In the 2006 census in New Zealand, when asked to indicate their ethnic identity, 10,806 New Zealanders described themselves as "American", and 17,751 stated they were born in the United States. This marks a sizeable increase, in proportional terms, from the 8,451 US-born New Zealanders in 1991. In 2006, there were also 489 persons born in American Samoa and living in New Zealand.
Americans began visiting New Zealand at the very end of the 18th century. These settled the nation as discharged British soldiers and sailors, as convicts (who were arrested at sea for maritime offenses, tried, and transported), and as whalers, sealers, or travelers. Many of these who were brought to New Zealand had a temporary stay and were returned and/or brought to New South Wales in neighboring Australia. In 1839, there were about 50 Americans living in New Zealand, constituting about 4% of the non-Māori population of the country's North Island. That number increased to 306 in 1858, 720 in 1861, and 1,213 in 1871, an increase due primarily to a gold rush in Otago. Subsequently, there were only 881 Americans living in New Zealand in 1901, their numbers then increased to 1,713 in 1951, 8,383 in 1976, and 13,347 in 2001.
Between 1942 and 1944, during the Second World War, about 100,000 US troops were stationed in New Zealand. They exercised a notable influence on the country's way of life, and a small number settled in New Zealand. Immigration rates from the United States remained low until the 1960s, however. A "surge" of US immigrants was noted in the 1960s, 1970s, and again from the mid-1990s. Some of these came as New Zealand recruited foreign teachers to meet with local shortages.