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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

New Zealand healthcare system

Pūnaha hauora ki Aotearoa

This page has links to information in other languages.


Many health services in New Zealand are free or subsidised. To get public healthcare, you need to be a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident.

You can also get public healthcare if you have a two-year work visa or are a quota refugee.

You can find more detailed information about who can receive public healthcare on the Ministry of Health's website.

People who aren't eligible for public healthcare may have to pay for some hospital services, but you will not be refused emergency care if you cannot pay.

The Government recommends that people who aren't eligible for publicly funded health services have full travel insurance.

Health services

If you qualify for public healthcare, the services you're eligible for include:

You may be eligible for funded maternity care if your partner is eligible even if you aren't.

All children under six can get publicly funded vaccinations even if they aren't residents. See Vaccinations for children.

You can choose to have some of your health needs provided by a private hospital. But you must pay for services in a private hospital. Medical insurance can help you pay for private hospital services.

Choosing a family doctor (GP)

A family doctor or GP is normally your first point of contact with the New Zealand health system. It's important to enrol with a GP as soon as you can. Most GPs practice within a medical centre.

If you need to find a general practice team, you can search on this map.

Enrolling with a GP

Many subsidies are available to enrolled patients. Once you complete an enrolment form at a medical centre, you can get these subsidies. If you do not enrol with a GP, you'll have to pay a higher consultation fee.

You can only enrol with a GP if you're eligible to do so. You can choose to enrol with a male or female doctor. The doctor's receptionist will ask you to complete a form with your name and contact details. Remember to bring along your passport and visa.

You can change your GP but there may be a wait. Subsidies at the new medical centre may not be available for up to three months.

Making an appointment to see a GP or practice nurse

If you want to see your GP, you should make an appointment at least the day before. But if you have an urgent problem, tell your medical centre and they will usually arrange to see you the same day.

You can bring a friend or support person to most medical examinations. But you shouldn't use a support person as an interpreter. See the information below about getting help from a professional interpreter.

Practice nurses are an excellent source of health information and carry out many services. You can also make an appointment to see the nurse.

You need to pay for each visit and the costs vary between medical centres. There may be extra charges if the doctor visits you at home or for emergency appointments.

Your doctor will only give you prescriptions if they think you need them.

Accessing interpreters

You have a legal right to an interpreter to help you understand your GP. If you're eligible for public healthcare, this service is free. Ask for an interpreter when you make your appointment, at least 24 hours in advance.

Do not use children or family members as interpreters. They aren't health professionals and can easily make a mistake with your GP's advice and instructions. See Interpreting services for more details.

Seeing a medical specialist or allied health professional

Medical specialists are doctors who work in one area of medicine such as bones and joints (orthopaedic surgeons) or skin (dermatologists).

Allied health professionals are trained in areas of healthcare such as foot care (podiatrists) or food and nutrition (dietitians).

If you meet certain criteria, your doctor can refer you to a medical specialist or allied health professional through the public health system. This is free, but you may go on a waiting list and wait several months before getting an appointment.

Your GP can also refer you to a medical specialist or allied health professional in the private health system. The cost varies depending on the service provided. You can also refer yourself to many of these health professionals.

Private health insurance

Some people choose to pay for private health insurance. With private health insurance, you can get specialist treatment and care from a private hospital.

To find a private medical insurer search for medical insurance in the Yellow Pages.

Some insurance specialists speak languages other than English. They usually advertise in ethnic media.

There is more information about health insurance on the Insurance and Financial Services Ombudsman website.

Community services card (CSC)

A Community services card is issued by a government department known as Work and Income (WINZ). You can apply for a community services card if you're:

The card can help you get the following services at a reduced rate or at no charge:

To find out more about the card, see Community Services Card.

To find out if you are eligible for a card, contact Work and Income at or phone free on 0800‑999‑999.

High user health card

If you visit your family doctor 12 or more times within 12 months for an on-going illness, you'll qualify for a High Use Health Card. This will give you higher subsidies on your doctor visits and prescriptions.

Accident cover

The government's Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) covers all accidents that happen in New Zealand. You're covered even if you aren't a permanent resident.

ACC will pay for some of the costs to see a GP, specialist and other health professionals such as physiotherapists, chiropractors and osteopaths. It may also cover treatments including surgery.

For more information about ACC, visit or phone free on 0800‑101‑996. ACC has Interpreters available. See If you're injured visiting New Zealand for details about getting help from ACC if you are visiting New Zealand.

After-hours healthcare

See Emergency & after-hours medical help for details about after-hours healthcare.

The ambulance service

St John New Zealand provides ambulance services for most of New Zealand.

In an emergency, call for an ambulance by phoning 111.

Ambulance officers help people who have had an accident or become seriously unwell. They also:

If you use an ambulance for a non-accident service, St John's will send you an invoice to pay. If you're eligible for publicly funded health services, the invoice will be a part charge of $98 and should be seen as a contribution. If you're a non-eligible visitor to New Zealand, the minimum charge is $800.

Dental care

Basic dental care for eligible children is free from birth to age 18. After that, you must pay for dental care.

Dentists can write prescriptions if you need them as a part of your treatment.

Dentists do not receive government subsidies. They usually charge more than GPs.

See Getting help for teeth & oral problems for more details.

Pharmacy services

If you need medicine, your doctor will write you a prescription. You cannot buy prescription medicines without a prescription.

You'll need to take your prescription to a pharmacy and you'll have to wait while the pharmacist gets your medicine ready for you. Family members can also pick up your prescription for you.

Most prescribed medicines are subsidised by the Government. If you're eligible for public healthcare, you will usually only have to pay a small part of the cost. This is normally $5 but you may have to pay more for some medicines that are not fully subsidised. You also have to pay a higher co-payment for prescriptions from specialists and non-publicly funded prescribers.

There is no charge for prescriptions for children aged 13 and under, people aged 65 or older and Community Services Card holders. Some pharmacies do not charge anyone the part cost.

The Prescription subsidy scheme means you and your whānau (family) do not need to pay these prescription changes once you have paid for 20 items each year. Tell your pharmacist the names of all the people in your whānau who are getting prescriptions so they can keep track of how many prescriptions you pay for.

When you pick up your prescription, you need to understand how to take it. If you have any doubts, ask the pharmacy staff to explain.

Pharmacies also sell over-the-counter (OTC) products that you can buy without a prescription. Ask your pharmacy staff for advice.

Pharmacy staff can give advice if you're worried about your or your family's health.

If you need urgent medicine outside normal business hours, you can go to an Urgent Pharmacy. See Emergency & after-hours medical help for details about urgent pharmacies.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

Written by Pegasus Health, Christchurch. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed February 2022.

See also:

Getting medical help if you are new to Canterbury

Health information in multiple languages

Where to go for medical help

Page reference: 125359

Review key: HIMRH-125055