Moving to NZ

This page is very much a work in progress – please bear with me, as I’m constantly making changes! And keep in mind that everything written here is written from the perspective of an American living in Auckland.  I’m sure that there’s stuff that I’m missing, so don’t use this as your end-all, be-all guide.  My advice is to look for other blogs out there (expat-blog.com is a great resource) and read up on other websites to get a full picture.  (August 2010)

For information in regards to becoming an RN in New Zealand, please click here.

Be sure to check out my posts on Living in New Zealand!

This section of my website is for people looking to move to New Zealand.  It’s a lot of information, and it’s good for giving details {or for helping you fall asleep!}.  Keep in mind that everything here is written from the perspective of an American who’s living in the Greater Auckland area.  My experiences and opinions aren’t representative of every person that’s moved over here, and if you’re looking for “official advice”, this isn’t the spot 🙂

My suggestions for people looking to move to another country is to (1) have patience, (2) give yourself time, (3) expect frustrations, and (4) make copies of absolutely everything.  Seriously.  Make hard copies, scan them them into your computer, get a couple notarized copies of anything that you think you might need {our bank in the US did this for free}, and keep them with you.  Don’t ship them – take them on the plane!!!

Some paperwork that you will need…

  • Passport
  • Visa
  • Driver’s License
  • Marriage Certificate {if applicable}
  • Lab Results and Medical Clearance done within the last 12 months

Here’s some useful websites in regards to actually obtaining your New Zealand visas…

On Getting a New Zealand Driver’s License

Your US or other approved overseas driver’s license will be good for a total of 12 months.  However, getting a New Zealand driver’s license sooner rather than later isn’t a bad idea.  For one thing, it provides you with a valid form of NZ identification {meaning you don’t have to carry your passport around all the time} and it can mean lower insurance rates.  Getting a NZ driver’s license does not mean that you have to give up your current license.  At the moment, I have a driver’s license for NZ and for my home state back in the US.  If your country is on the approved list, then you don’t have to sit for the written {theory} or driving {practical} exams.  You simply fill out the paperwork, provide the necessary copies, and pay your fee at an approved licensing agency.  A short 1 – 3 weeks later, and you’ll have your license in the mail.

One piece of advice – in order to get your NZ driver’s license, they will want proof that you have held an overseas license for at least 2 years, or else you will have to sit the exams.  Many US states do not list the start date on licenses – only the expiration date.  If this applies to you, then you’ll need to request a driving record showing that you have held a license for at least 2 years {it does not necessarily have to be certified – mine wasn’t, and they accepted it without question}.  Some state BMVs will send it to you via email, but this may not be the case with your state! I know that some will only mail them to the address listed on your license.  This will really stink if you get to New Zealand and find out that you have to take {and pay for} a driving exam that you could have avoided if you only requested a driving record before your move.

On Health-Care

I still haven’t entirely figured out the health-care system in New Zealand.  I’ll refer you to this site for more information.  Please note: don’t just assume that because you’re in New Zealand and they have public healthcare, that you’re covered.  You must hold the proper paperwork!  You should determine which District Health Board you fall under and contact them for specifics.  Many Kiwis also have private health-care that is subsidized through their employer.  We weren’t sure if this was really necessary, so we asked many of our New Zealand friends what they thought.  Over and over again we were told that if it was offered at a reasonable cost, then we should go ahead and get it.  We have Southern Cross insurance through Chris’ employer.  Check with your employer to determine if they have a similar option.

On Housing

When it comes to housing, the first thing you need to ask yourself is (1) where do I want to live, and (2) is this a temporary or permanent move?  I’m writing as someone who lives and works and is married to someone who also works in Auckland.  If you know that this is going to be a permanent or quite long-term move, then buying a house may be the best option {and by quite long-term, I mean 5+ years.  I read somewhere that buying a house in NZ doesn’t make sense unless you plan to be here for 20 years…}.  My advice would be that, if you can, rent for a little while {at least 6 months} to determine what you want.  Moving to a new country is a big change.  You don’t want to buy a house only to discover that what seemed great at first is really not to your liking.  Give yourself time to adjust to and learn about your new city.  You’ll need to consider things like transportation – do you want a car or are you planning to rely on public transport?  If so, what’s an acceptable driving/riding time?  You might find a great place in the suburbs, but discover that it’s a 45 minute drive one-way or that a monthly bus pass is ~NZ$200.  And then there are school zones.  School zones are important, and people have gone to all sorts of measures to get their kinds into the “right” school.  Don’t overlook these things.

Once you decide if you’re going to buy or rent, then start looking.  Keep in mind that things are different in NZ than in the States when it comes to renting.  For starters, you pay more fees.  You’ll pay a letting fee, an agent’s fee, and the standard security deposit, or bond.  Your bond should be equal to 1 – 3 weeks’ rent.  That’s another thing – rent is paid weekly here.  You may be able to arrange to pay fortnightly, but it’s doubtful that you’ll get a monthly payment.  Your bond should be held by the New Zealand Housing Authority.  If not, then take a second look at your landlord.  Having a bond held by the NZHA means you don’t have to worry about your money being held “hostage”.  Also, any disputes that arise can be appealed to the NZHA.  The NZHA will cover legal costs provided that you are in the right.

Housing agents in New Zealand expect any interested parties to (1) drive past the property to determine if they really like it, and then (2) call to set up a viewing appointment to see the interior.  Most agents won’t set up an appointment till after you have viewed the outside.  This can mean a lot of extra time spent looking at places, driving around, and trying to find parking.  Also, the viewing appointment may not be a one-on-one viewing – you may have to wait till the next open house and tour the property with all other interested parties.  Getting a hold of your housing agent may prove difficult.  I’m used to realtors in the States who are efficient to the point of being pushy.  That’s not always the case here.  You may go days without hearing back from an agent.

One way to avoid this is by signing on with a relocation firm.  Chris’ employer set us up with Relocations International for a 1/2 day tour of the city, and this was incredibly, incredibly helpful.  She spoke with us beforehand to determine what our needs and preferences were, so that on the day of the tour she could show us what we would expect to find within our budget in certain areas.  It made me open to considering parts of the city that I otherwise would not have been interested in.  Ultimately, we decided to hire her for a one-day housing tour.  She located potential properties {and I sent her a few suggestions of my own}, and then she contacted the housing agents for the rentals.  Rather than spending several days or weeks looking at places, we were able to tour a boatload of properties in one day and make an offer.  Within a week, we  had the paperwork signed, and the place was ours.  This, as opposed to other ex-pats we met who spent countless hours in the car and on the phone over a period of weeks trying to find the right place.  Ultimately, how you go about this will depend on how much time you have to look and what your financial situation is like.

Here are some sites that I would recommend for housing options:

On the “Leaky Building” Problem

Another thing about housing in New Zealand – the “leaky building” problem.  I’ll let you read the Wikipedia entry about this for background info, but the basic gist of the problem is this: there were some questionable building tactics during a construction boom in the 90s and early 2000 years.  As a result, many homes and buildings have been badly damaged by leaking and mold.  Repairing these buildings and pursuing legal action against whoever is responsible has become an entirely new industry in New Zealand.  If you are touring a place and it smells damp or if it was built during that time frame, then ask if it has been re-clad.  Most of the older buildings don’t suffer from this problem, but you don’t want to get a place and then find out that you’ve been saddled with a leaky building.  It can turn into a nightmare.  Our relocations agent knew the real estate in our city like the back of her hand.  She was able to point out at a glance which places had been re-clad, which ones were new construction, which ones were in the process of being fixed, and which ones had problems.

On Heating, Dehumidifiers, and Other Appliances

Here are some appliances/electronics that you’ll want to purchase…

  • Dehumidifier.  NZ is a humid place, and you don’t want mold!  We purchased a DeLonghi with a 6 litre capacity and run it around 60% humidity.  We have to empty the tank about once every 36 hours.
  • Heaters.  If you’re buying a house, then a heat-pump or gas-line heater is worth the investment.  Otherwise, get space heaters.  We have a DeLonghi large electric heater for the main room, a medium sized oil heater for the hallway/bedrooms, and a $14.99 personal fan heater that I use when I get chilly while sitting at the desk.  This works fine for us.

I’m a Midwestern girl and figured that I would have no problem holding up to the “chilly” winter weather of 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  Trust me when I say that cold feels different over here.  Most houses are not insulated, and it gets chilly at night.  Our first energy bill, which included gas and electric, came to $219.79.  That was $119.79 more than what we had budgeted and about 6 times more than what it had been for our 2 bedroom townhouse in the States.  Both our relocations agent and housing agent had told us to expect to pay “around $100” for our apartment’s energy costs, so we thought we’d planned accordingly.  We quickly decided to make a few changes!

For one thing, we stopped using the dishwasher as frequently.  It had been our practice to wait till we had a full load and then let it run.  Now, we do most dishes by hand and only use the dishwasher when there’s a lot of company.  We also stopped leaving our heater on the auto setting, where it would kick in once it dropped past a certain temperature.  We  had always kept them off during the day, but this was a nice feature to have at night.  Now, we have an electric blanket {what I would’ve called a bed warmer back in the States – it goes under the sheets} and pretty much keep the heater off all night long.  It’s chilly, but you can do it!  Buy some wool socks.  Wear a sweater. Keep slippers nearby.  Open the shades and let the sunshine warm your house.  You’ll survive!

I primarily line-dry our clothing.  I used the dryer 2-3 times in that first month and was not impressed that it took 2 hours to dry a load of laundry.  The flip side is that our washer has an eco/water-save setting which allows me to run a load in 35 minutes.  Not bad.  I’ve found that I can hang 2 medium-sized loads of laundry on 1 drying rack, set this up in front of the dehumidifier and run it at max-high overnight with a fan blowing on the other side.  The clothes are usually dry by morning, if not sooner, and it saves on energy costs.

Some helpful websites…

  • Consumer.org.nz – I purchased a 3 month membership when we moved here.  It was useful in figuring out what kind of appliances we’d need and which were the most reliable/energy-efficient.
  • ConsumerSearch.com – A free alternative, although it may not have all of the NZ brands.

On Credit Cards

Remember that your overseas credit card will likely charge a percentage on each purchase made in NZ.  We requested NZ currency through our bank while still in the States, so that once we arrived we had money available to spend and to put in a bank account.  It made no sense to use US credit cards and have an extra 1.5% – 3% tacked onto everything.  Many New Zealanders and fellow ex-pats recommend ASB as the bank of choice.  We opened an account within the 1st week of moving here and had an ATM card by day one and an ASB Visa debit card by week #2.

EFTPOS terminals are the big method of payment here.  It’s basically a debit card terminal, although you can use credit cards in it as well.  Many NZ banks are switching to Visa debit chip technology.  Our bank had already made this switch, so we were slightly ahead of the game.  We can use our Visa debit in place of credit cards online.  You can apply for a NZ credit card, but read the fine print. Many have maintenance fees.  To us, it wasn’t worth it.  We kept our US credit cards for US online purchases that we wanted to make, but there wasn’t a point in opening a NZ credit account.  It wouldn’t improve our credit score, and we’d have to pay to use it.  No thanks.

On Shopping & Prices

Please read this post for a little more detailed information on prices in Auckland.

We shipped the majority of our household goods from the States to New Zealand.  The university covered this as part of their relocation package, and I’m very glad that they did!  There is not as big of a selection of furniture stores in New Zealand, and any US made furniture will cost more over here because of import duties and fees.  If you can, try to ship your belongings.  Our company was New Zealand Van Lines.

Our grocery budget increased when we moved here.  Keep in mind that we’re living in a big city, and that any big city typically has big-city prices.  Still, it was a bit of surprise.  You might be tempted to say, “Oh, but factor in the exchange rate, and really you’re paying about the same in NZ dollars as in US dollars”.  That may be true, but you’re no longer earning US dollars – you’re earning NZ dollars!  I actually found that, in some cases, it was more economical to buy something online from the US and pay for the slow-rate {i.e., cheap} shipping than to buy it over here.  This is particularly true with books.  I didn’t expect books to cost so much.  I love using the library, and I’m very glad that I have an eReader!

I also found that it was hard to find a good, quality raincoat within a reasonable price in Auckland.  I would see one that looked great, then discover that it cost NZ$450.  Um, no way!  I ended up buying 2 raincoats in the US from places that had free promotional shipping, sent them to my parents, and had them mail them overseas {thanks, Mom & Dad!}.  Even factoring in the exchange rate, it was more economical to do that than to buy a raincoat of similar quality over here {waterproof – not water-resistant, with a hood,  a zipper closure, and of a length that allowed me to walk in the city without getting wet from the waist down}.  You will want a good raincoat, an umbrella, and gumboots/wellingtons/rain boots in New Zealand, especially during the winter months {June – August}.  I made the mistake of buying wellingtons in the States, but then shipping them over here with the rest of our household goods.  There were several days that I wished that I had brought them on the plane!

We used to do our grocery shopping at Countdown, but there are a lot of grocery stores…

We went to Countdown because it was the closest one within walking distance {we don’t have a car… yet}.  It was good to go and familiarize ourselves with the layout and what’s available, but after 2 months, we were ready to start using the online grocery option.  Countdown, Foodtown, and Woolworths are all part of the same group.  You can click on the Countdown website and choose to shop online from either Foodtown or Woolworths, and your groceries are delivered to your for a fee {ranges from $14.95 – $7.95, with it costing less if you spend more}.  This is so, so handy and saves money.  We aren’t paying the expenses associate with a car, but we’re still able to stock up on sale items without having to worry about lugging them home.

If you shop at Countdown/Foodtown/Woolworth’s, then apply for a free Onecard.  You should also apply for a free Fly Buys card.  These are used at New World, but lots of other stores use them, too.  We have both.

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9 comments

  1. Shifa says:

    Thanks for the useful info.Me and my husband have been to New Zealand and stayed there for 8 months. Then we got back and applied for residence from our home country. We got the residence few weeks back and will be soon moving back to NZ.We are pretty excited thou.Hope it goes well for us. The article was very helpful indeed.Cheers

  2. Tina says:

    Hello Jenny,
    I am so glad you wrote this out for all us thinking of moving to NZ. It has a lot of great info. We are a family of 4, 2 little ones and planning to move there in Sept. Is it best to get a hotel room for a few days while we find a rental property? Anything you recommend? We would really appreciate any help or info. Thank you 🙂

  3. Michelle Head says:

    I am so glad I have found this blog! My fiancé is a kiwi and I live in Alabama with my 5-year-old daughter. I have been scouring the internet for stories of others that have made the decision to move. I have found a couple of forums devoted solely to talking about all of the BAD things in New Zealand. I feel so confused! We are still trying to decide who will make the big transition…

  4. Jenny @ Practically Perfect... says:

    Hi Kelly,

    I believe you about the energy bill. We keep ours as low as possible, but friends have told us about their $450+ bills this past winter. So crazy.

    I don’t know of anywhere that sells unsweetened applesauce. I have seen small jars of applesauce in the imported foods section of Countdown, but only bought 1 jar when we first moved here and can’t recall if it was unsweetened or not. I just do homemade and freeze it for when I want it 🙂

  5. kelly says:

    hi! i was looking at recipes, then read your page on moving to nz. i moved here with my kiwi husband back in 2001. you’ve hit just about everything on the head with your advice! be glad you live in auckland – even here in “sunny” hawke’s bay, it gets damn cold for this southern california girl! and my last electric bill (for august 2012) was $486.00. that is about double our typical summer costs, but i simply can’t go without heat in the winter (usa-folks, this is for heating 2 rooms, not the whole house). i use the dishwasher 1x/day, but rarely ever use the teeny dryer. it’s simply not worth running it for socks.

    anyhow, i don’t suppose you know anywhere in nz that sells unsweetened applesauce (no cinnamon)? i will try to make my own thanks to your page; it looks pretty easy :O) out here in the provinces we don’t have a lot in the way of choice, but the cool thing about nz is that just about any shop will ship to you. IF you can find what you’re looking for!

  6. Valerie Crawford says:

    Thanks Jenny. This is soooo helpful. You commented on how high the energy bill is in the winter but what about the summer? It sounds like you may not need a lot of airconditioning so what would the yearly average be? My energy bill usually runs around $175 mo. with $90 being the low and $200 being the high. But we have high ceilings. I have found energy bills vary greatly in the states.
    Valerie

  7. Suki-Lou says:

    Just found your blog via Kiwi Mummys and found your post about Moving to NZ really interesting! We have just moved to Auckland and have discovered alot of the things you talk about, but it’s good to hear that we arent the only ones who found some things quite different. I also liked your tips about reducing power usage, we just had our first bill and it was a bit of a shock! Thanks for the info about the winter months, luckily we have the summer to warm our souls as we settle in before we have to deal with the coldness!

  8. Rachel says:

    This is incredibly helpful!!! I’m making the move Jan 2012. Another midwesterner to Auckland. Thanks so much!

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