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Usual residence

Usual residence is the address of the dwelling where a person considers themself to usually reside, except in the specific cases listed in the guidelines.

Usual residence indicator

The usual residence indicator describes the relationship between a respondent’s usual residence and their census night address.


It is recommended that these guidelines be followed in the cases where usual residence is not self-defined.

  1. Dependent children who board at another residence to attend primary or secondary school, and return to the home of their parent(s) or guardian(s) for the holidays, usually reside at the address of their parent(s) or guardian(s). Tertiary students usually reside at the address where they live while studying. If they give up their usual residence in the holidays (eg terminate the lease on a flat or give up their hostel room) and return to the home of their parent(s)/guardian(s) during the holidays their usual residence over that period would be the home of their parent(s)/guardian(s).
  2. Children in shared care usually reside at the place where they spend more nights, or if they spend equal amounts of time at each residence, they usually reside at the place where they are at the time of the survey.
  3. People who are in rest homes, hospitals, prisons or other institutions, usually reside where they consider themselves to live, and this may include the institution.
  4. A person whose home is on any ship, boat or vessel permanently located in any harbour shall be deemed to usually reside at the wharf or landing place (or main wharf or landing place) of the harbour.
  5. A person from another country who has lived in New Zealand the past 12 months, or has the intention of living in New Zealand for 12 months or more, usually resides at his or her address in New Zealand (as in external migration).
  6. People of no fixed abode have no usual residence. However, for enumeration purposes, a meshblock of usual residence is assigned to people of no fixed abode based on their location on the date of data collection. They are still recorded as having 'no fixed abode'.
  7. People who spend equal amounts of time residing at different addresses, and can not decide which address is their usual residence, usually reside at the address they were surveyed at, assuming that they are not a visitor.
  8. If none of the above guidelines apply, the person usually resides at the address he or she was surveyed at.

Dwelling and dwelling address are supporting concepts for usual residence and are defined in the Glossary.

Operational issues

The definition of usual residence is based on the assumption that each respondent has only one usual residence. The majority of people do not have difficulty in providing one address. Instructions should be provided on which address to give for individuals who have more than one usual residence. For example, see the box below.

If you are an overseas resident and will be staying in New Zealand for less than 12 months, give your address in your home country. Otherwise, give your New Zealand address.

If you are a New Zealand resident, follow these guidelines to give the right address.

  • If you are a primary or secondary school student at boarding school, give your home address.
  • If you are a tertiary student, give the address where you live during the semester.
  • If you live in more than one dwelling, give the address of the one you most consider to be your home. If you spend equal amounts of time at different addresses, give only one of those addresses.
  • Children in shared care should give the address where they spend most nights. If children spend equal amounts of time at different addresses, give the address of where they are staying tonight.

Instructions should also be provided for individuals who have difficulty in determining their address, such as respondents who live on a boat. However, it is probable that there are individuals who will not follow instructions, and will therefore give a usual residence different to the address they may have given if they had followed the instructions. For example, a tertiary student may give their home address rather than their semester-time address.

Another potential issue in determining usual residence is when children are in shared care arrangements. Both parents could potentially include their child or children as usual residents of their household resulting in double-counting of their child or children. Young children whose questions are answered by a parent or caregiver cannot apply the standard of self-definition of usual residence, as adults can.

These constraints may result in some usual residence data being inaccurate.

Sample surveys often list the usual residents of a household, which may include visitors, before deciding who to survey. The rules and guidelines of coverage vary between different surveys. In some sample surveys it may not be possible to output usual residence. Refer to survey guidelines.

Explanatory notes

Alternative names

The terms 'usual residential address', 'usual address' and 'usual residence' have been used interchangeably in the past. The use of only one term is essential for the standardisation process and avoids confusion. The term 'usual residence' is consistent with the terms 'usual residence n years ago' and 'years at usual residence'.

Similar concepts

Census night address and dwelling address are, on the surface, similar concepts to usual residence. However, usual residence is the address of the dwelling where a respondent considers himself or herself to usually reside, whilst Census night address is the address of the dwelling where a respondent is located on census night. Both of these concepts are attributes of the respondent. By contrast, dwelling address is the physical location of a dwelling.


The justification for the treatment of students in the usual residence definition is that tertiary students are regarded as having left home and are considered to be independent. Although parent(s)/guardian(s) may provide financial support to tertiary students, the day-to-day control of the finances are with the student. Primary and secondary students are not regarded as having left home and are considered to be almost totally reliant on their parent(s) or guardian(s) for support.

Time criterion

The definition of usual residence does not include a time criterion about the length of stay in a dwelling. Instead it uses the approach of self-definition. The reasons for this are:

  • A time criterion can lead to households and families being classified on an arbitrary basis and thus, inaccurate statistics on households and families. For example, if one parent of a two-parent family/household is absent for four months and the usual residence definition specifies a time criterion of three months, then according to the definition the family/household would be a one-parent family/household. The questionnaire instructions that would result from such a definition would lead to the occupier/reference person completing the questionnaire as if only one parent was usually resident.
  • It is debatable whether respondents apply a time factor when providing their usual residence. Most people know where they usually live (reside) and it is more likely that people think of their ‘usual residence’ as the home in which they live on a permanent or long-term basis. Many people who have lived somewhere for three months might not consider it to be their usual residence. Also, the concept of usual residence can be regarded as self-defined because it involves feelings of belonging, association and participation in and with a household. Guide notes should be provided to help those who cannot decide.
  • When a time criterion was used in the past it was not included in the survey questions themselves, and only appeared in the guide notes. If the guide notes were not read, then respondents may not have applied a time factor and their responses may not have been consistent with the three month time criterion.
  • The only situation where a time criterion applies is when people have come from another country. To be usually resident in New Zealand the respondent should have been residing in New Zealand for the past 12 months, or be intending to reside in New Zealand for 12 months or more. If the respondent has not resided in New Zealand for the past 12 months or more, and does not intend to, then they should give the address of their home country. This is consistent with the long-term migration criterion and enables counts of a ‘stable’ population for the purposes of population estimates and projections.

Household surveys

Although a question on usual residence is not necessarily asked in household survey questionnaires, usual residence is a key variable for determining who is to be interviewed in each household survey.

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