Should I Study Abroad in Australia or New Zealand?

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Studying abroad is an incredible opportunity which can further your career, broaden your horizons and become a life-changing experience. Choosing a study abroad destination, however, can be a difficult and overwhelming process. Though Australia or New Zealand would be great english-speaking adventure hot-spots, each offers a unique experience to study-abroad students. Before deciding between these two neighbors, let’s first compare and contrast the academic options and country-specific factors that will help determine whether or not you should study abroad in Australia or New Zealand.

Falls in Cairns, Australia
Falls in love with Cairns, Australia.

1. Courses of Study 

Academically, New Zealand (NZ) and Australia (Oz) are both excellent options for studying abroad. The world-renowned study abroad programs in Sydney, Australia and universities throughout the country attract a diverse faculty from all over the world. Several of the eight universities that call New Zealand home have repeatedly topped world rankings. With numerous respectable universities available, students have a variety of options to choose from whether you choose to study abroad in Australia or New Zealand, so any major can pick the right fit!

Students with an emphasis in geology, anthropology, natural resources, botany, oceanography, and zoology, find studying abroad in Australia to be especially beneficial, while those who study environmental management, biology and forestry in New Zealand will discover that their classroom extends right into the incredible and accessible landscape of NZ. Because of the tremendous impact of the ancient Maori culture on the lives of New Zealanders (called ‘Kiwis’) today, students may also find a Maori history or language class to be both interesting and helpful in appreciating their time in New Zealand even more.

University of Melbourne
You won’t Straya too far from your studies at University of Melbourne.

2. Program Duration and Accommodation

Most New Zealand and Australian universities run on a two semester schedule, so students can choose to study abroad for a year or semester at a time. The first semester generally runs from February to June and the second starts in July and ends in November. Some universities in Australia are instead broken down into three trimesters, so when deciding whether to study abroad in Australia or New Zealand, you will want to consider which academic calendar works better with your schedule and time frame. Many schools also offer internship opportunities for students to take alongside their classes, or an optional short summer semester.

As a student abroad in New Zealand, you will likely live in a flat with other international and local students (although homestays are available in some locations) situated within walking distance from necessities and shops. Home to one-third of New Zealand’s population, Auckland is the biggest city in NZ and is a popular and exciting destination to study abroad. Cafes, entertainment centers, shops, art galleries, and a beautiful harbor fill Auckland and allow for several career opportunities for students, not to mention the fact that the city is built on a volcano! Most study abroad opportunities, including Auckland and the also popular capital city of Wellington, are located on the North Island of New Zealand. Many programs will even arrange activities and sightseeing trips for international students to the nearby South Island, where your favorite rag-tag fellowship of hobbits, humans, elves, dwarves, and wizards, saved Middle Earth!

In Australia, classes usually consist of long large lectures supplemented with more intimate tutorials. Independent learning is emphasized in Oz, so instead of several small quizzes and assignments, you can generally expect to complete a couple large assignments and one final exam. While studying abroad, don’t be afraid to get involved in the activities and clubs offered in Australian universities, as there are many available. Dorms and flats are recommended for students, but private accommodation or home stays are also an option. There are plenty of study abroad programs in Sydney, Australia's largest city – often called the Harbour City – where charm, beaches, sights, and nightlife attract students from all over. Melbourne is the best city for students with a more mature taste who enjoy partaking in cultural activities, Victorian-era architecture, and the arts.

Sydney, Australia, aerial view across the bay at night
Become the new Wizard of Oz with study abroad programs in Sydney, Australia.

3. Climate

When studying abroad, academics is not the only factor to consider. Before deciding between Australia or New Zealand, it’s a good idea to take a closer look at which country’s climate, culture, cost, and safety level better suits your personal preferences and needs.

New Zealand is made up of two islands. The warmer, more populated Northern Island boasts world-class scuba-diving, rich Maori culture, the best beaches, and the two biggest cosmopolitan cities in NZ (Auckland and Wellington). The Southern Island is home to various marine and bird wildlife, dramatic mountains and landscape, several National parks, and the adventure capital of NZ (Queenstown).

Because New Zealand is right in the middle of the Roaring Forties, a constant west-to-east wind prevails at varying degrees year-round. The mountain ranges that split New Zealand top to bottom create a wetter climate on the western half with a drier eastern side after the wind is buffered by the mountains. The maritime climate can result in rapidly changing weather, and although your activity options will vary with the seasons, there’s always something to enjoy year-round in New Zealand. Anytime is a good time to explore the pristine landscape, including the nine “Great Walks” that have earned New Zealand a reputation for being one of the best “tramping” destinations worldwide. Not to mention the festivals, concerts and sporting events during summer (December-February), and the abundant Ski slopes in the winter (June-August).

As the sixth largest country in the world, Australia’s much larger size results in a more varied landscape as well. While most of Australia experiences all four seasons, the northernmost tropical parts are always hot and alternate between wet and dry. The heat during summer can be pretty extreme no matter where you are in Oz, but winters won’t make your teeth chatter. While Australia is known for its beaches and surf spots, it’s rainforests, vineyards, and rolling hills should not be overlooked— not to mention the natural Wonder of the World, the Great Barrier Reef. As the eighteenth most urbanized country, it’s hip cities also provide endless exploring options and activities including theater and musical productions, festivals, art galleries, pubs, and of course– rugby.

Should I Study Abroad in Australia or New Zealand?

4. Cost

Obtaining a visa to study abroad in Australia or New Zealand is a relatively painless process. In some cases, if you are from one of the 56 countries (including the U.S.) that NZ has a visa-waiver agreement with, you can stay for up to three months without any visa at all. In which case, you simply need to show proof of onward travel and sufficient funds for your stay. If you will be studying abroad in New Zealand longer than three months you can apply to extend your visa for a maximum total of twelve months. This should be done well in advance, however, since it can take several weeks to process.

To enter Australia, all visitors need a visa (with the exception of Kiwis) which can usually be included via an electronic travel authority (ETA) issued visa with the purchase of your plane ticket. For stays lasting longer than three months, however, you will need to apply for the appropriate student visa for up to twelve months duration.

For students with financial concerns or limitations, New Zealand will be a more cost-effective destination. While cost of living in both Australia or New Zealand will be comparable to the U.S., Australia is easily the more expensive of the two neighbors. In both countries, ATMs can be found in all decent-sized towns and cities, Visa and Mastercard are universally accepted, and changing money into either New Zealand or Australian dollars is easy. Adventure activities will be the most expensive cost for any adrenaline junkies studying abroad, and domestic flights are often pricey, but necessary for doing extensive in-country exploration in Australia. Both Australia and New Zealand universities offer many options for sponsoring your study abroad experience, and it’s always worth checking if your own university-sponsored financial aid will carry over into your time abroad.

Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
With views like these, how could you study abroad anywhere else?

5. Culture 

Though they are neighboring countries and similar in many ways, you’ll experience each country’s unique culture whether you choose to study abroad in Australia or New Zealand. For students who want to study abroad off the well-trodden paths of Europe or Australia, but don’t want to sacrifice their communication as a result of a language barrier, New Zealand is an excellent option. A comparatively small (4.5 million population), but diverse and easy-going group, NZers will make you feel welcome right from day one. Socially and environmentally responsible, Kiwis show an evident appreciation for nature and a respect for their roots. The indigenous Maori culture is still very much alive in New Zealand today. Combining the best of the old along with the new has produced a unique cultural identity, as evidenced by the still-spoken Maori language, Maori TV, main-street marae (tribal meeting places), hangi (Maori feasts), and traditional song and dance performances.

Similar to Kiwis, Aussies are laid back, welcoming and helpful to foreigners. They are also known for their catchy good vibes and deep appreciation of humor and sarcasm. They understand the importance of work-life balance, so punctuality and honesty is expected, and Australians are extremely passionate about their family, friends, sports and adventurous lifestyle. Although Australia is a long-haul away, students may find themselves feeling right at home among the Aussies. While English is the primary tongue spoken in both Australia and New Zealand, Aussie slang can often make is seem like a whole different language. Don’t be surprised if you start shortening words and tacking on a -y or -ies to the end after spending some time studying abroad in Oz.

Both New Zealand and Australian cuisine reflect the abundance of Pacific coastline teeming with marine wildlife. The Australian culinary style is inspired by European techniques, while Maori influence can still be seen in some staple New Zealand dishes. A carnivore’s paradise – Australia is also known for its infamous barbecues, while both countries boast award-winning wines, craft beers, and a well-ground coffee culture.

Hobbitton set, Matamata, New Zealand
Why study abroad in New Zealand? Three reasons: first breakfast, second breakfast, and elevensies.

6. Safety 

Last but not least, safety is an important aspect to consider when deciding between Australia or New Zealand for your study abroad destination. There are no vaccinations required for foreigners before entering either Australia or New Zealand and neither country has high crime rates, with the exception of some popular larger cities. Until recently, New Zealand was one of the last destinations left where hikers could hitch a ride without a second thought. Although the risk is small, the dangers of solo hitchhiking have the potential to be very serious, and even NZ isn’t spared. Auckland is the ‘crime capital’ of New Zealand where tourists are often viewed as easy targets, especially for car theft. Likewise, major Australian cities like Sydney, the Gold Coast, Cairns, and Byron Bay also see slightly higher crime rates than the rest of the country.

While both are relatively safe destinations when it come to crime, the great Australian Outback is home to some natural dangers students should be aware of before venturing abroad. Poisonous spiders and snakes, marine wildlife including sharks and jellyfish, and disease-carrying mosquitos make up quite the team of Aussie tyrants. While shark attacks are no more common in Australia than other coastal destinations, and snakes and spiders generally shy away from humans, Australia is not for the faint-hearted. You should always shake out your shoes and clothes before dressing and take the necessary precautions to protect yourself before doing any bushwalking.

Milford Sound, New Zealand
Adventurers may have a tough choice between Australia or New Zealand...but how tough is that choice really...

Conversely, parents of New Zealand study abroad students can rest easy knowing their child will be living and learning in a land lacking these natural dangers. Having been spared from the collection of venomous creatures inhabiting its neighbor, New Zealand has no snakes, only one rare poisonous spider, and a similarly average risk for shark attacks. The annoyance level of sandflies will most likely be the worst animal encounter students in New Zealand will endure. Among the biggest concerns for students studying abroad in either destination are the ocean rips and undertows. Always be sure to ask the locals or surf-saving groups about potential dangers before entering the water.

Why study abroad in in New Zealand? Well, why not? Are you still asking “Why should I study abroad in Australia?” Again, why the heck not? By doing your research and weighing the pros and cons before choosing your study abroad destination, you can have confidence in your decision knowing you are setting yourself up for success in either Australia or New Zealand. No matter where you go, the best way to ensure getting the most out of your experience as an international student is to not be afraid to jump right in, make the most of every situation, and be thankful for the opportunity to live, learn, and build friendships abroad.