The New Zealand Public Health System

The New Zealand public health care system is in many aspects like the UK National Health Service, in that it is funded by the government; but there are some important differences.

Eligibility for Publicly Funded Health Care in New Zealand

You are eligible for subsidised health care if you are a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident, or if you hold a current work permit which allows you to stay for two or more years. Also if you are the child in the care of a NZ citizen, permanent resident, or work permit holder.

United Kingdom residents visiting New Zealand are entitled to emergency health care under a reciprocal agreement between the two countries. You still need to encourage your visitors to get comprehensive travel insurance; this covers incredibly expensive services such as repatriation.

Anybody suffering an injury as the result of an accident in New Zealand is also entitled to assistance under ACC, providing the accident qualifies under ACC legislation.

For further details, visit


New Zealanders and visitors to New Zealand are covered by a government-run insurance system for accidental injuries incurred in the home, workplace, during sport and at leisure – ACC, or the Accident Compensation Corporation. Treatment for any accidentally incurred injury, including sexual assault and medical misadventure, is mostly paid for, including surgery, specialist treatment and compensation for lost income.

ACC does not cover illness, and generally doesn’t cover mental trauma. In return for ACC cover, New Zealanders cannot sue for personal injury, other than exemplary damages. See our separate article for more information about ACC, including eligibility to ACC cover for Brits in New Zealand.

Finding a GP in New Zealand

When you arrive in New Zealand and have settled into an area, you will need to find a local doctor or GP. GPs (general practitioners) operate out of converted houses or purpose built facilities, mainly located in suburban areas, and most of the time they work with several colleagues and support staff (nurses, practice managers, receptionists).

Particularly if you have children, you will need to visit a doctor sooner or later – ask around for recommendations of doctors in your area. GPs are also listed in the front of the phone directory (white pages) under “Registered Medical Practitioners”.

Most doctors will ask you in for an initial consultation to get a picture of your family’s health. This is an excellent time to find out:

  • whether any prescriptions drugs you use are available, or whether alternatives are available
  • what after hours service is available (some larger areas have an dedicated after hours facility, which is great when you need medical help but know it does not warrant a visit to Accident and Emergency).
  • whether you need to catch up on any immunisations
  • whether you are eligible for any other screening or health programmes, such as cervical smears, breast screens or flu jabs.

There is generally a charge for GP visits, payable at reception as you leave. This generally ranges from $10 for a pre-schooler to $40 – $50 for an adult. If a GP refers you for blood or laboratory tests, these are free. There are extra subsidies available for those on low incomes, through the Community Services Card. You can also get a High Use Health Card if you require frequent visits to a doctor numerous prescription medicines. Your doctor will have further information on these, or you can visit

If your GP refers you to a specialist, you can choose to “go public” and wait but not pay, or “go private” and pay but not wait.

There is an excellent service called Healthline, which runs along the same lines as NHS Direct. The number is 0800 611 116. You can call any time, day or night, and talk to a registered nurse.

New Zealand Maternity Care

New Zealand has an excellent maternity system. Pregnant women choose their Lead Maternity Carer (LMC), mainly a midwife, and visit her throughout the pregnancy and for about 4-6 weeks after. You can also opt for an obstetrician as your LMC, though extra charges may apply. Very few GPs provide maternity care.

The LMC is responsible for all of your maternity care. Blood tests are free, though there may be a small charge for ultrasounds and other tests. If you need specialist care in your pregnancy or labour, this will be provided free of charge within the public system.

After you have been discharged from your midwife’s care, you will continue to have regular checks with a Plunket nurse or GP – basically the same service as Health Visitors provide in the UK. Plunket also hires out newborn car seats for a very reasonable price.

One of my children arrived in the UK, and two in New Zealand. We received good care in the UK, but found the continuity of care in New Zealand fantastic – having the same midwife all the way through was great.

Ask around for recommendations for a midwife, or ask your GP who they would suggest. For more information, see

Prescription Medicines

Pharmacy supplied drugs and medicines are generally free for children under 6 years of age, and subsidised for everyone else. The maximum you will pay for approved medicines is $15 per item, $10 for children over 6. The charge for contraceptives is $3.

There are further subsidies available if you need a lot of prescribed-medications (High Use Health Card) or qualify for a Community Services card due to low income.

Sometimes your doctor may recommend a medicine which is not fully subsidised as being more suitable for you; in this case shop around carefully, as pharmacy charges can vary quite widely.

Emergency Services

Ambulance, Police and Fire services can be summoned in an emergency by dialling 111.

In most areas you will be sent a bill of around $50 for using an ambulance, unless your callout is covered by ACC.

Dental Care in New Zealand

You will be charged for dental care in New Zealand. A standard check-up costs around $125. Routine dental care for primary school children is provided free of charge by school dental clinics, and government subsidies are available for dentists treating students up to the age of 18. Damage to teeth in an accident is often covered by ACC.


As with dentists, optometrists are not free in New Zealand. Typically a pair of glasses will cost you upwards of $400-500 – more expensive than in the UK, although this may change as the discount optometrist chains common on the UK high street (such as Specsavers) are starting to appear.

New Zealand Health Insurance

New Zealand has an excellent public health system, but its focus is on acute care. There are long waiting lists for treatments that are not considered immediately life-threatening. A non life-threatening illness can still leave you debilitated and in a lot of pain. For this reason, almost a third of New Zealanders have health insurance.

There are two main types of health insurance – Comprehensive Care policies and Major Medical or Surgical Care policies. Comprehensive Care policies are more expensive, but cover all of your medical costs up to a certain limit.

Major Medical, Surgical Care or Hospital Only policies cover surgery and specialist visits rather than day-to-day medical costs. This type of insurance is usually much more affordable.

To find out more, request a free copy of our Financial and Pension guides for New Zealand.