Living Abroad in New Zealand with Michelle Waitzman

1. What are the top three reasons to move to New Zealand?

The top reason has to be lifestyle. New Zealanders have a great work/life balance and value the time they spend with their families, or out enjoying themselves. It’s a great place to put some perspective back into your life.

Size is my second reason. Size does matter! In New Zealand, any spot in the country is potentially a weekend getaway because nothing is too far away. And wherever you live, you’re within easy reach of beaches, hiking trails, golf courses and mountains.

My third reason is that full-time employees here get at least four weeks of paid vacation a year. That gives you plenty of time to explore your new country—or even get away to nearby Australia or the islands of the South Pacific for a tropical holiday.

2. Why are New Zealanders called Kiwis?

The short answer is because “New Zealander” is too long, and Kiwis like to shorten things. The kiwi is New Zealand’s national animal. It’s a flightless, nocturnal bird that only evolved here in New Zealand. Somehow these little guys are so endearing that the whole nation adopted their name. Just remember, a kiwi is a bird, a Kiwi is a New Zealander, and a kiwifruit is a fruit. You can’t buy a kiwi at the supermarket!

3. What are some popular Kiwi phrases an expat should use to fit in?

G’day – This is the standard greeting, along with the Maori phrase Kia Ora. Either will get you a smile and a nod at the very least.

She’ll be right – This is the Kiwi way of saying that things will work out in the end, and everything will be alright.

Sweet as – This can be used as an affirmation (“I’ll see you later.” “Sweet as, mate.”) or as a statement of value (“How’s your new TV?” “Sweet as!”). This phrase is mainly used by young people.

4. Can you offer some tips on finding a job?

When you’re looking for work it’s important to be confident but humble. Kiwis don’t like show-offs, so be careful how you come across in interviews. You may also need to add extra explanations to your resume because New Zealand employers may not be familiar with the companies you’ve worked with in the past. If you’re asked for references, provide both phone and email contacts for anyone not in New Zealand because your potential employer may not know which time zone your references are in, and so they may avoid calling. Alternatively, you can provide information about the best times to call your references (in New Zealand time).

5. Are there specific industries that are hiring?

Health care professionals are always in demand, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, optometrists and so on. Farm managers are also in short supply as New Zealand is still a largely agricultural nation. Dairy, wool and livestock farming are the most common, but vineyards and other crop farming are also widespread. And due to the significant damage to many buildings in Christchurch during the February 2010 earthquake, there will soon be a need for professionals to help rebuild the city center. This will include architects, engineers and construction managers of all types. Plumbers and electricians are likely to be needed as well.

6. Which cities should a would-be transplant visit?

Most expats need to go where they have the best chance of landing a job, so the main cities are the most important to visit. Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch are the largest centers, and offer the most jobs. If you prefer living in smaller cities (under 150,000 people) that still have a good range of employment options, try Dunedin, Hamilton, Tauranga and New Plymouth.

7. What’s the best way to meet locals?

Great question! Meeting locals can make the difference between successfully settling in or getting homesick and giving up. Locals can also be a big help with your job search!
Join a team or club for whatever activities you enjoy. There are lots of community sports teams around the country, and maybe you’d like to learn some of New Zealand’s favorite sports like rugby, cricket or netball. Tramping (hiking) clubs are popular all over the country and will introduce you to adventurous Kiwis. If you’re on a coastline, sailing clubs are also very popular. If you’re not the active type, try signing up for a class. You can meet Kiwis who share your interest in cooking, photography, languages, and more. Another great way to meet people is to volunteer. I was a volunteer tour guide, and met a great bunch of Kiwis that way. There are many charities looking for a helping hand, so get in there and make a good impression.

8. Which city would you recommend for someone who wants to enjoy both city life and quick access to the outdoors?

All of them! No really, there isn’t any city in New Zealand where you’re far away from beautiful outdoor areas, both wilderness and coastal. For those who really need the urban buzz, Auckland is usually the first choice as it’s much bigger than any other New Zealand city. If you are a skier or snowboarder, you’ll do best in Christchurch or Dunedin so you can easily head off to the Southern Alps. Surfers are keen on Auckland, Hamilton, Dunedin and New Plymouth for access to the country’s best breaks. Hikers and mountain bikers will be happy just about anywhere, but Rotorua is well known for excellent mountain biking trails.

9. What do you consider essential items to pack before moving?

First, let me tell you what not to pack—anything that plugs into the wall. New Zealand is on a different electrical system from North America, so your favorite hair straightener, coffee maker or TV will not work here. Sell it or give it away before you move.

There are a few things I recommend stocking up on before you make your move. For the ladies, you should have a good supply of your preferred cosmetics. The major brands are available in New Zealand but can be much more expensive.

If you’re a brand-conscious shopper, don’t purge your wardrobe too much before you pack. There are some brands of clothing not sold (yet) in New Zealand including: Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic. You may not be able to replace everything with the same brands. The same can be said for shoes, particularly if you wear an unusual size or are very brand picky.

And as someone who loves baking, and brought a lot of American cookbooks with me—corn syrup is really hard to find in New Zealand. Instead they bake with golden syrup, which can be substituted in most recipes but doesn’t have quite the same flavor. Real maple syrup is available but very expensive.

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