and ACC in New Zealand

When I accidentally severed my index finger tendon when chopping veggies with a kitchen knife, I was able to be seen by the Accident & Emergency department at the hospital for no cost.

After that, I had tendon plastic surgery arranged at no cost, and after I’d recovered I even had all the hand physiotherapy and rehabilitation costs covered. And I was paid 80% of my wages from my current temp job, whilst I was off work.

ACC was an absolute lifesaver when I needed it.

However, you must keep in mind, that ACC only covers accidental injury in New Zealand, and you do have to prove it was an accident. 

ACC cannot be used as a substitute for having travel insurance in New Zealand.

So if you need healthcare in New Zealand for other reasons, then you’ll have to pay — every time. This includes:

  • Doctor’s appointments
  • Blood tests or other labs
  • Dental checkups or dental emergency treatment
  • Physiotherapy
  • Eye tests, contact lens healthcare or glasses replacement 


Having Travel Insurance in New Zealand Will Save You Money — and yes, it’s worth it

Honestly, you might hear this all the time, but if you’re a backpacker or working holiday visa holder, the best way to avoid these healthcare costs and to cover yourself for illness is to always have travel insurance.

I cannot stress this point enough!

As boring as it is, after 15 years of travelling and nomad-ing around the world and experiencing different health systems, it is literally the best way to protect yourself.

And it’s not as expensive as you think.

There are lots of travel insurance options out there, but these are the two I recommend for New Zealand. 


Safety Wing: Nomad Travel Insurance for New Zealand

Are you travelling around New Zealand, doing a bit of hiking, camping and exploring in general?

Are you a digital nomad?

On a NZ working holiday visa?

Or living the van life?

Then Safety Wing Nomad Insurance is perfect for you.

You can buy it before you leave or at any point during your trip abroad. And they even cover you for covid. 

Don’t want to pay hundreds to see a doctor in NZ? Be smart and get yourself covered with travel insurance.


World Nomads Travel Insurance for New Zealand

However, if you’re travelling around New Zealand doing a lot of outdoor activities or adrenalin sports, I recommend World Nomads Travel Insurance.

They provide comprehensive cover that covers you for a tonne of adventure activities, most of which other insurance companies don’t cover. 


Where to find a Doctor in New Zealand: Doctors in NZ in your area

Here are some useful links to the main doctor’s clinics and medical centres in the main cities of New Zealand, most of which I’ve used myself.

Just go on their websites and look under ‘casual patients’ for the GP consultation price.

Doctors in NZ – Auckland 

Auckland CityMed Doctors – 8 Albert Street, Auckland. (Pharmacy, x-ray facility and lab tests available on-site).

Doctors in NZ – Tauranga

2nd Avenue Health Centre – 19 2nd Ave, Tauranga . (Pharmacy, urgent walk-in clinic and x-ray facility on-site).

Doctors in NZ – Mount Maunganui

The Doctors Bayfair – 42 Girven Road, Bayfair. (Pharmacy and urgent walk-in clinic on-site).

Doctors in NZ – Wellington

Courtenay Medical – Symes de Silva House, 97–99 Courtenay Place. (Has dentist, physio and lab tests in the same building).

AMC – Accident and Urgent Medical Centre -17 Adelaide Rd, Newtown/Mt Cook. 
Walk-in service, no appointment necessary.  Open every day 8 am – 11 pm.
Go here when…

  • When you don’t think you can wait to see a doctor
  • When you are a visitor or traveller to Wellington
  • When you aren’t registered with a doctor or GP

Doctors in NZ – Christchurch

Doctors on Riccarton – 183 Riccarton Road, Riccarton

Moorhouse Medical Centre – 3 Pilgrim Place, Christchurch City. (Has pharmacy, x-ray facility and urgent walk-in clinic on-site).

Doctors in NZ – Queenstown

QMC – Queenstown Medical Centre – 9 Isle Street, Queenstown. (Has urgent walk-in clinic, sexual health clinic and travel clinic on-site). 


How to Find Other Health Resources or Medical Help in New Zealand

Get travel insurance for New Zealand.


These are all useful numbers to have saved in your mobile phone before you go to New Zealand:


Use Healthpoint(external link)  to search for a doctor near you.

Or phone Healthline on 0800 611 116 for health advice and services.


NZ Emergency Services

In the case of an emergency, always call 111 which is the emergency service number for Police, Fire, or Ambulance in New Zealand.  


Healthline is a free telephone health advice service for everyone. The number is free to call (even from mobiles) 0800 611 116. You can get free advice from trained, registered nurses 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Call Healthline if you are:

  • Feeling unwell but don’t know if you need to see a doctor
  • Needing some medical advice about someone else
  • Travelling and need to know where the nearest pharmacy or doctor’s clinic is 

Mental Health Helplines

Mental Health is important too if you need to talk to someone, call one of the numbers below anytime for support from  a trained counsellor:

Lifeline 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE)

Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757 or free text 4202

Samaritans – 0800 726 666 

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865

You can also free call or text the 1737 service anytime, to talk with a trained counsellor for free. 


Other Helplines in New Zealand

Rape Crisis – 0800 883 300 (for support after rape or sexual assault)

Alcohol and Drug Helpline – 0800 787 797 or online chat

OUTLine NZ – 0800 688 5463 (OUTLINE) Sexuality or Gender Identity Helpline provides confidential telephone support 

Seniorline – 0800 725 463 A free information service for older people

Skylight – 0800 299 100 for support through trauma, loss and grief; (9 am–5 pm weekdays).


That concludes this post on Why Travel Insurance for New Zealand Visitors Is a Must.

I hope it was helpful to you in learning about how expensive seeing doctors in NZ can be and why having travel insurance for New Zealand is so important.

Have you had any travel experiences with the New Zealand healthcare system? Let me know in the comments.

Getting ill when you’re travelling sucks.

But getting ill and having to spend a heap of your travel budget on medical bills, because you didn’t get travel insurance in New Zealand…sucks even more. 

Be smart and protect yourself.


Stay Safe and Happy Travels 🙂


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1 comment

Adulting, ADHD, and NZ Health Care – Traveling with Love (and anxiety) 26 October 2022 - 7:51 PM

[…] 4:05 PM Found a 2018 blog post on doctors in New Zealand. […]


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