Skip to content
nibnib logo

Get to know the New Zealand health system

07 Nov 2018

Doctor with two patients

What's my cost?


Compare plans

It’s here for you and your family when you need it

This simple guide will show you:

• What’s available to you and your family • How to find and enrol with a general practitioner (GP) and • What costs might be involved and how to receive financial subsidies if you’re eligible.

Remember, the more you understand the system and what it offers, the better it can work for you.



  • DIAL 111 if you urgently need an ambulance to assist in a medical emergency.
  • If you live in the Wellington area, Wellington Free Ambulance services are available at no charge to you. In other areas, there is a charge to use an ambulance, even if you don’t call it.
  • If you don’t need an ambulance you can go to the Accident and Emergency Department (A&E) at your local hospital. These are open 24 hours, 7 days a week.
  • Hospitals are located throughout the country to see and treat patients who have serious injuries or illnesses.
  • The cost of hospital and specialist care is totally covered by the government if you are referred by your doctor.

General practitioners

  • If you feel you need medical attention, but it’s not an emergency, you should see a general practitioner. GP’s in New Zealand usually work with other doctors in groupings called practices. Practices are normally operated out of premises called Medical Centres.
  • A GP is a fully-trained medical doctor who can examine and advise you on your general health and wellbeing. If needed, they can also arrange further tests or specialist treatment for you, either in the public health system or through private providers.
  • If you require the services of another healthcare professional, such as an acupuncturist, a chiropractor, an optometrist, a podiatrist or a physiotherapist, you can go and see them with or without a referral from your GP.
  • GP’s require payments for appointments, but these are often subsidised, especially for patients with community health services cards or high user health cards.
  • If you need a consultation outside normal working hours, some practices and Accident & Emergency Clinics offer special after-hours services. You can visit these centres even if you aren’t enrolled with them, but expect to pay a higher, unsubsidised price.


  • If you are referred by a GP and meet the eligibility criteria, the costs of public hospital and specialist care are totally covered by the government.
  • You may have to go on a waiting list for public treatment first and you may not be able to choose your preferred specialist.
  • If you want to be able to choose a specific medical specialist or you want to see someone quickly, expect to pay for your appointment.
  • If you have private health insurance, depending on your policy, you may be able to claim back some or all of the cost.
  • For a list of registered doctors and specialists, visit for more info on eligibility for public health services.


  • Children up to the age of 18 are subsidised for regular dental care, but adults are not.
  • So, if you need to visit a dentist and you don’t have private health insurance that covers dental treatment, you will have to meet all of the costs yourself.
  • For up-to-date information about dentists and dental treatments available in New Zealand, visit


  • If you need medication, you can get it from your local pharmacy or chemist.
  • Pharmacies can sell you certain drugs, such as everyday painkillers, but for more powerful medicine you will need to obtain a prescription from your GP first.
  • Once you have a prescription, your pharmacy will be able to provide you with the necessary medication.
  • Adults may need to pay a small amount of around $5 each towards the cost of subsidised medicines in each prescription. If your medicine isn’t fully subsidised, you may have to pay more.
  • Children under 13 years receive free prescriptions.

Private health insurance providers

  • Private health insurance can cover consultations and treatment from a range of medical providers and other healthcare services that are not publicly funded.
  • It can reduce waiting times for consultation and treatment and enable early action if surgery or specialist care is needed.
  • It also gives you the choice of your treatment provider and date of treatment.
  • You can only take out private health insurance hospital cover if you are eligible for care from the public health system, which is why many tourists and international students take out travel insurance for urgent or unexpected treatment they may need.
  • If you are not eligible for publicly funded health care, you can still take out private health insurance for everyday costs like dental, optical and physio care.

At nib we highly recommend getting covered with private health insurance so you can get access to quality healthcare when you want it – without the public waiting times.

Find out about the different options available

Subsidies for services

Some subsidies are only available to those people who are eligible for publicly funded health care. For more information, follow the links below to some key government websites.

Accident Compensation Corporation

The Accident Compensation Corporation ACC covers the costs of treatment for cases deemed 'accidents' for Kiwis and visitors to New Zealand. This may include cover for doctor or hospital visits, treatment and lump-sum payments. See

Community Service Cards

For people earning less than certain amounts, depending on the number of dependents in their household, they can qualify for a Community Services Card (CSC). This helps by reducing the cost of health services, including after-hours doctor visits and prescription fees. See

High user health cards

If you visit your doctor more than 12 times a year, ask about getting a High Use Health Card. This reduces the cost of your future visits and some prescriptions.



If you or your family have paid for 20 prescriptions in a year, you may be eligible for the Prescription Subsidy Scheme. This means you won’t have to pay the $5 fee per prescription for the rest of the year.


Hospital and specialist care

If you meet eligibility criteria^, hospital and specialist care in New Zealand is totally covered by the government when the patient is referred by a general or family practitioner.

^ Visit for more info on eligibility for public health services


Children and young people (aged 17 years or under) can receive free dental checks and standard treatments, such as x-rays, cleaning, fillings and tooth removals if:

  • They meet the eligibility criteria for publicly funded health services,
  • They are enrolled in the Community Oral Health Service and;
  • Their dentist or other oral health provider has a contract with the local District Health Board (DHB).

Tip - It pays to enrol your child as early as possible, to arrange their first check-up.

As an adult, you will usually have to pay for your own dental care, except in cases where:

  • You have a disability or medical condition that will lead to your usual dentist or GP referring you to a public hospital for free or subsidised dental treatment.
  • You have a Community Services Card (CSC) which enables you to get free or subsidised emergency treatment, including pain relief and extractions, at a public hospital.
  • You need dental treatment as a result of an accident or injury, where your costs may be partly or fully covered by ACC.

Tip - Charges can vary widely amongst dental practices.

How to register for services


  • To find a registered GP, visit
  • Start looking for a GP if you haven’t already got one, so that you can be enrolled for subsidised charges when you want to see a doctor.
  • Not all GPs in a practice take new patients. Practices usually give priority to people who live or work in their local area.
  • Remember to check the fees the practice charges when you enrol.
  • You can request a male or female GP and it is helpful if you can get a copy of your medical records from your home country or town to give to your GP.


  • To register a child for publicly funded dental care, call 0800 TALK TEETH (0800 825 583). They will send you forms to complete the registration.

Helpful links

To find health services in your area, including doctors, dentists, maternity services, rest homes, mental health services and hospitals, visit

Important things to know

Information correct as at September 2018