21st June, 2018

Doing business in New Zealand

Moving to New Zealand is a great adventure. And for the past two years in a row, New Zealand has taken out the top spot in the World Bank Doing Business 2018 report for ease of doing business. 

But starting a business in a new country can be challenging. Not only do you have to deal with a potentially new language and way of life, but the way of doing business can be totally different as well.

Almost everyone who has ever travelled has committed some kind of cultural faux-pas.

At best, the locals write you off as ‘just another silly tourist’. But in a worst-case scenario, you could break a law – and the consequences could be a lot worse.

This happens in business as well.

I used to work for New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE).

We would often see Kiwi exporters open up potential trouble for themselves when they went into a new country without making sure their product and business practices were fully compliant with local regulations.

NZTE would help Kiwi exporters understand what these local laws and practices were (and occasionally try to help them out of sticky situations!).

Ninety-nine percent of the time, there was no bad faith intended. Almost no one deliberately sets out to scam or break local laws.

The Kiwi business would usually be doing something that was legal or a normal practice in another country they operate in – but wasn’t legal in that country.

Unfortunately, ignorance of the law is no excuse.

To protect yourself and your business, you need to understand what you’re getting yourself into when you set up shop in New Zealand.

Choose your accountant wisely

According to Inland Revenue research, non-English speaking business owners are likely to seek out an accountant that speaks the same language as them.

This makes sense.

It’s not only about easier communication, non-English speaking business owners are likely to trust accountants that speak their language.

But if you’re new to the country, you need to make sure that the accountant you choose knows their stuff.

Your obligations as an employer and/or company director go well beyond getting your tax obligations right.

You have labour, health and safety regulations, and a range of other rules and compliance obligations specific to your business to consider.

Ultimately, the legal responsibility for getting this stuff right in New Zealand rests with the business owner, not the accountant.

A good accountant or advisor will usually know their own limits of expertise and refer their client to other trusted sources of support and advice for getting things correct in their business.

Don’t assume

Just like our New Zealand exporters in other countries, don’t assume that the way you do it in another countr’ is legal here.

There’s a range of things – like paying workers in cash ‘off the books’, hiring someone without an employment agreement, not having a certification to undertake certain types of work, among others – that might be accepted (and even legal) business practices in other countries, but not in New Zealand.

Take the time to understand the legal obligations you have as a business owner and employer in New Zealand.

There are lots of resources to help you get it right.

Helpful resources

Here are some resources and techniques for anyone new to running a business in New Zealand:

Getting it right with Government is an excellent resource, loaded with practical information and tools for business. If you’re wondering how a Government law change or regulation might affect your business, this website is a great place to start.

Business Mentors New Zealand

Business Mentors NZ is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting the success and growth of small businesses through the knowledge and experience of their volunteer mentors. A business is paired with a mentor who can provide the business with tips and advice to make their business more successful.

Business and Industry Associations

There are a wide range of business and industry associations in New Zealand. Many of these organisations focus on areas of specific interest to their industry. Some also specialise in business relationships between New Zealand and another country.