31 August 2016

Callie - Expat in Hamilton, New Zealand

Callie - Expat in Hamilton, New Zealand

We’ve had the chance to talk to Callie, 33, an American expat who has moved to New Zealand with her family. Mrs. Callie, who has been living there for three and a half years, now works as a part-time nurse.

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: Alabama, USA


Q: What made you move out of the USA?

A: I am married to a Kiwi, and we thought it would be best to live and raise our children in New Zealand.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: We are living in Hamilton, New Zealand. Being that my husband is from New Zealand, we wanted our children to experience life outside of the U.S.


Q: How long have you been living in New Zealand?

A: I have been here almost three and half years.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? How are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: Our family is together in New Zealand. Our youngest two children were born in New Zealand, but the oldest was born in the States. She has adjusted quite well due to her age when moving here. Initially, she had to adapt to the differences in school between the U.S. and New Zealand, but she has settled in nicely. She had a bit of trouble with some of the kids understanding her accent when she first started school but now, you would think she was a Kiwi kid. The toddler has more of a Southern accent than her older sister because the toddler spends most of her time at home with me.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I do miss my home and family, especially during the holidays. It’s hard not being able to just drive a short distance to see them, and flights to/from the States is really expensive (and long). One of the things that have made me less homesick is actually understanding that part of what I miss is the memory of home. Things have changed since I left, and people didn’t put their life on hold. Once I realized home wouldn’t be what I remembered, it made me better able to deal with being away. I have my memories here with me. Of course, Skype and social media help bridge the gap, not to mention an unlimited international calling plan. 


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: For the most part, Kiwis are quite friendly. I know there are some people that don’t feel this way, but I do. I think having a positive attitude towards New Zealand and not expecting New Zealand to be just like your home country helps you fit in better with the locals.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in New Zealand? How did you manage to find a social circle there?  

A: I didn’t have any issues with meeting people. My husband being from here and working helped to build my social circle. I do socialize with some expats, just because there are a lot of expats living in New Zealand. I have found that if you get several expats together, it turns into people grumbling about the things they dislike about New Zealand, and I don’t find that helpful when adjusting to another country and trying to ‘fit in’. I tend to not actively seek out expats just for the sake of having expat friends.


Q: How does the cost of living in New Zealand compared to your home?

A:  New Zealand is VERY expensive. It doesn’t compare to my home at all in terms of affordability.

  • How much is a cup of coffee?

A:  $5.00 (at least it’s great coffee)

  • How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A:  A large Quarter Pounder combo from McDonald’s (medium U.S. size) will cost you about $10.

  • How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: Haha! I don’t know how much an expensive restaurant would cost because I can’t afford to go to one. A typical date night will set us back anywhere from $100 to $120 for two people. If you have sodas, you’ll pay per refill. And if you want alcoholic drinks, add in another $10 - $15 per drink.

  • How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: A good bottle of wine will cost about $30. If you want drinkable, it’ll be about $20. Cigarette prices went up again at the start of the year, so now a pack of 20 will cost between $20 and $25 now (I think), but a lot of people roll their own to save money. I have no idea how much that costs.


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: I will say that I had a very smooth visa experience. I made sure to do a lot of reading before starting the application process. I read, and then I read again, and then I read again for good measure. The applications were very straight forward, and because I submitted exactly what was asked for, I didn’t have any issues. My visa was approved without a lot of back and forth with my case officer asking for more information. Also, my application was processed quickly since there was not any waiting around for more information from me.


Q: Would you say that healthcare New Zealand reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: I am not overly fond of the healthcare system here. As far as your average doctor appointment and emergencies, I’m pretty pleased with the healthcare system here. However, when it comes to accessing the services beyond the scope of your general doctor, I’ve been severely disappointed. Your doctor has to refer you to the specialist, and then you receive a letter saying the referral has been received, and they will let you know about an appointment within the next (fill in the blank) number of months. A few months go by, and then you get a letter saying you will be seen within the next 4 to 6 months (depending on urgency), and then you eventually get an appointment date. My advice to expats would be to get private health insurance if you can afford.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in your home or New Zealand? What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: New Zealand has a public healthcare system that is paid for by your taxes. There are certain requirements you have to meet in order to access it, so before arriving, check to see if you will be eligible. If you are ineligible, you will need to secure insurance in your host country because I don’t know of any insurance companies that offer plans for non-residents. If you access private insurance as a resident, I will make sure to include ‘elective’ surgeries in your plan, and double check the prescription coverage. Not all drugs are available or covered by the government or private health insurance.


Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to New Zealand? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: I literally mailed a 25kg/50lb box of off-season clothing to New Zealand and had two suitcases on the plane. Everything else was left/sold/given away. That was pretty memorable! I never realized how much stuff I didn’t need until I left it all behind. Having said that, I wish I would have had a better idea on prices in New Zealand because I definitely would have brought more with me!


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: The distance from my family when my grandmother passed away. We had travelled over to the States about three months before she passed, and we just didn’t have the funds to make the trip back. That was my lowest point since arriving.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in New Zealand?

A: I love New Zealand overall. I think it’s a great country with a fantastic lifestyle. The downside to New Zealand is that you are far away from everywhere, and everything is expensive.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: The best thing about living in Hamilton is leaving Hamilton. Everyone goes on about how great bigger towns or coastal towns are, but Hamilton is convenient to everywhere. Do you want the big city? Auckland is just a short commute. Do you want the beach? Take your pick between east and west coast. They are both easily accessible from Hamilton. All of the North Island tourist hot spots are drivable from here. And come winter, you can head down to the ski fields!


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: No, New Zealand is home for us.


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: Be prepared to live more frugally, and realize you most likely won’t be able to afford to visit ‘home’ as often as you think. I had grand ideas of being able to fly to the States for holidays quite frequently, but when it costs about $15,000 in airfare alone, I quickly realized I was wrong.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about New Zealand?

A: Other than my own? LOL, I enjoy reading Rhonda Albom’s blog Albom Adventures. Her photographs are beautiful.