28 November 2016

Emigrating To New Zealand | How & Why We Did It

New Zealand has a rich Maori history.

One of our blog readers (hi Richard!) asked if we could share a bit more about our experiences in New Zealand. That wasn’t a hard request to say yes to considering how much we love New Zealand.

When I was visiting my family in Portland, I went through the boxes we have stored at my sister’s house. I found all sorts of weird and interesting things, including chest x-rays.

You’re probably saying to yourself, “Chest x-rays? That’s weird.” 

Yes, saving chest x-rays is kind of weird. Honestly, I have no idea why I saved them. But they were really important once upon a time when we applied for permanent residency in New Zealand in 2008.

Now, you’re probably saying to yourself, “So, what were the chest x-rays for? Get to the point already.

Okay – here’s the point. If you want to emigrate to New Zealand, then you have to prove that you don’t have tuberculosis (TB). Normally, this wouldn’t be a worry for folks like us who didn’t live or work in areas with a high risk of TB. However, my sister had TB and underwent treatment for a year, so I was terrified that it might turn out that I also had TB. That would have probably meant that we could kiss the opportunity to move to New Zealand goodbye.

So, because I have TB and chest x-rays on my mind, I thought I’d tell you all about our experience applying for permanent residency including all of the other things that caused me to lose sleep during the process, like worrying that I was on the FBI’s wanted list because I had accidentally robbed a bank while sleepwalking back when we lived in the States. Or worrying that they would think that one of us was some sort of mail order bride.

If you’re thinking of emigrating to New Zealand, and a number of Americans are looking into it following the election, then read on. Even if you’re happy where you are, you might be curious about what's involved in emigrating to another country or maybe you just want to know more about this mail order bride thing. If so, read on.

Haihei Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula.

Why New Zealand?

Probably the more logical question is why not New Zealand?  The country is gorgeous, the people are down to earth and friendly and the sailing is great. Who wouldn’t want to relocate to New Zealand?
Prior to our move to New Zealand, we had been living in Scotland since 2001. During the dark and gloomy winter nights, we would watch shows on the telly about people who decided to chuck it all in and move to faraway places, like New Zealand.

I remember that we would say to each other, “Wouldn’t it be fun to move to New Zealand?” But the conversation usually ended there as we moved onto more profound discussions about which soap opera is better - East Enders or Coronation Street. Okay, we never really discussed that. It was more along the lines of Scott saying, “Why do you want to watch that stupid soap opera again? Didn’t you just see it yesterday?”

Then, one day, out of the blue, I got a call from a headhunter asking if I’d be interested in a job in New Zealand. I asked her if they aired East Enders and Coronation Street on telly in New Zealand and when the answer was yes, I said, “Sure, sign me up.” 

Turns out getting the job was the easy part. Going through the visa application process with Immigration New Zealand was the hard part. Here’s what it involved.

{Disclaimer: Keep in mind that this was our experience in 2008 and things will probably have changed since then. Plus, we’re not immigration experts or lawyer. This isn’t immigration advice, so take our story with a grain of salt. If you’re seriously interested in moving to New Zealand, check out Immigration New Zealand’s site for the real scoop on how things work.}

The port of Auckland as seen from our sailboat.

Types of Visas

First off we had to decide what visa to apply for. We could have gone for the relatively straightforward work visa which would have allowed us to stay in the country temporarily (up to five years) while I was working for the company that made me the job offer.

The idea of having our visa status tied to a specific job was a little unnerving. What if that didn’t work out? What if we wanted to stay in New Zealand? So, instead we applied for a skilled migrant visa which would allow us to live in New Zealand permanently. The downside of this decision was that the process was more onerous and time consuming, as well as having a greater risk of not working out. Considering I had already given notice at my previous job and was due to start my new job in New Zealand in a couple of months, the thought of not obtaining a visa in time was nerve-wracking.

{You can see the different visa options here.}

Peachgrove Bay in the Mercury Islands. Great place to anchor and watch the sunset.

You’ve Got Skills?

In order to get a skilled migrant visa, you need to have skills that can contribute to New Zealand’s economic growth. Because New Zealand is such a small country (around 4.4 million people), they have skills shortages in certain areas, like medicine, procurement, forestry science, physics and, to my surprise, organizational development. My background and work experience were pretty run of the mill when I worked in the States and Scotland, but fortunately they turned out to be my golden ticket to New Zealand.

I love the flower baskets hanging in front of the police station.

Expression of Interest

Once I figured out that I had desirable skills, the next step was to fill out an Expression of Interest (EOI). To be honest, it seems like a silly name – who wouldn’t be interested in moving to New Zealand?

The EOI is an online form that you complete to make sure you meet the criteria for a skilled migrant visa and, more importantly, have enough points to be considered. It’s kind of like a game show where the host asks you increasingly difficult questions. If you answer them correctly and earn enough points (minimum of 100), then you’ll be accepted into the selection pool. Every two weeks, the EOIs are reviewed and some are selected and invited to apply for residency. You currently need a minimum of 160 points to be selected. I can’t remember how many points were needed when we applied – I think 140.  We had 180 points. {You can check out how many points you have using the points calculator here.}

Here’s the criteria you have to meet and how we stacked up when we submitted our EOI back in 2008. {N/A means points aren’t awarded for that specific criteria.}

If you’re selected, then you have to provide proof of everything listed in your EOI. You don’t have to provide it up front.

1 – Identity (N/A)

This one’s easy-peasy. You just have to be able to prove you are who you say you are. Have your passport handy.

2 – Character (N/A)

New Zealand doesn’t want to let any dodgy characters into the country. I can’t really blame them. I’ve sat next to plenty of people on trains late at night who were of questionable character. They’re usually the ones that have had way too much to drink and throw up on your shoes.

This one was one of the biggest pains in the you-know-what for us. Because we’re Americans, we had to have an FBI background check. This involved getting our fingerprints taken at the local police station in Scotland, filling out a form and sending it into the FBI. Then it was a matter of praying that neither of us had unknowingly robbed a bank in our sleep or had had our identity stolen and used by people who knowingly rob banks while awake. We also were up against the clock as the FBI background check can be notoriously slow.

Because we were living in Scotland at the time, we also needed a background check from the UK. And to top it all off, because we also hold Irish passports, we needed a background check from the Republic of Ireland, despite the fact that neither of us has actually lived in Ireland.

Most people only have to deal with one background check.  We had to deal with three. Plus three times the fees. Fortunately, it turns out we were of good character in the States, the UK and Ireland.

3 – Health (N/A)

This was where TB comes in. We both had to have medical exams, blood tests and the infamous chest x-rays. It’s all understandable. After all New Zealand doesn’t want to take people in who could be a danger to their population or be a burden on their health care system.

You can only get these exams done in the UK by certain doctors who are approved by Immigration NZ. In addition to worrying about TB, I was also paranoid about my weight and waist measurement. I’m not sure what they require nowadays, but at the time we applied your BMI and waist measurement had to be within certain parameters. I had read too many horror stories on immigration forums about people who had been denied because they ate one too many delicious McVitie’s digestive biscuits. We went on a bit of crash diet before our medical exams.

Thankfully, we passed the medical exams with flying colors. And then we went back to eating cheese, bacon and cookies.

3 – English (N/A)

Kind of a no-brainer. You have to be able to speak English. Because we’re American, we didn’t need to take a test to prove it.

4 – Age (20 points)

You have to be under 55 to apply for a skilled migrant visa. The younger you are, the more points you get. I was middle-aged at the time, so I got 20 points. {Because I was the one with the job offer, I was the principal applicant and only my age was factored in, along with other criteria.}

5 – Skilled Employment (50 points)

You have to be able to prove that you’re able to work in skilled employment by providing evidence of work experience and qualifications. Because I had a job offer from an accredited employer, I earned 50 points. If my job offer had been outside of Auckland, or if I had been offered a role in an area of absolute skills shortage or a future growth area, I could have earned even more points. It’s kind of like picking Door #1 and winning a washer/dryer vs. picking Door #2 and winning a brand-new convertible.

6 - Qualification (60 points)

You can earn points if you have a recognized qualification, such as a university degree or vocational qualification. I racked up the maximum points in this category due to my Ph.D. Turns out all those years of study finally paid off.

7 – Work Experience (30 points)

I had 10+ years of work experience related to my job offer so I earned 30 points. You can earn additional points if you have New Zealand work experience and/or work experience in an area of absolute skills shortage.

8 – Family in New Zealand (Nil points)

Because we didn’t have close family in New Zealand, we didn’t earn any points in this category. Heck, we hadn’t even been to New Zealand before we moved there.

9 – Partner (20 points)

This is where Scott came in. We earned 20 bonus points because he has a university degree.

A cute single track bridge somewhere in the countryside.

Mail Order Brides

Once our EOI was selected from the pool, we were invited to apply for residency and provide proof of everything we claimed. This was a mad rush of collecting paperwork, medical exams, background checks and, interestingly enough, proving that neither one of us was a mail order bride.

I would have thought a marriage certificate and the fact that we argued over the remote control would have been enough to prove that we were in a genuine and stable relationship, especially as we had been married for 15+ years at the time of application, but  it wasn’t. {By the way, a partnership can be two people, same or opposite sex, who are in a legal marriage, a civil union or a de facto relationship.}

To prove our marriage was genuine, we had to provide copies of joint bank account statements, letters addressed to the two of us (like holiday cards and party invitations), photos of us together on vacation (I used one of us riding camels in Tunisia), mortgage documents and the like.

Blue Lake on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

Biting My Nails

After submitting all of the paperwork, then the waiting started. I was starting to get concerned that our gamble wouldn't pay off and we might not get approved or get approved in time for me to start my new job.

Why didn't we just go for the regular work visa rather than go through all the hoops for the skilled migrant visa? I asked myself this over and over again as I bit all of my nails off. After I ran out of my own nails, I tried to bite Scott's nails off, but he gave me a pack of McVitie's digestive biscuits to chew on instead.

I hit refresh on the Immigration New Zealand's tracking system constantly  to see what our status was. If your internet crashed during 2008, I might have been the cause by overloading the system with my incessant demands for updates. Sorry. I also might have been the cause for the McVitie's shortage at your local grocery store. I'm not sorry about that one though. I needed all the McVitie's I could lay my hands on at the time.

Auckland's Sky Tower as seen from a cafe on K Street.

Breathing a Giant Sigh of Relief

Finally, and just in the nick of time, our approval came through and we were the proud bearers of passports with lovely New Zealand residency stickers in them. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Although, it was probably more like some sort of hyperventilation kind of thing than a simple sigh. Either way, it was time to pack the bags and head to New Zealand!

If you want to read more about our adventures in New Zealand, you can find a list of all of our blog posts on our time there on this page.

Have you ever emigrated to another country? What was your experience like? Is there another country that you've ever thought would be fun to live in one day?

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  1. I know many who have done this, but I'll stay right here. The election wouldn't ever compel me to move. I've lived through good presidents and bad ones. It's the way of things. I do get a kick out of all the crybabies of late. Let them leave.

    I love the health screening they did. Very smart. We don't do that here anymore and the Syrians that are coming in many have TB. Not a good thing.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

  2. Our emigration to New Zealand was the same, but different. We were in the country when we applied and, like you, had to fill out copious amounts of paperwork. But when David's chest x-ray came back, there was a spot on the lower lobe of his left lung (say that 5 times fast!). Long story short, we were all convinced (doctors included) that he had lung cancer. It was a very scary time for us. We'd just gotten married and we were sure he was going to die. Fortunately, things move fast in New Zealand and he had the lesion removed within two weeks of finding it. Turns out it was actually Valley Fever that his body had encapsulated in a leather-like film and was benign (still needed to be taken out). So, it was a happy ending all-round: We got our residency and David has an awesome scar on his back that we tell everyone is from a shark bite.

    Happy Monday!
    Stephanie @ SV CAMBRIA

    1. Wow - that is quite a story. How awful that time must have been for you guys. I'm so, so glad things worked out and David is fine.

  3. That all sounds very stressful! And you're watching Eastenders instead of Neighbors? And we should have been calling you Dr. all this time? I have more questions than answers!

    1. I actually got sucked into a NZ soap opera - Shortland Street.

  4. I'm kind of sad because due to the election results and the fact that we are going cruising next year anyhow, this would be the perfect time to emigrate to another country. New Zealand would be excellent. Alas, we are both now too old for anyone but a third world country to want us. Even though we're healthy and our brains still work. Well, sort of work anyhow. I wonder if we will make it to New Zealand some day? It's a place we've always wanted to go. I think you were lucky to get residency. A young friend of mine and her her husband, who is a geologist who was getting his PhD over there when the big earthquakes hit, missed the number of required points by 1! And they were young, with several university degrees between them, healthy, plus they needed a lot of geologists, which is how he was over there to begin with.

    1. What a shame about your friends not having enough points :-( It's a tricky balance of being young enough to get more points for your age but old enough to have enough work experience to get maximum points for that.

  5. Wow, that was a lot of hoops to jump through. Good thing you were able to score a lot of points. I'd heard it was a challenge to move permanently to New Zealand. Hey, who wouldn't want to go there?

    1. I think I sprained a few muscles jumping through all of those hoops :-)

  6. Funny, I remember the huge internet crash of 2008 - and the national shortage of digestive biscuits!

  7. A few years ago, Mark and I played around with the points system online to see whether we could move to New Zealand, more for fun than for serious, though. I did not get many points at all! So, instead, I applied for a greencard in the US. Just kidding. That was for other reasons. The application process for the US sounds a bit similar. Not the point system, but the health exams, TB test (not with scans now), finger printing, mug shots, and loads of documents and evidence and dollars...

    1. It sounds like it's a lot of bureaucracy no matter what country you try to emigrate to.

  8. I had to have chest X Rays when applying for residency (green card) for the USA. I arrived here with an armful of paperwork that the USA Embassy in London made me do. The US based agents didn't care to see any of it. Nobody looked at the X Rays or paperwork. However, they did spend about 30 minutes trying to take the heels off my shoes. I never bothered to ask them why. I just watched in amazement.

    Ya just can't make this stuff up.


  9. Interesting stuff but sadly hubby and I are too old to be considered . Our American DIL had to jump through similar hoops to get here after their wedding. She had to show they had been a couple for a while - letters Facebook posts etc. We'd organised a wedding celebration here and she only just made it in time

    1. That's must have been nerve wracking hoping she'd make in time for her own wedding celebration! Glad it worked out in the end.

  10. Half of my family, on my mother's side, are Canadians. More recently I've thought about joining them. I also have cousins who emigrated to France, Switzerland, and the UK.

    1. Canada seems like a great country to live in. I wonder how hard it is to move there.

  11. We went to Vancouver Canada to get our Nexus cards, because they do a retina scan for air travel. The agent didn't ask me very many questions about my record, but instead wanted to know all about Alaska, and talked about his retirement. It was strange.

    1. Well, of course - everyone wants to know about Alaska and what it's like to live there :-)

  12. Thanks for sharing this information. VT and I have been having these living room conversations but they also fizzle out after what's for dinner and let's hit the bed. This post makes me think that there needs to be action so justify intention.

    1. I'm glad you found it useful! Thanks for popping by Parul :-

  13. I had no idea emigrating was so complicated.Thanks for the very interesting account of your experience. Sadly, I'm too old now.

    1. Yeah, I know the feeling. We'd be too old if we tried to apply now :-(

  14. Are you following the Vendee yacht race? They are just now passing New Zealand. Incredible storm attacking the fleet.

    1. No I haven't been following it. I'm in awe of sailors who can tackle races like that and deal with adverse weather.

  15. It is the little stories like how you went about getting a visa which make blogs like yours so readable and make me want to search through the whole blog. They are the interesting bits of normal life which most of us would miss if we didn't stop and read for a few minutes. Thank you for sharing this story and for remembering why you had them done.

    Abraham @ Asic co nz

    1. Thanks so much for that nice feedback, Abraham!

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