Australia, Expat Life, Living Abroad, New Zealand, Oceania

10 Differences Between Living in Australia vs New Zealand

After being in New Zealand for almost three months now, I’ve gotten to know it pretty well. After 15 months in Australia, my visa ended, so I decided to come to Wellington next. People had told me Melbourne and Wellington are very similar, and I do see what they mean by that. But straight away, I definitely noticed some differences between the two countries as well. I hate to be biased but for the most part, the differences I’ve noticed are positive for Australia, but not as great for New Zealand. Of course there are some similarities as well. Both countries are full of amazing people and tons of beautiful natural landmarks and outdoorsy activities. But as with most things in life, you tend to pick up more on things that are different than similar. The differences tend to determine your impression of a place, whether positive or negative.

Overall, I would say that my experience in New Zealand has been about halfway between the two. I enjoy my job at a hotel, the hostel I stay at is really nice, and I’ve met great people. But after loving Australia so much, I can’t help but compare every experience to ones I’ve had there. Coming from the US, a lot of people tend to think of Australia and New Zealand as being so similar that they’re basically the same country, which I can assure you is not the case! Here are ten differences between the two that I’ve noticed in the past three months I’ve spent in NZ, particularly when it comes to living in the two countries as an expat.

The obvious size difference.

The population of Australia is about 24 million. The population of New Zealand is about 4.5 million. The Greater Melbourne area has a population of 4.6 million, so more than the entire population of NZ. Going from a city that size to one of about 400,000 was a bit of a shock to my system. The positive is that you can walk everywhere, but it also means there is less to do. There are fewer events on, and while there are some great restaurants, cafes, and bars, there are a lot less of them to choose from.

Wages in New Zealand are lower than in Australia.

In Australia, if you’re working full time you can definitely afford rent and food, plus have plenty of disposable income to do fun things. In New Zealand, you can work full time and only seem to make just enough money to get by. Related to this, I have noticed there are a lot more homeless people in Wellington than in Melbourne, and there is definitely a much bigger separation of wealth.

The cost of living is higher in New Zealand.

I would have expected it to be the other way around, but I’ve noticed the cost of living is higher in NZ than Australia. Rent is on par or higher if you are in a city, grocery stores are more expensive, public transport is more expensive (and also less reliable), and if you’re thinking of planning a trip anywhere outside of New Zealand, prepare to spend a lot as there are less international flights from NZ than Australia.

It’s harder to find work in NZ.

Before I arrived in Wellington, I read blog posts about how easily people were able to find work here. Those must have been some old articles though, because I found it much more difficult than in Australia. Since it’s smaller, there are less jobs available in the first place. It’s popular to use a recruiter to find work in New Zealand, but I had no luck with them. And from what I’ve heard, they tend to screw you over when it comes to putting you forward for jobs and taking a huge chunk of your pay.

It’s harder to find somewhere to live in NZ.

It’s almost impossible to find an apartment in Wellington without spending a fortune or being far outside the city. I’m in a hostel long-term and almost every other backpacker I have met has tried and failed to find an apartment to rent. And since it’s so competitive, prices are high. So unless you’re planning to share a room with a partner or friend, you can expect to pay a lot.


When I was in Melbourne, all people talked about was how bi-polar the weather there can be. People like to say the city can experience 4 seasons in one day, and that can be true sometimes. But I’ve realised the weather in Wellington is much more bi-polar and extreme. The temperatures are lower, it gets a lot more rain, and as the windiest city in the world, that makes the cold and rain feel much worse. And if you’re coming from a warmer city in Australia like Brisbane or Perth, be prepared for a real shock!

The Indigenous culture is a lot more prominent in NZ than Australia.

I feel like this list has been full of negatives about New Zealand so far, but here’s a positive one! Maori culture is much more prominent than Aboriginal culture. The only time I ever really saw Aboriginal people or cultural influences in Australia was in the Northern Territory. But in New Zealand, Maori culture is very prominent in the cities as well. Maori is an official language in NZ, and you’ll often see signs in both English and Maori.

There’s heaps of Aussie pop culture, but not much from New Zealand.

I’ve watched so many great Aussie shows and movies, including Kath and Kim and anything by Chris Lilley. There are also some great Australian reality shows, my favourites being My Kitchen Rules and Master Chef. When it comes to music, there are tons of Aussie bands and singers. In NZ though, I’ve heard of a couple soap opera-style shows and I’ve been watching the (not very good) NZ version of The Bachelor. The only Kiwi musician that’s really made it big outside of NZ is Lorde, who’s like the country’s unofficial mascot. Surprisingly though, NZ does have a big film industry. The Weta Workshop has been involved in so many huge movies, including Lord of the Rings, Avatar, and the Chronicles of Narnia. NZ doesn’t really get the credit though, so until recently I didn’t even know Weta was involved in any big franchises apart from LOTR!

Stereotypically Aussie sayings are much more common in New Zealand.

I can count on one hand the number of times someone said “G’day” to me in Australia, but it’s an almost daily occurrence in New Zealand. Kiwis also love the phrase “sweet as”, which I heard a fair bit in Australia, but much more in NZ. I know that these stereotypically Aussie phrases are much more common outside of the big cities, but in New Zealand I haven’t even left the city yet and have heard them more in a few months than in over a year in Australia!

The accents are noticeably different as well. New Zealanders pronounce their soft vowels as if they are a completely different letter. The letter a sounds like e, e sounds like i, and i sounds like u. For example, bag becomes beg and check becomes chick. Aussies especially love mocking the way Kiwis pronounce i’s by saying fush and chups. I’ve gotten used to the Kiwi accent, but it was a lot harder to understand at first than the Aussie accent!

Phone data and wifi are pretty much non-existent in NZ.

After having a great phone plan in Australia with 6gb of data per month, unlimited texting, and unlimited calls both within Australia and to the US, I expected to find a similar plan in New Zealand. Ha that was funny! For about the same price as I paid in Australia, my original NZ phone plan included a limited amount of talk and text and a shocking 1.5gb of data. I edited my plan for the next month to include less texts and more data instead, but I still ran out about halfway through the month. Wifi is hard to come by and unreliable as well, so it’s basically like being back 10 years ago before smart phones and wifi really existed.

I’m enjoying my time in Wellington, and there are great people staying at my hostel. But after falling so in love with Australia, I feel like to me, New Zealand can’t even compare. People constantly ask if I like Australia or NZ better. I usually say something like “I haven’t seen enough of NZ to have an opinion on that yet” to avoid offending the New Zealanders who ask me. But the answer to that question is without a doubt Australia. I really appreciate the time I’m able to spend in NZ, and it’s a beautiful country full of great people. But I’ll definitely be ready to leave in July when I go home to visit my family. So that’s the main difference between the two countries I guess. I was completely heartbroken to leave Australia, but I’m actually looking forward to the next adventure after leaving New Zealand.


Have you experienced living in both Australia and New Zealand? If you have, do you agree with these points and what are some other differences you have noticed? Let me know in a comment.

Girl Sees The World

Hi I’m Christie, a 25 year old girl originally from Boston who has spent time living in New York City, North Carolina, France, Australia, and New Zealand. I love moving to new places and exploring them as a local, so I can’t see my nomadic expat life stopping any time soon! I have no bigger passion than travel, and when I’m not exploring I spend my free time reminiscing on past trips and daydreaming about future travel.

25 thoughts on “10 Differences Between Living in Australia vs New Zealand

  1. I think it’s a great testament to your love for Australia that you don’t love NZ as much. It’s really hard to enjoy a place, no matter how awesome it is, when you’re still reveling in the greatness that was the place before it.
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  2. Melbourne is a very exciting place, so I see why you would miss it. I’m a kiwi but have lived in Melbourne, so I see your hesitation about loving NZ. New Zealand is a sleepy place in comparison. I would suggest seeing the south island, or try living in Queenstown…

    1. Yeah I’m definitely a city girl having lived in Melbourne before NZ and New York before that, so it’s really different for me being in a small city! I can’t wait to explore more of NZ outside of Wellington, especially the South Island! It looks incredible!

  3. Interesting post. I am yet to visit NZ but it is on the cards for some time in the next few years. As for Oz, I live in the capital (Canberra) so I’m pleased to hear how much you love us 🙂

  4. We’re Australians with Kiwi family so head back every year. I so agree with you on the differences. I love visiting but always love coming home. Have you considered moving down south?

    1. Everyone I’ve talked to who has been to the south island absolutely loves it but I haven’t visited yet. I would love to and would definitely consider a move down there. I do like my job in Wellington though, so I’ll probably stay here a bit longer and plan to travel down south when it gets warmer!

  5. Really interesting read! I have always wanted to visit New Zealand more for the nature and mountains. Your post made me skeptical and NZ lol I didn’t think it would be that bad.

    1. Haha I didn’t mean for the post to turn anyone off NZ! It is an amazing country, but compared to Australia it’s just a bit harder to get established as an expat. The cities aren’t as exciting in NZ as some other places, but the nature has to be some of the most incredible in the world!

  6. I enjoyed reading these differences and it’s clear how much affection you have for both countries even if Australia has your heart! Living in a smaller town after a big city is always a shock, but then again for some people it’s probably less overwhelming and impersonal, so I’m sure it depends on the person. Enjoy the rest of your time in NZ and thanks for sharing!

  7. It’s a shame you aren’t enjoying your time in New Zealand! I personally found my experience of moving there very different and fell head over heels for the country, but understandably not everyone will feel the same. Have you tried looking for a room in Facebook groups? That’s how I found my place. I did find it an expensive place to live but it can be done on a budget. I think it was the kindness of kiwis and the beauty of the landscapes that won me over. Hope your experience improves!

  8. This is a neat idea to compare two areas that those of us on the other side of the world might not understand the difference. Makes me want to travel to both! Great post!

  9. I feel like in terms of cities, Australia is definitely better simply because of the size of the population. However, I would like to argue that New Zealand is much more amazing outside of the cities, especially with the stunning landscapes in the South Island! Hopefully you get to explore a bit outside of Wellington before you leave in July and enjoy the rest of your time here in NZ. 🙂

  10. I’m actually thinking of hopping over to New Zealand for a few months, and I spent over a year in Australia too, so this post is really interesting! I knew the wages and weather would be on the list lol. But I didn’t know living costs were higher as well as wages being lower, and I didn’t know jobs were harder to find. I spent 3 weeks in NZ and did notice a few things like food was more expensive but obviously never had to think about rent. I also noticed much more prominence in Maori culture which is awesome! Melbourne having a bigger population than NZ is insane too! I loved Wellington and I think if I do go, that’s where I’d want to base myself, it definitely reminded me of Melbourne. Anyway this is all definitely food for thought. Not sure what I’ll end up doing!
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  11. I agree with most of your points here! As I’ve lived in both countries, I find the language between the two countries to be interesting. We are surprisingly quite different! NZ have way more “Britishy” phrases and words (lots of veggies have different names which makes for awkward self-service checkout experiences at the supermarket) whereas Australia has been more influenced by American subculture. Although, cheeky sayings such as “yeah, nah” which us Aussies claim originated here, Kiwis also claim them as originating there… I guess we’ll never know 😉

  12. I’m an American living in Miami and I’m looking into applying for a work holiday visa. I’m between Auckland, Melbourne, and Sydney. Have you visited Auckland yer? I visited for a few weeks and it’s much bigger than Wellington. Much more to do.

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