In high school, I made a list of all the exciting things I wanted to do one day. Some of them sounded improbable, many were downright impossible, but I wrote them down anyway. “Visiting New Zealand” was at the top of this list (just below “Working for NASA”: I told you the list was really out there).
Fast forward to March 2018. I am at the airport with Stef, approaching passport control. The lady at the desk flashes a beautiful Maori smile:
– Kia ora! How long are you planning to stay in New Zealand?
-For 3 to 4 years…
How did this happen? I am not just travelling, but moving to live and do research in Wellington and most importantly I am here with the most wonderful person in the world. 17 700 km out of my comfort zone. On the North Island of Middle Earth and the Southernmost capital in the world.
Deciding to move to New Zealand | An honest list of things you should think about
How do you decide to move to another country?
I still remember the disbelief and shock in my parents’ eyes when I told them, Stef and I are thinking about moving to New Zealand. It was almost like saying “We are considering joining a Mission to Mars”.
When you are in your late 20s and have a great circle of close friends, steady careers and generally a pretty great life, people are really shocked to hear you want to leave this behind and start from scratch (literally) on the other side of the planet.
But for us, it made perfect sense. We are at this point in life (it is not an age, it is a mindset) when you know what you want and you want to start building big and serious things. But you are also young at heart and eager for challenges and adventure. And we could not think of a bigger adventure than moving to New Zealand.
Why New Zealand?
Sometimes you are just drawn to a place and you cannot logically explain it. I had always been fascinated with New Zealand: its nature, adventurous lifestyle, LOTR, the stories about James Cook I read as a kid, the photos I saw on Encarta (yes, I am that old). When Stef said he was seriously thinking about moving to live somewhere else and that he was seriously considering New Zealand, I knew I was on board right away.
It took almost 2 years from the inception of this idea to the time we actually departed. First, we had to do extensive research.
Where to move? Deciding between New Zealand, Canada and Australia
We had both lived for a short period in the good old US of A and frankly, in the current political climate, we did not even consider it as an option. But Since we wanted to move to an English-speaking country (otherwise Portugal would be very, very high on the list), so the choice was down to New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
In many ways, it was a tie. All three countries can offer stunning nature, high-quality education, great professional opportunities, a high standard of living, well-organized healthcare systems and exciting city landscapes. So we spent a lot of time researching what it is like to live in Toronto, Vancouver, Sydney, Malbourne, Auckland and Wellington by:
- watching videos on Expedia and Househunters International (to see what these cities look like and stay inspired) (all
- browsing websites like Teleport and Numbeo (omparing the prices and standard of living)
- reading through Immigration NZ (probably the best governmental website I have seen) and using the estimated points calculators for New Zealand, Australia, and Canada
- looking for suitable job offers on LinkedIn and applying to potential employers to get a sense of the job market
The research did not really help us choose. We realized all these places look amazing (although Canada lost some points due to the chilly climate) and offer great opportunities for the future.
All these places have a really high standard of living so without the prospect for double income and at least one of us finding a job before we leave, there was no point in jumping in with two feet into the unknown. And we decided to be really pragmatic and focus not only on what was realistically achievable within the constraints we have: specific offerrs and career goals, visa points in the different countries, the number of documents and certificates we would need, etc.
We decided to start collecting all the basic documents we need (translations of diplomas, work references) and to apply for jobs and postgraduate positions until at least one of us has a specific offer.
There are a lot of job opportunities. But until you get there, you are at a disadvantage as an applicant
Stef was really excited about the job opportunities in Australia and the idea of surfing after work in a warm, sunny city like Melbourne. But even as a software developer it was hard to secure a job remotely.
After we arrived in NZ we realized that both here and in Australia, even if employers really like you when you are overseas sponsoring a work visa is too much of an administrative hassle for HR departments (plus there are regulations favouring local applicants).
Our Canadian experience was much more straightforward (although I would advise you to be very careful there: I found multiple scam websites with fake immigration consultants). Canadian companies seemed more open to considering remote candidates and once the Qualifications assessment was done, it took only a few weeks before we got an invitation to apply for an Express Entry visa.
Meanwhile, long story short, Stef found a remote position in an NZ company and I got a dream offer for doctoral research at Victoria University of Wellington. And our 2-year long sleepless odyssey finally came to an end. We made up our mind.
The benefits of postgraduate education in New Zealand
The locals are incredibly humble and won’t miss an opportunity to mention how small their country is. They are really down to Earth and would rather have good work-life than compete fiercely. Nevertheless, the bar is high here and I keep getting impressed by the professional attitude people have here.
I will be writing more about this in follow up posts but in a nutshell: the educational system here is geared toward building practical skills, connecting academics with the industry, promoting high-quality research and supporting student wellbeing and mental health through a range of workshops, seminars, conferences, recreational activities and volunteering opportunities. And last but not least, the high quality of postgraduate education is much more accessible to international students than in most countries. International PhD fees in Canada and Australia can be up to 5x more expensive than domestic fees and in New Zealand fees are the same for international and domestic students. And there is a wide range of competitive scholarships to support you (which can be essential for managing the cost of living here).
Plan ahead: you will need at least a few months for all the documents you need
Unless you come from an English-speaking country where most documents are available online (and you don’t need a recent language certificate or official translations of all documents and diplomas), the realistic timeline for a person working full-time is between 4 and 6 months depending on how bureaucratic your country is and when is the next available IELTS test (immigration authorities only process scores from IELTS General test taken within the last 2 years: a real bummer if you already have another certificate like CPE).
Plan ahead: the most important time before you leave is the time you should spend with your family and best friends
Once you have a flight date, make sure you are ready with all work-related and administrative things you need to do at least 3-4 weeks before that. Whatever you do, you will forget something which will need to be done at the last minute.
The more last-minute emergencies start popping up, the less time you will have for the people you love, so make sure you leave a wide enough window of time.
Pack smart: donate the clothes you won’t take with you and give your favourite items to friends
Realistically, you won’t be back in at least 3 to 4 years. Any item of clothing you are not taking with you will just be sitting in a wardrobe or box somewhere. It is better to donate these things to people who need them, leave them to a friend who volunteers to sell them or pick your favourite items and give them away to friends. My friends were very happy about the clothes giveaway: it actually turned into a great day of spending time together, remembering old stories and discovering how much we have (not) changed over the years while the baby girl of one of us was crawling across a mountain of scarfs and dresses.
You will spend more than a day travelling: use these small tricks to make it bearable
- Use dry shampoo before you head to the airport: You will be a mess after the first 24 hours of the trip, but you don’t have to look like one. The dry shampoo will leave your hair clean for longer than normal shampoo and you will look put together even after hours of plane-seat yoga
- Bring eye drops: the dry air on the plain and the lack of proper sleep will take their toll on your eyes
- Make sure you take short walks or make these seating exercises.Deep vein thrombosis is a dangerous thing and you should not underestimate it, laugh it off or think it is impossible to happen to you.
- Instead of the standard neck pillows, get a “turtleneck” pillow, which is essentially a warm scarf with special support for your neck. My friends gave me one as a present and it is amazing how well it works and how easy it is to carry around
- Once you board a flight operated by Air New Zealand, take the time to actually watch the safety video, because they took the time to shoot a great short movie with Adrien Grenier and a team of kiwi researchers in Antarctica. Apart from a great selection of feature movies, Air New Zealand also has a range of documentaries about kiwi history and Maori culture: use this opportunity to learn more about them before you land! And last but not least: when you ask for a glass of wine on an Air New Zealand flight, you have a selection better than the choice in many restaurants. Unless your flight is in 9 in the morning: have a glass of wine with your meal!
Smile and say Kia ora! You will soon be in Aotearoa: the land of the long white cloud! Also known as the most beautiful place on Earth.
This is the first chapter in a long series. Coming up next:
How to bond with people over double glazing: renting a home in New Zealand