In 2015, I moved from Chicago to New Zealand on a one-year working holiday visa, fully intending to stay for only a year. I landed in Wanaka where I took a job as a barista in a café.
After a year, I decided I wasn’t quite done with New Zealand, so I asked my boss if he would sponsor my visa, which he agreed to do. I ended up working at the café for another three years before I was able to get a different visa through my partner. I then found a remote job remotely for Vallerret, a Norwegian company that makes gloves for photographers.
Tip: If you want to stay on your one-year, you should spend your working holiday year building up a good relationship with an employer so they can sponsor you. If you want to get residency, you need to make at least $25/hour and meet a whole bunch of requirements.
Living in New Zealand is amazing. Coming from the hustle and bustle of Chicago where everyone is in a rat race, it was strange to adjust to a culture where people don’t give a shit about what you do for a job. The people culture in New Zealand is amazing. Here, people care about what you’re passionate about and your values. Everyone is humble. Unlike Americans, Kiwis are really blunt and don’t beat around the bush. While they are friendly, they won’t make small talk to make you feel comfortable like Americans would.
Most Kiwis I know have no interest in ever visiting the USA because they associate us with horrible politicians, extreme consumption and fake pleasantries. They don’t understand why Americans ask “how are you?” when the person asking doesn’t usually care.
The people here are also really connected to nature and work hard to preserve it. The politics are easy and legislation is passed swiftly whether it’s concerning global warming or gun laws. This has made New Zealand extremely safe. There’s almost no violent crime.
The best part about living in New Zealand is having instant access to nearly every type of biodiversity: fiords, glaciers, high plains, active volcanoes, rolling hills. In 10 minutes, you’re at the start of a mountain trail. In 30 minutes, you’re in a dense, fern-covered forest. In 90 minutes, you’re standing on a beach watching the waves come in. New Zealand really does have it all.
While tourism in New Zealand is growing, but it’s amazing how many untouched places remain. You really can get out for a weekend in the hills and see not another soul in sight. It’s such a luxury to be able to check out for the weekend and disappear into the wilderness.
The one bad thing about living in New Zealand is the cost of produce. Fresh produce is very expensive in New Zealand. Outside of summer, avocados go for $6 each and bell peppers cost you $5 a piece. My partner and I eat mostly vegetarian and spend about $150 total on groceries for the week. Being veterinarian in New Zealand is expensive, while you’re less likely to find soy sausages, it’s easy to find vegetarian meals using fresh produce. Here, Kiwis eat a lot of meat and specifically a lot of meat pies. Their diet is very western with meat being the centrepiece with vegetables on the side.
But I would generally say that, in most parts of the country, the cost of living is affordable. Certain areas of New Zealand are more expensive (i.e. Queenstown, the Lakes District, and Auckland) but the cost of living in Wanaka, which is a mountain town, is very affordable, especially when compared to other mountain towns in, say, Colorado.
The other challenge I faced was finding friends. Finding friends in Wanaka was kind of hard; it took me a solid year before I felt like I had good friends. Because there are so many travellers here, it’s hard to find people who are sticking around longer than a few months. On the flip side, it’s really easy to meet other fellow travellers.
But the best advice I can give to any expats is to not care about what living abroad might do for your career path. If you do end up returning home, any employer worth working for will value your time abroad, not punish you for it.