In this post we’ll look at some of the best and cheapest cities to live in New Zealand. Auckland, Wellington and Queenstown are the most expensive and often most popular places to live, but we’ll outline five of the best options outside of those three. They all have something to offer in terms of quality of life whether that be great access to nature or a high standard of urban living.
We also have a cost of living table for 14 of the largest towns and cities in the country which may be a useful starting guide for anyone considering moving to New Zealand. The data was updated in May 2023.
5 of the best cities to live in New Zealand that are more affordable
We begin this look at some of the best places to live in New Zealand (that are also affordable) on the southeast coast of South Island. With a mixture of Scottish and Maori heritage, Dunedin is a city of contrasts and one place anyone thinking of living in New Zealand might want to consider.
It’s not a particularly dangerous country but Dunedin ranks as one of the very safest places to live in New Zealand. Safe shouldn’t be confused with boring though. With a large student population, there is a youthful vibe and it does attract creative types and remote workers with some quirky places to hang out, a cafe culture and a small bar/nightlife scene.
The nearby Otago Peninsula has plenty of great nature and some wonderful wildlife while Queenstown isn’t too far away if you’re looking to do short trips and weekends away. This is though one of the most southerly cities in the country with ocean breezes adding to the chill factor in the winter months when night-time temperatures aren’t much above freezing. In short, you need to be comfortable with the cold to live in Dunedin!
Living Cost Index – 2700 New Zealand Dollars per month (US$1680)
Napier ranks as one of the cheapest places to live in New Zealand with really significant savings to be made when you compare it with the cost of living in Wellington, Auckland or Queensland.
It’s located on North Island in Hawke’s Bay, a popular wine-producing region. The city is surrounded by vineyards so it’s a great location for wine lovers and with sunnier weather than many parts of the country, Napier is a great destination for anyone who enjoys the outdoors with many hiking and cycling paths nearby while there are some popular golf courses too.
It’s an attractive destination for expats from abroad but for those looking for a vibrant city and urban lifestyle, there are better places in New Zealand than Napier which has a population of only around 60,000. That population is spread over quite a large area too, making it the least densely populated of New Zealand’s 20 largest cities so it doesn’t really have a compact urban atmosphere – which may or may not be a good thing depending on what you’re looking for.
Living Cost Index – 2200 New Zealand Dollars per month (US$1370)
Christchurch may not rank as one of the cheapest cities in New Zealand overall but it is comfortably the cheapest of the “big three” (the other two being Auckland and Wellington). Costs are slightly higher than most other places but for those looking to combine affordability with urban living, Christchurch is probably your best bet.
That’s because New Zealand simply doesn’t have many “cities”, at least not in a sense of what other larger countries may regard as cities. Christchurch is the second largest in New Zealand with a population of around 400,000 but it was hit hard by a deadly earthquake in 2011 that killed 185 people and caused widespread damage. Regular aftershocks in the years that followed slowed the recovery process.
Christchurch today is getting back on its feet with plenty of jobs in the IT and construction sectors while tourism is also a big part of the local economy. There is an international feel to it, particularly during the summer months when its charming city centre and popular beaches attract visitors from far and wide.
Living Cost Index – 2800 New Zealand Dollars per month (US$1740)
A slightly less obvious destination for anyone considering living in New Zealand, or basing themselves there for a few months, is Rotorua – a lakeside town on North Island.
As the name hints at, this region has a strong Maori identity and culture. It’s also well known for its geothermal activity with mud pools and giant geysers among the nearby attractions and it does get a fair few visitors throughout the year with zorbing another ever popular activity with travellers. It also benefits from a central location on North Island with Auckland only around three hours away by road while you can also reach great beaches and ski resorts in less than that.
Roturua isn’t a big place by any means and some may find it too quiet during the night but it does benefit from affordable living costs and some of the cheaper New Zealand rent prices which are around 40% lower than in Auckland or Wellington for example.
Living Cost Index – 2500 New Zealand Dollars per month (US$1550)
Whanganui is located on the west coast of North Island where the Whanganui River meets the Tasman Sea and only has a population of around 40,000. Like many of New Zealand’s smaller towns, you may find it slightly sleepy if you are used to a busy lifestyle in another country. However if you’re looking for a quiet base where you can save up money for trips to experience New Zealand’s many natural wonders, it might be for you.
Close to Whanganui, you have many of New Zealand’s best hikes including the dramatic Tongariro Northern Circuit. Popular destinations such as the Whanganui River, Mount Taranaki and the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, which feature on our New Zealand backpacking route, are also quite easy to reach.
Cycling, fishing, and kayaking are also good options in the surrounding area. In the town itself, you’ll find a proud Maori history, a thriving arts scene and mostly welcoming people.
Living Cost Index – 2700 New Zealand Dollars per month (US$1680)
New Zealand Cost of Living Calculation Explained
For the data in this post, numbeo’s cost of living guide has been used as a starting point to help work out the estimated cost of living in some of New Zealand’s main towns and cities. The estimates are very loosely based around what one person may spend in a month covering all basic living expenses such as groceries as well as the cost of renting a room in shared accommodation or a small private flat where it’s viable to do so.
Finding good, spacious accommodation in a good area and also trying to lead a very active social life will most likely see you spend far more, as will doing lots of trips during your free time. Students or anyone looking to lead a frugal lifestyle should be able to get by on marginally less in most cases than the figures quoted, but again it really does depend on the individual.
It is based on real data supplied by actual residents in each location, however the table below is best used as a means of a comparison rather than an accurate guide to what you might spend. New Zealand is a sparsely populated country so getting reliable price data for the smaller places is tricky and you will want to do further research if you are seriously thinking of moving to New Zealand.
It’s also worth noting that travel/health insurance costs are not included in these figures and vary depending on your age and other factors. Get a quote in less than a minute from SafetyWing to see how much medical cover may cost.
Cost of Living (2023) – What are the cheapest cities to live in New Zealand?
|City||Cost of Living Index (Monthly in NZ Dollars)|
As you can see, there are some fairly significant variations as you move around the country. Auckland, the only genuinely big city, is very expensive. Wellington and Queenstown also fall into that category, although as a point of reference, living costs in those three cities are still likely to be quite a bit less than in Sydney, the most expensive city to live in Australia, but will be much more than in the best places to live in South Africa.
Christchurch is the most affordable of the three most heavily populated cities, however you can still save several hundred NZD per month more in cheaper towns like Napier, Palmerston North or New Plymouth.
If you are planning to find a job or have one lined up, you should also consider that you will most likely also earn more money in the cities towards the top of the table. Students, digital nomads and remote workers may want to consider basing themselves in a smaller town with good transport links to get better value on accommodation and enjoy a cheaper standard of living in what is an expensive country.
This post on the cheapest cities to live in New Zealand was last updated in May 2023.