What Living as an Expat in New Zealand is Really Like

What living in New Zealand as an expat is really like

Hey guys! Welcome to Living Abroad, a series that shows you what expat life is like in cities around the world. Next up: Erica, an American living in Wanaka, New Zealand.

Here, Erica shares what it’s really like to live in New Zealand, from having access to jaw-dropping natural beauty to how New Zealand compares to the US.

Quick facts about living in New Zealand:

  • Languages: English, Māori, and New Zealand Sign Language
  • Currency: $ New Zealand dollar (NZD)
  • Level of crime in New Zealand: Low
  • Cost of living in New Zealand: Moderate
  • Quality of life in New Zealand: Very High

Pros and cons of living in New Zealand (as told by Erica):

  • Pros: Multiple ecosystems within a few hours from each other, laid-back lifestyle, tight-knit communities 
  • Cons: distance from other countries, things take a while to be completed, lots of growing pains at the moment

On Erica’s background:

My name’s Erica and I’m originally from Nebraska, USA. 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. I love it! I spend my free time traipsing around the mountains and growing my own personal ceramics practice.

On kiwi culture: The culture 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. Here, people care about what you’re passionate about and your values. Everyone is humble. You could know an Olympic skier for years before they’d ever let you know what they’ve accomplished.

On conservation and politics: 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.

What living in New Zealand is really like

On living in New Zealand as an American: In the past few years, New Zealand’s perception of America has become more negative. Most Kiwis I know have no interest in ever visiting the USA because they associate us with horrible politicians, extreme consumption and fake pleasantries. 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. They don’t understand why Americans ask “how are you?” when the person asking doesn’t usually care.

On safety: New Zealand is extremely safe. There’s almost no violent crime. 

What living in New Zealand is really like

On nature: 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.

On tourism: 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.

On how to move to New Zealand: If you can (and you’re under 30), come to New Zealand on the working holiday visa. It’s a piece of cake to apply for and it gives you a whole year to explore and work (or not work if you want). If you are specifically moving to Wanaka or Queenstown, aim to get there in the off-season before the summer or winter starts. It’s extremely hard to find a place to live in December/January or June/July.

What living in New Zealand is really like

On finding an apartment in New Zealand: In general, New Zealand apartments are easy to come by. There are many transient people so rooms are often readily available. You can try to get a room before you arrive but honestly, most people will probably give the room to someone they met in person. So, your best bet is to book a hostel for a few weeks so you have time to find an apartment once you get there.

On the cost of living in New Zealand: 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. On average, it costs between $150-250 per week to rent a room in Wanaka. As far as other living expenses go, the price of petrol is about $2.30/litre and most restaurant meals will set you back $15-30.

On 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 apiece. My partner and I eat mostly vegetarian and spend about $150 total on groceries for the week.

On the food: Kiwis eat a lot of meat and specifically a lot of meat pies. Their diet is very western with meat being the centerpiece with vegetables on the side. There’s also a huge Asian influence so it’s easy to find great Chinese, Thai, Korean and Japanese food. 

On being a vegetarian in New Zealand: There are many vegetarians and vegans here. So while you’re less likely to find soy sausages, it’s easy to find vegetarian meals using fresh produce.

On making 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.

RELATED: How to Make Friends When You Move to a New City

On how to stay in New Zealand for more than a year: 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.

On tips for wannabe New Zealand expats: The best advice I can give 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.

Thanks, Erica! Your photos are stunning.

P.S. The Truth About Dating as an Expat and What Living as an Expat in Japan is Really Like

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

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