Family, friends, education opportunities for children, and lifestyle are the biggest drawcards for expats returning to live in New Zealand, according to new research from Kea New Zealand.

Economic opportunities are almost universally seen as better offshore than in NZ – with career and business opportunities the main reasons given for choosing to remain overseas.

Those who are not returning also list the cost of living, especially housing, as a deterrent.

Kea NZ, an association of 500,000 New Zealanders living both in NZ and overseas conducted a survey of about 3,000 expats with a focus on their intentions to return (or not) and the reasons behind those decisions.

About 60% of those surveyed said they do not intend to return in the next two years, a further 20% were planning to return inside that timeframe, while 15% had returned recently, with 2% of those planning to head back overseas.

Some of those who are not intending to return within two years say they will eventually come back, bringing the total who plan to return at some stage to 31%.

The balance is made up of those – generally wealthier, older expats – who plan to split their time between NZ and overseas.

Reasons to return (or not)

For those who say they do not plan to return in the next two years, the biggest reasons are economic or financial.

About one quarter said their main reason for remaining overseas was better job opportunities. 

All up, 43% listed a financial or economic rationale as the main reason for remaining overseas – including things like cheaper cost of living and better business opportunities.

Lifestyle and family reasons were also a drawcard, however, with one third citing friends/family or lifestyle as the main reason to remain overseas.

Reasons for returning

For those who have returned or intend to return in the next two years, the drivers were very different.

Just 2% cited an economic or financial main reason to return. Almost half (44%) said they wanted to live closer to family and friends, 15% cited lifestyle reasons.

There was some discrepancy between the motivations of those who have already returned and those who say they intend to.

The former were more likely to cite 'better place to raise children' (15% vs 5%), visa issues or a job loss as the main reason.


Those who say they do not intend to return to New Zealand tend to be older and wealthier than those who do.

Of course, those two factors are not mutually exclusive – people tend to earn more as they get older.

We can also see that as people reach their 50s and 60s they are more likely to split their time between NZ and another country.

The same effect is apparent once people start to earn more than $100,000.

Covid impacts

Of the respondents to the survey who had remained overseas since the pandemic began, more than half said they had been in lockdown for at least 9 months, with 31% in lockdown for a year or more.

Despite this just 12% of those who had returned or are intending to return were entirely motivated to do so by covid-19.

Made with Flourish

However, a further 16% said covid-19 or how it has evolved sped up the process of moving home, but was not the main reason to move.

But for the majority, the decision to return home was either already made, or was for non-covid reasons.

Kea and BusinessDesk have entered into a mutually beneficial non-monetary media partnership.