International Nurse in New Zealand

PLEASE NOTE: I no longer live in New Zealand.  We moved back to the USA in July 2013.  This post shares my own personal experience with applying for my NZ nursing license and hasn’t been updated for awhile.  I strongly recommend getting ALL of your information from and direction all of your questions to the Nursing Council of New Zealand.  I’m still happy to answer emails, but since I no longer live in NZ my information won’t be current.  Feel free to check out my most recent posts and my “About” page to find out more about what I’m doing these days.

Applying for your NZ RN registration can be time-consuming at times frustrating.  It’s a lot of paperwork, and I realized that there weren’t many resources out there for nurses who had questions.  I wanted to share my experiences so that other nurses could get a general overview, as well as have contact for any general, unofficial questions they may have.  Please keep in mind that whatever I write is based on my experience as an American nurse applying for New Zealand registration.  It’s in no way meant to be professional advice, and I don’t guarantee that it’s up to date.  I don’t work for the Nursing Council, and everything here is geared towards US nurses or nurses who attended programs similar to those in the US.  Don’t use this as your end-all-be-all guide – you must verify everything at the source.  Should you have any official questions, contact the Nursing Council directly.Now that the legal stuff is out of the way, let’s get down to business.Applying for your New Zealand RN registration takes work, time, organization, and about US$600.00.  I recommend that you start your application 4 – 6 months before you think you’ll need it.  You’ll be relying on outside agencies to gather some of your information for you – the FBI, your state Board of Nursing, your employers {past and present}, your school of nursing, the IELTS board, and your letter writers.  It can take time to compile all of the necessary documents.  I found that many times I had to mail things multiple times, make a lot of phone calls, play phone tag… it adds up.First things first – if you don’t have a passport, then apply for one ASAP.  You will need it for just about every stage!Once you’re applied for your passport, go to the International Section of the Nursing Council’s website.  Print off the application packet and read the entire thing from front to back.  Yes – you need to read the entire thing.  All 19 pages.  Then, go to the “further details” section and print off the information packet.  Read the entire thing – all 8 pages.  I’ve found that a glass of wine is helpful at this stage, but make sure it’s only one glass of wine.  You’ll be tempted to down the whole bottle, but it’ll only confuse things!Once you’ve read through all of this, your head is probably swimming.  It’s okay – that’s a normal reaction.  Take some deep breaths, do a quick walk around the neighborhood to clear your head, and then come back to it.  Make a checklist for yourself or use the checklist provided in the application packet.

FBI Background Report

You will need to apply for your FBI criminal background report and get fingerprinted.  This can take awhile to process, so you want to get it done early.  Our reports took 2 1/2 months to be returned.  There’s no way to speed up the process or determine where your application is at in line – the only way to tell is to watch your credit card statements and see if they’ve charged you for it.  If the charge shows up, it means it’s been processed and is on its way back to you.

Call your closest police station to find out what to do and what to bring.  You should request 2 copies of the report – one for the Nursing Council and one for your work permit/visa.  Once you’ve gotten these in the mail, make an additional copy.  Any copies that you make will clearly show as being non-FBI copies, but you will need one to turn into your New Zealand hospital/employer.  Most hospitals are willing to take a copy rather than an original, but if you want to be on the safe side, then request 3 background reports.  The cost for each report US$18.oo.


You will need to take the IELTS exam to provide proof that you can read, speak, write, and comprehend English.  I don’t care if you have 2 degrees from English-speaking universities, worked for the US government, or if you have a PhD in English!  You will have to take this exam.  You need to take the academic version, you will need your passport in hand, and make sure that you bring the address for the Nursing Council of New Zealand with you on test day.  Why they want you to take the academic version over the general version {which is geared towards employment}, I don’t know.  But it’s what they want, so it’s what you’ll need to do.  If you mistakenly take the general version, you’ll have to go back and repeat the exam.  And pay the fee all over again.

Unless you live in a major metropolitan center, you will need to travel elsewhere to take this exam and you’ll need to plan on an overnight stay, most likely.  Many of the testing centers near me did all of their verbal testing on Friday afternoons and administered the written portion on Saturday mornings.  The verbal exam takes about 15 minutes and is done on a one-to-one basis.  You take the written exam in a large group setting, and you don’t move on to the next section until either {a} time runs out, or {b} everyone is finished – whichever comes first.  The written exam takes several hours, and you will need to score at least a “7″ in each of the areas.  The cost for this exam was US$185.00.

State Board of Nursing Verification

Call your State Board of Nursing and find out where to send your NZ verification request form {included in the packet}.  The form needs to be partially filled out by you and partially by your BON’s representative.  Your BON must sign it, stamp it, and send the original directly to the Nursing Council.  It cannot be sent by you!  Your BON should not charge you for this – they should pay the postage to send it to New Zealand.  It is a courtesy that is extended between our government and theirs.

Here’s a reason why you want to get a jump on your application process.  I had to send the form to my State BON 3 times.  The first time it was sent back was because they didn’t read the form and thought that I was requesting state-to-state verification.  They told me to go online.  You can’t do that – the NZ Nursing Council will not accept anything other than the form in the application packet.  The woman that I spoke with at my BON tried to intimidate me, saying that they no longer signed forms and that if New Zealand wanted confirmation, New Zealand would have to go online.  Uh uh.  The government of New Zealand isn’t going to go out of their way to verify your RN registration.  The burden is on you to provide them with this, and your state BON should not give you any grief about signing a form.

I ended up having to speak to the Director for my State BON, who told me to mail the form directly to him.  I did, and included a letter explaining that I had spoken with the Director and that this form should not be returned until he had seen it.  They still sent back.  So, I had to call again and send some emails {with a CC to the person who had sent my form back the second time}, explaining again why it needed to be filled out.  I was ready to make the 3 hour drive to my BON’s office and deliver it in person, but the third time was the charm.  They received it, filled in their portion, signed it, stamped it, and sent it on it’s way.  A “mere” 6 weeks after I sent the form to my BON for the first time, it was on its way to New Zealand.  Don’t you just love paperwork?!


You will need 3 references – 2 from previous supervisors {such as a department manager, charge nurse, or nursing supervisor} and 1 from a friend who can attest to your character.  You will need to give the official reference request forms to your “referees” and they need to be very specific in how they write the letter.  Professional referees should write their letter on official letterhead.  All referees should include {1} your full name and DOB, {2} how long and in what capacity they have known you, {3} a brief description of your character and why they think you would/wouldn’t be a good candidate for RN licensure in New Zealand, and {4} whether or not they are aware of any criminal offenses committed by you.  They should also include their contact information: name, phone number, email address {very important!}, and mailing address.

When it comes to professional referees, make sure that it’s someone who has worked with you as recently as possible, either at your current job or the one just before that.  Once they have written their letters, they can give them back to you and you can mail them in with your application packet.  The referees do not need to mail them directly to the Nursing Council.  I found it helpful to provide them with a S.A.S.E. in which to return the letter and also give them a time-frame, e.g., “Could you have this back to me in 2 weeks?”.

Transcripts and Course Outlines

This one takes some time, and hopefully you have a good relationship with your school of nursing.  They’ll need to do quite a few things on your behalf, and you may want to send them some chocolate once it’s all said and done to say, “Bless you!”  I would call your nursing school prior to mailing anything.  You will want to explain what it is you need, and they can best direct you as to who you’ll need to work with.  I cannot stress enough that you should start this process of your application as early on as possible.

The Nursing Council of New Zealand requires several things from your nursing program{s}.  First things first – they will need a signed transcript request form, included in the application packet.  You will need to fill out part of this form, but the bottom half will need to be filled out, signed, and stamped by the head of the school of nursing.  The head of the school of nursing will also need to sign and stamp your official transcripts.  Most university departments do not have access to your transcripts, so you will likely need to submit a separate request for your transcripts to be sent to the nursing department.

Once they have completed the verification request form, signed it, stamped it, and signed, stamped, and sealed your transcript, your nursing program will need to collect a copy of each of the course outlines/syllabi for each nursing-related class or prerequisite.  That’s right – the Nursing Council requests a copy of each course outline.  You cannot send these – they must be sent by your school of nursing.  They will also need to create a spreadsheet listing {1} each nursing course and nursing prerequisite that you took, {2} a brief description of the course, and {3} the total number of clock/contact hours, not credit hours, for each course.  As of 2010, I was informed that the standard NZ RN program required 1,100 contact hours for each graduate.  This was for a 3 year program.  In theory, the nursing program you completed in the US will have the same number of hours or more.  At the bottom of this document, your School of Nursing should include the names and addresses of each of the hospitals or clinics where you completed clinicals.  You may need to supply your School of Nursing with this information.

Once they have collated all of this information, they must send it in one large packet to the Nursing Council.  Hopefully, at this point you will have filled in and sent off your application and will have been given a reference number.  Make sure that your nursing program cites this reference number – it makes it much less likely that things will get lost.  I would also strongly urge you to ask your nursing program to send the packet via registered mail with signature receipt.  I would also recommend that your School of Nursing make a copy of whatever they send and either {a} send the copy to you, or {b} retain the copy for themselves.  Keep in mind that if you did any of your nursing prerequisites at a different college or university, you will need to request a similar packet to be sent from this university directly to the Nursing Council.

*Side Note: My nursing program was actually able to scan all of this information and email it to my contact at the NZ nursing council.  It took a lot of time to scan it in, but it saved them on postage.  They then had email verification that it had been received.

The Application Itself

When it comes down to it, there are only 4 pages of the official application that you will need to completely fill out and send directly to the Nursing Council.  This is excluding any forms that you will need to partially complete and send off to other agencies to verify and send in on your behalf.  It also excludes any supplementary documents {e.g., reference letters, resume/CV, employment letters…} that you will need to include in your packet.  To file an application with the Nursing Council of New Zealand, you must pay a fee of NZ$485.00.  Depending on exchange rates, this will be around US$345.

Supplementary Documents

Copies, copies, copies!  You need copies of just about everything, and they all must be certified.  I was able to get all of my certified copies through our bank, which provides this service for free for their customers.  Check with your bank to determine if they will certify/notarize your copies for you.  You will need a certified copy of:

  • Your passport
  • Your marriage certificate {if applicable, e.g., your nursing transcripts are in your maiden name}
  • Your nursing license

I would recommend that you get 2 certified copies of your passport.  Your employer will likely request a certified copy, and this way you’ll have it on hand.

Other documents that you will need to include with your application are:

  • The original police/FBI certificate
  • Your three letters of reference
  • CV/resume
  • Employment letters

The employment letters are not references.  They must be on your employer’s letterhead, and you must have one from each place that you have worked as an RN during the last 5 years.  The letters must include the dates and total hours worked as a nurse.  In my case, I had to get letters from both HR and payroll, because neither office was willing to communicate with the other about how long/how many hours I had worked there.  Classic.

You may also send a certified original copy of your IELTS scores.  You can request that the IELTS scores be sent directly to the Nursing Council, which is what I did, but be careful.  Mine got lost/never made it to the Nursing Council, so my entire application packet was sent back overseas.  I then had the option of either re-requesting my IELTS scores {and now paying for the second copy} or sending them my original IELTS scores, which IELTS will send to you upon completion and grading.  But note – it’s not enough to send the original.  It must be a certified, i.e., a notarized, original – not a notarized copy of the original.

Once everything is all checked, double-checked, and nicely packaged in a hefty envelope, mail it to the Nursing Council, and send it via registered mail with delivery confirmation.  This cost me around US$28.00 in 2010.  It’s worth the extra price to know for certain that your packet made it to New Zealand.

I have been told that, once the Nursing Council has all of the required paperwork, it takes around 3 weeks processing time to receive your RN registration if you’re living overseas at the time.  Mine took 1 week to be mailed to me in New Zealand.  I highly recommend that you make a copy of everything that you send and, if possible, scan it into your computer.  There’s a good chance that many of the things that the Nursing Council requires will also be required by your new employer or by other New Zealand agencies {e.g., NZ license bureau, required for your IRD application…}.  If you’re moving to New Zealand before you’ve gotten your RN registration completed, take the copies with you on the plane.  Don’t ship them over with your belongings.  Make sure that the Nursing Council of New Zealand has your updated mailing address and phone number.  If you are living in interim housing, then let the Nursing Council be aware of that and request that they flag your file so that you are contacted by email before anything is mailed.

And then, my lovely readers, once you’ve gotten your RN registration and you think that you’re in the clear… you get to apply for your annual “pratiscing certificate”.  The good news is that this is much easier.  When they mail you your RN registration, the practising certificate application is included.  Simply fill it out, mail it with the NZ$48.00 fee, and give it about a week to get there.  Give the Nursing Council a call and ask if they’ve received the application.  If so and if they’ve processed it, you can request that they email confirmation of your ability to practice to you and/or your hospital.  This will speed things up as opposed to waiting the 2-3 weeks for the plastic practising certificate card to arrive in the mail.

It seems like a lot of information, and that’s because it is a lot of information.  But if you keep things organized, it can be accomplished 🙂  I’ll just say again that what is written here is in now way meant to be official advice, I cannot guarantee that it is accurate or up to date, and any questions or clarification should be directed to the Nursing Council.  However, if you have unofficial questions, if you want to ask someone about what their experience was like, or if you just want to vent, then please don’t hesitate to send me an email at mrs{dot}practicallyperfect{at}gmail{dot}com.

{Keep in mind that after a certain point in time, WordPress doesn’t notify me of new comments made to old posts.  If you want to know something, email is the best option!}

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