Many of you have probably wondered about “bugging out” to another country. I would like to share with you what I have learned after living in New Zealand for seven years. I will try to organize my thoughts in different categories to help you get some answers. The first part will cover why and how I made the leap. Part 2 of the article will discuss various experiences. Part 3 will cover weather, gun laws, cars, car insurance, and shopping. And in Part 4 I will finish by covering taxes, telecommunications costs, and post a “points system” locales evaluation spreadsheet that I came up with. You could customize this to help you decide on choosing other major or difficult decisions.
To begin with, I never considered moving to another country until I had children, later in life. Before marriage I could easily move around and stay one step ahead of any situations that I did not like or to take off and simply try something new. An example of this freedom was in 1995. I was working for an engineering company. I was one year out of school with a civil engineering degree. On a Friday I saw an ad online in the Seattle newspaper for an engineering job in Alaska. I interviewed for the job the next Tuesday on the phone and accepted the position. I gave notice and just two weeks later I was driving up the Alaskan Highway.
Before being married and having children I could pack up at the drop of a hat and relocate without worrying about anything I had left behind. It would be a long list if I were to write down everywhere I have lived and worked. Ah, the happy times of being single and free. I did settle down a bit later on so that I could build up capital for retirement.
Late in life, marriage and children came along. I had to consider their needs first. The primary areas of my concern were safety and education–along with the children having a chance to experience being a kid. I didn’t want to carpool to every school activity or have to watch out for gangs and drug needles in the parks. So I started searching the web. New Zealand came out on top of the search.
A Kiwi Norman Rockwell Moment
I would like to share a moment I experienced about six months after my family arrived in New Zealand. We were in Picton. This is a small town at the top of the south island. It’s where the ferry comes in and connects the north and south islands. My wife had a friend that owned a dairy shop–a place to by a loaf of bread, rent a movie or get some ice cream or milk. My children were there playing with their children. I sat in the car across the street next to a small park. I was listening to the radio. It was a nice summer day and three kids ranging in age from about 5 to 10 walked across the grass in bare feet. They went into the shop and came out a few minutes later with ice cream cones. The oldest child looked out for the younger ones as they crossed the street. They slowly walked back across the park eating their ice cream, laughing without a care in the world. To me it was like a Norman Rockwell scene. There were no caps on backwards or pants hanging down.
There are times when I stop to look around and I have to say to myself: “I’m living in New Zealand”. I have traveled to many states in the U.S., everything west of the Mississippi and about 10 states to the east. I have also been to quite a few of the Asian countries back when I did computer work. I have to say I cannot think of anyplace else that has this atmosphere of a relaxing life. Well, as relaxing as it can get with young children.
Now you’re wondering, how did I get the chance to live like this? It comes down to luck in that I had a good paying job for many years, good investments and planning. I am able to live on my retirement and investment income. Okay, not many people can do this. No, I didn’t win the lottery but I also didn’t by a new car every year and I lived a low key lifestyle. While paying off my house in ten years I ate a lot of ‘mac n cheese’ and skipped the restaurants.
Before I tell you my thoughts on the day-to-day things that you may have a question about, I need to say that I won’t go into the things you can learn by doing some simple searches on the Internet or reading a travel book.
The most critical item is that New Zealand is an island and that they actually control their borders. It’s easy for an American to come and visit, or most any other country for that matter. But if you want to stay, you need to apply for a visa. Funny thing, they actually screen who gets a residency visa. It’s all about your qualifications and what you have to offer. Due to New Zealand regulations I cannot give advice or help on filling out the many forms and applications you have to go through.
Before you do anything, you need to look at the online application to see if you have enough ‘points’ to get a residency visa. If you can’t get a positive police and FBI report, then forget it. Oh, you also have to speak English and pass a test if it is not your native language. New Zealand has three accepted languages: English, Maori, and sign language. For my family of four, I spent about $4,000 and five months going through the process. Since I was older, just below the cutoff age of 56, I needed the points that my wife brought along to the game. I did not have enough points by myself. The following are a couple of immigration web links for you to look at.
The first will take you to the points systems to see if you qualify. They must have relaxed the rules or changed the scoring because it looks easier now:
- Skills Points 
This next link will start you in the right place to look around and choose which method you want to approach to get the visa.
Before going further, I should mention why I chose New Zealand. I spent many years looking at the world map thinking about the different countries and why or why not I would ever want to live there. I am not the least bit interested in Europe. Canada is too liberal and their gun restrictions cross them off the list. I don’t trust anything south of the border. Sorry about that but if things went ‘SHTF’ crazy then I would be just a target. The Asian countries are not my preference either and I don’t speak the lingo. So that leaves Australia and New Zealand. Both English speaking (sort of) and they have law and order. Australia is harder to get into than New Zealand. But here is a bonus: New Zealand residents and citizens can legally live and work in Australia. This is important as salaries are higher, homes are less expensive, the weather is better and shopping is less expensive in Australia.
The main deciding factor was that the New Zealand primary education system is very, very good. Look it up. Yes, you will get different lists and rankings but New Zealand is always near the top of the list. Then look where the U.S. is on the list. Sorry, you U.S. teachers, but you have let generations down with the indoctrination that goes on in the school system and your blind support of the unions. I want to say to you home-schoolers that I have great respect for your patience and hard work that you put in. I am not able to do this or I might have gone that route.
First grade (they call it Year 1) starts when the child turns 5 years old. Most kids have been in pre-school already for a couple of years. So by 5 years old they know how to follow instructions, go to the bathroom by themselves and get along with their classmates. They use phonics for learning how to spell and in the first year they are required to give a short speech in front of strangers. My daughter is now 8 and is starting 4th grade. She knows her times tables, can do 3 digit by 3 digit multiplication and also long division. This year they will also be working with fractions, adding and subtracting.
My son who is 11 is starting the 8th grade. He has done well over the last few years participating in science competition. His project along with some other kids brought home the top prize for the district and $1,500 for the school. This was because the school worked hard in teaching the kids science and math. They will be doing algebra throughout this school year.
I feel that compared to most schools back in the states they will be at least one year ahead of the same age group. My brother’s wife taught in the Oakland, California school district her entire career. She was amazed at their ability in reading and comprehension abilities compared to the high school kids she is tutoring. They read better than her high school students!
So, if your main concern is schooling for your children, then New Zealand is a great choice.
Cost of Living
The cost of living is higher here. Almost everything you purchase comes in by ship. I was surprised at the high cost of wood products, since New Zealand has a very large timber industry. It all comes down to making a profit. They can harvest and ship the logs offshore for a better price. Asia is the major buyer of New Zealand timber. You may want to use the following links to look at different items you may buy at the stores. Remember they are on the metric system so you have to learn to do some conversions until you get the feel of things. Some quick ones are 1 kilogram is about 2.2 pounds. There are about 3.75 liters in a gallon. 100 kilometers per hour is about 60 miles per hour. 1 mile is 1.6 kilometers. Right now, $1 U.S. will be about $1.30 New Zealand Dollars.
As I mentioned, prices are higher. Here is an example of a sheet of plywood. All of the dimensions are in metric but they are of similar size that you would be familiar with. An example is a ½” 4 by 8 foot sheet of structural plywood. New Zealand has it as ‘treated structural CD ply, 12mm H3.2 2400 x 1200 mm’, at a cost of $64.
The major grocery stores are Countdown , New World , and Pak’nSave . There will be many brands that are known to you and others that are the same items, just rebranded with different names. I have not found Miracle Whip or a Butterfinger candy bar yet. It’s the little things that you will miss.
Search through some of the foregoing links to get an idea on product availability and prices. You will be very happy with the quality of many meat and dairy products. I have not seen or heard of any mega cattle feedlot operations like those back in the states. There might be some smaller ones but I haven’t seen any on my drives around the country. When we go back to the states for a visit we notice a big difference in the taste of meat from the grocery store. My kids won’t drink the milk either; they say it just tastes funny. I don’t think NZ uses as many antibiotics on the animals here. The cows that I see are eating grass in the pastures (paddocks) and on the hillsides.
Another couple of other comments on food quality: You have to look long and hard to find anything with ‘high fructose corn syrup’ in it. Coca Cola in New Zealand and Australia use cane sugar. So far it is cheaper for them to use cane sugar than corn syrup, I guess. But that may change in the future as big corporations keep pushing. Genetically modified food is also quite rare but it being pushed by the big super conglomerates.
Vegetables prices and availability will vary quite a bit due to the seasons and some of the items coming from overseas.
Changes are Coming to New Zealand
With all of the above mentioned, I have to say that the world is changing everywhere and that infection is beginning to infect New Zealand. It’s happening slowly but they are catching up with the rest of the world.
Here is another thought from the past: I made my first trip to New Zealand in 2004 when I was single. I spent three weeks driving around both islands. I was just exploring and seeing the sites. At that time, I could have easily made the points system by myself as I had a job offer from an engineering firm. A job offer gets you lots of points. My life was good back in the U.S. at the time so I passed on the opportunity. My impressions on that trip were that if felt like the U.S. in 1955, (based on seeing old movies), except with high speed internet. Slowly the old generation is being replaced with the young crowd and their Internet-connected ideas. During that trip I was at a motel and the nice elderly gentlemen talked to me about my trip and such. One comment he made to me was “Thank you yanks for WWII. If it wasn’t for you, we would be speaking Japanese.” He was sincere in his comment. Fourteen years later I don’t run into that sort of talk anymore. Especially now that New Zealand has become a prime relocation spot for the rest of the world. The foreign population growth has exploded. Lots of very wealthy people from overseas have property here now and that has caused a run-up in land and home prices.
Make the Jump
If you want to go through the trouble and cut loose from the U.S., then New Zealand can be a great choice to make a new life. The people are friendly and honest. The older generation and a majority of the younger really work hard and show great pride in their craftsmanship. Some of the younger crowd has to step up and prove themselves but you will find that all over the world. Slackers are universal.
Many families have already made the jump. There are expat web sites for you to search and this is a way to talk to many others to get feedback from their experiences. That’s how I chose the town I am living in now and the school I selected. I got onto one of these expat web sites and asked questions. Soon I had a couple of contacts and I e-mailed questions directly to them.
I know of four different expat families children go to the same primary school as my children. It is a small rural school on the edge of our town of about 30,000 people. The enrollment of the school is around 225 students and they teach years 1 through 8. These four families all relocated from the U.S. Two of the families are doctors, they had enough of the system back home. Two others bought into the vineyard business and are doing great. I also got to know other medical and dental families that have come from England and South Africa. Again, many people are leaving their problems behind them and starting over.
Can Do Attitude
I mentioned the older generation earlier and what some think of the U.S. A thing that I found amazing about their generation was their hard work and dedication to their families and country. Just like the U.S. from the 1950s. They also have the can do attitude and can work around most problems. SurvivalBlog readers know of and worry about the CME/EMP  problem from either a solar flare or a nuke. If this happens in the U.S., the world would stop spinning if the electricity went out. I don’t think it would be much of a problem here. One of my neighbors was a machinist and spent his career working on the hydroelectric dams in New Zealand. In retirement he built train steam engines that pulled cars to give kids a ride on a small railroad system they had at a park. I am making light of it, but if the EMP hit down here I don’t think it would be long until they had little steam engines turning generators to get things working. This neighbor also showed me an engine he made for a small plane. It was for a single-seater, not a toy plane. I am not kidding, he took a big piece of steel and machined all of the parts for the engine. He didn’t buy any finished pieces.
You can find many examples of this ‘do it, fix it’ attitude, but it is dying off. Some of the younger crowd are stepping up and picking up the reins. I mention things like this to try to paint a picture of what New Zealand is.
New Zealand’s High Cancer Rate
I should mention that both of my nearest neighbors died this year from cancer. One was a retired airline pilot and the retired machinist I just mentioned. They were older, well into their 70s and early 80s. Here is something for you to be aware of: Australia and New Zealand have the highest skin cancer rates in the world.
I won’t get into a discussion about the ozone hole or the causes. The simple fact is that in the southern hemisphere, especially over Australia and New Zealand, the ozone layer is thinner. It is a natural thing. Get over it. So, the UV light is exceptionally strong here. The strong sunlight stings my skin and is hard on the eyes. I find it more comfortable in Las Vegas 100 degree heat and sun than a cloud free day here of 85 degrees. So tip number X (are you counting?) is: wear sunscreen and a hat. You can follow the UV index from this site . So if you are very sensitive to UV then this may not be the place for you.
The high cancer rates right now might simply be the result of the older generation working outside for years and not knowing about the UV. Still, it is sad to see such a number of the old guys passing.
What’s Coming Up
In upcoming parts, I will cover issues such as gun ownership, cars, insurance, health care… I will try make it extensive but you may find it more or less of a series of notes.
When you see Part 4 on my points system, you will see that I find many things appealing to return my family back to the U.S. Most of this is based upon shopping, travel and being back with family. Again, most of my decisions are for the benefit of my children. I do not need to start my life over with another career but I am trying to set things up for my children’s future. I am sure if we do come back to the U.S. it will be only temporary as we are leaning towards the universities in the U.S. This may or may not be the case for you. It will mostly depend on your long term goals. As I am retired, my goals would be very different than a younger family that wants to sink roots in and build a new life.
A Lucky Break
My original relocation plan was a hybrid approach, very short term to begin with. Originally it was only going to be for a couple of years. Get my children off to a head start in school and have some childhood experiences. We stayed longer and longer because we liked the lifestyle and now we are thinking about high school. They call it college here. All of a sudden we had been here long enough to be qualified to obtain New Zealand citizenship and passports. This is a huge deal for the family and I never considered it when I started the process. We now have established dual citizenship (U.S. and NZ). So now that the children are older we could return to the U.S. to look at some high schools. We created a situation where we have a backup place to go. In our case we don’t have to prepare our U.S. bugout location and have many years of food stored up. If we see things slip we just hop on a plane. This is something that happened as a side benefit to the whole process. This also gives the children an opportunity for their future. They could pursue potential jobs in the U.S., New Zealand, or Australia without having to apply for any kind of visa. This also opens the door to owning property in all of these locations, without restrictions.
I know what you’re thinking. We could be in the U.S. and the EMP hits and we would be stuck. Maybe or maybe not. If you think out of the box you might wiggle out of the problem. Anyway, I have thought of different ways out. For fun I wrote a short story on that case, it’s called ‘Over the Horizon’. I will have it posted on Amazon Kindle soon. Here is a link to other stories I have written .
I hope you enjoyed this first installment of my four-part article.
(You have to learn this to communicate down here.)