“Should I study abroad in Australia or New Zealand?” 

We hear this a lot from students starting to research study abroad options. 

Known for its beautiful beaches, World Heritage sites such as the Great Barrier Reef, and cosmopolitan cities like Sydney and Melbourne, Australia is the largest island in the world and has a population of approximately 24 million people. It boasts the third-largest population of international students behind the U.K. and the U.S.

New Zealand is made up mainly of two islands, the North Island and South Island. The North Island is home to New Zealand’s two largest cities, Auckland and Wellington, while the South Island is less populated with smaller cities and towns. The South Island is best known for its impressive mountain ranges, lakes, glaciers and some of New Zealand’s most popular tramping (hiking) tracks. 

Both countries have excellent academic institutions with all classes taught in English, are safe and welcoming to American students, and are known for their varied natural landscapes. 

So, how are they different? And how do you choose between the two? Let’s take a look. 

ACADEMICS

How they’re similar: Both Australia and New Zealand have world-class universities and courses available for all majors, so finding a program that offers what you’re looking for is easy! 

How they’re different: Since Australia is bigger, it is home to more universities and therefore offers slightly more variety when it comes to finding the classes, location and campus experience (i.e. a school with a large, active student population or a small campus with intimate class sizes) you’re looking for. Most of the universities TEAN offers programs in are in cities, however.

New Zealand has eight universities (we offer programs at all of them!) and, in addition to offering mainstream subjects like business, communications, sciences or humanities, each university tends to have its own specialty. For example, Lincoln University is very strong in the land-based sciences, while Massey is known for animal and equine science, and the University of Auckland has strong engineering programs. 

LIFESTYLE & CULTURE

How they’re similar: Both Aussies and Kiwis are known for being easy-going and friendly to international students and visitors so students often quickly feel comfortable in their new home. Both countries also promote active, outdoor lifestyles…but in different ways. 

How they’re different: Generally speaking, Australia is for beach bums and New Zealand is for mountain lovers! 

Most of Australia’s population lives in or near coastal cities and going to the beach is a big part of Australian culture. Aussies are also known for being passionate sport enthusiasts with many people participating in organized sport and regularly attending sporting events, including rugby, cricket, netball and Aussie Rules Football.

Though there are still beaches and plenty of lakes in New Zealand, the mountains reign supreme and tramping – Kiwi for hiking – in one of the country’s beautiful national parks is a highly popular activity. New Zealand is also particularly known for its adventure sports (it’s even the birthplace of bungy jumping) and rugby. Kiwis are crazy for rugby and love their famous All Blacks team. 

Politically speaking, New Zealand is more progressive than Australia and Kiwis consider themselves quite socially and environmentally responsible. Australia tends to be more politically conservative than New Zealand, though not as right-leaning as U.S. conservatives. Recently, both countries’ governments focused on prioritizing public health and safety over the economy in their COVID-19 responses however, and the global pandemic has not become a politicized issue as it has in the U.S.

Hiking in New Zealand mountains
Photo credit: Lauren LeGorrec, University of Southern California

CLIMATE

How they’re similar: Melbourne and Auckland are located at a similar latitude and are known to both experience four seasons in one day (there’s always been debate about which city the Crowded House song is actually about), but Melbourne does get colder and hotter than Auckland.….

How they’re different: Because of Australia’s size, the climate can vary significantly based on where you are and the time of year. The further north you are in Australia, the warmer you’re going to find it since you’ll be closer to the equator. The northeastern part of the country is known for its tropical weather with hot temperatures and for having wet and dry seasons, while places in the southern part of the country, like Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, experience four seasons. Summers tend to be very hot with winters being more moderate, like autumn in the midwest or New England. 

Overall, New Zealand is colder than Australia. It has a more temperate, maritime climate with cooler summers but the temperatures don’t shift as dramatically as they do from summer to winter in much of the U.S. That said, the weather can change quickly in New Zealand and it’s common to experience all four seasons in one day.  

CITIES

How they’re similar: Cities in both countries are very liveable…you’ll love them!

How they’re different: Australia has a lot to offer when it comes to its cities, which are known for being quite large and multicultural. There is always something going on whether you’re into sports, theatre, food, coffee, music or the arts. Both Melbourne and Sydney are ranked in the top 10 of the world’s most livable cities and the best student cities in the world. 

New Zealand’s cities are much smaller in comparison to Australia…but they’re still really cool and filled with personality! Auckland is the country’s largest city with 1.6 million people, and home to New Zealand’s largest Polynesian population as well as a large student population with two universities being located right in the heart of the city. By comparison, however, every other city in the country has about 400,000 people or less. If you’re looking for more of a young college town feel rather than a large city, you’ll find it in New Zealand in places like Wellington (the “Coolest Little Capital in the World”) and Dunedin. Dunedin is one of most popular study abroad destinations in New Zealand with a population of around 100,000 and strong college town vibes!

Studying abroad in Australia
Photo credit: Avery Royston, University of Central Florida

COST

How they’re similar: The U.S. dollar is often stronger than the Australian dollar and New Zealand dollar so the exchange rates work in your favor. (Though, of course, this can always change.)

How they’re different: Typically, New Zealand tends to be slightly less expensive overall than Australia. However, while there are some differences in program and living costs, they’re normally not significant enough to play a big factor in choosing between the two destinations. 

When looking at your study abroad budget and considering costs, the size of the city a program is located in will make more of a difference in program cost rather than Australia vs. New Zealand. In both countries, programs located outside of large cities like Sydney, Melbourne or Auckland will cost less. 

TRAVEL

How they’re similar: You will want to explore as much as you can of either country and much of your travels will center around stunning natural environments! 

How they’re different: New Zealand is smaller in size but PACKED with so much to do and see. Australia is much larger but more sparse and spread out in terms of attractions or activities. 

Though you’re never more than a two-hour flight from north to south in New Zealand, and flights are generally quite affordable, you’re more likely to travel by car since things are closer and easier to get to. For example, many students plan to do a South Island road trip and explore with their own set of wheels. You can see a lot of New Zealand in a short amount of time.

Traveling in Australia is more time consuming because of the country’s size and you’ll spend more time flying to discover different areas. Flying from the east coast to the west coast is similar to flying from New York to Los Angeles. 

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