How to move to New Zealand as an American

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moving to new zealand

What a sad day guys. I have never been more ashamed to be American than I am today.

Honestly? I’m still in complete shock and don’t have words to describe how upset I am. I really believed America was smart and strong enough to move forward. I was full of optimism and hope.

Instead we just elected a serial liar to the highest possible office who has no political experience and who says women should be punished for getting abortions, makes fun of people with disabilities, says Mexicans are rapists, wants to ban Muslims from America, jail anyone who disagrees with him, regularly incites violence among his followers and said “grab em by the p*ssy” INSTEAD of the first female candidate. The most qualified candidate in history versus a reality TV show star for the leader of the free world.

Good job us. Glad to see those glass ceilings are holding up strong.

But before I run away with my feelings and completely lose my shit, I want to take the opportunity to say a big whopping thank you to the government of New Zealand for granting me a long-term visa and saying that moving to New Zealand is an option so I don’t have to live in a world run by a misogynist, racist, narcissistic undemocratic fool of a human.

I want nothing to do with the America I saw tonight. I’m ashamed of them and bitterly disappointed. I’m so incredibly disheartened that fear, ignorance, and hate won, and that the majority of Americans want to live in a country of walls, bigotry and hate. I do not want to belong to such a place. I’m devastated.

Luckily I have a choice, and I chose New Zealand. Though to be fair, I chose New Zealand years ago, but now I definitely want to make moving to New Zealand permanent.

Sorry, New Zealand. You’re stuck with me. I’ll start accepting applications for kiwi husbands to get me a residency visa STAT. Please form an orderly queue below.

moving to new zealand

Since I turned 18, I’ve spent seven of those last ten years living abroad; when I wasn’t being an expat, I was traveling quite a bit. I’ve got about 50 countries worth of experience under my belt, and I know where I want to live. Don’t worry, you have a choice too! Even if our country wasn’t doomed, I’d still advocate living abroad at one point or another; it’s good for the soul.

For me, the first time I arrived in New Zealand, it felt like coming home. It still feels like that almost 4 years later. This is where I belong.

And lucky for us, if you have a real strong desire to live abroad and you have some kind of skill, moving to New Zealand isn’t that hard Right now anyways. Hopefully I am not jinxing it, but there are a hell of a lot of foreigners living and working down under, especially in Wanaka and Queenstown.

More thoughts about being an American expat in New Zealand here and here.

moving to new zealand

First things first, while New Zealand has a wonderful standard of living and often comes across as being a pure Eden, it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. Dairy farming is destroying the land at an almost laughable rate, the cost of living is insane, diversity isn’t its strong suit, and the current Prime Minister is a first-rate muppet, among many other things.

The average house cost in Queenstown and Wanaka is around one million dollars. THE AVERAGE! And sometimes avocados cost over $5 each. WTF.

But in spite of all that, I definitely prefer living here than back in the US. With a population of only four million people, you feel a strong community vibe here, most people are very friendly and welcoming and the crime rate is a joke compared to America. The healthcare is great and it’s an overall happy relaxed peaceful place. It’s easy to live here, and I love it. I could go on and on.

So in light of this shitshow of a crisis in America, I thought I’d go ahead and share some of the ways you can abandon ship too. If you’ve ever wanted to move to New Zealand, well, now’s your chance.

moving to new zealand

The emails and messages have already started pouring in from my fellow countrymen about moving to New Zealand so I thought I’d jump the ball and share how you escape too. Here are some of my tips and thoughts about immigrating to New Zealand as an American, which probably works for non-Americans too.

If you are under 30 and interested in moving to New Zealand, I definitely recommend coming here on a working holiday visa. Most youngsters come in that way, and that’s what I did back in 2013. You can apply online, and it’s super easy and straightforward. It’s open to any Americans under the age of 30 who have $4,200 NZD to their name and you can come and travel and work here for up to a year. If you’ve done agricultural work like working on a vineyard or a farm, you can extend your visa for an extra three months. Many of my friends came on working holidays, worked and traveled for a year and ended up with job offers that allowed them to stay longer.

If you want a gap year or a year to explore but also need to work at the same time, this is the visa for you. There is an abundance of hospitality work among other entry level jobs in New Zealand that you can work for in this category. If you don’t want to work, you can come in on a visitor visa for up to nine months. Remember you are NOT allowed to enter New Zealand on a holiday visa and work or look for work – though this is kind of a gray area – more on the immigration page here.

moving to new zealand

New Zealand’s Immigration website has gotten a swanky, easy to navigate update recently which I’m pleased to see. Normally immigration websites give me panic attacks. My experience living in Spain as an expat scarred me for life and instilled a palpable fear of anyone working in immigration within me. But like with many things in New Zealand, it’s pretty easy, and you can answer a lot of your own questions, though I’ve found Immigration always easy to reach by phone or email here too. There are so many visas available, you can dig through a full list here.

Here is their page for work options in New Zealand. The explore visa options tab is pretty awesome and here you can put in your current situation to see what options are available to you.

I’ll start by saying you’re in a really good position to move to New Zealand if your work falls under the Skills Shortage list. Many surprising jobs fall under that, like being a chef, a builder, baker, skydiver, snowboarding instructor, winemaker, farmer, ect. For example, you can find a lot of work rebuilding in Christchurch which was damaged by earthquakes a few years ago. For example a lot of people have immigrated over from Ireland to help with the rebuild there, and they have their own specific list of skilled shortages.

moving to new zealand

For most visas, you’ll need a job or job offer which is a bit of a catch 22 because you probably need to be in New Zealand to get a job offer. You can also hire immigration advisors to help you submit your applications, but make sure never to use Endeavour Immigration in Auckland to help with your visa. They took $1000 off me and then refused to help me with my visa application, which I ended up compiling and submitting on my own. Read more about my experience with them here. Bastards.

Most of my friends are either on partner visas or Skilled Migrant Residency Visas or a work to residency visa. In New Zealand partner is for your significant other, any kind really.

I’m not going to really write about the partner visa because it’s fairly straightforward and totally annoys me, mostly because I wish I could go down this route and cant. Alas, I am determined to sort my visas out all on my own and not rely on a man to help me (though let the record stand I would if I could and kiwi boyfriend applications are now open).

moving to new zealand

Most of these like the Skilled Migrant Visa which is for people who “have the skills to contribute to New Zealand’s economic growth.” It works off of a points indicator system which recently just changed along with requiring a higher level of English. After you send an expression of interest, and now you need 160 points to apply. Along the same lines is the Essential Skills Work Visa which is for if you’ve received a job offer and the employer can demonstrate that there are no kiwis that can do that job; it’s aimed for temporary stays.

There there is the Talent (Accredited Employer) Work Visa which is for people who have job offers by businesses in New Zealand that already are approved to hire skilled foreigners. After two years you can apply for residency.

I don’t have personal experience with this but I will say half my friends in Wanaka have been sponsored and they work in cafes so infer from that as you will. There two pages here and here offer a good explanation of the way visas work in New Zealand.

moving to new zealand

If you are between the ages of 20 and 35, you can enter a visa ballot to win a Silver Fern Visa which will allow you come to New Zealand and look for a job for up to 9 months. Spots fill up super fast and I think there are only 300 spots per year.

Now, I’m on a quite an obscure visa that is very difficult to get – the Talent (Arts, Culture, Sports) Work Visa. If you can demonstrate that you are exceptionally talented in arts, sports or culture, you can be granted this visa for up to 3o months. This will allow you work in that field and which will eventually allow you to apply for residency. You need an international reputation, and a New Zealand organization of national repute and a sponsor to back you up, and you need to demonstrate that you benefit New Zealand by being here.

In theory, it seems easy. The reality is very, very difficult. It took a long time and a lot of back and forth before mine was approved. I had over five years experience in my field an I am so well-known in New Zealand that I am stopped on the streets on a regular basis. I think only after it was the third or fourth time my case officer saw me on the news that they began to take me seriously.

moving to new zealand

For those of you who are entrepreneurs, investors or change-makers with a social bent, New Zealand has a brand new visa program that is generating a lot of excitement. The Global Impact Visa (GIVs) is a 3-year visa for entrepreneurs and investors who wish to build ventures in New Zealand that aim to solve complex, global challenges – like climate change, the changing nature of education and automation of work, how we are going to feed 9 billion people without wrecking the planet etc…

GIVs is only available to candidates who are accepted into the Edmund Hillary Fellowship, so that’s your first stop shop to find out more. Details on how to apply here.

The visa is incredibly open and flexible with no minimum day requirements or stipulations on what you can and can’t work on. It’s being heralded as the most entrepreneur friendly visa in the world, and the first to focus on impact. Because the visa is aimed at people who want to develop deep roots in New Zealand and build long-term world changing ventures, Fellows are eligible for permanent residency at the end of the 3 years.

Check out stories of Fellows on the EHF blog for inspiration on what kind of people they’re looking for.

moving to new zealand

Phew! How did I do?

I am distinctly aware that I just invited a bunch of my fellow Americans to the party when it is in fact, not my party. But please forgive me, New Zealand – I can’t help sharing how awesome it is to live here with others. And I can promise that the ones that are able to come are the good ones.

Now that America is doomed would you move overseas? Have you ever been an expat? Would you come and live in New Zealand given the chance? Are you an expat in New Zealand? How was your immigration process. 

Disclosure – I am not an immigration advisor OBVIOUSLY, and I only have firsthand experience with my working holiday visa and with my current talent visa. I have done my best to try and explain some of the most common immigration questions above.

moving to new zealand

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319 Comments on “How to move to New Zealand as an American

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  1. Love your blog and yes trump is a serial sexual assaulter and racist and thank god we voted him out. I just sent you message on Instagram and been thinking of relocating out of the US to New Zealand and wondered what were your favorite locations and other countries that you considered relocating to?

  2. My husband and I are planning to move to New Zealand and settle there for good, which is why we’re currently looking for an attorney that may help us with the whole process. Well, thank you for informing your readers that there are a lot of jobs available for people who fall under the skills shortage. Well, I’m glad that you also clarified here that the residency will be approved after two years.

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