So You Want To Move To New Zealand…

February 9, 2014

Frequently I get emails from people, usually American, who are interested in moving to New Zealand. They usually ask similar questions, many of which mirror the questions and concerns I had before we moved. I try to answer the best I can, tailored to their individual email, but recently I thought… why not write more about this? I mean, I’d be naive to think anyone (anyone???) visits my blog for the cool bike pictures. You are mainly expats and future expats, looking for advice and camaraderie. I was there.

So here’s one of maybe a few or maybe several posts relating to why you found this blog. You want to move to New Zealand.

Disclaimer: I am not qualified to give legal advice regarding visas or immigration, and any visa topics which may arise are based on my personal experience only.

How far in advance should I start planning my move?
We told ourselves at the beginning of 2012, this is going to be the year we go. And so we started our preparations in January. Because getting a nursing license involves taking the IELTS and then submitting tons of paperwork, 6 months flew by before we even started looking at visas. We started our visa process in October, and we were in New Zealand by December. I would recommend a year, though, for bolstering finances, planning the move, and gathering all of the documents required for visa application.

How long does it take to get a New Zealand visa?
Once the paperwork is submitted, I would recommend you allow a few months for processing. This being said, ours were processed in about 14 days. It’s the gathering of required documentation for the visa application that will really take some time.

What is required in applying for a visa?
Regardless of the type of visa you apply for (see next question) you will require police clearance. For Americans, this means at least 6 weeks waiting for a paper from the FBI to come, stating you have no felonies. If you are applying for a 2+ year visa, you’ll also need medical clearance, including several blood tests, a physical, and a chest X-ray. This is spendy, and takes a few weeks to process. The X-ray, once done, is only good for 6 months- so you’ve got to be coordinated in your planning and submission of your application. Other than these things, it’s just about carefully filling out the paperwork and ticking all of the boxes. Oh, and sending them a check!

How do I get a New Zealand visa? What are the different types?
There are heaps of different kinds of visas… student visas, working holiday visas, work in skilled shortage areas, work to residence…., and this is where an immigration lawyer comes in handy. I hired one to assist us in our application process while we were still in the States. It’s expensive, but it came with peace of mind. If you haven’t gotten very far at all, I recommend you check out the NZ Immigration Website. I know, I’m putting this on you instead of answering the question- but this is where the legal stuff lives. Yuck!

Can I get a job in New Zealand? What kind of jobs are on the shortage list? 
Some visas (student, and such) don’t require you to work, but most of them do! And many visas are easier to obtain if you have a job on the skills shortage list. Check it out here. If you are married or in a long term relationship, it is possible for one of you to obtain a visa through having a job on the list, and for the other person to get a Partner Visa, which will allow them to work at any job.

How much money should I save for the move? 
Oh boy. I don’t even know what to tell you. No matter what you save, it probably won’t be enough. And everyone is different.  But there are two sets of expenses here: your moving costs, and your when you get there costs. The only estimate I can provide is from our own (2 person) experience:

Moving Costs
Movers: $2500 if you are not bringing furniture. (And don’t even get me started on the movers. I hated ours. They were sneaky fibbers. If you’re moving from CA to NZ, email me and we can talk about who I wouldn’t recommend…)
2 One Way Tickets to NZ from California: $1600
Food, lodging, etc. during period of inevitable homelessness between moving out of your house at home, and landing in NZ: $1000
When You Land Costs
Temporary accommodation for 1 week (unless you line up a place to live ahead of time): $800
Rental car for 1 week: $350
Buying a cheap but hopefully reliable car: $2500
Cell phones and contracts: $300
First months rent + bond + letting fees, etc. in Christchurch: $1300
Setting up electrical, internet, insurance, etc.: $400
Food, crappy furniture off of Trade Me, other life expenses during the first month before you get a paycheck in New Zealand dollars: $2000
Beer to celebrate your successful move to New Zealand: $10… per pint!!!

So lets do some math… $12,760. I know, ouch! But, you asked!

What should I bring with me when I move?
First and foremost, if you are one of those lucky people being sponsored to move (i.e.: you’re not paying for the moving expenses) then bring it all! The furniture, the pets, the motorcycle! Pack ’em up! But if you’re one of the rest of us, have a garage sale before you go. Or keep it in storage if you’re planning to come back. Moving furniture is astronomical (you get charged by the size of your container space, not weight) so unless it has sentimental value or is of quite a bit of value, leave it behind. And if you bring it, bubble wrap it a lot. So now that you’re ready to leave it all behind, don’t! Bring all the small stuff. Replacing spatulas and picture frames and kitchen knives will be twice as expensive in New Zealand (think $150 for decent sheets. Go to Target. Go now!). Just shove the pillow cases in the pint glasses (no need for bubble wrap!) and the blankets between picture frames. Look at packing like Tetris. We brought all of our kitchen utensils, plates, etc. All of our clothes. All of our bikes, snowboards, camping gear, bathroom junk, sheets, pillows, etc. It will also be nice to have all the familiarity when you are so far from home. Of note however, your American electronics will not work (they will die) unless they have an input of 240 volts. Computers, camera chargers, and printers should be fine. Blenders, hair dryers, shavers, and toasters will all die a swift and smoky death. Unless you have a voltage converter (not just an adapter!). They are expensive and cumbersome. Don’t bother.

What should I bring on the plane?
You’ll need the essentials on the plane. Enough clothes to live for 4-8 weeks. We brought 3 bikes with us. Your computer, the sheets and towels, and I’d recommend again, a few familiar things to make it feel like home when you get there.

Where should I live? Where do I stay to begin with?
While the obvious answer here is a hotel, I’d advise against it. If you’ve come with a job offer, ask that employer if they have accommodation for new employees. A lot of employers do, and this will be a good way to meet people before you even start work. If not, I recommend doing what we did and staying in someone’s house. We stayed with a family in Christchurch for the first week we were here, and while we payed basically what it would cost to stay in a hotel, we got a lovely warm welcome, and so much valuable information about the area that we never would have gotten from a concierge. Because of our hosts, we had set up bank accounts and cell phones within 12 hours of landing! We found them through AirBNB.

What is the general cost of things in New Zealand?
(Based on living in Christchurch. Rural areas will be cheaper, Auckland will likely be more expensive.)
Car: $5000 for a decent and reliable one, $10,000+ for one younger than 10 years old.
Rent: Rent is weekly, and varies a lot by neighborhood. But, for a decent 3 bedroom house that is not an apartment, not a duplex, not in a dodgy area, and not severely damaged by the earthquake, you’re looking at $350-$500/week (so $1400 if you’re lucky, and more likely $2000/month). Its expensive to live in New Zealand, especially Christchurch, so adjust to that now. If you’re looking for a room in a flatting situation, think $150-$250/week, depending on your needs.
Buying a House: I advise against doing this until you’ve been in NZ awhile and really know where you want to be. But think a minimum of $400,000, $500k if you want to live in Auckland. (But why would you?)
Again, I recommend Trade Me for getting a real idea of property value in both buying and renting. Trust me, you’ll be using it when you get here.
Groceries: Again, we’re all different. I buy a lot of organic, so mine will be higher. I wrote a little post when we first got here about how grocery shopping isn’t that expensive, and I kind of still stand by that. Certain things however- alcohol, bacon, quality yogurt, quality chocolate… (the important things in life) are definitely expensive. But as many expats will agree, you get what you pay for in NZ. And in NZ you get quality food. Anyways, our monthly bill is around $800. But it is quality, and we eat a lot.
Internet and Cell Phone: These are grouped together because you will likely pay for them together through the same carrier. Ours is roughly $200. Internet is expensive here, and limited. If I spend too much time blogging (ha! not lately!) we will run out… its like we’re back in 1999! Phone minutes and data are limited as well, but texting is unlimited. That’s really how Kiwis communicate.
Garbage: FREEEEEEEE!
Water: FREEEEEEEE!
Electricity: FREEE-….yeah right. Electricity is expensive. No one has central heating or air because of this. We have a heat pump (space heater built into the wall) in the living room that we only turn on when we can see our breath inside and have run out of snow parkas to put on. Cost of electricity: $80-250 for 2 people in a small house, depending on the month. I had a friend who left her heater on low for a few hours each day during the first month they moved in to their new house. 800 bucks. On low.
Gasoline: Sit down. $2.22/litre. Now do the math. That’s $8.88USD per gallon. Yep. Try to live close to your work, or commute by bike or bus or camel or magic carpet. Gas is freaking expensive. One thing that’s cool though- all gas stations sell the gas for the same price. So none of that Oh, we’ve just pulled in to Valero but look! Across the street at Shell it’s 3 cents cheaper! Lets waste $2 in gas revving up this Chevy and going through two stop lights to get over there and save 60 cents!
Insurance: Ahh, finally some good news. It’s cheaper here! Car insurance is optional (!) and roughly $15 monthly for 3rd party coverage or $40/month for full coverage. Our contents (home owner’s/renters) insurance is $40/month. Health insurance? Psh, whats that? Medicine is beautifully socialized over here! (But not until you’re a resident. You can purchase health insurance if you think you need it. Accidents are free for everyone. Go break that arm, no biggie.)
Eating Out: Lets just go back to that, you get what you pay for thing. And what you get is usually really nice, quality food. $15-20 for a burger, $30-40 for a steak, $15-25 for a salad, $25-35 for pasta. $10 for a pint of beer or a glass of wine, $15-20 for a really good cocktail. But hey, its a non-tipping country! So what you see on your check is actually what you pay.
Clothes, Furniture, Sports Equipment, Electronics, etc: Just double it. Whatever it costs in America, times it by two. If it costs less than that (it probably won’t) then you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Wow, that last bit wasn’t meant to scare you. I’m a huge advocate of moving to New Zealand! Im also a huge advocate of the belief “money isn’t everything”, obviously. And just like with the food, the whole life you pay for in New Zealand is quality, so think of it as investing in serious quality of life. See interspersed photos (from our first year) for reference.

I think this is a good place to stop for now, but I’ll pick up sometime. If you’ve found this helpful, or have a burning question for me to answer next time, please leave a comment or send me an email.

And one last thing, I’m nominated again (thank you, whoever you are!) for the Lexiophiles Favorite Blog of The Year. So if you’ve got a spare second I’d love your vote (by Feb. 17)!

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8 Comments

  • Reply Mat February 10, 2014 at 2:23 am

    Voted. Thanks for the comprehensive information!

  • Reply Lori February 10, 2014 at 6:32 am

    I voted for you 🙂

    Prices are similar to HI , minus gas (jeez that sucks for you guys!) and electricity is a tad cheaper here.

    Love your post. Oh and you.

    • Reply Kristen F February 10, 2014 at 7:44 pm

      Thank you lovely. I MISSSS you! We always talk about doing a 3 month stint in HI at some point; now I’ll be prepared for the prices!

  • Reply Anonymous February 12, 2014 at 9:30 am

    Voted. Thanks for so much useful info.

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  • Reply Prodip Raha May 13, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    Movingis always thus thrilling!! I really hope the up coming duty place is close to an enormous area… absolutely skip the city life!

  • Reply nancy john November 27, 2014 at 6:30 am

    Migrating to a country is a big decision, and a thing not to be taken lightly. Especially a country like new zealand where there are numerous opportunities in almost all of its states.

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  • Come on, you must want to tell me something!