Every week, I seem to find out someone I know is moving to Australia. 

I never realised how many people I knew until they started jumping the ditch, one by one, leaving me with a shrinking pool of friends that actually live in my city. 

Between September 2022 and September 2023, 23,700 New Zealanders moved to Australia — that’s over half of all New Zealand citizens that left the country that year. 

It makes us Australia’s fourth-largest migrant community. 

What is it about Australia that New Zealanders find so attractive? And what is being done to keep New Zealanders here? 

Making more money in a ‘new playground’

Jude Hempel (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Porou) has “no regrets” about moving to Australia. 

The 26 year old had lived in Auckland since she was three. 

“Coming from a hospitality background, I felt like I had worked in every area of Auckland,” Jude says. “I was just bored and I was like ‘I need a new playground’.”

Seven months ago, she moved to Sydney. She flew over and stayed in a hotel for a week while looking for a job and a place to rent — she found both by day five, she says. 

Australia was an ideal location because it wasn’t too far from New Zealand and there is no language barrier, she says. 

When Jude lived in New Zealand, she made roughly $700-800 NZD per week as a manager working in hospitality. 

Her weekly expenses came to roughly $1000-1200 NZD per week, leaving her in the negatives most weeks, she says. 

She says she stayed afloat by dipping into her savings, using a credit card for big bills and unexpected expenses and asking for help from friends and family every week, which “was very awkward”. 

“I worked my ass off in hospo, to the point where I mentally and physically forgot about my own health,” Jude says. 

“And then I would be like ‘wait, I'm doing all this for that when I could be in a hot, beautiful country doing maybe a little bit less, getting a little bit more’.” 

In Australia, Jude earns roughly $1000 AUD per week working as a manager at a sports apparel store and her expenses are roughly $600 AUD per week. 

She is back in the positives now and is starting to save money, she says. 

Jude remembers being shocked at the supermarket checkout when she was able to buy a week’s worth of groceries for $50 AUD. 

“I was just like, ‘fuck off!’... This whole trolley would be like $150 back home. Like, it was like eggs, meat, breads.” 

A single mum wanting more support  

Nancy, who is using a pseudonym for privacy reasons, is a single mum planning on moving to Australia later this year. 

Nancy lives in Christchurch and makes $45,000 per year working 20 hours a week. 

She says she can only work part time because she is raising a toddler.  

She gets a Working for Families payment of around $250 per week and her Accommodation Supplement payment is between $130-155 per week. 

She also gets a weekly Childcare Subsidy of around $6.10 per hour of childcare, which reduces her childcare cost to $80 per week. 

Nancy says she feels she needs to keep her salary low so she can qualify for these payments. 

She says if she found a job that made her more money, she might not get support from the government but also wouldn’t be making enough money to comfortably cover all of her costs herself. 

It would leave her in “no man’s land”, she says. 

In Australia, Nancy says she would be able to be on a higher salary and still access benefits.

Nancy estimates she could make up to $110,000 AUD if she worked full time in Australia. 

She could still get 84% of the Australian Child Care Subsidy on that income, as long as she has a Special Category visa, which is what most New Zealand Citizens move to Australia with

Nancy would potentially also get other benefits in Australia, like the Family Tax Benefit. 

According to her research, Nancy says a bunch of full-time jobs in Australia are 35-37.5 hours per week and offer more flexibility which is ideal for parents. 

“New Zealand… It just feels to me it doesn't value the solo parent,” Nancy says. 

Nancy has around $24,000 left on her student loan. If she moves to Australia, she will have to pay 3.9% interest on her loan payments. 

That interest will increase to 4.9% from April 2025 but it doesn’t change Nancy’s decision to move to Australia. 

“It's exciting [to move to Australia] but it’s sad to be in a position where you feel you can't make it work in your home country long term, where your family and your supports are,” Nancy says.

Economist explains why New Zealanders are moving

New Zealand Institute of Economic Research senior economist Ting Huang says young New Zealanders think Australia has more opportunities for them and their potential children, a more vibrant lifestyle, a wider range of goods and services available, and it’s easier to get into the housing market there than in New Zealand. 

There’s now also an easier pathway to gaining citizenship, Huang says. 

Since July 2023, New Zealand citizens who have lived in Australia for at least four years have been able to directly apply for citizenship there without needing to get a permanent visa first. 

Australia’s inflation is currently the highest it’s been all year and the country also has a rising cost of living.

While it’s not “cheap” to live in Australia, it is “less expensive” than New Zealand, with data from Stats NZ and the Australian Bureau of Statistics showing costs are similar but wages are higher, Huang says.

Knock-on effects on New Zealand’s economy

Between March 2023 and March 2024, New Zealand had a net migration loss of 52,500 citizens, which is the highest annual loss on record. 

Teachers, police officers, healthcare and construction workers are in “hot demand” in Australia, Huang says. 

If New Zealand loses a significant amount of workforce in these essential areas, it's a potential concern that policymakers should really think about more, she says. 

A reduced police force could mean people don’t feel safe to go out and spend money, or businesses don’t feel safe to operate at full capacity, which decreases sales and impacts our GDP, Huang says. 

If we don’t have enough healthcare professionals, we can’t fully take care of New Zealand’s workforce which can impact productivity of labour, she says. 

What’s the Government doing to keep young people here?

Social Development and Employment Minister Louise Upston says “current migration trends speak to how people are feeling about the state of the economy we inherited from the previous Labour government that couldn’t control its spending and let inflation get out of control”.

Upston says the Government is responding to these migration trends by giving New Zealanders tax relief, as laid out in this year’s Budget, and “prioritising new spending on frontline services that will improve our way of life, such as health, education, disability services, and Police”.

The Government has also announced changes to the Accredited Employer Work Visa that are expected to reduce the number of low-skilled migrants entering New Zealand, she says. 

“This will make sure young Kiwis are put to the front of the line for jobs where there are no skills shortages, while at the same time attracting and retaining highly skilled migrants in roles where there are shortages, such as teachers.” 

How is the Government currently supporting solo parents? 

Upston says “putting more money into the pockets of hard-working Kiwi families is a top priority of this coalition Government”. 

The Working for Families tax credit went up and will put up to $25 more per week into the pockets of low-and-middle-income working families, Upston says. 

The Government has increased the Sole Parent Support benefit by $22.01 per week and the maximum weekly rate for paid parental leave by $42.70, she says. 

Upston says tax changes in this year’s Budget also extended eligibility for the independent earner tax credit, increased the in-work tax credit and the minimum family tax credit, and introduced the FamilyBoost payment.

Would New Zealanders living in Australia want to come back? 

Nancy and Jude both plan on staying in Australia long enough to become citizens. 

If there was anything that would make Nancy stay in New Zealand, it would be receiving more support as a solo parent, she says. 

Jude plans on coming back to New Zealand when she has her own family because it's important to her to raise her kids in the same country she grew up in. 

In the meantime, she says she’s already visited home twice to see her community and recharge. 

“Australia was very welcoming and New Zealand will always be a couple hours away… [It] feels bittersweet being here,” she says. 

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