Story: Koreans

Before 1990 there were fewer than 1,000 Koreans in New Zealand. Then the numbers soared, reaching over 30,000 by 2013. Leaving their crowded cities for a less frantic urban life has proved very popular among South Koreans. They have flocked to Auckland, where they have built up business and cultural networks.

Full story by Inshil Choe Yoon and Hong-key Yoon
Main image: Well-known Korean New Zealander, Lydia Ko, playing golf in 2013.

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Early immigration

Korea is divided into two countries, North and South Korea. Almost all Korean immigrants to New Zealand have come from South Korea.

Few Koreans arrived before the early 1990s, but after the government introduced a points system for immigrants in 1991, New Zealand’s Korean population boomed. Many middle-class Koreans were looking for a lifestyle change away from the pressures of Korean city life.

The 2000s

The New Zealand government’s long-term business immigration scheme led to another wave of Korean migrants in the 2000s. Some were later joined by friends and elderly parents. Most Korean immigrants lived in cities, especially Auckland – in 2013 over 70% of New Zealand’s Koreans were based in Auckland.

Korean migrants retained close links with home. Many visited Korea regularly, especially in September or October for family reunions to venerate their ancestors on Chusok day, or December for end-of-year events, including Christmas.


Finding suitable jobs has been a challenge for Koreans in New Zealand. Some who came in the early 1990s failed to find jobs, and set up small businesses instead. By the mid-1990s there were several grocery stores, travel agents and restaurants serving the Korean community, and businesses focusing on Korean tourists. By the 2010s Korean businesses also served the wider community.

Community and culture

In 2013 more than half of Koreans in New Zealand were Christians, with a small number of Buddhists. Some churches act as community centres, running classes and offering concerts by visiting Korean performers. Korean community schools run classes in Korean language and cultural traditions such as the martial art taekwondo.

National days include 1 March, when Koreans gather to mark the Korean Independence Movement’s 1919 demonstration against the Japanese.

Many Koreans love golf and see New Zealand as an ideal place to play golf and train golfers. Jae An, Lydia Ko and Danny Lee are internationally successful golfers of Korean descent. In September 2015, aged 18, Ko became the youngest ever winner of a golf major championship when she won the Evian Championship in France.

Kimchigook, a drama sitcom, was being filmed in 2015 and was due to be shown in New Zealand, South Korea and other countries later that year.

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How to cite this page:

Inshil Choe Yoon and Hong-key Yoon. 'Koreans', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 2-Nov-15