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Travellers Backpacker

Currency, Money & Tipping

Read our handy guide to everything you need to know about paying for goods, getting out cash, tipping and setting up bank accounts in New Zealand.

The currency

The currency used in New Zealand is the New Zealand dollar typically written as NZ$ or even just $ and made up of 100 cents. Coins are copper 10 cents, silver 20 and 50 cents with gold 1 and 2 dollar denominations. Notes come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 with many of the notes now of the new plastic variety.

Paying for goods

Oddly, although there are no coins smaller than a 10 cent piece you will still find prices covering every cent range. When you pay for goods with prices such as these in cash the totals are rounded to the nearest 10 cents. Anything over 5 cents is rounded up and everything else rounded down. Exact amounts are only charged when you pay by credit or debit card.

All major credit cards are accepted countrywide and usually even in the most out-of-the-way places as New Zealanders typically prefer to pay by plastic rather than cash, even for very small amounts. If you're from the UK you will be familiar with the 'chip and PIN' concept used in New Zealand which means payment by card requires a PIN number rather than a signature.

The price you see in the shops is the price you pay – inclusive of 15% Goods and Services Tax (GST). Unlike some other countries across the globe, this tax cannot be claimed back by overseas visitors. If you are looking for duty-free goods and the lower prices attached you will find some at a few of the large tourist centres particularly in Auckland.

Getting money

ATMs are everywhere – sometimes in the tiniest of towns and accept most of the international cards with a four digit PIN. Cirrus and Maestro symbol cards are universally accepted. If a bank doesn't have an ATM or it isn't working you can usually withdraw cash from inside a bank with your card and your passport. Banking hours are 9.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday and some of the larger city banks are open on Saturday mornings too. The main banks are - ANZ, ASB, Bank of New Zealand (BNZ), KiwiBank, and Westpac. Some ANZ branches are branded as The National Bank.

As is the case, no matter where you are in the world, quite what you will be charged by your home bank for withdrawals varies alarmingly. Be clear on what the costs will be by speaking to your bank before leaving home.

Currency exchanges/Bureau de Changes

Can be found in the major cities and all banks will exchange for you too. Rates vary of course with typically the worst exchange rates found at airports, as is the case worldwide.

Bank accounts

As many visitors are in New Zealand for a good length of time it is often worth looking at opening a bank account to save paying withdrawal fees every time you need some cash. In fact, should you be intending to work under the Working Holiday Scheme you will have to do this anyway to get an IRD number and avoid paying high taxes.

When you open a bank account you will be issued instantly with an EFTPOS (debit) card for which you will have to choose a four digit PIN.

Things are tightening a little with regard to temporary bank accounts for overseas visitors to New Zealand but currently you can open an account with the following:

  • At least one form of photo ID – typically this will be your passport
  • A 'place of residence' address. Obviously travellers are nomadic and won't typically have an address unless they are working. The laws governing what does and doesn't qualify as an address are a little unclear. Kiwis are friendly folk – have a chat to your bank of choice and they will advise you what to do.
  • Your IRD (Inland Revenue Department) number if you have one (and you will need one if you work)
  • A minimum amount to deposit. These are set differently by each bank and range from NZ$10 to NZ$500.

The financial institution practice and laws governing overseas visitors opening bank accounts in New Zealand are currently in a state of flux. This means little things or even the whole system might be different by the time you arrive and current advice seems to be somewhat conflicting. Thanks to the Internet you can make all kinds of enquiries before leaving home, if having a bank account is an important element of your trip.


Tipping really isn't the norm in New Zealand even in restaurants, bars and cafés. In fact, many Kiwis pride themselves on a service industry which delivers exceptional service as the standard. Furthermore, some Kiwis are genuinely bewildered and even embarrassed when some-one tries to tip them just for doing their job – it simply isn't part of the culture here. Service charges are never added to bills anywhere.

All that said, if you really feel some-one has gone above-and-beyond the call of duty and you want to say thank you with a tip then do so - it isn't unknown.


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