Welcome to Oceania: what to consider if you want to work in New Zealand

With its low COVID-19 infection rates, New Zealand is an attractive place to be right now, making it a potential option for pharmacists thinking of registering and working abroad.

Registering in New Zealand: What to consider if you want to work in the land of the long white cloud

Aotearoa New Zealand is a land with beautiful beaches and lush terrain. It is a far-off destination many UK nationals pack their bags and move to in search of a better work–life balance. 

My husband and I decided to move our family to New Zealand so our children could have more opportunities to be involved in year-round outdoor activities and sports. I currently work as a paediatric pharmacist for WaitematÄ District Health Board in Auckland between the acute hospital and a paediatric rehabilitation centre. 

Working as a pharmacist in New Zealand is not entirely different to the UK and, with its popular prime minister and seemingly tight control of COVID-19, it is no surprise that there is ongoing interest in the island nation. However, with a high cost of living, tight restrictions on travel owing to the pandemic and almost 11,500 miles separating New Zealand and the UK, it is important that pharmacists interested in making the move consider the following points first.

1) The registration process

Pharmacists who qualified and gained their registration in the UK are eligible to register in New Zealand with the pharmacy regulator, the Pharmacy Council of New Zealand (PCNZ) under the Recognised Equivalent Qualification Route (REQR).

This is open to registered pharmacists from the UK, Ireland, Canada and the United States. Box 1 summarises the steps involved.

Box 1: Registration through Recognised Equivalent Qualification Route

1. Create a candidate portal account

The Australian Pharmacy Council’s (APC) candidate portal is responsible for overseeing the competency assessment of overseas pharmacists (CAOP). This exam assesses pharmaceutical knowledge and competence to practise in both Australia and New Zealand.

However, candidates must specify their intention to practise in New Zealand once they have created their candidate portal account and wait for the APC to confirm eligibility to register for the CAOP.

2. Register for, sit and pass the CAOP

Once the APC has confirmed eligibility, candidates are able to register for the CAOP through the candidate portal. This is a three-hour exam made up of 105 multiple choice questions. It is held online three times per year at test centres in Australia, New Zealand and London. Candidates will be able to select their preferred exam centre and date when registering.

The CAOP is a pass or fail exam, and the pass level for each assessment is set based on the performance of prior candidates. The APC will email candidates their result around four weeks after the exam.

Candidates have two attempts at passing the exam, after which eligibility to retake the assessment will be at the discretion of the PCNZ.

3. Apply for registration

After passing the CAOP exam, candidates have two years to apply for registration with the PCNZ.

Registration requires candidates to already have an offer of four weeks’ supervised employment from a New Zealand-registered pharmacy — the PCNZ does not assist candidates with finding employment. When applying for pharmacist roles, individuals should state they are a UK-registered pharmacist looking to register in New Zealand requiring four weeks of supervised practice.

Individuals will also need the following supporting documentation:

  • Certificate of current professional status/letter of good standing from each pharmacy registration authority the candidate has registered with over the past ten years. The PCNZ must receive these directly from each registration authority (e.g. the General Pharmaceutical Council) before an application can be considered;
  • A criminal convictions record from each country an applicant has resided in;
  • The CAOP results notification letter from the APC;
  • The name of the candidate’s supervising pharmacist, name and address of the pharmacy and proposed start date;
  • Work history for the past ten years, in chronological order, including start and end dates, hours worked per week (approximate) for each role, and a brief description of pharmacist duties;
  • Documentation for any health or professional conduct matters.

4. Complete supervised practice and law and ethics interview

The PCNZ will issue the candidate with an annual practising certificate allowing the candidate to practise in New Zealand, but under the supervision of a New Zealand-registered pharmacist. This condition will be recorded on the public register until the candidate has successfully completed four weeks (or 140 hours) of supervised practice, and passed a law and ethics interview with an approved assessor arranged through the PCNZ.

Once all the requirements have been satisfied, the PCNZ will remove the condition of practice and issue an unconditional annual practising certificate to the pharmacist for renewal each year.

2) Visa requirements for pharmacists

Registering and moving to New Zealand will require a work visa. Pharmacists may be able to apply for a skilled migrant visa, which is dependent on a job offer from New Zealand and a minimum salary.

Individuals should allow at least six months from start of the visa application process to their expected moving date.

Prior to COVID-19, there was also the option of a working holiday or essential skills work visa, but applications for all temporary visas such as these are now suspended. Owing to the many border restrictions and visa changes, it is advisable to check the Immigration NZ website for the latest COVID-19 updates.

3) Salary and expense

It is important to note that pharmacists in New Zealand generally can expect to earn less than in an equivalent UK role. Hospital pharmacist salaries range between NZ$55,000–100,000 (£27,500–50,000) per year depending on role and experience. The cost of living in New Zealand is also higher than in the UK, especially in big cities. For example, the estimated cost of living in Auckland is around a third more than in Cardiff.

Individuals interested in registering as a pharmacist in New Zealand also need to be aware of the expense involved, as it can be a costly exercise. Some of the costs associated with moving and registering are highlighted in the table below. 

 Expense Cost (NZ$)Approx cost (£) 
The competency assessment of overseas pharmacists exam1,845 (AU$) 1,011
Application to register with Pharmacy Council of New Zealand 345 177
Annual practising certificate — many employers will reimburse this 800 412
Indemnity insurance — some employers may provide this already 250 130
Certificate of good standing    – 80
Police checks    – 40
Visa cost per person 500  250
Annual membership to the pharmacy professional body, the Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand 480 240
14 days of self-funded isolation in a government-approved quarantine facility — mandatory for all individuals allowed to enter New Zealand during COVID-19  3,000 1,500

As part of the visa process, individuals will also need to factor in costs for each family member, including a partner and children. There will be other associated visa costs, including private medical, X-rays and document certification. Membership to the Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand is optional; however, it is currently the only way to record continuing professional development, and many employers will reimburse this membership fee.

4) The differences in pharmacy practice

Within a hospital setting, the patient groups are comparable to the UK and most of the medicines are the same, so working on the wards and in the dispensary is a similar experience to the UK.

Funding of medicines is probably the biggest difference between pharmacy in the UK and New Zealand. There is a national ‘formulary’ of medicines that are funded, although these vary slightly between hospital and community. PHARMAC, a government organisation, controls and negotiates contracts. This means that some of the branded medicines readily available in the UK may not be licensed or imported into New Zealand, owing to the small number of patients who need them.

There are fewer than 40 pharmacist prescribers in New Zealand, so this is a role which is still developing, with good support from universities and professional bodies.

In community, electronic prescription transfer (from GP to community pharmacy) is common. This uses a secure messaging channel, which also allows ‘notes’ to be sent between the GP and the pharmacy. Prescriptions are barcoded and can only be downloaded and dispensed once.

5) Living in New Zealand

With more than 9,000 miles of coastline and numerous snow-capped peaks, pharmacists who move to New Zealand will never be far from nature. The country is well known for its laid-back culture and excellent work–life balance, as well as its vibrant music, creative and culinary arts scene. Despite high rainfalls in New Zealand, most parts of the country receive more than 2,000 sunshine hours per year, allowing for year-round outdoor activity.

People are friendly and welcoming as they are used to a lot of immigrants, but as with any move, it takes a long time to settle and make deeper friendships. The move for UK pharmacists will be easy as the same language is being spoken, but there are subtle cultural differences. In particular, an understanding of MÄori and Pacific Island history and culture is important, especially in a healthcare setting, where traditional beliefs related to medicine need to be considered.

Despite the landscape and lifestyle, the distance separating individuals from family and friends can make the move quite lonely, especially now when no one can travel owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pharmacists considering a move to New Zealand should plan carefully and give themselves enough time to sit the registration exams, as well as secure a job and visa. While a lot of effort, the experience of working as a pharmacist in such a beautiful country is definitely worth it.

Useful websites:

Lucy Wheeler


About the author:

Lucy Wheeler is a hospital pharmacist in Auckland. She registered as a pharmacist in the UK in 2000 and registered as a pharmacist in New Zealand in 2020. Lucy is happy to provide additional information and support to pharmacists thinking of moving to New Zealand. Email: lucymwheeler@gmail.com

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, Welcome to Oceania: what to consider if you want to work in New Zealand;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2020.20208558

You may also be interested in