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Moving to Christchurch

Located on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island, Christchurch is a unique destination that is home to both a revitalised city centre and gorgeous natural landscapes that are just waiting to be explored.

The city's character has been heavily influenced by the 2011 earthquakes that caused so much death and destruction. Since then, the only constant in the city seems to be change, as Christchurch launched into a period of intense reconstruction. Expats moving to Christchurch will be able to enjoy the efforts of this labour, which have resulted in a period of economic growth and cultural renewal. 

Living as an expat in Christchurch

Changes to the city can be seen within the city centre, which closed down following the earthquake and has since reopened to reveal a quirky and charming mix of old and new. Although areas of the destroyed city have not yet been rebuilt, reconstruction of Christchurch is an ongoing process that will likely continue for many years yet.

Following the earthquakes, the local economy has recovered substantially and is showing signs of steady growth. With a firm base in agriculture and tourism, and with a growing IT sector, there are plenty of career opportunities for expats. Predictably, expats with expertise in civil engineering and construction are in high demand.

New Zealanders are well travelled and tend to get along well with foreigners, which means most expats find it easy to make friends and assimilate into the culture. As in the rest of New Zealand, expats living in Christchurch enjoy a high standard of living, and the city also boasts plenty of beautiful greenery for those that enjoy a bit of fresh air.

Cost of living in Christchurch

Overall, the cost of living in New Zealand is high and Christchurch is no exception. Imported goods are particularly expensive (and most goods are imported). In addition to the cost, there is a 15 percent national sales tax attached to all purchases.

That said, many services are subsidised by the government which decreases the cost of living in Christchurch. Notably, healthcare in New Zealand is of a high quality and medication and services are either free or extremely cheap. Public education in New Zealand is also free, or heavily subsidised by the state.

Expat families and children

There are a number of highly regarded high schools in Christchurch. The single-sex schools, in particular, are known for academic achievement, though many of the public co-educational high schools are also highly regarded. 

Christchurch is the gateway for most visitors to the South Island and the city’s tourism industry is well developed. There are a number of popular attractions nearby that make for easy day or weekend trips away from the city. Akaroa, Hanmer Springs and Kaikoura have always been popular destinations for a quick getaway.

Climate in Christchurch

The weather in Christchurch can change rapidly and frequently. Locals dress in layers, and often grab an extra jacket before leaving the house ‘just in case’. The seasons are fairly mild in Christchurch, but winters can be brutal as few houses have insulation or central heating.

Expats looking to move to Christchurch can expect welcoming locals, beautiful parks and reserves, and an urban city centre with touches of pre-earthquake architecture. It is an ideal spot to raise a family.

Accommodation in Christchurch

The housing market in Christchurch was severely affected by the 2011 earthquakes, during which many homes were destroyed and about 10,000 more had to be demolished. This resulted in a high demand and a low supply of accommodation in the city. That said, the housing market has since stabilised and thousands of new homes have been built. 

Although accommodation in Christchurch is cheaper than in other big cities in New Zealand, prices have risen due to high demand and the realisation of future potential once the city has been completely rebuilt. This has also resulted in houses selling quickly once on the market, which is why expats should act swiftly once they’ve found a property they like.

Another impact on the housing market came after the city centre was effectively closed down following the earthquakes. As a result, many workplaces have relocated to the outer suburbs, as well as into the industrial area around the airport. This has increased both the prices and the number of people living in these areas. 

The choice between renting and buying in Christchurch is mainly determined by availability and the long-term plans of expats. 

Types of accommodation in Christchurch

Within the city, housing is mainly offered in the form of apartment blocks or townhouses, while the suburbs offer mid-sized homes with gardens of varying sizes. The outer reaches of Christchurch, such as Rolleston, Prebbleton and Lincoln, offer more space, and are therefore popular choices for expats wanting larger homes. Expats looking for a place with a view should explore Sumner which offers a variety of housing options, many of which overlook the sea. Alternatively, villas in Port Hills offer views of Christchurch's cityscape. 

The quality of accommodation varies with the age and location of the property, as well as the level of damage sustained from the 2011 earthquakes. Modern apartment blocks offer compact one or two-bedroom properties, usually with private parking (either behind a security gate or in a designated parking zone) and a communal garden area. Modern townhouses provide a larger living space, usually within a group of similar properties, whereas older ones tend to be detached. It is possible to have a garden area within the city limits but, the further from the city centre, the higher the chance of getting a garden and also the bigger the outside areas become.

Owing to design regulations following the earthquakes, new properties are built to a more scrupulous standard than older buildings, many of which have been altered to meet the new codes. Some properties that have been deemed safe to live in may still have superficial damage such as minor cracks, or internal fittings that aren’t completely level. These should be corrected in time and, as a tenant, it may be necessary to vacate the property during repairs. It is best to confirm the likelihood of this happening before signing a lease.

Finding accommodation in Christchurch

There are a number of websites that list properties available for rent or sale, and that provide links to established estate agents. 

Estate agency offices can be found throughout Christchurch and expats shouldn't struggle to find an agent with offerings in their desired area. Several of these agencies also produce their own property newsletters which can be picked up for free from their offices. 

Renting accommodation in Christchurch

Renting in Christchurch is a fairly straightforward process once a property has been selected.

Making an application

Expats can apply for accommodation by contacting real-estate agents or landlords, or by responding to advertisements. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) will handle housing legislation and all official processes involved in renting a property. Once the relevant checks have been done and references verified, a lease can be signed.

Costs and fees

Rent in Christchurch, as in the rest of New Zealand, is usually paid weekly. Although estate agents have traditionally charged a fee for their services, recent legislation prohibits agents from charging tenants letting fees.

Unfurnished properties are more common than furnished properties in Christchurch, and tenants are therefore required to supply their own furniture and anything else they may need. Expats should make room in their budget for furnishing their property, or for shipping their belongings over to New Zealand.


When securing a lease, landlords will usually require a deposit equivalent to one month's rent, as well as the first two weeks of rent in advance. 


When using an estate agency, leases tend to be for a fixed term of 12 months, and allow for changes to rental agreements when renewing a contract. If dealing directly with the landlord, lease terms can be more variable and may even be negotiable.


Utilities, such as water, gas and electricity, are not typically included in the renting of a property but will come at an extra cost. Expats should therefore take this into consideration when looking for accommodation.

Buying property in Christchurch

Compared to the likes of Auckland on the North Island, and despite the rising prices, properties are relatively cheap in Christchurch. There are constantly new properties on the market but, due to high demand, these are snatched up quickly, so it’s important to act fast. The housing market has become rather volatile as people are looking to buy properties, resulting in many people overlooking potential problems with a property in the rush to secure it.

Therefore, a property's land classification should be considered before buying it. Land in Christchurch is assigned one of three Technical Categories (TC). These are TC1 (grey), TC2 (yellow) and TC3 (blue). These categories describe the expected performance of the land in the event of another earthquake. Land classified as TC1 is least likely to sustain damage in an earthquake, while land classified as TC3 is most likely to sustain damage and TC2 land holds moderate risks.

Lifestyle in Christchurch

Following the four big earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, Christchurch has undergone a dramatic change. Having struggled through a period of reconstruction, the city has succeeded in returning to its characteristically tranquil state. With the expansive Hagley Park and the Botanical Gardens to the west of the city centre, the beautiful coastal suburb of Sumner to the southeast, the Port Hills to the south, and the stunning Banks Peninsula beyond, Christchurch is perfectly situated for outdoor pursuits while still offering the amenities of city life.

There are many ski sites located an easy drive from Christchurch, and hiking and mountain-biking areas such as MacLeans Island, Bottle Lake and the Port Hills are also nearby. Taylors Mistake and New Brighton, two famous Christchurch beaches, are ideal spots to surf or paraglide. 

The skyline of Christchurch may have changed from tall buildings to tall cranes, but the influx of workers helping with the city rebuilding project has kept the city alive. The speed of reconstruction has meant that the image of the city is also constantly changing. 

Shopping in Christchurch

There has been a moderate change in the distribution of retail outlets in Christchurch following the 2011 earthquake.

For a long time, the city centre was closed for reconstruction. As a result, the suburbs flourished in their new positions as key commercial areas. With a newly revitalised city centre, however, businesses and capital have begun filtering back into the city. 

Along with The Crossing and the SALT District being musts for avid shoppers, the main shopping attraction in central Christchurch remains the longstanding department store, Ballantynes. Away from the city centre, Christchurch's suburban malls are also hugely popular. Here expats can expect to find cinemas, restaurants and a variety of department stores.

Expats looking to furnish their homes should visit the furniture and decor stores found on Moorhouse Avenue and Blenheim Road.

Eating out in Christchurch

From cafes and pubs to restaurants and fine dining, Christchurch has a varied and sophisticated culinary scene. There are a number of mobile coffee carts dotted around the city, so there is no need to go far for a caffeine fix.

When it comes to food, expats will be able to find flavours from around the world, including Italian, Mexican and Indian food, as well as specialist vegetarian restaurants. Food stalls and trucks around the city cater for several Asian and European tastes, while some weekend food and farmers markets have become Christchurch institutions. 

Nightlife in Christchurch

The nightlife in Christchurch is vibrant. A variety of quirky restaurants, pubs and craft-beer bars have opened since the 2011 earthquakes. The suburbs of Addington, Fendalton, Merivale and Riccaron, all of which are near the city centre, are popular nightlife areas. As the art capital of New Zealand, there are also plenty of shows, comedy clubs and art-cinemas to keep expats busy at night.