At this time two years ago, I would not have been able to tell you a great deal about New Zealand. In fact, I had never really given the place a second thought until the day I discovered it was the only westernized country where my partner and I could both legally live and work. We had both just finished our degrees in America and my student visa was up—it was time to go back to the U.K. With neither of us having any work experience (therefore unlikely to be sponsored in each other’s countries) it seemed our fates were sealed. Either we went our separate ways, or we found a country that would welcome both of us—and that country was New Zealand.
It was not at all complicated to organize a new life in New Zealand. It took us just a couple of weeks to wrap up everything back home, arrange visas, flights, and insurance. The immigration system in New Zealand proved to be particularly straightforward. Our education and countries of citizenship helped the procedure run smoothly and it was refreshing to have a quick, stress-free application process.
We chose to spend the year in Auckland. As New Zealand’s largest city, we hoped that this would make it easier to find work—which was our largest concern. Auckland has a population of 1.3 million and is small enough to get around by foot. If you are moving to New Zealand with the intention of finding work or wish to live in a city, I would primarily recommend Auckland. However, if you are a freelancer, run your own business, or can work from home, there are more scenic places to reside. New Zealand has many hidden paradises if you do not mind being a little out of the way.
Finding Accommodations in New Zealand
We arrived in Auckland with no prearranged accommodations, work or contacts, yet I would not say this hindered us in the slightest. It was refreshing to get there and arrange everything face to face. Our first goal was to find adequate accommodations for the year. With a good selection of apartments and a helpful estate agent, we managed to find the perfect place within a week.
We leased 1-bedroom apartment within a 3-star hotel. The location was central and luckily we could both walk to work to save on transport costs. We were also pleased with the added bonus of 24-hour security and a gym. Although we were living in the middle of the city, surprisingly we were rarely affected by noise or traffic. Our rent was reasonable (US$180 per week), especially when split between two. However, if you are looking for a more top-end apartment, such as a harbor view, you should budget for around US$350 per week.
Work and Wages in New Zealand
The country’s friendly immigration regulations have emerged since the country has witnessed an unwelcoming reduction in population. In 2005 New Zealand saw a decline of 10,000 people—a significant knock to a country of (at the time) under 4 million. Do not be put off by the fact that people are leaving. I believe there are two main reasons some have done so. Firstly, many Kiwi’s make the move to Australia for higher salaries, better prospects, and for what they perceive to be a higher quality of life. Secondly, New Zealand is not as cosmopolitan a country as Australia. If you wish to live in a fast-paced city where you can “party” every night until dawn, New Zealand probably is not the location for you—especially with Australia not far away.
With New Zealand losing a chunk of its youth to Australia every year, they are constantly looking to replenish their work force with immigrants. In 2005/2006, 100,000 people were issued with work permits to strengthen the country’s population. Considering New Zealand’s unemployment rate has been as low as 3.8%, this is a promising statistic for those lured by the promise of work.
Since my partner and I were on the Working Holiday Visa, we were restricted to temporary work. Yet this did not turn out to be too much of a problem since the temping agencies were excellent; we were rarely without a job. If you enter New Zealand on a Working Permit or Immigrant Visa, remember that you will be limited to work within your specific profession (unless you become a resident).
New Zealand offers a more relaxed and stress-free work ethic to that in the U.S. The office environment is certainly less cut-throat and you will find a working week to be around 40 hours. Leisure time in New Zealand is valued highly and this is reflected by the amount of time people spend in the office. Within my team, it was not uncommon for colleagues to leave work a little early to go sailing, diving, or swimming. Working as a Personal Assistant in a commercial bank, I was earning approximately US$2,500 a month (the tax rate was 19%). The wages are certainly enough to live comfortably.
Import Tax and High Prices
Although wages were reasonable, our paychecks felt the strain from the high price of everyday goods. Groceries are reasonable but if you wish to purchase anything from outside the country, the price is inflated due to a high import tax. For example, when purchasing any high-end makeup, toiletries, or clothes, I was paying three times as much as I would for the same brand in the U.S. Even little things like having photos developed or buying a chocolate bar was expensive. Living on a distant Island certainly comes at a price!