Life as an Expat in New Zealand
As a local, I know the ins and out of living in New Zealand but for most of my readers that’s not the case so I asked my friend Kate from Life Outside My Comfort Zone to share her knowledge and experience as an expat in New Zealand.
“If I don’t get in, I’ll just go overseas and study…” I nonchalantly mentioned to friends and family as I submitted my application to Brock University’s Concurrent Education programme. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the making and the beginning of my expat life to come.
In grade 2, I had a great teacher who made me fall in love with reading and writing. She was so influential, I still have vivid memories, which is why I was always hell-bent on being that kind of memorable and fun teacher when I grew up. Besides the fact that I was ready to leave my small town, being able to do to the education courses at the same time as my BA was one of the main reasons I’d chosen Brock. The student city of St Catharine’s, Ontario was 2000km from my Nova Scotia home in Canada, and that was part of the appeal. I’d always been a good student; I’d hardly failed a test in my life, so I just assumed I’d get in. A 75% average was the minimum requirement for acceptance.
I soon realised the universe had other plans for me. With a final average of 74% I hadn’t even been considered. Suddenly, studying overseas sounded like a good consolation.
“So, I guess I’ll… umm… go overseas and study?” I told my parents, a little less sure of it all this time.
Why I chose New Zealand
Obviously Australia was an ideal dream destination to study and live. The escape from winter initially attracted me; but I quickly learned it also attracted everyone else who thinks of studying abroad. The more I looked into it, the idea of being one of 30some Canadians and/or Americans just didn’t appeal. If I was going to a new country, I wanted to experience it properly, as a minority. Then I heard about the world class education programme that Otago University offered across the ditch in New Zealand.
I arrived in January 2009… and have lived here ever since!
Same Same but Different: Canada vs New Zealand
I often get asked “Don’t you miss home?” And while of course I miss family and friends, I find New Zealand similar enough to Canada while still having the thrill of being definitely different. I find the people exceptionally kind and quite reminiscent of Canadians. The landscape, although on a much smaller scale, shares the same diversity as Canada. As I mentioned, I grew up on the East Coast, and in love with the ocean (okay that’s a lie, I love ANY body of water), so living on the beach in the subtropical Far North is a dream come true. It keeps my life that much more exotic rather than mundane. As long as you’re willing to embrace the culture, integrating into Kiwi culture is a piece of pav (the kiwis and aussies love to debate who created the Pavlova – open that discussion and entertain usually ensues). As with anywhere you travel, remember to think of things as different to what you know, rather than ‘weird’.
Staying longer than 3 months: Visas
I’ve had four different visas: a student visa and three types of work visas. The student visa allowed me to enter and exit and work for 20 hours a week if I wanted. Upon graduating with a job offer, I was able to apply for a Graduate Work Experience based on qualifications obtained in NZ visa. This was valid for two years while I worked towards becoming a fully registered teacher. Following that with a new job offer, I was granted a one year Essential Skills work permit.
But not everyone who studies here to get a job, so there other options too. By far the easiest way for (almost) anyone under 35 to travel to New Zealand and work for a year is the Working Holiday Scheme. The requirements for specific countries are available on the Immigration New Zealand website. I recently paid $165, the cheapest of all my visas, applied online and had a response within days.
I intend to apply for a partnership visa, but this is notoriously the trickiest visa to obtain. I’m still getting my head around the ins and outs of the process. I’ve heard from friends who’ve gone through the process that it’s not smooth for anyone. No matter how much evidence of your ‘loving and stable relationship’ you provide, they’ll always want something more.
If you have questions for any application and can’t decipher the immigration website (which isn’t always clear), take the name of whoever you speak to on the phone. Write it down. Keep it in a safe place. I’ve been given different answers to the same question by different people, which can be excruciatingly frustrating. I’ve also thought “surely I’ll remember” and when the time came that I needed it, of course I didn’t.
Setting up your expat life in New Zealand can be daunting. Knowing where to look for what you need can ease some of that stress.
Finding a job
Your job search will vary depending on when and where you want to work. There are lots of areas that inclined to hire travelers on a Working Holiday Visa. There are Kiwifruit packhouses are in Tauranga, fruit picking in Central Otago in summer,and there is some avocado or other fruit picking in Northland. If you’re looking for something a little less outdoorsy, more common temp jobs are advertised on www.seek.co.nz and seems to be a popular place to start looking. Check it out to get an idea of what’s available before you go too. If you happen to be looking for a teaching position, the Education Gazette posts vacancies for positions in all schools.
After having 4 years of study and work visas, I was stoked to have a visa that ‘holiday’ in the title. I had big plans of relief teaching. That all changed. Instead I got a 1 month holiday (in January, the regularly scheduled school holidays) and the rest will be spent working up until the week before I leave. But I’m not complaining.
Ways to get around – Finding a car
It’s not at all necessary to buy a car while living here, there are lots of options to get yourself around and see the country. Most cities have a solid public transit system, although if you find yourself in rural areas you may feel a bit stranded.
If you are looking to buy some independence and freedom on wheels, you have a few options. Your first stop should be TradeMe, the Kiwi equivalent of North America’s Kijiji or Craig’s List. This is where people list their no longer wanted or needed vehicles and will give you an idea of what’s available in different areas. You can bid in an online auction, or occasionally there is a ‘Buy Now’ for a set price option. Make sure you have a look over and test drive your ride before you commit to pressing that big blue button though, as sales are final.
Turners Auctions is a chain located in most major cities throughout the country. They list all their cars online and then hold and in-person auction regularly. I know lots of people that have had great success with this. Checking out notice boards at the grocery store might point you in the direction of your dream-mobile as well. Regardless where or how you find one that suits you and your price range, I’d be inclined to make friends with someone who knows a little something about cars if you’re a bit car-clueless like me.
Let my car experiences give you an idea of the hit and miss price range you could encounter.
Most used cars in New Zealand, being as remote as it is,are imports (from Japan). I don’t have much expertise when it comes to automotive anything, but it certainly feels like they don’t depreciate in value with age here. I made the mistake of buying a dud from a friend for $1000. A ’94 Nissan Primera that had just passed it’s Warrant of Fitness. The mistake was not taking it to get a pre-purchase inspection, as before I took off to drive from the bottom of the South Island to the top of the North Island, I found out it was diagnosed with Engine Knock. It was on its last legs. I then bought a ’91 Nissan Pulsar cost $2000. Although tiny, my people mover was incredibly reliable (so long as I remembered to turn off the lights) right up until it encountered a lady stopped in the middle of the road one night. Since that wrote her off, we’ve recently purchased a ’94 Izuzu MU for $4500, but it ended up needing $1100 worth of check-up and minor adjustments
Speaking of writing off my car, insurance is not mandatory, but the option of Third Party coverage is worth its weight in gold. You may not care about replacing your own wheels, but if you cause an accident, it’s good to know that any damage to the other person’s vehicle won’t be coming out of your pocket.
Additional costs to budget for include the 6 monthly Warrant of Fitness (WoF) which costs an average of $50 from Vehicle Testing NZ, a nationwide certified outlet, (you can also go to most mechanics to have this done for varying prices); as well as the cost of registering your vehicle. This costs about $450 for a year for most cars, although you can split up that cost to 3 monthly, 6 monthly or yearly. Be sure to look at how much is time is left before you buy, same goes for how much time is left on the WoF. If you buy something with a diesel engine, the Rego will be about a hundred dollars more yearly, and you’ll have to pay Road User Charges. There’s lots to consider before you make your decision.
Where to Stay – Finding Accommodation
I’m sure you already know that New Zealand has countless options for amazing accommodation across the board. But if you’re looking to live here long term, perhaps you’ll want something a little more homely (and affordable) than a hostel. Again, TradeMe is the best place to start your search. There you’ll find a “Flatmates Wanted” section, where pre-existing tenants are looking to fill a spare bedroom. Rent is most commonly charged on a weekly basis here.
I found Couchsurfing to be a great introduction to the community I had moved to. It instantly gave me a personal connection to someone in the area. From there, I was able to figure out what area I wanted to live in while I looked for a flat. Even if you don’t want to stay with someone, meeting up for a coffee or the like will also give you that connection with someone like-minded in the area.
Regardless of what you’re looking for, I’ve found that word of mouth is often successful for all of the above. In such a small country, everyone knows someone, so take the opportunity to chat to everyone and anyone possible, and mention what it is you’re looking for. You’ll be surprised the connections you make!
New Zealand is sometimes thought of as Australia’s little brother, and can easily be overshadowed and neglected. But what Aotearoa lacks in size, it makes up for in its selection of stunning landscapes and seascapes, diverse climates and action packed adrenaline sports. Regardless of how you end up in New Zealand, whether it’s a plan B like mine, or deliberate intention to experience Kiwi culture like a local, there are lots of different ways to live here.
So far, I’ve accomplished becoming a teacher. Now in my fourth year of my career, I’m still working on being a memorable one, but I am certainly having a lot fun practicing.
“I’ll just go overseas and study” was quite possibly the best decision I’ve ever made.
Got any questions about becoming an expat in New Zealand? Kate and I are here to help so… fire away!
Kate is a Canadian primary school teacher in New Zealand, a lover of adventure, beaches, sunsets, food, interesting people, road trips and all things travel. Since the age of 18 she’s lived, studied and worked in various places nationally and internationally, submersing herself as expat into different cultures, surroundings and ways of life. Her expat life teaching in New Zealand continues to be the biggest adventure of her life, so far, although soon she’s taking the Kiwi boy to Canada on a cross country roadtrip home. You can follow her adventures on her blog, as well as checking out her Facebook page, and she tweets @Canuckiwikate.