9 month retrospective


At the time of writing this, we’ve lived in New Zealand for 9 months. We’ve both got full time jobs, and I’ve been at my job long enough to get a promotion. We’ve gotten used to driving on the left hand side of the road, and we can get around town without a map. The other side of town isn’t a scary mystery anymore. We’ve made a few friends and aren’t completely alone anymore. Basically, New Zealand doesn’t feel like a foreign country anymore. And actually, we probably reached that point about 2 months ago. So if you’re wondering how long it takes to get through the initial, stressful, scary, foreign, lonely, make or break phase of moving to a foreign country, I’d put it at about 6-7 months…9 months tops. But obviously, that’s going to be different for everyone. If you already have business or social connections here or have visited New Zealand before you could probably shorten that time frame.

Realizing we’ve passed this milestone I thought it was time to do a little retrospective on our move. Did it accomplish what we were hoping? What surprised us? Would we do anything differently if we could do it all over again? What did we do right?

To the first question I would have to say, without reservation, that yes, the move accomplished its purpose. We are enjoying a significantly higher quality of life in New Zealand than we were in Texas, and that has nothing to do with our attitude, optimism or any other mode of perception you can learn from any positive thinking self-help book. New Zealand is just decades ahead of America in terms of the benefits it provides its citizens and in eliminating the ills of society. Nature also gave New Zealand an unfair advantage by putting so much fun stuff to do here. Granted, New Zealand does have its own shortcomings just like anywhere else, but our burdens here are light and are far outweighed by the benefits.

What surprised us? Well, the housing took a while to figure out. In Auckland at least, housing is very expensive. So unless you have a very high paying job you’re going to have to live with flat mates. So it’s very, very, very common for full grown adults and even elderly people to live with other grown adult and elderly flat mates. And I don’t mean you’ll be living like that during a transitional phase of your life. I mean that’s just life. And the best way to find a flat is to go to www.trademe.co.nz. I wish I’d known that before we moved here.

If I could do anything differently I would have brought more money, and I would have sold my house back in Austin. We came here with about $14,000 US. Most of that was sent right back to America to pay our property manager for unexpected repairs to what used to be our home and is now our rental property…or maybe he’s just been ripping us off by charging us for superfluous repairs. Since we’re in New Zealand we have no way to know or to do anything about it.

Trying to deal with a property halfway across the world has been a monumental headache, and every penny we’ve sent back has been one less penny we had to spend on establishing our new life. As a result we had to stretch our money and count our pennies the first few months we were here.

I was really surprised how stressful the whole experience was. I’ve lived in 3 different countries for a total of 7 years when I was in the US military. So I figured this trip would be easy for a seasoned world traveler such as myself. What I didn’t take into account was that in the military I had a job and a house waiting for me, and it was impossible to fail. Hell, you literally got a checklist when you got off the plane that told you everything you needed to do. Moving to a foreign country on my own I, or rather “we,” had to figure out everything on our own and fight for our survival at a game that has no guarantees and a high rate of failure.

If I could do the trip over again I would have brought a calendar with me and premarked events for every week for the first 6 months. Once a week I would mark a day to force ourselves to get out of the house and experience something new. Once a week I would mark a day to talk to my significant other about our frustrations with each other. I would have set concrete goals for job hunting. I would have premarked festivals that I knew were coming up. I would have also marked the deadlines for various immigration paperwork. All of this would have helped cope with stress, overcome the hurdles of moving to another country and provided structure, predictability and purpose to our lives after having hit the reset button.

Another thing I would have done differently is set up an account at www.skype.combefore I left. Getting to see and talk to our family and friends back home for free whenever we want has been a huge source of comfort. I knew about Skype, but I thought it was really complicated to set up. Turns out it’s as easy as setting up Farmville.

What did we do right? First of all, we took a chance. There’s no telling how many people dream of starting a better life but are too afraid to let go of what little they have and decide to live out the rest of their short, irreplaceable lives in cold comfort instead. Ironically, in a lot of ways that’s actually the sane, responsible thing to do. Moving to a new country is a gamble, and gambling isn’t responsible. But we stacked the bet in our favor with determination, flexibility and creativity, and we won. If we’d listened to reason and stayed where we were and kept our demeaning jobs and kept fighting traffic every day we would have lost.

Another thing we did right was starting our residency visa a year before moving here. We didn’t know you could apply for a work permit and a residency visa at the same time. So we didn’t apply for our work permit until after we got here. That was a big mistake, because you can’t finalize your residency visa until you get a job. Nobody will hire you if you don’t have a work permit. So it took us a month to figure that out after we got here and another 2 months to get the work permits. Plus, we had to spend money on that we hadn’t budgeted. But it would have been much worse if we hadn’t started the residency visa paperwork a year in advance. So that was good.

Once we arrived in country we were smart to book a hostel in advance for the first few weeks. That gave us a cheap (though regrettably uncomfortable) place to start from that we weren’t locked into. It was also a good idea to get a hostel downtown so we could really jump into the Auckland experience. Once we left the hostel we made another good decision in finding a series of places with short term leases so we could hop around until we both found jobs and could live close to both of them and live with cool people. It was stressful constantly moving, but living in an inconvenient place with anal retentive, passive aggressive wankers was much more stressful. By staying flexible and mobile we managed to end up in a quaint house right on the beach with some pretty cool people.

The last smart thing we did was adopting Tiko. Nothing says normality like having a pet. Plus, it gives you something to care about and be cared by. Plus, Tiko is just awesome. I’ve never had a cat that will sleep under the covers and sit on my shoulder while I cook.

Our only other regret is not moving sooner.

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3 Responses

  1. Very good to find your blog! I am an American being lured to move to Auckland next month by my kiwi-born husband who is ready to move back home. Its so good to hear an American perspective – it definitely seems unique to UK and other expat experiences.

    I’ve visited NZ several times, and can even relate to several things you have mentioned. There are definitely positives and things you miss too (like 24/7 Walmarts whenever you need, well, anything).

    Glad to hear you both are loving it.

  2. Congrats on making the adjustment work for you!

    I moved here in 2006 and haven’t regretted it at all, but there is a lot of adjusting to do.

    My hardest lesson to learn was ‘buy it while you have the chance’ . There is no comfortable knowledge that items are always stocked in stores.

  3. In regards to the work visa thing it is free if you apply for it from the US. I didn’t have to pay anything for mine. However, now the PR process, that’s a nice chunk of change. Which normally wouldn’t have been much for me at home in the US but my miserable salary and high rent her in NZ has left me broke as.

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