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Becoming a New Zealand citizen

How to become a New Zealand citizen

Applications for New Zealand citizenship are dealt with by the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), not by Immigration New Zealand (which is part of a completely different government organisation, the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment).

For more information about the process of applying for citizenship, go to www.dia.govt.nz.

If your parent is a New Zealand citizen

Citizenship Act 1977, s 7

If either of your parents is a New Zealand citizen, then you’re automatically a New Zealand citizen.

If you are a Sāmoan citizen

Citizenship (Western Samoa) Act 1982

If you are a Sāmoan citizen, you need to prove either that you were in New Zealand on 14 September 1982, or that you entered New Zealand legally after that date, and that you have the right to be here indefinitely – that means that you have a resident permit, a resident visa, a permanent resident visa or Australian citizenship or permanent resident visa.

If you were in New Zealand on that date, you can prove this with a passport, a letter from an employer or school saying you were at work or school that day, or anything else that will prove it.
You don’t need to meet any other requirements.

If your parents are not New Zealand citizens

Citizenship Act 1977, s 8

For most people who are already living in New Zealand, you need to:

  • Show you are ‘of good character’
    • If you have never been in trouble with the law, here or overseas, you don’t need to prove this in any other way. Parking tickets and speed camera fines don’t count against you.
    • If you have been convicted of any crime, anywhere, you need to say so on the form. There are several other questions you need to answer honestly, including whether you have ever had a family/domestic violence Protection Order made against you, been investigated by the government, or had to return money to the government.
    • If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the questions on the form, write a letter explaining what happened and attach it when you apply.
    • If you have lived overseas while you were a resident in New Zealand, you might need to get a police certificate from the country you were in. This might be necessary if you were overseas for four months or more in the last three years, or overseas for 12 months or more in the last 4–12 years.
    • If it’s not possible to get a police certificate, because, for example, there is no functioning government in the country you spent time in, speak to the Citizenship Office. You will need to make a declaration that you have not been convicted of offences, and explain why you are not able to get a police certificate.
  • Speak basic English
    • You need to be able to have a basic conversation in English.
    • This will be checked at your appointment.
    • If there is a good reason you can’t speak English, you can talk to the Citizenship Office.
  • Intend to live in New Zealand once you become a citizen
    • See “Residence requirements” below for details.

Residence requirements

Citizenship Act 1977, s 8

Most residents applying for citizenship need to show three things about their presence in New Zealand:

1. You need to have been living here as a resident for at least the last five years. You could have had more than one kind of visa or permit in that time, as long as each of them let you be here indefinitely.

  • You can also apply if you are an Australian citizen or permanent resident and have lived here for at least the last five years.

2. From the day you apply for citizenship, you need to have been physically in New Zealand for most of the time over the last five years.

  • The exact requirement is that you have been in New Zealand for at least 240 days in each year, and 1,350 days across the last five years.
  • If you have a special reason why you haven’t met this requirement, you can talk to the Citizenship Office to see if you can still apply.

3. You must intend to live in New Zealand once you become a citizen.

  • You can only get an exemption from this requirement if you are going to be living in another country because you are working for the New Zealand government, working for an international organisation the government belongs to, like the United Nations, or employed by a person or organisation based in New Zealand.

Citizenship Act 1977, s 8(2)(f)(ii)

  • When you apply for citizenship, you will be asked about your travel plans over the next year. If you are planning to travel, you might be asked to prove that New Zealand is your home. It will be helpful to show that you have a job here, or you are studying here, or own or rent property here, or have assets like cars and furniture.

What if you don’t meet any of those requirements?

There is quite a lot of flexibility in the Citizenship Act. Ask a lawyer or an immigration officer about your situation.

What happens next?

It usually takes about four months to apply for citizenship.

If your application is successful, you will then be invited to a ceremony with other new citizens, where you will be asked to swear or affirm an oath. The oath says you give allegiance to the Queen or King, and will observe the laws of New Zealand and fulfil your duties as a New Zealand citizen.

Citizenship Act 1977, Schedule 1

At your ceremony, you will be given your citizenship certificate. Once you have it, you can apply for a New Zealand passport. This is a separate process.

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Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

Immigration New Zealand

Immigration New Zealand is the government organisation that deals with visa applications and other immigration issues. It’s part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Website: www.immigration.govt.nz
Phone: 0508 558 855

The Operational manual contains immigration instructions that people who want to come to New Zealand must follow. While it is not a step-by-step guide, it will help you follow Immigration New Zealand’s processes. Access it here: www.immigration.govt.nz/opsmanual

See also Immigration’s policies and processes: www.immigration.govt.nz/about-us/policy-and-law/how-the-immigration-system-operates

Immigration and Protection Tribunal

The Immigration and Protection Tribunal determines appeals on Immigration New Zealand’s decisions about refugee and protection matters.

Website: www.justice.govt.nz/Tribunals/immigration/immigration-and-protection

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