How to Move to New Zealand (on Two Weeks’ Notice)
Moving to a new country generally requires a great deal of time, preparation, and money to execute, none of which I had. Moments after clicking the “Buy Ticket” button on the budget airline website, it dawned on me that I perhaps wasn’t equipped with the resources to move to New Zealand in two weeks.
I had been backpacking through Southeast Asia for four months, watching my bank account dwindle with each passing day. My clothes were faded and stretched out from too many hand washes in the sink. I didn’t have a job, a place to live, or even a visa to enter the country. I certainly wasn’t prepared for a destination with far lower temperatures and far higher prices.
Arriving in Queenstown
My journey to the beautiful mountain town of Queenstown was stressful, uncertain, and wonderful. Three weeks into my residency here, I’d like to educate the next round of Kiwi transplants on how to undertake this wild challenge.
The key thing to know is that you’ll be burning cash from the second you land in this hobbit-friendly state. Unlike the $5 hostels dotting the banana pancake trail of Southeast Asia, most budget accommodation options in New Zealand start at $20 and increase dramatically from there. I learned this lesson the hard way by not checking prices until after I’d purchased my plane ticket. And thus the job hunt began.
Getting a Job
Finding a job in New Zealand was actually much easier than expected. With a predominantly agriculture and tourism-based economy, NZ offers up a plethora of seasonal positions that are perfect for travellers. Having drained the coffers down after months of travelling, I spent my remaining two weeks in Asia madly applying to jobs and attempting to line up interviews for when I landed.
As it turns out, Kiwis are a laid-back group and generally prefer to meet potential employees in person. Walking around Queenstown and dropping off my CV proved to be far more fruitful than emailing it from another continent. Having done mostly professional internships throughout my last few years of college, I was a little rusty on my hospitality and restaurant skills, but I managed to land a number of trial shifts at local food joints within my first week of trying.
A note to the wise: beware the trial shift black hole. The wealthy little mountain town of Queenstown is one of the top tourist destinations on New Zealand’s South Island. Restaurants are full and busy, hiring employees sporadically to meet the demand. As a result, temporary workers rotate through the area like the spin cycle on a washing machine.
A local resident warned me that restaurants here could survive only on the unpaid trial shifts of potential hires. By the time I had completed my third trial shift clearing plates at a restaurant, I was exhausted and just as broke as I arrived. If you’re a job-hunting traveller like me, the best advice I can give is to find a job you like as quickly as possible, lock it in, and don’t give away your free labour for days on end.
Finding Somewhere to Live
As with jobs, finding housing is best done when your boots are on the ground. The ideal scenario is making a friend who has a room opening up or has a friend who needs roommates. Beyond that, good ol’ Facebook housing groups are the primary go-to for getting a room.
There are two rather unconventional housing setups that are also very popular with NZ travellers: vans and hostels. Many travellers plan to road trip around and want to have a bed on wheels to take with them. As a result, the skinny roads of this island country are saturated with campervans and converted sleeping vehicles bursting at the seams with young world travellers. These vagabonding globetrotters are always looking for road trip companions and people to buy their campers.
Option #2 is living or working in a hostel long-term, which is actually what I ended up doing in Queenstown. Many hostels will have a small army of young people trading housekeeping duties for free accommodation. The hours of work usually required for a free bed range from 15-20, and duties include making beds, cleaning bathrooms, and working at reception. While you will be living in a dorm room, the perk of this kind of accommodation is that utilities are almost always included and you have a group of friends living and working in the same space as you.
Occasionally, you can work out deals with hostels to do some other kind of work in exchange for accommodation. I arranged yoga teaching in exchange for discounted rent, which allowed me to work other jobs without scrubbing toilets. I loved having access to a big kitchen and lounge room as well as seeing a whole group of friends every time I came home.
Most travellers here are on a working holiday visa, which is a quick and easy way to get permission to work for at least a year in the country. In New Zealand, working holiday visas are generally fast and inexpensive to get. Mine was approved about four days after I applied online and ready to go by the time I entered NZ. The only other technical things left to do were setting up a bank account and getting a tax number, both of which I was able to apply for online.
Three weeks into living and working in Queenstown, I’m just now starting to feel like a local. I have a favourite coffee shop, a job and some good friends. While I’m still struggling over a few bumps in the road, I’m beginning to settle into this beautiful country I get to call home for a while. Moving to a new country is a crazy thing to navigate, but once you realise it can be achieved with little time and resources, the possibilities are endless.
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