Story: Kiwis overseas

Travelling is a part of life for many New Zealanders. The earliest Polynesians sailed to New Zealand from Hawaiki, and prospectors and settlers arrived from all over the world in the 19th-century. The country’s people have had a restless curiosity for the places of their ancestors and the opportunities offered by broader horizons.

Story by Carl Walrond
Main image: Rugby players performing a haka, Washington DC

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A nation of migrants

New Zealanders have always been travellers: the first Polynesian settlers sailed to New Zealand from Hawaiki, and the first Pākehā people arrived from Britain and Europe. Until the mid-20th century, the centre of the British Empire, England, was considered to be ‘home’ by many New Zealanders. A large number travelled back, while others sought opportunities in other parts of the empire, such as India, Australia and African countries.

Small-country syndrome

As a new country, New Zealand did not have an independent cultural identity until recently. This meant that in the past many New Zealand writers, artists, academics and scientists had to go overseas to make their mark.

Staying in Britain

Many New Zealanders do not return once they leave. Those who have a British parent or grandparent are entitled to stay in the United Kingdom for four years, after which they may apply for citizenship. Once expatriates get married and have children, it becomes more difficult to consider returning to New Zealand.

In 2003 the British Home Office reported that about 400,000 New Zealanders had a British passport. Many Kiwis go to the United Kingdom on working holidays. Estimates vary, but at any one time 50,000–200,000 New Zealanders may be living in the United Kingdom.

Migration to Australia

Australia is also a popular home of choice for many New Zealanders, because of cultural similarities, work opportunities and because it is close and inexpensive to get to. In 2002, over 80% of Kiwis living there were employed. In 2003 almost half a million New Zealanders were living in Australia – easily the largest expatriate New Zealand community in the world.

Kiwis living overseas

Famous New Zealanders who are living overseas include the opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa, film-maker Jane Campion and actor Russell Crowe. Because many New Zealand professionals seek work in other countries, there have been worries about a ‘brain drain’. However, many return, and those who leave are replaced by highly skilled migrants from other countries.

How to cite this page:

Carl Walrond, 'Kiwis overseas', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 July 2024)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 8 February 2005, updated 17 September 2014