The Public Health Care System in New Zealand

The Public Health Care System in New Zealand 

Eligibility for all publicly funded health and disability services is determined by the Ministry of Health. 

New Zealand’s healthcare system is widely regarded as one of the best of the OECD countries. New Zealand citizens are entitled to a wide range of free and government-subsidised healthcare, including hospital and doctor services, free public hospital treatment and free 24-hour accident and emergency clinics.

The government also funds subsidies for visits to the local doctor and prescriptions for young children, people who require frequent healthcare and those on low incomes.

Accidents happen

If we injure ourselves at work, at home, in the car, playing sport or doing any other activity, our government-legislated accident compensation scheme (ACC) helps pay for our hospital, doctor, physiotherapist or any specialist treatment.

If the injury is serious, payment will also be made to offset the loss of wages. This removes the need for us to seek redress through the courts if we get injured through the actions of others.

New Zealand health costs


  • Public hospital treatment
  • 24-hour accident and emergency (A&E) care
  • Visits to the doctor for children under six years
  • Treatment of acute or chronic medical conditions
  • Laboratory tests and X-rays
  • Healthcare during pregnancy and childbirth
  • Dental checks for school children
  • Breast cancer screening for woman aged between 45 and 69

Subsidised :

prescription charges:

  • NZ$15 max
  • Visit to family doctor: adult NZ$45-55
  • 6 to 17 years NZ$20
  • Visits to physiotherapists, chiropractors and osteopaths
  • (GP referred)

Note: Only applies if you are a New Zealand resident and for holders of specific long term visas.



What is publicly funded healthcare and how does New Zealand’s health system work?

Visits to the doctor are generally free for eligible children under six years old, although some doctors do charge a small surcharge (usually $5–$10). Older children (generally aged 6–17 years) are charged about $20 if they are eligible for publicly-funded healthcare.

If your doctor considers blood or laboratory tests are required you may be referred to a medical laboratory. As an eligible person you will not be charged for these services.

Immunisation is free for eligible children and so are some health checks in the early years of life.

The local doctor or family physician (General Practitioner or GP) is the important first contact for New Zealanders. It is good practice to think about your choices early and find where a suitable GP is before you get sick.

If necessary your GP may refer you onto a specialist doctor for further assessment and diagnosis. As long as you use the public system you will not be charged if you meet the eligibility criteria. If you choose to go to a private specialist you will be charged.

From July 1 2002, Primary Health Organisations (PHOs) began operating in New Zealand.

PHOs are groups of doctors, nurses and people trained and skilled in health who are working together to provide a better health service for you and your family.

For more information see New Zealand’s Primary Health Care Strategy and Primary Health Organisations (PHOs)

Visiting a doctor

Drugs from the pharmacy or diagnostic tests

High users and people on low incomes

Going to hospital in an emergency for sickness

Accident cover

Going to the dentist

Maternity care

Sexual health services

There are good health and disability services in New Zealand, including doctors, pharmacies and hospitals.

As someone living in New Zealand you will always be able to use those services when you need to, and you should certainly do so.

Government funding of health services means that eligible people may receive free inpatient and outpatient public hospital services, subsidies on prescription items and a range of support services for people with disabilities in the community.

Special High Cost Treatment Pool
The Special High Cost Treatment Pool is money set aside by the Ministry of Health for one-off treatments not otherwise funded by the public health system.

Visiting a doctor

Doctors operate as private practitioners in New Zealand and you can choose the doctor or medical centre that you prefer.

Most GPs are private practitioners and can set their own fees. However, the standard adult consultation charges are between $35 and $50. Most eligible adults pay the full cost of visiting the doctor.



Drugs from the pharmacy or diagnostic tests

Pharmaceutical drugs or medicines are generally free for children under six years old but everyone else who is eligible for publicly funded healthcare pays a co-payment. The cost will depend on the particular drug.

The maximum charge for prescribed medicines that are listed on the Pharmaceutical Schedule is either the price of the item or $15, which ever is the lesser amount. The Schedule lists around 2600 prescription medicines and related products subsidised by the Government.

High users and people on low incomes

People who visit the doctor frequently, or who need a lot of medications, can get subsidies to help with the costs once they've made a set number of visits to their doctor or purchased a set amount of medications.

You should talk to your doctor or chemist to get more information about the High Use Health Card and/or the Pharmaceutical Subsidy Card.

If you are on a low income, you may also be eligible for a Community Services Card. This will give you access to subsidised doctor visits and pharmaceuticals, and free home-based support for people with disabilities.

Information about the Community Services Card is available from Work and Income New Zealand or by calling 0800 999 999.

Going to hospital in an emergency for sickness

There are two different reasons why you may need to go to a hospital.

It may be for sickness, or for an accident or injury. The situation will be different in each case.

You will always be received as a patient if you require acute or emergency care and go to a hospital. The following publicly-funded services are free of charge for eligible people:
• Inpatient and outpatient treatment at a public hospital
• X-rays and laboratory tests carried out in public hospitals

For elective health services (services which are not urgently required and where there may be a waiting time), being eligible only means that you have the right to be considered to receive that particular health service. Medical specialists will make the final decision about what treatment a patient should receive based on priority access criteria.

To find contact details for your local District Health Board hospital

Accident cover

This includes having to go to a hospital as a result of an accident.

The Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) is a Government agency that provides 24-hour, no-fault personal accident cover for New Zealanders, New Zealand residents who are temporarily overseas, and visitors to New Zealand.

If you attend an approved healthcare professional such as a GP for treatment for a personal injury, you may still be asked to pay part of the treatment cost yourself.

Going to the dentist

General dental care for people over 18 years is not funded by the Government in New Zealand. Any person in New Zealand can choose any dentist and receive treatment as a private patient.

Basic dental care for eligible school children is free up to 18 years of age.

Maternity care

Publicly Funded Maternity Services in New Zealand

Sexual health services

For specific advice on any matters related to sexual health there is a special website

There is also a free and confidential helpline: 0800 372 5463

• Do visit a doctor or other medical services when you need to
• Do take your passport and immigration documents with you if you need to access health services in New Zealand
• Do ask if you are not sure what to do
• Do dial 111 in any real emergency and do not worry about the details until later



This information is intended as a guide only. Every effort has been made to ensure that it is accurate. However, in the event of any dispute, Government policy and legislation, including the 2003 Eligibility Direction itself, will take precedence.


Eligibility quick guide table

Eligibility criteria requirements
Services provided

New Zealand citizen

New Zealand citizens (including those living in the Cook Islands, Niue or Tokelau who visit New Zealand on a temporary basis and those born in New Zealand)

All services

Resident in New Zealand
New Zealand permanent residents
All services

Work Permit Holders
Hold a current work permit which, together with the time the person has already been in New Zealand lawfully, allows for a continuous stay of at least two years

All services

Australians resident in New Zealand
An Australian citizen or permanent resident of Australia who can demonstrate an intention to remain in New Zealand for two years or more

All services

Overseas students funded by Official Development Assistance Programme

Students funded by the NZAID ODA programme; their partners, and their children under the age of 18 years

All services

Commonwealth Scholarship students
Students funded by New Zealand universities or NZAID as a postgraduate Commonwealth Scholarship holder.

All services

Foreign Language Teaching Assistants Scheme
Teachers funded by the Ministry of Education's Foreign Language teaching Assistantship Scheme

All services

Refugees and applicant refugees
Eligible with proof of refugee/applicant refugee status

All services

Australian resident on a temporary visit to New Zealand
Hold an Australian passport and have Australian residency
'Immediately necessary medical treatment' as specified in the New Zealand/Australia Reciprocal Health Agreement

United Kingdom citizens who are living in the UK and who visit New Zealand on a temporary basis

Hold a United Kingdom passport and be a UK national

Urgent medical treatment as specified in the New Zealand/UK Reciprocal Health Agreement

Children in the care and control of an eligible person
The parent or legal guardian must be eligible as a citizen, resident, Australian,student or visitor and the child(ren) must be lawfully present in New Zealand and be under the age of 18 years. Eligible work permit holders can pass on eligibility to dependant child(ren) 19 years of age and under.

All services

Persons receiving compulsory treatment
Compulsory treatment under any of the Tuberculosis Act 1948, Health Act 1956, Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Act 1966, and the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992

Only eligible for specified services under the appropriate Act

Prison inmate or individual on remand in prison custody

Passport and/or permit status not relevant. Length of stay not relevant
Only eligible for services not provided by the prison health system

People who suffer injury through an accident in New Zealand
Injury must happen in New Zealand and be accepted by ACC as falling under the ACC legislation. Level of assistance depends on the type of injury/treatment required.
Accident-related personal health services for a specified injury. May have some ability to receive assistance directly from ACC for other services


Individuals eligible under previous Direction who retain eligibility

Eligibility criteria requirements
Services provided

Student or visitor permit holder eligible under 2000 Eligibility Direction

At 30 October 2003:

• holds a current student or visitor permit which, together with the time the person has already been in New Zealand lawfully, allows for a continuous stay of at least two years; or
• holds a student permit of at least 12 months and evidence of enrolment on an New Zealand course of study of at least two years; and is granted consecutive visas to remain or re-enter New Zealand;


• has been granted consecutive permits to remain or re-enter New Zealand
All service


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