New Zealand values and customs: info for international students

It’s important that you understand New Zealand rules, customs and laws you may encounter while you’re studying at AUT as an international student. Understanding what to expect in New Zealand will help you feel comfortable with New Zealanders and make the most of your time here.

What to expect: New Zealand values, customs and laws

Just like many parts of the world, New Zealand is a very diverse society. Therefore, it’s difficult to define “typical” New Zealand customs and values. Even so, New Zealanders do share some common values and ways of living.

The following are considered important:


New Zealanders are friendly and accepting of different religions and cultures. They abide by the principle of freedom of speech.


New Zealand does not have a class structure or separate gender roles. Everyone is equal and everyone is treated the same regardless of race, religion, culture, gender, financial position, or personal circumstances

Hospitality and generosity

Many New Zealanders like to socialise at home. When a New Zealander invites someone to their home for a barbeque, lunch or dinner, they like to cook for you and take care of you.

It’s polite to bring a small contribution, for example wine, flowers or something sweet; but nothing too big.


Family is very important to New Zealanders. Families eat together, spend regular time together, and celebrate special occasions together.


New Zealanders are passionate about sport, especially rugby union. People gather in numbers to attend games or view them in social areas and people will talk about them regularly.

The New Zealand Rugby Union team is known as the All Blacks and are highly successful, along with their female counterparts, the Black Ferns, who are World Cup champions.

Other sports that are nationally popular are cricket, sailing, and touch rugby in summer, or soccer- (football), rugby league, basketball and netball in the winter.


New Zealanders mostly keep themselves, their homes, and their country clean. Littering or showering less than once a day is considered dirty.

New Zealanders often talk to strangers in public areas. This is a great way to practise English, but caution should be taken. Be sensible about the information you share, for example don’t give out your address and phone number or accept inappropriate invitations.


‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ are very important words. Always use them if you ask someone to do something for you, or if they help or give you information.

Spitting and urinating in public are considered highly offensive.


Always stand in line and wait your turn when buying tickets, in a bank, post office or waiting for a bus. Keep to the left when standing on escalators.

Punctuality and appointments

You need to make an appointment to see most professionals, for example doctors or teachers.

For formal meetings or celebrations such as lectures, performances, weddings, or funerals, it’s important to be on time.

If the occasion is more informal and you are meeting friends or family, it’s OK to be about 10 minutes late. If you’re going to be late, it's respectful to let people know.


It's often considered impolite to make comments about someone’s age, money, or physical appearance (unless it’s a nice comment) to people who are not family or close friends.


Many New Zealanders have pets (usually cats and dogs) and take them walking in public places. Be careful around pets you don’t know and only pat them with the owner’s approval.

If you buy a pet, be aware that some pets need to be licensed and are only allowed in designated areas.

Greetings in New Zealand

It’s common to shake hands with the right hand when first meeting someone. Don’t be afraid if someone holds their elbow out to you as pressing your elbow to the elbow of someone else has become common to minimise the spread of illness, especially COVID-19.

Close friends and family may kiss on the cheek or hug. Some Māori people may hongi (lightly press noses).

You may find that laws are enforced differently in New Zealand than they are in your home country. You must obey our country’s laws and respect its customs. It’s important that you understand them to help keep you safe and others around you.

We suggest you familiarise yourself and understand topics that include:

Age-restricted goods and services and their use

  • No one under the age of 18 may buy alcohol, including wine and beer.  Proof of age must be shown on request.
  • If you are under the age of 18, only a parent or guardian can give you alcohol
  • No one under the age of 18 may buy or smoke tobacco or vaping products, including cigarettes.


Some films, videos and publications may be restricted to people of a certain age (such as 13, 16 or 18).


It’s illegal to carry weapons like guns or knives or similar objects for self-defence or personal security. This includes stun guns and mace or pepper spray.

Smoking and vaping

  • Indoor workplaces including restaurants and bars are smoke-free; vaping is at the discretion of employers

Same sex relationships (between a man and a man, or a woman and a woman) in New Zealand are legal and mostly accepted as a norm by New Zealanders.

Anti-discrimination laws protect gay and lesbian people.

AUT is the first New Zealand tertiary provider to get the Rainbow Tick that commits our organisation and those who work here to ensure a safe and welcoming space for our LGBTQIA+ (rainbow) students and staff is provided.

Women in New Zealand are legally and culturally equal to men and should always be treated fairly.

Interaction and affection between men and women is completely normal.

Men and women are not segregated anywhere except in public bathrooms or changing rooms, for example at swimming pools.

Men and women share equally in household work and childcare.

Māori language phrases

While English is the main language you'll hear in New Zealand, Māori culture is an important part of New Zealand life and you can often hear Māori words and phrases in conversations. Here are some Māori phrases you may find useful.

Land of the long white cloud (the Māori word for New Zealand)
Haere mai
Haere rā
Traditional way of cooking food (in an earth oven)
A formal greeting, gently pressing noses
Tribal people
Ka pai
Kia kaha
Stay strong
Kia ora
Greeting, also used to say thank you or in agreement
A conversation, discussion; to talk
Communal facility (consists of meetinghouse, dining hall, kitchen, sleeping quarters)
Māori word for non-Māori (white) people
Ritual of Māori welcome
Tāngata whenua
People of the land (Māori)
Funeral, cry
Te reo
The language (Māori)
To sing; a song

Te Tiriti o Waitangi - The Treaty of Waitangi

The Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand's founding document. It takes its name from the place – Waitangi in the Bay of Islands – where it was first signed, on 6 February 1840. This day is now a public holiday in New Zealand.

The Treaty is an English agreement, translated into Māori, between the British Crown and 540 Māori rangatira (chiefs). The Treaty promised to protect Māori culture and to enable Māori to continue to live in New Zealand as Māori. At the same time, the Treaty gave the Crown the right to govern New Zealand and to represent the interests of all New Zealanders.


Life in Auckland

Auckland is New Zealand's economic powerhouse and largest city, with 1.6 million people and easy access to key international markets. It has all the advantages of a big city and is culturally diverse. This makes Auckland a great city for your university studies.


Starting your life in Auckland as an international student

Find out more about settling into life in Auckland – from accommodation and where to shop, to how to set up banking, your mobile phone and internet.


Contact us

For international student support while you’re studying at AUT contact the Student Hub. Our student advisors can help with:

  • Visa and immigration matters
  • Insurance
  • Accommodation
  • Life in New Zealand
  • Talking to faculties
  • Homesickness

Phone 0800 AUT UNI (0800 288 864)
or +64 9 921 9779

Opening hours

Contact us online

After hours phone +64 9 921 9900 (for emergencies)