Discovering Nelson: The Ultimate Guide to Moving to Nelson, New Zealand

Nestled at the top of the South Island, Nelson is a vibrant city known for its stunning landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and friendly, welcoming atmosphere. With its sunny climate, thriving arts scene, and an abundance of outdoor activities, it’s no wonder that many people are drawn to this picturesque region of Aotearoa. This guide aims to provide you with comprehensive information to help you prepare for your move to Nelson, ensuring a smooth transition to your new home.

Visa and Immigration

When moving to Nelson, New Zealand, it is essential to understand the types of visas available and the immigration process you’ll need to follow. Depending on your purpose for moving to the country and the duration of your stay, you will need to apply for the appropriate visa.

  1. Visitor Visa: If you plan to visit Nelson for a short period (up to 9 months), you may apply for a visitor visa. This visa is suitable for tourists, visiting family or friends, and those attending short-term courses.
  2. Work Visa: To work in Nelson, you’ll need a work visa. There are various types of work visas available, including Essential Skills Work Visa, Skilled Migrant Category Resident Visa, and Working Holiday Visa. The eligibility criteria and requirements differ for each visa type, so it’s crucial to determine the right one for your situation.
  3. Student Visa: If you intend to study in Nelson, you’ll need a student visa. This visa allows you to stay and study in New Zealand for a specific period, depending on your course duration.
  4. Residence Visa: If you’re planning to live permanently in Nelson, you can apply for a residence visa. The Skilled Migrant Category Resident Visa and the Partner of a New Zealander Resident Visa are two common types of residence visas.

Before applying for a visa, it’s important to gather all the necessary documents and meet the eligibility requirements. The visa application process can be done online or via a paper application, depending on the type of visa. You will need to pay the appropriate fees and may also be required to provide biometric information or attend an interview. Make sure to check the Immigration New Zealand website for up-to-date information on visa requirements and application procedures.

It is crucial to familiarize yourself with New Zealand’s immigration laws and regulations, including work rights, visa conditions, and obligations as a visa holder. Non-compliance with these rules can lead to visa cancellation or even deportation.

Cost of Living

When considering a move to Nelson, it’s important to evaluate the cost of living to ensure a comfortable lifestyle in your new home. Here’s a breakdown of some common expenses you may encounter:

  • Currency and exchange rates: The currency used in New Zealand is the New Zealand Dollar (NZD). Before moving, it’s crucial to be aware of the exchange rates to budget your finances effectively. When transferring your money to New Zealand we recommend using a dedicated money transfer organisation.
  • Housing costs (renting vs. buying): Housing costs in Nelson vary depending on the location and type of property. Renting is a popular option, with prices ranging from NZD 350 to NZD 550 per week for a two or three-bedroom house. If you’re looking to buy a property, the median house price in Nelson is around NZD 800,000. Keep in mind that prices may be higher in sought-after suburbs.
  • Utilities and other household expenses: Expect to pay around NZD 200 to NZD 250 per month for utilities, including electricity, water, and waste services. Internet and phone services will cost approximately NZD 70 to NZD 100 per month, depending on the provider and plan.
  • Food and dining expenses: Groceries in Nelson are relatively affordable, with a monthly grocery bill for a couple averaging NZD 600 to NZD 800. Dining out can range from NZD 15 to NZD 30 for a meal at a casual restaurant, while a three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant may cost around NZD 50 to NZD 80 per person.
  • Transportation costs: Nelson has a limited public transport system, with a single adult bus fare costing around NZD 3.50. However, many residents prefer to use private vehicles, with petrol prices averaging NZD 2.20 per liter. If you’re planning to purchase a car, expect to pay anywhere from NZD 10,000 to NZD 50,000, depending on the make, model, and age of the vehicle.
  • Entertainment and leisure expenses: Nelson offers a wide range of recreational activities, from outdoor adventures to cultural events. Cinema tickets cost around NZD 15, while a gym membership averages NZD 60 per month. Outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, and kayaking, are often free or low-cost.
Expense CategoryAverage Cost in Nelson (NZD)Notes
– 1-bedroom apartment in city center1,400/monthRent prices vary depending on location and size
– 1-bedroom apartment outside city center1,100/monthRent prices vary depending on location and size
– 3-bedroom apartment in city center2,500/monthRent prices vary depending on location and size
– 3-bedroom apartment outside city center1,900/monthRent prices vary depending on location and size
Utilities200/monthIncludes electricity, heating, cooling, water, and garbage
Internet75/monthAverage cost of unlimited broadband internet
– Milk (1 liter)2.30
– Bread (500g)2.50
– Eggs (12)4.80
– Chicken breast (1kg)14.50
– Apples (1kg)4.00
– Tomatoes (1kg)5.20
– Water (1.5-liter bottle)2.20
– Monthly public transport pass60.00
– Gasoline (1 liter)2.45
– Taxi (1 km)3.00
Dining Out
– Meal at an inexpensive restaurant20.00
– Meal at a mid-range restaurant (3-course, 2 people)85.00
– Fast food meal12.00
– Cappuccino4.50
Entertainment and Leisure
– Movie ticket15.00
– Fitness club membership (monthly)65.00
– Tennis court rental (1 hour)20.00
Please note that these figures are approximate as of April 2023 and may vary depending on your lifestyle and specific location within Nelson.

Housing and Suburbs

Nelson offers a variety of neighborhoods, each with its unique character and charm. Here are some popular neighborhoods for expats:

  1. Nelson City Centre: Living in the city center offers easy access to shopping, dining, and entertainment options. Properties in this area tend to be a mix of apartments, townhouses, and older homes, with rental prices generally higher than in suburban areas.
  2. Stoke: Located south of the city center, Stoke is a family-friendly suburb with a mix of residential homes, parks, and local amenities. It’s an attractive option for those seeking a more relaxed lifestyle while still being close to the city.
  3. Tahunanui: This coastal suburb is known for its beautiful beach and recreational facilities. Tahunanui offers a mix of housing options, from beachfront apartments to single-family homes. The area is popular among families and those who enjoy an active, outdoor lifestyle.
  4. Atawhai: Situated north of the city center, Atawhai offers stunning sea views and a peaceful, residential atmosphere. Properties in this area range from modern homes to older, character-filled houses.

When searching for a place to live in Nelson, consider factors such as proximity to work, schools, and amenities. Online resources, such as Trade Me Property and, are useful for browsing available properties. Additionally, local real estate agents can provide valuable insights into the local market and help you find the perfect home.

Rental agreements in Nelson typically require a bond, equivalent to up to four weeks’ rent, as well as two weeks’ rent in advance. The Tenancy Services website provides detailed information on tenant rights and responsibilities, including maintenance, repairs, and dispute resolution.


Employment and Business

  • Job market overview: Nelson’s economy is diverse, with industries such as tourism, horticulture, forestry, and seafood being major contributors. Additionally, there is a growing focus on innovative industries like information technology, renewable energy, and creative arts.
  • Popular industries and job opportunities: Some of the largest employers in Nelson include the healthcare, education, and local government sectors. Tourism-related jobs are also abundant, with many seasonal opportunities in hospitality and adventure tourism. Job seekers with skills in horticulture, viticulture, and aquaculture may find ample opportunities in Nelson’s thriving agriculture sector.
  • Setting up a business in Nelson: If you’re considering starting a business in Nelson, you’ll need to follow New Zealand’s business registration process. This includes registering your company with the Companies Office, applying for a tax number, and obtaining any necessary licenses or permits. The New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) website offers valuable resources and support for entrepreneurs.
  • Networking and local organizations for expats: Joining local organizations, such as the Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce or the New Zealand Institute of Directors, can help expand your professional network. Additionally, expat groups and social clubs, such as Internations or Meetup, are great ways to connect with fellow expats and locals alike.

Education and Schools

  • Public vs. private schools: New Zealand’s public education system is well-regarded, with most schools offering high-quality education. However, some expats may prefer private schools for their smaller class sizes and specialized curricula. Both public and private schools in Nelson cater to students from primary to secondary levels.
  • International schools: There are currently no international schools in Nelson, but some nearby options include the Christchurch International School and the Queenstown International School.
  • Language courses: Language courses, such as English or Te Reo Māori classes, are available through local institutions like the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT) or community education centers.
  • Higher education options: Nelson is home to the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT), which offers a range of vocational and tertiary courses, including diplomas, degrees, and postgraduate qualifications. The University of Canterbury is within driving distance, offering a broader range of undergraduate and postgraduate programs.


  • Public vs. private healthcare: New Zealand has a public healthcare system, offering free or subsidized healthcare services to residents. However, waiting times for non-urgent care can be lengthy, leading some to opt for private healthcare providers. Private healthcare typically requires additional insurance coverage and offers faster access to specialists and elective treatments.
  • Health insurance options: If you’re not eligible for public healthcare or prefer private services, consider obtaining private health insurance. Providers such as Southern Cross Health Society, NIB, and Accuro offer various plans to suit your needs and budget.
  • Finding a doctor or specialist: To find a general practitioner (GP) in Nelson, you can search the Healthpoint website or inquire at your local medical center. Specialists are typically accessed through referrals from your GP.
  • Pharmacies and medications: Pharmacies are widely available in Nelson and can provide prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, and health advice. Some pharmacies offer after-hours services for urgent needs.


  • Public transportation options: Nelson offers limited public transportation, with a small bus network called the NBus serving the city and surrounding suburbs. The single adult fare is NZD 3.50, with discounts available for children, seniors, and students.
  • Driving in Nelson: If you plan to drive in Nelson, you may use your overseas driver’s license for up to 12 months. After that, you’ll need to obtain a New Zealand driver’s license. Driving is on the left side of the road, and it’s important to familiarize yourself with local traffic rules and regulations.
  • Biking and walking paths: Nelson boasts an extensive network of walking and cycling paths, making it easy to explore the city and its stunning natural surroundings. The Great Taste Trail is a popular cycling route that takes you through picturesque landscapes, including vineyards, orchards, and coastal areas.
  • Taxis and ride-sharing services: Taxis are readily available in Nelson, and ride-sharing services such as Uber and Ola also operate in the city. Fares vary depending on distance and demand, so it’s advisable to compare prices before booking.

Culture and Lifestyle

  • Language and communication: English is the primary language spoken in Nelson, but you’ll also encounter Te Reo Māori, the indigenous language of New Zealand. Learning a few basic phrases in Te Reo Māori can help you better connect with the local culture and people.
  • Local customs and etiquette: New Zealanders, or Kiwis, are known for their friendly and welcoming nature. It’s important to respect local customs, such as removing your shoes when entering someone’s home and being punctual for appointments and social engagements.
  • Sports, hobbies, and leisure activities: Nelson offers a wide range of recreational activities, from outdoor pursuits like hiking, mountain biking, and kayaking to cultural experiences like art galleries, museums, and theater. The region is also known for its wineries and craft breweries, making wine and beer tastings a popular pastime.
  • Dining and nightlife options: Nelson’s dining scene is diverse, offering everything from casual cafes to fine dining establishments. Seafood is a local specialty, with fresh catches like scallops, mussels, and fish readily available. Nightlife in Nelson is relatively low-key, with a focus on bars, pubs, and live music venues.
  • Festivals and events: Throughout the year, Nelson hosts various festivals and events that celebrate its unique culture and lifestyle. Some highlights include the Nelson Arts Festival, the Nelson Wine & Food Festival, and the Light Nelson Festival.

Safety and Security

  • General safety tips: Nelson is generally considered a safe city, but it’s still essential to exercise common sense and take precautions, such as locking doors and windows, being cautious when walking alone at night, and not leaving valuables unattended.
  • Common scams and precautions: As in any city, be aware of potential scams targeting tourists and newcomers. Examples include overcharging by taxi drivers, accommodation scams, and street vendors selling counterfeit goods. Research and verify any deals or services before committing.
  • Emergency services and contact information: In case of emergency, dial 111 for police, fire, or ambulance services. It’s a good idea to keep the contact details of your country’s embassy or consulate on hand as well.

Moving and Shipping Your Personal Effects to Nelson

Relocating to Nelson, New Zealand, involves not only a change of scenery but also the challenge of transporting your personal belongings to your new home. Proper planning and organization can help ensure a smooth and efficient moving process. Here are some essential steps to consider when moving and shipping your personal effects to Nelson:

  1. Inventory and declutter: Before beginning the packing process, take an inventory of your belongings and decide which items you want to take with you. Consider downsizing and decluttering to reduce shipping costs and make your move more manageable. You can sell, donate, or dispose of items you no longer need or that are easily replaceable in New Zealand.
  2. Research shipping options: Investigate various international shipping companies and compare their services, prices, and reputation. Look for international movers with experience in shipping to New Zealand, as they will be familiar with the country’s customs regulations and import requirements. Obtain multiple quotes and choose a company that offers a balance of cost-effectiveness and reliability.
  3. Understand customs regulations: Familiarize yourself with New Zealand’s customs regulations to avoid any delays or complications upon arrival. Some items may be subject to taxes, duties, or restrictions. For instance, certain plants, food products, and animal products are prohibited or require special permits. Consult the New Zealand Customs Service website for detailed information on importing personal effects.
  4. Properly pack and label your belongings: To ensure your items arrive safely, invest time and effort in packing your belongings securely. Use sturdy boxes, bubble wrap, and packing paper to protect fragile items. Clearly label each box with its contents and indicate if it contains fragile or valuable items. This will help both customs officials and movers handle your belongings with care.
  5. Insure your shipment: Despite taking precautions, accidents can happen during transit. Consider purchasing insurance coverage to protect the value of your belongings in case of damage or loss. Most shipping companies offer insurance options, or you can obtain coverage through a third-party insurer.
  6. Prepare essential documents: Compile necessary documents for customs clearance, such as a detailed inventory list, passport copies, and a completed New Zealand Customs Service Unaccompanied Personal Baggage Declaration form. Keep these documents readily accessible throughout the moving process.
  7. Plan for arrival: Coordinate with your chosen shipping company to confirm the estimated arrival date of your belongings in Nelson. Make arrangements for transportation from the port or airport to your new residence. If necessary, consider renting temporary storage facilities in Nelson until you’re ready to move into your new home.


Moving to Nelson, New Zealand, offers a unique opportunity to experience the best of the country’s natural beauty, rich culture, and friendly community. By following the advice and information provided in this guide, you’ll be well-prepared for a smooth transition and a successful move. Be sure to consult additional resources, such as government websites and local expat forums, for further support and assistance.

by Maiane Cassanego
Maiane is the Founder of Expat Frontier. She is fluent in English, Portuguese and Spanish. Maiane has an extensive background in international moving, freight forwarding and logistics.