Money in New Zealand: Banks, ATMs, cards & currency exchange

07.06.17
5 minute read

While credit and debit card payments are incredibly popular in New Zealand (almost more so than they're in Europe), it’s still a good idea to have some cash in your pocket for emergencies.

As luck would have it, buying New Zealand Dollars - the country’s official currency - is relatively simple, both before your trip and especially after you land.

Heading over to the land of the long white cloud for a holiday?

Here are some tips and tricks on where (and how) to get the best deal on your conversion to New Zealand Dollars.

Currency in New Zealand

The New Zealand Dollar (NZD or NZ$) was originally pegged to the US Dollar; but it has had a floating exchange rate since 1985. As a result, its value fluctuates depending on current supply and demand.

One New Zealand Dollar is made up of 100 cents.

There are a total of five coins and five banknotes currently in circulation. Coins are in denominations of 10c, 20c, 50c, NZ$1 and NZ$2. Banknotes are in denominations of NZ$5, NZ$10, NZ$20, NZ$50 and NZ$100. NZ$20s and NZ$50s are the most commonly used notes, and most ATMs around the country will only dispense amounts in these denominations.

Exchanging currency in New Zealand

You can take as much cash as you like into New Zealand, as long as you declare any amount over NZ$10,000. This means you could theoretically get all the money you need for your trip ahead of time. However, you’re unlikely to get a good deal this way.

It’s often possible to get a much better rate if you exchange money upon arrival in New Zealand. Most major currencies can be easily exchanged, as long as your money is clean and undamaged.

Airports and hotels usually offer the worst exchange rates and charge the highest fees. Banks and foreign exchange kiosks are only slightly better. Your best bet is to withdraw money from an ATM.

Whichever option you choose, it’s a good idea to use this currency converter to compare the rate you’re offered to the mid-market rate. This is the fairest exchange rate possible and any other rate lower will have extra fees buffered into it.

You should also beware of companies that claim they don’t charge any fees or commissions. More often than not, you’ll find that they earn a profit by adding a markup to their exchange rate.

Using travellers’ cheques in New Zealand

Most banks in New Zealand cash travellers’ cheques, provided you present them with suitable proof of ID (your passport should work fine). Banks in New Zealand typically open on weekdays between 9:00am and 4:30pm.

Not all bank branches are open over the weekend, so you should plan ahead or risk being left short of cash. What’s more, travellers’ cheques often have expensive fees and rarely offer attractive rates. Exchanging cash or using an ATM is usually much more convenient and works out to be much cheaper.

Using credit and debit cards in New Zealand

New Zealanders love paying by card even if it’s just for their morning coffee or a newspaper. As a result, credit and debit cards are widely accepted. Restaurants, hotels and even smaller shops take most major credit and debit cards, including Visa, MasterCard and AmEx.

Of course, it’s still a good idea to keep some cash on you for emergencies, or in case there’s a problem with your card. You never know when you might need cash on hand.

Some retailers charge a small fee - usually between 50c and NZ$1 - when you pay by card. This is perfectly legal. However, any merchant that does it must prominently display a sign that warns you of the charge and its amount.

Some merchants may also ask you if you’d like the transaction to be performed in your home currency. While this might sound convenient, you should refuse. Transactions in your home currency are worked out using Dynamic Currency Conversion. This basically means you’ll get a made-up (and probably unfavourable) exchange rate instead of the mid-market rate. Always choose to be charged in New Zealand Dollars.

You should also let your bank know that you’ll be abroad, before you travel to New Zealand. If your bank doesn’t recognise your foreign transactions, it will flag them as suspicious and block your card, leaving you without access to your funds.

ATMs in New Zealand

ATMs are plentiful in New Zealand. You’ll find them next to bank branches, along the main shopping streets in most towns and villages and in shopping malls. Most machines in the country accept Cirrus and Maestro (MasterCard), Visa (Plus) and AmEx. You can find the closest ATM by using the following online locators:

ATM transactions are worked out using the mid-market rate. This means you’ll get the fairest exchange rate possible, provided you choose to be charged in the local currency (NZ$). Choose to be charged in your home currency, however, and you’ll be ripped off.

You’ll also need to take ATM fees into account.

Most banks charge a foreign transaction fee and an ATM access fee on every ATM withdrawal. Local ATM operators may also charge fees. Bank of New Zealand reportedly charge the highest ATM fees, so try and avoid that if possible.

Banks in New Zealand

New Zealand’s banking system is modern and highly developed. There are currently 24 registered banks operating in the country.

Because it’s so close to Australia, New Zealand’s banking industry is dominated by Australian-owned banks. The four largest banks in the country - ANZ, Westpac New Zealand, ASB and the Bank of New Zealand - are all wholly owned by Australian banks.

Here’s a list of the most popular banks in New Zealand:

Bank Website
ANZ http://anz.co.nz/
ASB https://www.asb.co.nz/
Bank of New Zealand https://www.bnz.co.nz
Kiwibank http://kiwibank.co.nz/
TSB Bank http://www.tsbbank.co.nz/
Westpac New Zealand https://www.westpac.co.nz/

There are also a number of foreign banks with branches in New Zealand. These include:

Bank Website
Bank of China http://www.bankofchina.com/nz/
HSBC http://www.hsbc.co.nz/
Industrial and Commercial Bank of China http://nz.icbc.com.cn/ICBC/海外分行/工银新西兰网站/en/
Rabobank https://www.rabobank.co.nz/

It’s worth asking your home bank whether they've a partnership with a bank in New Zealand. This might mean you can use their ATMs free of charge or at a reduced cost during your stay.

And if you have access to a bank account in New Zealand, that’s even better.

Many banks in New Zealand don’t charge you when you withdraw from their ATM network, so you can make as many withdrawals as you need completely fee free. Simply use TransferWise to transfer money into your account at the mid-market rate, and benefit from cheap and easy access to your money for your whole trip.

TransferWise is the smart, new way to send money abroad.

Find out more