Burns made his Test debut in the 2012 England team that beat the All Blacks at Twickenham and landed two penalty goals later in the game after replacing Owen Farrell.
He plays for Leicester in the Premiership but is expected to join the southerners before the first round of this year's campaign.
Burns has played 114 games in two stints (2014-17 and 2021) but also has 131 appearances for Gloucester, 66 for Bath and seven times for Toyota Industries in Japan.
A former England Under-20 international, he toured New Zealand with England in 2014, starting the first Test at Eden Park and scoring 12 points in England's 15-20 loss.
A handy dropped goal kicker, he landed the winning goal for Leicester in last season's Premiership final with Saracens after replacing George Ford.
Burns said, "As a lad, I grew up watching Super rugby in the early hours of the morning.
"To have the opportunity to represent a prestigious side like the Highlanders in the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific season is a huge honour. I look forward to getting started and adding to the group both on and off the field."
Highlanders coach Clarke Dermody said a player of Burns' quality in a critical position was a boost for the squad.
"Last year, we were exposed at first five-eighths due to a run of injuries, and, while we covered the situation, we were asking a lot of Sam Gilbert and Vili Koroi, who are not regular starting first-fives.
"Freddie's arrival will provide is with that extra insurance against that scenario playing out again in 2023."
Burns, who can also play fullback, is the second international back in the side, with Argentine outside back Martin Bogado joining the team earlier.