At least 1 million New Zealanders live overseas

New Zealanders, referred to locally as Kiwis, love to travel. As a small island nation at the end of the world, our national curiosity is only sated by serious air miles. People say that wherever you go in the world you’ll find a Kiwi, but how many New Zealanders actually live overseas? A figure often quoted by the media is 1 million. How accurate is this estimate of New Zealand's diaspora (people who see themselves as New Zealanders or having significant attachment to this county)?

It’s difficult enough counting the number of people in New Zealand, let alone finding all the Kiwis in the rest of the world. Luckily, demographers are a tenacious lot, and estimating the number of overseas-resident New Zealanders is an ongoing focus of research.

Australia is by far our most popular destination country, so how many Kiwis live there? The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates 477,000 New Zealand-born people were living in Australia at 30 June 2006. Our second most popular destination is the United Kingdom, where 58,000 New Zealand-born residents were counted at the 2001 census. The next largest group lives in the United States (around 23,000), while 9,500 live in Canada. An additional 40,500 Kiwis are estimated to live in other countries.

Together, this adds up to around 600,000 – well under 1 million.

That said, if we extend the definition of ‘New Zealander’ to include citizenship as well as country of birth, we find that estimates produced by the OECD from the year 2000 census round show 416,000 New Zealand-born people living overseas, 316,000 of whom are in Australia. The current estimate for the number of New Zealand citizens living in Australia is 600,000. If we extrapolate from this (given that New Zealanders living in Australia make up 75 percent of the total diaspora) we arrive at a total of around 800,000 New Zealand citizens living overseas. Bearing in mind that children under 15 were not included in this research, and that data cannot be obtained reliably from some major destination countries, especially ones in Southeast Asia, this would probably put the number of overseas Kiwis at over 1 million.

However, as we are mainly relying on census counts, some now several years old, we must ask: how accurate is this estimate? There is also the difficulty of defining our diaspora (beyond the question of citizenship and place of birth). Are the children and spouses of New Zealand-born people included, for example?

Conclusion

This myth needs further research.

How did this myth arise?

Stories about the number of Kiwis who migrate overseas, and the resulting loss of New Zealand citizens, are common in the media, and a cause for consternation in many circles. If you combine this with anecdotal evidence about the number of Kiwis living in Australia and the United Kingdom, the impression that there must be a million or more Kiwis living overseas is understandable.

On any given day, there are roughly 80,000 New Zealand citizens out of the country on short overseas trips. Around 45,000 citizens a year leave on a permanent or long-term (PLT) basis. Many of these PLT travellers will eventually return, some bringing their overseas-born spouses and children with them. Others will stay overseas, with various degrees of attachment to New Zealand. Of our newer migrants, some will stay and gain New Zealand citizenship, while others will leave.

For your information

International travel and migration – latest releases
Statistics on the number of overseas visitors, New Zealand resident travellers, and permanent and long-term migrants entering or leaving New Zealand. Based on final counts of arrivals to and departures from New Zealand. Updated monthly.

Published 22 June 2012, based on information previously published on 17 September 2007.