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Advice for moving to New Zealand

Updated 13 Feb 2012

South African expat Garret Horwitz shares a few tips for prospective expats looking to move to New Zealand.

We have been living in New Zealand for 18 years now. It has been wonderful and frightening, glorious and lonely, home and so damn far away from anywhere else. But after a long struggle, this is our home now.

“Why do you want to emigrate?” was the question asked of us before we left. I ask you the same question: For a better way of living? To make a new life for my family? For your kids to grow up in a safer country? To get away from your country’s problems? Everyone has a different story and answer to that question. For me, it was because I no longer felt safe living in South Africa. My business was burgled, and I was threatened with an AK-47 – that sure gives you an incentive!

I found the security I was looking for in New Zealand, and much more besides.

What is it like here?

New Zealand is fabulous, lousy, wonderful, scary, fun, lonely, secure, insecure, beautiful, expensive to live, and every other adjective that would fit most countries around the world. Am I trying to put you off? Hell no! We love it here and wouldn’t move anywhere else. But it was damn hard in the beginning, as I’m sure it is when emigrating anywhere in the world. It takes time to find your way around, and get used to the accent and the shortening of most words (I live in 15th Av).

There are only 4.5 million people in both islands, and around 30% of them live in Auckland, which is a typical metropolis: huge, sprawling, busy, hectic and crazy. It’s probably also the best place to start out unless you already have a job lined up for you. Some parts of Auckland are beautiful and almost like the countryside, other parts are like anything that you see anywhere that could drive you nuts.

Finding your feet

It’s hard to know where to live, and how to meet people. Almost every new arrival ex-SA joins the SA clubs which are all around NZ, so you can have the security and advice of those who came before you. Adjusting to life here is easier if you have young kids. You meet parents at the schools, and they are really friendly. If you have older kids (as we did), it’s a little harder, but you meet the people you work with, who normally invite you over for a BBQ (barbie) and you meet their friends, and it just balloons from there.

Working and earning

The job situation is not easy when you are looking for a specific type of work in a specific field. Be prepared to start something new, or to start at the bottom and work your way up. I was 45 years old when I emigrated, and I had to start as a salesperson, even though I had my own business in SA. Remember: they don’t know you here – you have no history, so they want to see what you are capable of. They certainly appreciate hard work and friendliness.

My advice to you is: do your homework before you arrive here. Bring as much as you have or are allowed to. It makes it that little bit harder to settle in if you are struggling financially as well as emotionally and insecure.

What I would do differently in retrospect

1. Bring as much paperwork as you have about yourself so that you can show your standing as a debtor (accounts, HP’s, bank statements etc). When you want to open a banking account – show them how good you were at your bank in your country of origin. The same thing for your work and career: show them how fantastic you are, and how lucky they would be to give you a job.

2. Bring all your furniture and household things including kitchen utensils and crockery, towels and sheets, duvets etc. These type of items can be very expensive here until you earn dollars.

3. Don’t bring a car unless it’s a vintage or rare. Cars here are very reasonable.

Home, sweet home

Immigration is up there with death of a loved one and divorce when it comes to stress. Most relationships stretch to breaking point in the beginning, but be assured, when you get through it all, you will realise that it’s a great little country with some of the most magnificent scenery in the world.

Be prepared to go through about 2 years of insecurity, wondering why you did this crazy thing. And then one day the houses don’t look strange any more (they are like in the USA: built of wood and plasterboard), the accent is understandable, you know your way around; and you realise – I’m becoming a Kiwi.

Good luck and may the transition be easy for you…

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