Welcome to the Expat Interview Series! I’ve reached out to expats in different countries to hear why people might choose to move abroad, and how they do it. If you want to know more about moving to a particular country this is the place. Check out the archive of Expat Interviews for more!
I’m so excited to be showcasing an expat from one of my old hometowns in New Zealand! I lived in Wellington all through my university years and worked there before I moved to Australia. New Zealand is becoming a popular expat destination, and it’s so interesting for me to see an expats perspective on a place I know so well! I hope you enjoy this interview with Travelgal Nicole!
Tell us about yourself
I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, USA. I had my first taste for travel when I was 16 years old and went to France for my high school French class. Ever since then I have been hooked and I like to call myself a travel-holic. From there I spent a summer volunteering for Save the Rainforest in Panama before college, studied abroad in Scotland my junior year and moved to London right after I graduated. I lived in London for two years before moving to Japan for a year and then onto New Zealand where I have been for the last 12 years. You could say I am a serial expat as I have lived in five different countries to date.
It is my goal to visit all 193 UN Nations and I’m about halfway there with 97 countries to date. In 2015 I spent six months in Africa travelling from Cairo to Cape Town. I just finished a trip to the Central Pacific where I was off the beaten path visiting countries such as Nauru, Kiribati, Marshall Islands and Micronesia. In March I am off to South America for 5 months while backpacking around and visiting all the sites. I’m so looking forward to visiting Iguazu Falls and Colombia!
What made you decide to move to New Zealand?
After college I gave myself my 20s to travel. I had already lived in London and Edinburgh and as an American I could either go to Australia for four months or to New Zealand for a year. I wanted to go somewhere I could really feel like I was living there as a local. At the end of my first year they opened a new online visa scheme which I applied for. Then I had enough points to apply for residency. Then after five years of residency I became a citizen. And why wouldn’t you want to live in New Zealand? Beautiful scenery, great work/life balance and Wellington is known as the ‘coolest little capitol’. It has a small town feel yet lot of things on and tons of cool cafes and restaurants.
Tell me about the cost of living in Wellington
Yeah, New Zealand is not cheap. We make up for it though in amazing views, friendly people and beautiful scenery. Meals at restaurants range in the $20-35 range for a main course but there are always $10 takeaways such a fish and chips. The supermarket is a better option with a 500 gram packet of butter costing you $4 and a loaf of bread costing around $3 and a litre of milk costing around $2.50.
The average house price in Wellington is now over $500,000! Of course the further away from the city you are the less expensive it is but then you have to factor in monthly train tickets ($200/month) or a monthly bus pass at ($150/month). It’s a good thing Wellington is a walking city as once you are in town its easy to walk everywhere.
Do you need a visa to live in New Zealand?
Yes, you need a working holiday visa or permanent residency to live and work in New Zealand. New Zealand has a shortage of skilled workers, especially those under the age of 30. If you qualify as a skilled worker and make over $45,000 NZD, you can be granted a stay for up to five years.
There are two major websites that Kiwis use to find a job Trademe and Seek. To apply for any advertised job you must have a valid work visa or residency and it is usually better to be in the country before you apply. The job markets in Auckland and Wellington are fast moving and there are a lot of opportunities.
What’s the social scene like? How easy is it to make friends?
I have found it easier to make friends here in New Zealand than when I was in London. The only problem in Wellington is that people are always moving – usually to other countries or going off on their OE (overseas experience). I have joined a few groups here via apps or meet ups and those have been really social. Wellington always has lots on to do and see its just about how social you want to be. There are lots of outdoor activities groups and foodie groups as well.
What’s the hardest thing about living in New Zealand?
As a travel-holic, I am often frustrated being located so far away from everywhere. Its completely different from when I lived in Europe and could hop on a plane, train, boat and be somewhere else. Its gotten better though and I still find plenty of time to travel.
Can you share your best local/insider tip about where you live?
Wellington’s café culture is an integral part of the city and its identity. Wellington’s cafes outnumber the cafés in New York City on a per capita basis. Meetings start after everyone’s had a chance to get their coffee and everyone has their favourite place to go. If we’re not talking about politics or the weather, we’re talking about coffee and food.
If you could give one piece of advice to people looking to live in New Zealand what would it be?
Do it. Especially if you are under 30 apply for a working holiday visa and just go. You will find work and then the cost of travel within New Zealand will not be as expensive. There are a lot of people here who are doing just that – working and travelling.
Nicole LaBarge got her first taste for travel when she was 16 years old. Ever since then she has been hooked and calls herself a travel-holic. She believes you can travel and have a career and she is halfway to her goal of visiting every country in the world. She is a serial expat living in five different countries to date and is currently based in Wellington. She loves travelling and is currently planning a trip to visit all 12 countries in South America.
What do you think? Would you move to New Zealand, or Wellington, the coolest little capital in the world?