Requirements to Transfer Cosmetology License From USA to New Zealand

Young woman in a beauty salon with a black mask on her face. The concept of cosmetology. The cosmetologist performs a procedure to cleanse the face with problem skin.
••• Ilja Enger-Tsizikov /iStock/GettyImages

New Zealand is heating up as an international hot spot. The weather, the scenery, the hospitality and the high quality of life make this island nation an attractive new home for jet-setters from around the globe. Unfortunately, people need to make money wherever they go. So, if cosmetologists are contemplating a move to New Zealand from the United States, what are the requirements to transfer their license?

Cosmetology in New Zealand

In the U.S., a cosmetology license covers many different types of salon work. In New Zealand, a certificate is not required to work in the industry, though most jobs go to candidates with formal training. While cosmetology license reciprocity isn’t necessary, it can have a big impact on income.

Professional credentials in New Zealand include:

  • Certificate in Hairdressing (Salon Support).
  • Certificate in Hairdressing (Emerging Stylist).
  • Certificate in Hairdressing (Professional Stylist).
  • Certificate in Beauty Therapy.
  • Certificate in Makeup Artistry.
  • Certificate in Barber Skills.
  • Certificate in Commercial Barbering.

Candidates obtain these certifications through a mixture of education and apprenticeship training. While hairdressing, makeup and barber skills are straightforward enough, beauty therapy involves facials and other skin treatments.

Demand for cosmetologists is set to rise slightly, according to the New Zealand Occupation Outlook. The highest area of demand is in senior positions, as low wages has led to a high turnover rate in the industry. This means opportunities for U.S. citizens with experience in cosmetology, but experience doesn’t always guarantee the right to work in another country.

Professional Licensing Does Not Give the Right to Work

Those who want to move to New Zealand must follow stringent rules as to what they’re allowed to do, depending on the visa they use to enter the country. The government doesn’t allow every visitor to work. Like many countries, New Zealand doesn’t want existing citizens going without and being dependent on the state because foreign citizens have taken their jobs.

To qualify for a work visa, visitors must meet certain requirements. This is different from transferring industry credentials from one country to another.

Hairstylists, barbers and others involved in the cosmetology industry might assume they have the freedom to work in New Zealand since they don’t always work in traditional settings. Unfortunately, because their customers are in New Zealand, the government requires cosmetologists to have a work visa in addition to meeting the required industry credentials.

How to Get a Temporary Work Visa in New Zealand

New Zealand needs more workers with certain skills. When immigrants’ skill set are a match, they’re eligible for an Essential Skills visa. As of 2020, cosmetology careers weren’t among those highest in demand, but employers can still sponsor people without essential skills.

To sponsor a foreign applicant, business owners first must demonstrate that they’ve made an attempt to hire a New Zealander. The search proved unsuccessful, so they can sponsor a foreign applicant. (There’s some evidence to suggest that having a sponsor makes obtaining a work visa more likely even when an applicant has essential skills.)

The Essential Skills visa is good for one to five years and can come with special conditions, like limiting employment to a specific business or one or more geographical areas.

Working Holiday Visa

An alternative option is to apply for a 12-month Working Holiday visa. These visas have strict requirements regarding age, job placement and traveling party, including:

  • Apply online only.
  • Must be 18 to 30 years old.
  • Cannot accept a permanent job offer.
  • Cannot include children on the application.
  • Must have NZ $4,200 in funds and a return ticket home.
  • Must have full medical insurance during your stay.

A traditional Visitor’s visa does not allow visitors to work for pay or in exchange for anything of value, such as room and board. However, work visa applicants can request “open work” conditions that allow them to work for any employer in New Zealand. This can be helpful when trying to find a salon with the right fit.

What About Business Owners and Self-Employed Workers?

Cosmetologists in the United States frequently work for themselves out of a home studio or in clients’ homes. Doing so will be more difficult in another country, especially because of visa restrictions.

New Zealand has three working visa options available for immigrants who run or want to start their own businesses:

  • The Entrepreneur Working visa requires a business investment of NZ $100,000, a business plan and adequate experience. 
  • The Global Impact Work visa is for recipients of the Edmund Hillary Fellowship. 
  • The Business Visitor visa allows visitors to conduct business in New Zealand for up to three months. That’s enough time to establish a clientele that a cosmetologist can use to secure employment and apply for a different type of work visa.  

Sometimes, it’s possible to modify an existing work visa to allow for special conditions, such as working on hair or beauty treatments from home. Applicants should seek the advice of an immigration attorney for more details.

Being Caught Working on a Visitor’s Visa to New Zealand

Working while traveling on a Visitor’s visa is a form of immigration fraud. It’s taken very seriously. Violators committing immigration fraud can be fined up to $10,000 and face seven years in prison. Immigrants who use fraudulent means to gain residency or citizenship can have their status revoked.

Most often, however, someone caught working on a Visitor’s visa in New Zealand gets deported and barred from the country for three years. There is a complicated visa process needed to return to the country after that point. The infraction can interfere with an applicant’s ability to get visas in other countries.

Transferring U.S. Professional Credentials to New Zealand

The Qualifications Authority (QA) is responsible for professional licensing standards in New Zealand. QA upholds the qualification for each industry and ensures practitioners have the knowledge and experience to adequately perform their jobs. The QA is also in charge of assessing the credentials of foreign workers to see how they measure up to the local competition.

To get a job in New Zealand, U.S. candidates need to apply for a QA International Qualifications Assessment. This process rates an applicant’s job readiness and determines whether they possess the comparative education and experience to qualify for a New Zealand license.

In the U.S., each of the 50 states determines its own qualifications for cosmetology licensing. Some states require applicants to graduate from an approved educational program. Others allow for apprenticeship training. Some states also require ongoing education to retain a license. State laws can vary widely from one another, making cosmetology license reciprocity difficult.

New Zealand Professional Certificates

New Zealand standards don’t currently require a license for the beauty industry. However, certificates are available to professionals with a mixture of education and experience. Obtaining a certificate gives workers access to better jobs and higher wages, as well as the chance to work in supervisory roles.

The International Qualifications Assessment will assess a cosmetologist’s background and compare it to the standards established by the New Zealand Hair and Beauty Industry Training Organisation (HITO). Applicants can also work directly with HITO.

Not Meeting the Standards for Cosmetology License Reciprocity

Would-be beauty industry pros have an easier time in New Zealand than in countries where licensing is required to start working. Cosmetologists can start working and then reapply for professional assessment through HITO’s Qualifying by Experience (QbE) program. They can also apply for apprenticeships and other formal learning opportunities. However, they require the appropriate trainee visa.

Applying for a Student Trainee Visa

Certain visas are available that allow visitors to study in New Zealand for three or six months at a time. Applicants should work with their HITO training programs to secure appropriate permissions.

Working Conditions for Cosmetologists in New Zealand

Most cosmetologists in New Zealand work in settings similar to those in the United States. Hairdressers, barbers, beauticians and makeup artists work in:

  • Salons.
  • Spas.
  • Barbershops.

In addition to cutting and styling hair, cosmetologists perform skin treatments, apply makeup, and work on customer hair and nails. Workers typically stand for many hours a day and need to bend, stretch and sometimes kneel to meet their clients’ needs. Back and neck strain and repeated exposure to chemicals are just some of the common hazards involved in cosmetology.

Industries that Hire Cosmetology Professionals

Seasoned professionals may also find work in the entertainment and travel industries. Film and television studios need makeup and hair artists for their productions. Resorts and cruise lines require cosmetologists to meet the needs of their clientele on-the-go.

As a secondary career, cosmetologists can find work in education. Groups like HITO hire instructors directly, and so do independent training centers across the country.

Average Income for Cosmetologists in New Zealand

In the United States, a cosmetologist earns between $22,000 and $36,000 per year, depending on experience, skills and location. Figures are similar in New Zealand. Cosmetologists earn an average of NZ $36,000‒$52,000, though beauty therapists may earn up to NZ $60,000 a year due to the potential for commissions. Makeup artists joining the film and arts industry can also see higher-than-average income.

Cost of Living in New Zealand

How does that compare to New Zealand’s cost of living? Expats here must have a higher budget than in, say, Southeastern Asia or South America. Rental rates are comparable to those found in all except the largest American cities. Expenses like gas and entertainment can be on par or higher. However, the U.S. dollar has an advantage when it comes to exchange rates. One U.S. dollar is worth, as of 2020, NZ $1.47.

Auckland, Christchurch or Wellington are the country’s most popular cities, and the cost of living is roughly 50 percent higher here than elsewhere in the country. There are less expensive urban areas, though, for cosmetologists who don’t want to fully embrace rural life. These areas include Dunedin, Hamilton, Napier/Hastings, Whangarei, Palmerston North, Tauranga, New Plymouth and. perhaps the least expensive option, Rotorua.

Cities have more opportunities for cosmetologists as well. Auckland has the lion’s share of film opportunities, while Wellington and other cities have their own television production hubs. Cosmetologists interested in working for the tourism industry should set their sights on Auckland-based recruiting companies.

Cosmetology License Reciprocity from the U.S. to New Zealand

The government of New Zealand closely regulates immigrant work activity to ensure New Zealand citizens don’t go without work unnecessarily. That still leaves room for newcomers to find jobs and become productive members of New Zealand society. While cosmetologists in New Zealand don’t require certification, having it makes it easier to obtain better opportunities. Applicants should work with the QA and HITO to determine what they need to make their cosmetology dreams a reality in their new country.

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