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Moving to New Zealand – Part 2: Upon Arrival

We started this 3 part series on moving to New Zealand with our tips on ‘Preparing to Leave‘, and once you’ve decided to make the move and you’ve packed your bags, said your goodbyes and have boarded the plane to New Zealand, here are some tips on some of things to do once you arrive to help you get settled.

 

Airport Immigration

As we mentioned in Part 1 – Preparing to Leave, when you arrive in New Zealand, you need to be prepared to provide some documentation to the Immigration Officer at the airport. The specific details of what you must provide may be dependent on your Visa, but here is what we prepared for:

  • Passport
  • NZ Immigration issued Visa
  • Proof of $4,200 in your bank account plus what you need to cover a flight home

Although we didn’t end up needing to show anything besides our Passport, we wanted to ensure we had the paperwork they suggested in case it was requested by the officer – I highly suggest you do the same!

Driving in New Zealand

One of the first things we purchased when we arrived was a car. We decided to fly into Auckland as we knew the market was larger there for used vehicles so we would have access to a better selection of cars. New Zealand is the lucky recipient of previously used cars from Japan that are usually in mint condition with low kilometers, so a used car was the best value for us.

We heard about the large used car auctions that go on in Auckland, but we decided to stay away after hearing some pretty bad experiences from others who were sold ‘lemons’ that ended up needing a great deal of work. So we did some research on TradeMe – which is a great place to look for used cars sold both privately and by dealers. We opted to go the dealer route as we felt they had a reputation to uphold so would likely be more honest.

I would recommend thinking about what kind of car you’re looking for in advance, as it can be overwhelming to see all the search results that come up for used cars near Auckland. We knew we wanted a compact, fuel efficient car that had the ability for us to sleep in as well (for roadtrips) so we researched some options like a Honda Fit initially and wrote down some dealers to check out. We hopped on the bus and explored a number of used car lots before we purchased our 2005 Toyota Ractis for $7,300 NZD. I would say that was a pretty good price as it looks nearly new and runs great! We bought it off a lovely Scottish man, Lindsay, at 4S Motors – seriously if you want a GREAT salesman go talk to Lindsay! He let us test drive the car without taking our license or even asking if we had driven on the OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD before and got us setup with all the registration paperwork and inspection. Read all about our experience here.

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One thing to note, insurance in New Zealand is optional. It was no question for us to get coverage as we’re so used to that in Canada, but it’s scary to think so many people out there are driving without! Insurance is EXTREMELY cheap and for equivalent coverage in Canada we paid ~$120/month CAD and are now paying ~$40 NZD/month!(that covers us both for the car) You can get insurance from a number of places in New Zealand such as AA Insurance and local banks like BNZ. Once you’re settled, I would also recommend picking up a New Zealand drivers license. You have to obtain one anyways if you plan to stay beyond 12 months, but getting it sooner than later will mean you won’t have to carry your passport around as ID. Believe me even if you look over 18, they won’t serve you beer at a football game without your passport or NZ drivers license 🙂

As far as road rules go, besides the fact that they drive on the other side of the road here, there are a few ‘norms’ we’ve learned that we thought we would share:

  • The roads in New Zealand rarely ever go straight. So don’t expect to get anywhere in a hurry as you’ll likely be doing an average of 60km-80km/hr despite the 100km/hr speed limit.
  • Kiwis have been driving on these windy roads their whole life so they are used to it – so if you’re not comfortable flying at 100km/hr around sharp turns, just pull over to the left and let them go by
  • Signalling in roundabouts is a bit different here. As opposed to assuming the car is staying in the roundabout, and only signalling if you’re turning off – it’s the opposite! You’re supposed to signal to the right to show that you’re staying IN the roundabout, and then signal left when you’re about to exit. I learned this the hard way after I was nearly smoked by a car who thought I was exiting out when I was actually staying in – they preceded to honk and yell at me until I understood the mistake I made 🙂
  • In Canada, all cars must have running daytime lights but that’s not the case here. I never really appreciated that feature until I got here and all cars driving in the day time without lights looked like parked cars to me. We ALWAYS drive with our lights on to ensure ALL cars can see us, but it has taken some time to get used to ‘seeing’ cars without daytime lights.
  • In the city, 2 wheels rule the road. It is perfectly legal for motorcycles and scooters to drive between stopped cars at lights to scoot to the front of the line. So keep your eyes open for 2 wheeled motorists as they tend to weave in and out of traffic all the time!

You can watch this video from Maui Motorhomes that provides 7 tips for driving in New Zealand.

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One thing I do love about Wellington is the motorcycle/scooter culture. Riding to work is very common here as parking is free anywhere in the city. Motorists are used to riders weaving in and out of traffic so I’ve always felt very comfortable on the roads. If you purchase a 50cc scooter, there’s also no need for a yearly WOF (inspection) and registration is only ~$160 per year. With gas at $2.20 NZD/lt here it’s a great way to save money too (it costs me ~$1/day in gas to get to work). Public Transit is quite good in the city too – Jordan gets picked up by the bus right outside our door and gets dropped in front of his office. Round trip is $7.35 NZD which is a bit steep (which is why I bought myself a scooter) but it’s definitely better than driving downtown and paying $15-$25/day for parking! Wellington has the Snapper card and Auckland the AT HOP pass that you can load money onto for quick (and cheaper) payment of public transit fares (bus, train, etc)

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Banking & Mobile Phone Plans

Since we had already setup our bank accounts from Canada, it was just a matter of going into a local branch to finish off the paywork and get a bank card to access our funds. Within a few hours of landing in Auckland, we walked down to the bank on Queen St and were fully setup with cash in our hand in less than 30mins.

Without any real experience dealing with you in New Zealand though, banks are very hesitant to provide you a credit card and most likely won’t until they have at least 3 months of banking history with you. New Zealand in general has a more cash or ‘debit card’ culture (they call it EFTPOS here) and many shops and restaurants don’t even take Visa. So if you’re a credit card person, just be aware you may not be able to get one immediately so ensure you keep some money back home so you can use your existing cards (especially for online purchases).

Our second stop upon arrival was to sign up for a mobile phone plan. We went with a 1 year plan (you need a Visa valid for 12 months or more – I couldn’t get my own plan as my Visa was initially only good for 9 months) with Vodafone but upon living here now would have probably made a different choice. Spark has the best coverage around the country, but Vodafone has better speeds in the cities. For us, we wish we had gone with Spark (or Skinny) as our Vodafone SIMs have poor coverage outside the cities and Telecom now has over 1000 WiFi spots around the country that you can hook into for FREE if you’re on their plans and you can connect up to 2 devices to get 1GB of data a day!! Our 12 month contract plan was $29/month for 500MB of data, 150 mins and unlimited texts. If you choose the prepay route, you can get about the same for only $16 with Skinny Mobile (owned by Spark) which is what we have now.

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If you’re bringing a phone from Canada (or anywhere) to New Zealand, try to research the frequency it’s on versus what the network operators are on here. I thought my BlackBerry would be compatible (even called Vodafone several times to confirm) but upon arriving it’s pretty much useless and it’s painfully slow to connect. Jordan had no problem with his Samsung Galaxy Nexus, so it seems to depend on the configuration of your phone. Basically – don’t count on it working perfectly – you may need to buy a phone when you arrive – and they can be very expensive! Typically $500-$1000 NZD for the top of the line models.

Finding a Home

Whether you’re looking to purchase or rent a home, TradeMe is a great resource to search for available properties in your area. We chose to rent as we wanted to get to know the city before investing in any property.

Initially we wanted to line up somewhere to live before we arrived, but considering we wanted to travel for the first 6 weeks, it wasn’t easy to do so. Similar to jobs, most rental properties listed are looking for someone to move in within a couple weeks (sometimes immediately), so not being in the country made that difficult. We were lucky and had friends who offered us to stay with them while we searched for a home, but if you don’t have that option there are some short term housing facilities that are available (most fully furnished). We don’t have any experience with these sites but have heard AirB&B and Roomorama are some options for short term accommodation.

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Going through the rental property search, we definitely learned many unique differences about rentals in Canada versus New Zealand:

  • Rent is quoted in weeks on most properties, but is normally paid bi-weekly (or fortnightly as they call it here). We pay $720 bi-weekly for a 2 bedroom apartment right on the beach in Lyall Bay (I think we got a deal!)
  • A deposit is required (called a bond) of usually 4-8 weeks of rent. Similarly to Canada, assuming there is no damage to the property it is returned to you when you move out.
  • Appliances (or whiteware) is usually not included. Only a stove is mandatory to provide a tenant in New Zealand so be sure to ask specifically what appliances are included. I was amazed at how many DIDN’T include anything! We were lucky that our place had all the appliances included, but apparently it’s quite normal to bring your fridge, washer, microwave, etc with you as you move house to house.
  • Clothes driers are also not common here. Very few rentals include a dryer so the only option is to hang your clothes. I initially thought I wouldn’t be able to survive without one but now that we have gone without, it really doesn’t seem too bad (although if you have a family that may be a different story). Sunny days with a light breeze are the best days for laundry now 🙂
  • A towel dryer is an essential part of every New Zealand bathroom. Without it, it is near impossible for your bath towels to dry (at least in the winter anyways) so look for that in the bathroom.
  • New Zealand’s homes are no where near the standard of Canada when it comes to insulation and windows. Double glazing has JUST started to be installed in homes and central heating is very rare. Homes here have doors sectioning off every room as they are designed to ‘heat by room’ with an electric heater or heat pump. It hadn’t been bad at all until winter finally set in. I still can’t get used to waking up to a FREEZING cold house in the morning – sometimes I swear it’s colder inside than out! PACK LOTS OF SWEATERS!

Once you’ve got your place sorted, setting up electricity and internet is fairly straight forward. If you opted for a mobile contract with one of the telcos like Vodafone or Spark, they can bundle your internet package for a reduced price. Despite people constantly complaining how bad the internet is in New Zealand, we’ve never really had any issues with it and our standard 80GB per month plan with Vodafone at $60/month has been sufficient. Sometimes Skype gets bogged down after you’re on it for a while but most of the time it’s ok.

With regards to electricity, the previous tenant in our place recommended we get our power setup through Powershop. A small online power company that launched a few years ago offers you visibility into your usage, power costs and special deals through their interactive mobile app and website. You can buy power bundles throughout the month as special deals come up, or if you don’t care to pay attention to deals, they will just charge the standard power rate each month. It has been a great way for us to better manage our electricity usage as power here is about 3x what we paid in Canada! Depending on the year, prices vary anywhere from $0.19/unit to $0.32/unit NZD, so for us, that equates to about ~$60/month in summer and $120-$160/month  in winter as we have the heaters running to keep us warm 🙂

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We furnished our apartment mostly with used items we bought on TradeMe. Similar to Kijiji back home, it’s a combination of regular sales and auctions (like ebay). We purchased our furniture, kitchen appliances and bicycles off TradeMe to get us setup.

The Warehouse will also be your best friend.  It’s a discount department store (like Walmart) where you can buy all your household needs. For a list of a number of popular shopping stores and the ‘North American equivalent’, check out our Brand Translator blog (NOTE: A lot of stores close by 5pm so it can be a challenge getting errands done on weekdays). It took us a while to figure out where we could buy everything we needed as NONE of the stores here are familiar. New Zealand has a great ‘buy local’ culture so most of the brands are locally owned and operated in New Zealand.

Jobs

As we mentioned in Part 1, if you weren’t able to secure a job before you arrive, be sure to setup some coffee dates with recruiters in your industry when you arrive. One thing you will need to setup before you start working is an IRD number from Inland Revenue. The application process depends on whether you’re an individual or a company, but if you’re just an individual you will need to fill out an IRD595 form and bring the original and a photocopy of your Passport and Drivers License to one of the local AA Driver Licensing Agents or New Zealand Postshops. Once the agent validates your original documents, you will leave the form and photocopies with the agent and your application will be processed and mailed to you within a few weeks. More details can be found here.

Travel before you Work

I can’t recommend enough that you take some time to explore New Zealand before you start work. It’s always scary to forgo income, but it’s a decision we are so glad we made. It gave us an opportunity to really get to know the country and take advantage of the precious time off as it is so much harder to do once you’re settled into a job. Although you WILL NOT be able to do it all, I suggest getting a taste of the North and South Island – it will help you plan your vacations later on and build a list of what you want to go back to see! Our list just keeps growing and growing as we meet more people and learn more about more ‘hidden gems’ around the country.

Check out our Interactive Travel map for some tips on things to do both when you arrive and for future vacations!

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