How Much Can You Earn – Working Holiday New Zealand


Have you ever wondered how much you can earn from your working holiday in New Zealand?

I had been in New Zealand for 37.5 weeks (with my 6+3 months visa) and I had been really thankful that I had managed to work for 27 weeks (>70% of my time), across 7 different jobs.

At the time of writing and for my actual experience, the minimum wage is $17.70/hour + 8% Holiday Day Pay. Just FYI, the minimum wage will increase to $18.90 from 1 April 2020.

Just some no-brainer questions that you may want to ask:

How and when do I get paid?

For all of my jobs, I get paid via bank transfer. It is the easiest method and a bank account is required for your IRD number as well (to pay taxes) so I think you shouldn’t fret too much about it. However, I do hear of some not legal companies that ask if you would prefer to receive your salary in cash. They may tempt you to accept this option as you can avoid paying taxes (but they may not pay you the 8%). To be honest, it is a huge risk and I highly discourage you from accepting such shady jobs. If caught, you may be fined or even deported out of the country!

Also, companies here tend to pay you weekly or bi-monthly. You will also be paid by the number of hours you work, not a monthly salary (unlike most countries, where you need to work more on months with 31 days). As a result, I feel that the people here tend to work harder, in order to end work on time. At least for the places that I’ve worked in, most of the full-time staff I work with tend to have a very good working attitude and they don’t really slack off.

Payday is usually Wednesday but I did have one company paying on a Tuesday and another paying on a Thursday.

What is Holiday Pay?

As most of us are contract workers who will work for less than one year, we may not have the opportunity to take paid annual leave. The rule of thumb is that annual leave is equivalent to 8% of your salary (~20 days per year) and companies will just pay you the amount, instead of giving you a paid vacation.

When do companies pay the Holiday Pay?

Some companies pay you the holiday pay together with your weekly/bi-monthly pay. However, there are some companies that withhold this amount until your last paycheque. This is to ensure that you served your notice period properly or they may have the right to deduct it from your holiday pay. Also, I do know of some job agents who withhold your holiday pay unless you finish up the contract commitment (e.g. 3 months). If you’re getting a job through an agent, always read your contract properly and clarify if you’re unsure.

What is Public Holiday Pay and am I eligible?

If you’re working for a legit company that obeys the New Zealand laws and not play with grey areas, you will be entitled to Public Holiday Pay (which means getting paid a day’s salary even if you’re not working that day). Some companies require you to start work at least 2 weeks before the public holiday in order to be eligible for the payout but some don’t. If you’re wanting to game the system, do research on the public holidays and try to make yourself employed with a good company that honors the payout. The best times to earn would be (25 Dec – 2 Jan; 4 days) and March/April for Good Friday + Easter Sunday.

How does Tax work?

I wrote a more detailed explanation about taxes and refund in this link.

Most companies practice the ‘Pay As You Earn’ PAYE scheme whereby they will project your weekly salary to the annual amount and deduct your taxes directly. Assuming you work 40 hours a week at min. wage, your tax deducted would be about 16.5% and your weekly take-home pay would be about $640-650 after 8% holiday pay. The tax year runs from 1 April till 31 March. The Inland Revenue Tax department will calculate your annual income based on the tax year and refund you back the money that you have overpaid. Chances are, you will be getting back some money but do not expect it to be a lot. Most people only get back few hundred. The best way to pay less taxes is to start your working holiday between the two tax years. With a 1 year visa, you should start in October and your annual tax will be computed based on 6 months salary.

Note: I have not received my tax refund yet, so I will be updating the tax refund information in the near future.

Update (Apr 2020): My income tax refund was credited to my ANZ account on 7 Apr 2020. I had previously requested for early tax refund in mid March.

I received a refund of $465.95 (which is 14% of the $3,229,94 that I paid). The reason why I had a refund was because my wages was deducted based on an estimation that I will be working 52 weeks (in a financial year April to March). I only worked 27 weeks in the financial year, that’s why they are refunding me the excess amount that had been deducted. There might be a chance you will not get back anything (or perhaps nothing of significance) if you’ve worked the full year. Taxes in New Zealand are high but I guess, that’s the price to pay in exchange for the free and beautiful natural scenery in the national parks.

Update (May 2020): For those who did not file taxes, it was automatically refunded between 19 – 21 May 2020 (for the Financial Year from 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020).

Summary of Jobs and Wages Earned

Hourly Wage Avg. Hours per Week
Take-Home after Tax
Zealandia – Plant Nursery
(Jul – Sep 19)
9 weeks
$17.70 40.05 $5,778.08
Cardrona – Ski Field
(Sep – Oct 19)
5 weeks
$17.70 27.65 $2,238.82
Dunstan Hills – Apricot Thinning
(Oct – Nov 19)
3 weeks
$17.7 + Contract (up to $26/hr) 35.08 $2,013.10
Amisfield – Vineyard
(Nov – Dec 19)
3.5 weeks
$18.50 35.43 $2,084.94
Strode Road Orchard – Cherry Packhouse
(2 days)
$17.70 $238.67
Dunstan Hills – Cherry Packhouse
(Dec – Jan 20)
4 weeks
$17.70 36.59 $2,798.65
Talleys – Mussel Opener
(Jan 2020)
2 weeks
$17.70 + misc 44.38 $1,445.75
Total $16,598.01

I have to give several disclaimers with regards to the number of hours I work per week in order to show that this is a kind of representation for me, not an indication of the whole industry per se.

  • I am someone who chooses not to work overtime on weekends (sat & sun), unless otherwise stated in my contract.
  • I only joined Cardrona (the ski field) when it was nearing the end of season. When I was there, the weather was really crappy and we had many closed days. As I was in the ticket office, the crowd only peaked in the morning and I was often asked to leave early.
  • For Amisfield, there were many opportunities to work more hours (e.g. starting at 6am instead of 7am and working on Satudays), but I chose not to work the extra hours. Furthermore, I indicated it as 3.5 weeks instead of 4 as there was a week I couldn’t go to work as my car broke down.
  • For Cherry packhouse at Dunstan Hills, the hours were a little skewed as we had not much work on the first week as the fruits were not ready. There was a day where we only worked 1.5 hours before getting sent home. However, towards my last two weeks, we had 10 to 12 hours/day shift which kind of made the average higher.
  • Talleys was a 6-day week job which explains the higher hours.

How am I able to earn more money?

If you’re wondering on whether you will be able to earn more money than me, the answer is definitely yes. As mentioned above, I am a slacker who does not want to do overtime and I prefer jobs with 5-day work week instead of 6 days. If you’re wanting to earn more money, you’ll be better off working in a factory with 12-hours shift (especially those with night shift) or perhaps in the packhouse when it is at the peak season. During the days of peak season in the cherry packhouse, we were instructed to pack both lunch and dinner to work; and we could clock 11-12 hours per day. When I was in Talleys, we could volunteer to do cleaning which meant an additional of 3-4 hours of work after our actual work ends. If you work 12-hours shift on a 6-day schedule, you should be able to earn more than $1,000/week! Also, there are some jobs that pay you more than minimum wage. An example would be working in vineyards or meat factory (heard they pay $20/hour). For me, we got paid contract for apricot thinning which means that the more trees we worked on, the more money would be paid and there was a few days where I earned up to $26/hour, even though I don’t know what the heck I was doing at work. Oh wells.

Would you still recommend working in a ski field even though you don’t get to earn money?

Yes, I would recommend working in a ski field if you’re in for a hell lot of fun. There are many benefits when you work in the ski field and the most important one would be the ski lift season pass. Furthermore, as employees, we are given free group lessons (provided that there are paying guests) and our rentals are heavily discounted. I have many friends who picked up skiing and snowboarding while they were there and no one I’ve met has regretted their decision to join. That being said, it is rated as the best job of my entire Working Holiday experience.

If your objective of working holiday is to earn money, you should never consider working in a ski field (at least in South Island; I can’t speak for the north). Firstly, rental in Queenstown and Wanaka is crazily expensive. I had to pay $230+bills/week for my room and there was such a huge demand for accommodation that I didn’t have any choice when I was looking for one. When I accepted the job offer, they informed me that my weekly hours was projected to be 25-30. After deducting my wages for rental, I only had $200/week for living expenses which meant that I was kind of suffering a deficit while working there. HOWEVER, if you’re working in departments like kitchen and housekeeping, your hours will be more and you will probably not earn so little as I did.

What was your toughest job?

When I first started at Zealandia, I wanted to quit by my first smoko (break) which was after 2 hours of work. In fact, in the first 30 mins in my kneeling job, I felt that it wasn’t a job for me and that I would quit or perhaps be sacked for being too slow. However, I somehow managed to persevere as the company practices job rotation so you won’t be doing the same thing everyday. However, now that I am looking back on all my jobs, the toughest job would be the mussel opening job at Talleys. You not only have to deal with the smell of seafood, you have to stand at the same spot for 7 hours 20 mins a day, with your hands moving in a similar motion. My hands and arms were hurting so much that every morning when I wake up, I need to start by wriggling my fingers to induce my nerves, allowing my brain to know that my hands and arms are still attached to my body. It’s a little exaggeration but perhaps I didn’t really master the technique well, the ache was real. Furthermore, we were not allowed to listen to music via earphones (only the expensive 3M ones were allowed) which made the time even more unbearable. Towards the end, I ignored the rules and wore my wireless earphones in and time became more bearable but my efficiency slowed down. Having to deal with the smell and repetitive hand action, I rate it the worse job experience. When I was working in that role, I didn’t have any mood to cook and I survive on cereal, chocolate, chips and drinking tea and coffee every single break.

Which is the best company you’ve worked for?

Although Cardrona will always have a special place in my heart, I actually felt that Amisfield was the company that had the employee’s best interest at all times. Vineyard work was known to be a very difficult job as it was repetitive action and there was no shade from the sun as the vines are pretty short. It was a job that I thought that I would quit on my first day but I stayed on.. till the cherry season started. Firstly, the company provided a BBQ lunch every thursday and it was like real meat patties, not just hot dogs and BBQ sauce. They even buy the small carbonated bottled drinks for us. Even though we were all short-term workers, they allowed us to go on a winery tour where the winemaker shared with us the winemaking process and we even got to sample some wines, fresh from the barrel! The supervisors were not anal with the smoko timings and even though we were slow, they simply just encouraged and helped us. Furthermore, we had a huge discount when we bought the wines from the cellar door and when my car broke down and I couldn’t be at work for a few days, they did not use the opportunity to fire me, but simply just asked me to update on my status the following day. They even hired my friend so we could carpool to work together. The company was simply kind of heavenly in my eyes and I’m glad that I had the opportunity to work there. Their 2016 Pinot Noir is one of the finest in the central otago region and I was willing to fork out $59.90 for a bottle.

What do I do with spare cash left in NZ account?

Most people that I’ve met usually get to take home some money from their NZ Working Holiday experience (unless you’re a serial spendthrift or spend more than 3 months traveling). For me, I used transferwise to transfer money from my NZ account to my SGD account. The fees are really great and for your first transfer, you can get a huge discount off the fees. I will be writing a post about the fees I paid etc. but if you need a referral link (to get a discount for your first transfer), PM me 🙂


Do you have any questions for me? Feel free to comment below!

Also, do check out my individual and lengthy job experiences post below:

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