Korean New Zealanders (Korean: 한국계 뉴질랜드인), also referred to informally as Korean Kiwis or Kowis, are New Zealand citizens and residents of Korean ancestry.[4] The 2006 New Zealand census found 30,792 Koreans in the country, virtually all from South Korea, making them the third-largest Asian population there, and more than 0.75 per cent of the total population of New Zealand.[5]

Korean New Zealanders
Flag of South Korea.svgFlag of New Zealand.svg
Total population
30,171 (2013)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Bay of Plenty924
Korean, English[2]
Christianity (70%); No religion (20%); Buddhism (5%)[3]
Related ethnic groups
Overseas Koreans

Migration historyEdit

The Korean population in New Zealand has been affected by New Zealand immigration policies. Until a policy change made in 1987, preference was given to English-speaking migrants, especially those from Commonwealth of Nations countries. In 1991 a new policy took effect in which potential migrants were ranked according to a points system based on factors such as education, occupation and wealth. This made it far easier for people from Korea and other Asian countries to migrate to New Zealand, and dramatically increased the number of Korean New Zealanders.[5]

In 1986, there were only 426 Koreans in New Zealand; that had doubled to 903 by 1991, and their population growth accelerated throughout the first half of the 1990s; there were roughly 3,000 people of Korean descent in New Zealand in 1992, according to unofficial estimates, and by the time of the 1996 Census, their population had quadrupled to 12,657 individuals, making them the fastest-growing population group. Growth slowed after that, with only a further 50% increase in the Korean population by 2001.[6][7] Thus, majority of Korean New Zealanders living in New Zealand in the early 21st century are South Korean-born naturalized citizens or permanent residents.


72.9 percent of Korean New Zealanders live in the Auckland Region, with 12.8 percent elsewhere in the North Island and 14.4 percent in the South Island. Just over 96 percent live in a main urban area (i.e. population 30,000 or more). Of those living in Auckland, 43.3 percent live in the Upper Harbour, Devonport-Takapuna and Waitemata local board areas.[8]

According to the 2013 census, 11.0 percent of Korean New Zealanders were born in New Zealand, nearly all of whom were aged under 30. Nearly all (98.2 percent) of those born overseas were born in the Republic of Korea. Of those born overseas, 75.4 percent had been living in New Zealand for at least five years, and 4.2 percent had been living in New Zealand for at least 20 years.[8]

In 2001, half the Korean population was aged under 24, and one in three of those were unemployed, the highest among five Asian groups, reflecting the challenges they face in adapting to cultural differences.[3][9]

Women outnumbered men in every age group besides 15 and under; the imbalance was most severe in the 25-39 age group, with only 71 men for every 100 women. This gender gap is mainly the result of the so-called astronaut family phenomenon, also seen among Chinese New Zealanders and Koreans in other countries, in which male heads of households who found their earning power decreased after emigration returned to their country of origin while their wives and children remained in the destination country.[3] Although many heads of households qualified for New Zealand immigration due to their professional qualifications, they find only unskilled work is available to them due to their poor English skills. The high levels of unemployment among Koreans in New Zealand mean that their median personal income was only NZ$5,700, according to Department of Labour statistics.[10]

Education and language issuesEdit

The desire to offer children a lower-pressure educational experience in an English-speaking country, as well as a cleaner environment, is a major motivation for Korean migration to New Zealand.[6] Of the 7,696 Koreans pursuing secondary or tertiary education in New Zealand as of 2001, 50% were studying in English as a second language courses.[3] 1.5 generation Koreans who migrated at a young age show a marked shift towards English regardless of which region their parents settled in, but among those who migrated at the age of 16 or older, Wellington residents also showed a much stronger preference for English, while those in other regions maintained Korean as their preferred language.[2][11] In the 1996 census, 40.7% of Koreans stated that they could not hold a conversation in English, the highest proportion for any group; however, by the 2001 census, that figure had decreased to 21% for males and 27% for females.[7]

Korean New Zealanders maintain close contact with their homeland through return trips or with technologies such as phones and emails; one 1998 survey showed that 61% of overseas trips undertaken by Korean New Zealanders had South Korea as their destination. Australia and Japan were the next most popular destinations.[12] In addition, young Korean New Zealanders make extensive use of Korean language internet portal sites such as Cyworld and KakaoTalk in order to communicate with friends in South Korea; this has resulted in Korean New Zealanders retaining a far better command of Korean than their Korean American counterparts.[13]


70% of Koreans in New Zealand identify as Christians, while roughly another 20% claim to follow no religion. Buddhists number only about 5%.[3] One Christian newspaper estimates that roughly 35-40% of all Koreans are "active Christians" who regularly attend worship services, mostly at one of New Zealand's 100 Korean churches.[14] Korean Christians in New Zealand are largely of the Presbyterian denomination, though some are also Baptist. They attend non-Korean churches less often due to language barriers and cultural differences within the church. In Korean churches, the pastor has much more authority, and many churches open as early as 5AM for morning prayers. New Zealand's Korean Christians are served by a weekly Christian newspaper published in the Korean language, which claims to have a circulation of 3,500; it discusses religious issues as well as issues of common interest to immigrants, such as migration law and property ownership.[15]

Notable peopleEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "2013 Census QuickStats about culture and identity - data tables". Statistics New Zealand. 15 April 2014. Archived from the original on 24 May 2014. Retrieved 6 March 2016. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  2. ^ a b Park, Seon-ho (2003), "Language Choice Patterns among Bilingual Migrant Students", Korean Journal of English Language and Linguistics, 3 (1): 15–36, retrieved 21 February 2008
  3. ^ a b c d e Ho, Elsie; Au, Sybil; Bedford, Charlotte; Cooper, Jenine (November 2002), Mental Health Issues for Asians in New Zealand: A Literature Review (PDF), Migration Research Group, Department of Geography, University of Waikato, retrieved 17 February 2008
  4. ^ Tan, Lincoln (24 June 2008), "It's hard to be a Kowi - but fun too", New Zealand Herald, retrieved 22 September 2008
  5. ^ a b Yoon, Hong-key; Choe, Inshil (21 September 2007), "New Zealand Peoples: Koreans", Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Ministry for Culture and Heritage, ISBN 978-0-478-18451-8
  6. ^ a b C. Fred Bergston; In-bŏm Chʻoe, eds. (January 2003). The Korean Diaspora in the World Economy. Special Report 15. Peterson Institute. pp. 18–19. ISBN 978-0-88132-358-0. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  7. ^ a b "Ethnic Groups: Highlights", Census 96, Statistics New Zealand, 1996, retrieved 21 February 2008
  8. ^ a b "Population and geography – 2013 Census ethnic group profiles: Korean". Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  9. ^ Middleton, Julie (18 February 2006). "Koreans come out to play". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 13 October 2011.
  10. ^ Chang, Suzana; Morris, Carolyn; Vokes, Richard (October 2006), Korean migrant families in Christchurch: Expectations and experiences (PDF), Families Commission, Government of New Zealand, retrieved 21 February 2008
  11. ^ Park, Seon-ho (September 2002), "Bilingualism among Korean Students as Recent Migrants", Foreign Languages Education, Hanguk Oegukeo Gyoyuk Hakhoe, 9 (3): 23–49, retrieved 21 February 2008
  12. ^ Kang, Sophie Kyung-Mi; Page, Stephen J. (February 2000), "Tourism, migration and emigration: travel patterns of Korean-New Zealanders in the 1990s", Tourism Geographies, Routledge, 2 (1): 50–65, doi:10.1080/146166800363448
  13. ^ Epstein, Stephen (April 2007), "Imagining the Community: Newspapers, Cyberspace and the (Non-) Construction of Korean-New Zealand Identity", in Johnson, Henry; Moloughney, Brian (eds.), Asia in the Making of New Zealand, Auckland University Press, ISBN 978-1-86940-384-3
  14. ^ Engelbracht, Kirsten (12 March 2007), "Prayer movement spreads here from Korea", Challenge Weekly, New Zealand, 65 (8), retrieved 21 February 2008
  15. ^ Engelbracht, Kirsten (6 November 2006), "Korean passion is prayer for NZ revival", Challenge Weekly, New Zealand, 64 (43), retrieved 21 February 2008
  16. ^ "Lydia Ko, 15, wins in Canada". ESPN.com. 26 August 2012. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
  17. ^ "Difficult decisions lay ahead for US Amateur champ Lee - Golf", ESPN, 27 August 2008, retrieved 14 March 2009
  18. ^ "Champ welcomed into Kiwi club", The New Zealand Herald, 3 September 2008, retrieved 14 March 2009
  19. ^ "It isn't easy being a Kiwi - Korean MP", National Business Review, 9 December 2008, archived from the original on 2 August 2009, retrieved 10 December 2008


Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

  • Kowiana, a community organisation for young New Zealanders of Korean descent