An Asia OE - how to make it work

Buying a plane ticket, packing a bag and heading offshore has long been a coming-of-age tradition for young New Zealanders. In this article, we look at options to live and work in Asia for school leavers, those in tertiary education and recent graduates.

An Asia OE will provide you with an incredible opportunity to not only immerse yourself in a new culture very different to New Zealand's, but also learn a new language, try new cuisines, and make new friends.

Asia knowledge is increasingly being sought by employers not just in New Zealand but around the world, so the skills you acquire while away will be invaluable to you throughout your career.

A recent survey of South Island employers conducted by the Asia New Zealand Foundation found that language capability and market knowledge were two of the biggest challenges facing businesses looking to develop links in Asia, ahead of competition, logistics and trade barriers. So get ahead - consider your Asia options and expand your horizons.

Work / working holiday

Working in Asia may sound daunting, but it will provide you with insights and skills unattainable from New Zealand.

Most people will find employment before they leave New Zealand, though it’s usually possible to find work after arriving and get a potential employer to sponsor your work visa once a contract has been signed.

Three young New Zealanders talk about their experiences finding work and living in Japan

Language barriers

Speaking the local language will be a big advantage but many international companies conduct business in English, especially in the likes of Singapore and Hong Kong.

Your English ability (both spoken and written) will be an asset that sets you apart from local job seekers.   

There are many websites listing jobs in Asia for English speakers. Here's just a couple:

*If you know the country you want to travel to, google 'jobs for English speakers' for that country.

You could also consider directly contacting the HR department of company you would like to work for or checking their website for job advertisements. Contacting an employer directly would be showing initiative - a trait employers value. 

Working Holiday Scheme

Getting a work visa can be difficult, but for those aged 18-30 (some schemes allow people up to 35) New Zealand has reciprocal working holiday schemes with a number of countries, which makes getting a visa much easier.

New Zealand has working holiday schemes with the following countries in Asia (click the country for information about each visa):

Teaching English in Asia

Teaching English is by far and away the most popular job for young New Zealanders wanting to live and work in Asia. Teaching jobs are readily available in many Asian countries and can usually be secured prior to leaving New Zealand.

The key is to go through a reputable agency or scheme. Probably the most well-known scheme in New Zealand is the Japanese government’s JET programme.

Most schemes require you to have a university degree (in any subject) and/or teaching qualification such as TEFL or TESOL certificate. Many provide accommodation.

People often use teaching to get a foothold in a country and branch out into other forms of employment once they have found their feet, learnt a little of the local language and made local connections.

No degree?

Without a tertiary qualification and with little work experience, finding work in Asia will be harder, but there are options, including:

  • Tourism jobs, such as tour guide, ski or a dive instructor (speaking at least one other widely spoken language is an advantage) 
  • Some teaching jobs - many teaching jobs will require a degree but a short TEFL (Teaching English as a foreign language) or TESOL (Teaching English to speakers of other languages) course is sometimes enough.
  • Hospitality jobs (in hotels / hostels or as bar tenders). 

Freelance and remote working

Many young people are branching out from traditional forms of employment and getting by doing freelance work or working online. If you have a reliable revenue stream that does not require you to be at a fixed location, then freelance or remote working could provide a fantastic opportunity to live and work in Asia.

Of course, you will have to check visa requirements - if you are not employed by a local employer or paying tax locally, you might not be able to secure a visa that allows you to stay in a country for more than a couple of months and will have to leave periodically to renew your visa.

Being self employed can be hard work and require a  lot of time dedicated to finding the next gig; you do not have the security of a weekly/monthly pay packet. So, if you're thinking about winging it and making your money through becoming a social influencer, travel writer, DJ or model, fantastic, but you might want a plan B.


An internship in Asia is a great way to get international work experience and become familiar with a new country, new culture and new work environment while still having the security of a structured programme.

Internships come in many forms; some are paid, some are not, and some require you to pay a fee to partake. 

Experience a day in the life of CJ Cultural Foundation intern Benjamin Brooking

The Asia New Zealand Foundation offers business internships in Asia for tertiary students and recent graduates.

The internships are undertaken over the New Zealand summer with applications opening mid-year.

If you are currently studying, talk to your training provider's career advisers as they may be able to help you find an internship.

Tertiary institutions often have internship relationships with organisations in specific industries. For instance, if you're undertaking or have recently finished a qualification in the hospitality industry, you might consider doing a work placement in Asia through International Working Holidays (IWH):

Prime Minister's Scholarships can be used to pay for an internship. If you're over 18 years old, you can apply for a scholarship - you do not need to be currently studying.

Student exchanges

Studying in a foreign country is an incredible way to meet people and learn about a new culture.

An exchange in Asia is a fantastic way to pick up new skills while studying and will really make you stand out from the crowd when looking for a job back in New Zealand, especially if you learn an Asian language. An exchange can also lead on to work opportunities in the country you exchanged in once you have completed your degree.

If you’re fresh out of high school and looking to do an exchange in Asia, New Zealand’s school leaver qualification is recognized in a number of countries, including South Korea, Thailand, Singapore and India.

Former Marsden Collegiate School student Lyra Ashwood who studied Mandarin Chinese at school and now studies in China talks about learning Chinese

If you’re already in tertiary education, ask your learning provider about overseas study options. Most will have reciprocal programmes with partner universities in Asia.

Prime Minister's Scholarships are available for New Zealander's over the age of 18, whether they are studying or not, and can be put towards undertaking an exchange in Asia.

To find out about student exchanges, check out your education provider's website for more details:

Scholarships and grants

If you're over 18 years old, you can apply for a Prime Minister's Scholarship. You do not need to be studying or necessarily have good grades. Prime Minister's Scholarships allow you to undertake an exchange or internship in Asia.

If you’re in tertiary study, a good place to look for scholarships and grants will be your university’s website or a student services and support adviser.

Some useful sites:


If you'd like to get some experience in Asia and help out with a environmental or community project at the same time, then volunteering might be a good option for you.  

Volunteer projects usually have an environmental or social cause, which get funding through volunteers who pay for the experience. People generally volunteer for between a couple of weeks and a couple of months.

Food and accommodation are usually covered in the cost of the programme, which are typically available to anyone 18 years old and over. Some volunteer projects look for people with particular skills, but there are plenty of options for those without specific skills or qualifications.

Before settling on a volunteer project, do your research - there are some dodgy schemes out there. To avoid unwittingly signing up for a less-than-satisfactory programme, consider going through a reputable agency that connects volunteers with suitable projects.


Another option you might consider is WWOOFing (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms). WOOFING is a fantastic way to see a side of a country that most people don't get to experience - namely rural life on a farm. What's more, WWOOFing can also be a great way to learn about a culture through living with and working alongside a family.

With WWOOFing, you usually do a few hours work a day in exchange for food and accommodation.

As with volunteering, we advise that you thoroughly research any WOOFFing opportunity you are considering and consider going through a reputable agency. 

There are plenty of WWOOFing websites out there, here's just one with Asia opportunities:

Things to consider

Some people will have a country that from a young age has for one reason or another fascinated them and they can’t wait to move there to learn more and experience the culture. If this is not you, do some research and see which country piques your interest.

When choosing where to go, you might want to consider the following:

  • Your employment options

If you don't have a specific country you want to live in, then perhaps there is a specific industry you'd like to work in. Check out the opportunities for each country and let that direct your choice of location.

Some employers/hosts are better than others, so before you sign up to anything, thoroughly research the requirements and conditions, especially if you're going to work or volunteer in Asia.

  • The language/s spoken

If you've studied a particular language at school, say Japanese or Chinese, Japan or a country where Chinese is widely spoken, would be an obvious choice of destination.

Or perhaps there is a language you'd like to learn – Mandarin is increasing in popularity as a second language, but going to Indonesia or Malaysia and learning Bahasa would really set you apart.

Former Leadership Network member Chris Henderson talks about learning Bahasa Indonesia

If the language barrier is a concern to you, then you might want to consider going somewhere where English is widely spoken – Singapore or Hong Kong, for instance. Either way, don’t let the language barrier put you off.

  • The environment

Wherever you go it will be an adventure, but some countries will require a bit more of an adventurous spirit than others. Some people might be drawn to the tranquillity of rural Japan (teaching will likely be your only option) while others might be looking for the hubbub of Bangkok or Mumbai.

If you’re a big fan of getting into nature from time to time, then choosing a country, or more specifically a city/town, where nature is readily accessible might be a good start. Remember, the more rural a location the less likely you are to find English speakers and work.

Before choosing a location, take time to check out the political situation.

  • How much you want to earn

You are more likely to be able to secure a well-paying job in wealthier countries where wages are higher; however, wealthier countries are usually also more expensive to live in, so consider all factors, such as accommodation, transportation and food costs.

Some large multi-national companies will pay staff a wage that is commensurate with what they would earn in the same role back home.

  • Visas

Visa requirements vary from country to country. Obtaining a visa other than a tourist visa can be a complicated process. You will usually require an employer to sponsor you to get a work visa. It's advisable to get a work visa before you leave home, though some countries allow you to enter on a tourist visa and upgrade to a work visa once you have found work.

If undertaking an internship or volunteer programme, the organisation hosting or facilitating the experience will inform you on visa requirements.

For information about working holiday visas for 18-30 (35) year olds, see the working holidays section of this page. For more information, go to the embassy or consulate website of the country you want to travel to.

Get advice

Before taking the leap and heading offshore, it's always advisable to talk to people in the know. You may know someone who has lived in Asia or you could search for chat groups for New Zealanders/foreigners living in the country you are thinking about going to.

You could watch some Youtube videos to get an idea of what life in the country is like for foreign workers and perhaps get an idea of wages, job opportunities and living costs.

Other links


This article is meant as a guide - to provide advice and sources of information to help you make an informed decision. Situations can change quickly (especially with Covid-19 still impacting the world) so we advise you do further research and speak to people familiar with living and working in Asia before making any decisions.