Moving to New Zealand – Part 1: Before you Arrive
- Posted by Stoked for Saturday
Over the last few weeks we’ve had a lot of people reach out looking for information on how we secured our visas, found a job and what we think of life in New Zealand. So we decided to compile a three part post about our experience “Preparing to Leave“, setting up “Upon Arrival” and “Life in New Zealand“. We won’t be able to cover every angle (ex. kids as we don’t have any yet), but we will share everything we know and have experienced in making the move to New Zealand.
|How we told our friends and family|
Disclaimer: This will be based on our experience and will most likely differ depending on your situation. The hope is that this will provide some context which will help you plan for your own move to New Zealand.
There is a debate as to what comes first – the visa or the job. Our experience has been most employers ask you on the job application if you have the legal right to work in New Zealand, so our recommendation is to secure a visa first. Keep in mind though as soon as that visa is approved, you have a certain amount of time (6-12 months depending on your visa) to enter New Zealand, when your visa officially starts. Ensure you consider that in your timeline and planning when selecting your visa.
Your selection of visa will depend on a lot of factors – your age, country you live in, experience, industry and intention (moving for a year vs permanently or for study vs work). Immigration New Zealand has heaps of information on their website to help you select the right visa so be sure to check out their website and call their helpline. Overall, if you are under 35 (30 for some countries) there are more visa options to choose from and as long as you’re under 55 there are still options such as the Skilled Migrant Visa. If you need some assistance in understanding what visa is best for you, you can contact Immigration New Zealand or read more on New Zealand Now‘s site about engaging a licensed Immigration Officer.
Since we were under 35 and had skills on the ‘shortage list’, we opted to apply for the ‘special’ Silver Fern Visa. This visa is only offered once a year (usually on April 30th but was not offered this year yet) and is open to 300 applicants worldwide – so once it’s full – that’s it for the year. You can fill in your basic information in advance but must be ready and signed in at 10am (NZ time) on the dot to enter your credit card details and submit your request to apply. It’s so popular though that it essentially ‘sells out’ within ~8 minutes of the online system opening – and because everyone is trying to get these visas, the system usually crashes which is what happened to Jordan. I got in just in time and he missed out by probably a minute of it filling up. You can read all about that experience on our ‘Winning (and losing) the visa Lottery’ blog. Once you’ve been ‘accepted to apply’, there’s a large amount of paperwork required (similar to other work visas) such as medical certificates, police checks, chest xrays, proof of education, including sending your passport (requirements depend on your situation).
Once you’ve provided all your requirements and if it gets approved, you are granted a Silver Fern Job Search Visa (mine took 5-6 weeks to receive acceptance after mailing it in). This provides you entry into New Zealand (must enter within 6 months of being issued your visa) to search for a job for up to 9 months and you are permitted to work for any employer in any capacity. If you secure a job within those 9 months you can then apply for a Silver Fern Practical Work Experience that extends your work visa for an additional 2 years. Paperwork at this stage was very little – I had to provide the proof of my job offer and my employer had to fill out a few pages but overall it was fairly simple and was actually approved within 48hours! One tip I will share is do not leave any section blank even if it doesn’t apply to you. Simply write “N/A” so they know you didn’t just miss a section as they WILL send your application back to you to resubmit.
Since Jordan wasn’t able to secure a Silver Fern Visa, he opted for the Working Holiday Visa. Although we initially thought this would limit his ability to find a good job, it turned out to have pretty much no impact at all. His application was extremely easy and after filling out his details he was emailed a Working Holiday Visa within 48 hrs that was valid for 12 months (he had to enter the country within 12 months). The only stipulation we found for his visa was he wasn’t able to accept a position without an end date prior to the expiry of his visa.
Jordan initially started an application for residency as he thought the Working Holiday Visa would limit his job opportunities or his ability to extend past twelve months, but once we both had jobs, and I had gone through to extend my visa to a Silver Fern Practical Visa, Jordan was able to submit a Partnership-based Visa to get his work visa extended for another 2 years (to the same date as mine). This resulted in him wasting about $830 USD in application fees and paperwork for his residency application that he never ended up using which proved to be quite an expensive learning experience.
For the Partnership-based Visa application we had to provide details on our relationship to prove we were a legitimate couple who had been living together for over a year. We had to provide a letter describing how we met, photos of us, proof of living together (shared bills), and taking vacations together (plane tickets) in addition to Jordan providing the same kind of paperwork I had to submit (medical certificate, chest xray, police check from Canada, etc). Despite having completed most of this while still in Canada, since those records are only valid for 3 months, he had to re-do the medical, chest x-ray and police check which proved to be more expensive and more complicated. However once all the paperwork was submitted, this was again approved within 48hrs upon receiving the application!
Here’s a breakdown of what we spent on the whole visa process:
Overall I can’t guarantee your turn around time or approval rate will be the same as ours – a lot of it depends on your specific application but it seems if you fulfill the visa requirements, have everything filled in correctly and you provide the documentation they require, it can be a fairly straight forward process. If you have any questions on the visa process, I recommend calling Immigration New Zealand (using Skype credits). We called them countless times to make sure we had all the details right and they were incredibly helpful and super friendly. If you’re stuck in the queue call back at a different time of day as you can usually talk to someone relatively quickly.
When we initially started looking into moving to New Zealand it was stipulated on us both securing jobs in advance. So we started applying to jobs, but after seeing that many positions were for immediate hire, we decided – “Ok as long as one of us gets a job in advance we’ll go”. After getting several rejections from recruiters saying “You’re a great candidate, but if you’re looking to work in October, call us when you arrive in September and we’ll find you something”, we decided to say “Screw it! Let’s just go and hope it all works out”. There was no way we were going to be able to sell 2 houses, 2 cars, all our belonging and give our notice at work within a few weeks. Employers also want to know you’re serious about moving and seemed to prefer to meet in person which is why securing a job while overseas can be a major challenge. So we went down the path of uncertainly and hoped for the best!
Our job search continued while we liquidated our assets (houses, cars, belongings) by watching the online job board at www.seek.co.nz. Most of the jobs in New Zealand are posted on there so that’s a great place to start your search. You can even search by salary so you can get an idea what range the jobs you’re searching for fall into. It’s also easy to setup automatic daily notifications of jobs that meet a specific criteria (location, pay range, industry, key words, etc). Another resource to search is Trade Me Jobs which has a lot of the same listings as SEEK but occasionally has some different ones.
If you find a position or company that interests you, reach out to the contact on the application. Buy some Skype phone credits and take the time to make a connection over the phone. It makes a much bigger impact than being one of the thousand email applications I’m sure they’ve received. Most companies we found use recruiting companies so even after learning more about the position, if it turned out to be something I wasn’t really interested in, the recruiter now knew a bit more about what I was looking for and often suggested some other roles or other recruiters to speak to. Always follow up with an email and thank them for their time whether you end up applying or not. Also be sure to schedule a coffee chat when you get to the area to meet in person to find out about any new opportunities available. Some of the agencies we used were Worklife, Find Recruitment, Hays and Powerhouse People. Depending on what field you’re in or what area you are considering, do a search for recruiting companies in that area and see what positions they are hiring for.
In the end, I was lucky and received an offer for the first company I had an interview with (you can read my story here), Jordan took about a month after settling into Wellington to find a job but ended up with 2 offers to choose from! He shares his (slightly stressful) journey here.
Important Note: Hiring pretty much shuts down in December, January and February as everyone takes their vacation over the holidays. Some people take 4-6 weeks off so getting anything done (especially hiring) is really difficult. Jordan got his offer at the end of November just before the holiday shut down – if he didn’t it might have been March before he was able to get traction on a job.
Overall the pay we received for our positions was pretty comparable to Canada but could vary depending on your position, experience and industry. Use the tools within www.seek.co.nz to gain an understanding of pay ranges for positions of interest for you. Annual leave is also standard in New Zealand at a minimum of 4 weeks, plus 11 stat holidays and many employers allow you to ‘buy’ up to 2 weeks more each year without issue. Our experience has been that benefits are usually not included in your salary so you have to pay extra for that – but most companies have subsidized rates. I was a bit surprised by that and had no idea what it would cost to get comparable benefits to what I had in Canada, but to give you an idea, I got the highest level of coverage and it only costs me $67 a paycheck for both me and Jordan to be covered. Couple things to note – Dental Care is not standard and isn’t included in any standard package (you can choose to add it in) but I’ve found it’s best to just pay at the office (cost is ~$100 for a cleaning). Extra benefits like Massage Therapy that I thoroughly enjoyed back in Canada are also not included unfortunately. Lastly, some companies require a minimum of 6 weeks notice of resignation (as opposed to 2 weeks in Canada), so something to keep in mind you plan to change jobs or leave.
Saving up Money
If you’re going to pack up and move to the other side of the world with no guarantee of a job – you HAVE to save ahead. Since we had 2 properties and 2 cars to sell, we were able to use some of that equity for a ‘nest egg’ to support our time off without work, however, we still planned and saved up.
In addition to the minimum $4,200 NZD (plus enough to cover a ticket home) that you need to show as proof to Immigration when you arrive, I would recommend saving enough money to sustain yourself for 2-3 months. We planned to tour the North and South Island for the first 6 weeks before starting work so we had to plan for even more (I would HIGHLY recommend you take SOME time off before working as it’s sooooo much harder to take the time once you’re employed.)
|Some of the activities we did our first 6 weeks|
Before we left Canada we also setup bank accounts in New Zealand and transferred money so we could access it as soon as we arrived. BNZ has a very easy ‘migrant banking’ processes that you can setup online where you can transfer funds before you leave through your local bank. Find out more about setting up a bank account with BNZ here (other banks here are ANZ, ASB and WestPac)
Personally, we initially transferred $10,000 CAD each to help get us setup with a car, paying a bond for our rental, travelling initially and getting settled. The amount you need may depend whether you choose to travel when you first arrive, if you’re planning to purchase and furnish a house right way (or rent), what kind of car you want, etc.
When moving to a new country, you’re essentially starting from scratch with no history with local insurance companies, banks or service providers, therefore we made sure we brought as much documentation with us as possible. We requested letters from our insurance companies showing we had good driving and insurance records so we could show insurance companies here to help lower our rates (we ended up not needing to as insurance was SO CHEAP but always good to have).
We also requested letters from our banks indicating we had good credit records and always paid our mortgage on time. If you’re planning to rent, you may need to provide references from previous landlords. Since we had owned our properties for several years we provided the bank’s letter to demonstrate we would be responsible tenants.
Finally, make sure you purchase travel health insurance for a minimum of 6 months. You want to ensure you’ve covered should an emergency occur and if you don’t have any benefits yet to draw on. Bring several copies of your coverage and ensure you’ve got the right level for what you want and need in case of emergency. New Zealand does have it’s ACC program which will provide some basic emergency needs if you are injured while in New Zealand but it doesn’t replace the need for Travel Insurance. You can read more about what is covered for visitors to New Zealand here.
Picking where to Live
Depending on whether you want to live in a city or a smaller town, there are lots of great options for living in New Zealand. If you want a small town feel, places like Wanaka, Queenstown, Gisborne and New Plymouth are good options. When we were deciding where to live in New Zealand we actually spent little time researching. We googled the largest cities in New Zealand (as we wanted good job opportunities) and Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington were at the top.
Personally for us, Auckland was just too big. It’s a beautiful city, but overall we felt like you could be in any city in the world living there. It does have lots of job opportunities though so I wouldn’t count Auckland out – we have a lot of friends who love it there!
Christchurch would have been a great option a few years ago, but it has had its challenges with the devastating earthquakes and recent floods. It was a really nice city to visit, but it is still going through a major re-building phase and housing is quite expensive as many people are living out of motels and hostels still not able to move back into their homes from the earthquake. We’ve heard lots of great things about Christchurch though too, and if you have any experience in construction or civil engineering though there are HEAPS of opportunities there. The government is doing a major campaign to entice people to go to Christchurch offering $3,000 to move there for work so check out what opportunities are becoming available there.
We chose Wellington for a number of reasons. It was a large enough city that it had a lot of job opportunities (it’s the capital of New Zealand so lots of government jobs too) and it had a lot of character that made you FEEL like you were living in New Zealand. Houses are scatters all over the hill tops surrounding the beautiful harbour and the little towns surrounding downtown give you a less ‘city’ feel.
We chose to live in Lyall Bay as it was a popular surf beach and we were lucky enough to find a cute little apartment right on the beach so we can literally run across the street in our wetsuits to catch a wave. Best of all, it’s only a 15min scooter (or 30min bus ride) to downtown! Groceries stores, department stores, restaurants all within a 10 min walk are just some of the reasons why we Love living in Lyall Bay.
|Lyall Bay beach in front of our home|
Wellington has all kinds of little beach coves like Island Bay, Breaker Bay and Scorcher Bay and a number of great hiking trails that make you feel like you’re no where near a city. Mount Victoria in the heart of the city has some great mountain biking trails and Zealandia is a 225ha wildlife sanctuary in the middle of the city. Wellington also has a great culture and a vibrant night life along the famous Courtney Place. If you love coffee and great food there are a ton of great cafes and restaurants to choose from.
|Zealandia in the middle of the city|
If you want to learn more about each area, I suggest reading more on New Zealand Now’s site on the various regions depending on what occupation you have and what kind of experience (both professional and personal) that you’re looking to have. TradeMe can provide some insight into the housing and rental costs for each area as well.
We went the ‘cleansing’ route and pretty much sold all our belongings. We kept some personal items and keepsakes in Jordan’s parents’ attic, but overall we purged nearly everything. Although there are ways to ship your stuff over, we just knew it wasn’t worth it for us so we started off fresh in New Zealand.
However, packing your life into a suitcase can be quite the challenge! We basically packed lots of clothes and as much sporting equipment as we could as we heard the shopping here wasn’t great and slightly expensive. You may choose to bring more with you, but we ended up with 2 suitcases, 2 hockey bags, 2 carry-ons and 2 backpacks – and that was it!
Have an Escape Clause
When we decided to make the move to New Zealand without the security of jobs, we agreed to an ‘escape clause’ should things not work out as we hoped. We were arriving in early September, and planned to travel for the first 6 weeks, so we gave ourselves until Christmas to find jobs and get settled. If either one of us wanted to move back – we agreed we would go back together without question. And if we didn’t find jobs by Christmas, we would enjoy some more travelling before moving back to Canada and start over again there. We made sure we left our employers on good terms as we wanted to leave all doors open. Things don’t always work out like they did for us as we have definitely heard some horror stories, but nothing in life is guaranteed – which is scary – but that’s what makes life interesting!
If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by the process and wonder whether it will be worth it, watch the Tourism New Zealand video below. Whenever we doubted our decision, we watched this video and it got us even more inspired to make the move!
Welcome to the youngest country on Earth!!
This video inspired us to document our own New Zealand experience in a web series called ‘Living a Kiwi Life’. Watch it here!