Aims. To characterise the emigration patterns of young New Zealanders. Methods. The 980 members of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study participating in the "age-26" (1998-1999) assessment provided information about emigration behaviour, qualifications, aspects of physical and mental health and personality. Results. 26% of the sample had moved overseas to five between the ages of 18 and 26, with the United Kingdom and Australia being the most common destinations. Compared to non-emigrants, emigrants had higher IQ scores, were better qualified, leaner and fitter, and had happier and less stress-prone personalities. Based on their planned return date, 63% of emigrants were considered to be on their OE overseas experience (OE, return in 5 years or never) and 18% were uncertain about their return. Brain-drain emigrants were more likely than OE emigrants to leave for better work opportunities, and they were also more likely to go to Australia. However, there were no differences in terms of qualifications, intelligence and personality between OE and brain-drain emigrants. Conclusions. Most young New Zealanders in this cohort who left fbr overseas were embarking on their OE Brain-drain emigrants make up a sizeable minority of emigrants, but appear to possess no more skills than those who plan or choose to return.