Episode #1 – Preparing for the Adventure of a Lifetime
I have been in New Zealand for roughly 10.5 months now (at time of posting, I am flying out today), and while my close friends have heard of my thoughts on the country and experience as a whole, I have purposefully refrained from almost all criticism or overoptimistic praise on this blog. I didn’t want to say something bad only to take it back later and visa versa, so I wanted to finish the whole experience before giving my two cents. This is a fair warning, I am going to be 100% brutally honest and this will not be yet another “WOW! OMG! I love NZ!” post or a hate rant. I am not going to talk about how many sheep are in the country (a lot) or how driving on the left is cool (it’s not that big of a deal really), because quite frankly, those things are stupid, completely unhelpful to know, and done to death.
I have broken this post up into 4 parts:
- What I Wish I Knew and Did Before Coming (this post)
- Things That Make New Zealand Amazing (7/30)
- Things I Hated About Living in New Zealand (8/1)
- Reflections – Is a Working Holiday Visa Worth it in New Zealand? (8/3)
I made mistakes, lots and lots of mistakes which I hope you don’t make if you decide to come here. The absolute biggest mistake was…
Not Bringing Enough Money
No matter how much money you plan on bringing, bring more if you can. The NZ government asks that you have at least 4,800 NZD in the bank before starting the Working Holiday Visa. I took this as a bench mark and thought they were being conservative. By the time my South East Asia trip was over, I was down to about 3,500 and thought that was enough. While of course, I survived, I had to use credit cards, borrow money, and it was not comfortable at all. These are some of the limitations we had:
Accommodation – We didn’t look around too much for accommodation and took one of the first ones we found (looked at 4 total) as we couldn’t afford to be in a hostel for too long. This turned into a month of hell with the worst landlord in the universe. Daily texts, phone calls, voice mails, and emails were just the tip of the ice berg. That’s saying a lot, given my last landlord in the US was that crazy lady still suing Obama for being from Kenya. I guess I know how to pick em’.
Food – I love cooking, but as a hobby, not as a requirement. Prepared food was expensive so it was a huge change having to cook virtually every meal. The worst thing was knowing we couldn’t afford anything healthy, prepared or otherwise. Many foreigners in our hostel were making instant noodles and pastas, which is fine for a short while, but it is alarming how expensive fruits and veggies are. I’ve heard people recommend ‘fruit and veggie markets’ and while ever so slightly cheaper, it is still absurd (right now $3.79 for lettuce) so don’t be fooled into thinking it is affordable.
Car – I do not care at all about luxury when it comes to cars and was just looking for something reliable and efficient. If you are to do anything interesting at all in New Zealand, you will need a car or it will be incredibly dull (day to day) and inefficient (going long distance). Definitely, plenty of people do it, but it is simply not my cup of tea to wait 2 hrs to hitchhike and stuff like that.
To be honest, I don’t even know what advice to give here. My car turned out to be a dud, despite having done the pre-inspection ($140). However, we found out this was hardly an isolated case. In fact, I only met one or two people who bought a car on a working holiday visa who did NOT have to put in extensive work and money into it (out of about 15). New Zealand laws also force you to fix certain issues or the car will be deemed ‘unworthy to be on the road’ (every 6 months for older cars). I paid $1,500 NZD and ended up selling it for under 600 when the head gasket was toast. Another couple paid $2,400 and had to put in another $2,000 in repairs (and it still sucked). I also met people whose car completely broke down after a month or two and they just decided to go car-less the rest of their time.
I did notice that the people who had decent cars went for the $4,000-$6,000 price range which I guess should be expected.
Aim Low For Work
I came to New Zealand hoping to get some experience as an engineer. Many of the people who do this visa are fresh out of high school, so I figured my degree would hold weight. It doesn’t. I’ll talk more about this on the next post, but realistically, it is foolish to think you could find any professional work unless you are willing to look for months and are thinking of immigrating permanently. Some people definitely get lucky, but it is not the majority.
Not Everyone Likes It
I was under the mistaken impression that absolutely everyone who has lived in New Zealand loves it to death. Unfortunately, when it comes to this country, feel good stories make headlines but the reality is that a good chunk of people would rather go home. I met lots of people, who did not want to stay the entire year, despite having the capability of doing so. Some left after four months, others tried 6-7 and called it a wrap. I stuck it out for 10.5.
Luckily, Sidney panicked more than I did and searched for months about this working holiday thing. I did for a bit, but was not as concerned about the details. From knowing where to stay, how to look for jobs, what an IRD number is (and how to get one), how to get a cell phone, how and where to get a bank account, where to buy a car, how to register said car, what grocery stores are available, and much more, you probably want to plan well. While most of this we did learn as we went, time is money and in such an expensive country, the less you waste of it the better.
Make Some Friends
This is probably the saddest but biggest mistake I made. I didn’t really go out of my way to make friends and paid dearly for it. For the most part, I took a very “I will meet people naturally” approach. Two things I would have used more wisely would have been Couchsurfing and Meetup, websites designed for getting to know more locals and people with similar interests respectively. I really don’t know what to use as an excuse here but yeah, go make some friends!
I think these seemingly obvious but critical pre-steps would have put me in a better mindset for a Working Holiday adventure. Live and learn.
Have some other tips for people planning to do the Working Holiday in New Zealand? Do share below!