Wellington, New Zealand Report of what it's like to live there - 04/20/15
Personal Experiences from Wellington, New Zealand
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No - two other tours in Africa and Europe.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
East coast - 27 - 34 hours through Sydney and LAX.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Our house was very small, and that was a common complaint at the time. As we were leaving, the U.S. housing pool was adding larger, very nice homes.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
It's expensive, and there are no turkeys in country, so if you want one for Thanksgiving it costs about US$75 for an imported one. To save costs, I used the discount grocers (Shopper's Warehouse, I think?) - but still expensive. Supplement with Amazon bulk wherever possible to save money.
Shopping isn't what you'd expect - high prices, low quality. The entire shopping mall felt like being in a dollar store with outrageous prices on everything.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Heinz ketchup, Spaghetti sauce (local is sugary and almost tastes like sweet pickles), Eczema and allergy medicines, batteries (they cost a fortune there), dried goods and non-perishables you love.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
McDonald's, Domino's - we loved trying the different ethnic foods, though. They have fabulous curry, kebab, Thai, and fish and chips stands everywhere.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Not an issue, but be sure to go hiking at night to find the glow worms!
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Pouch // DPO - but there was some kind of crime wave when we were at post! 1 out of about 4 packages we expected actually made it to us. We "lost" things like Christmas gifts (TWO American Girl Dolls never made it) and Amazon boxes. I hope that's changed, but it was a nightmare to not know what would come and what would get "lost."
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Comparable to the U.S.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, and I believe they were comparable to U.S. costs.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Easy to do and accepted almost everywhere.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
As far as I know, all.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
That's the great thing about New Zealand / Australia!
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I'm not sure; the streets were level and there were sidewalks everywhere, but the backcountry and neighborhoods were definitely made for stair-climbing and hiking.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes to all; taxis were fairly expensive, but I can't speak for the cost of trains or buses.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
I believe there are a lot of restrictions; it was the first post we went without bringing any cars in. We bought from a transitioning employee and one from an online auction. We sold back to a car dealership for an amazing price - After trade-in, we paid a total of $2K for both cars for two years. Spent $12,000 on them, got $10,000 back.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
We are high-speed internet snobs; we expect the best! It was average, but I can't remember the costs.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Vodaphone was our carrier. It was fine and affordable.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
Yes - 6 months; can't speak for vet care.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Yes - the language is not a barrier and that's helpful. I'm the traveling spouse, and I had a job with a local university. It was easy to set-up and get started.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
I imagine there's a good variety
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Casual / Business Casual.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
None, except environmental - earthquake and tsunami awareness.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Plenty of good doctors to choose from, no health concerns (besides the eczema I mention next question).
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
If you have seasonal allergies elsewhere, they're going to be very bad at times in Wellington. Our youngest son and I have slight allergies at home, but there our symptoms were off the charts. One NZ fall (February-May) his eczema got so bad that we considered leaving short of tour for medical relief. It's extremely common there (many children struggled to heal open eczema rashes to no avail), and as far as we could tell, they didn't have any solutions for it. Our best relief came from aveeno's baby eczema products (most weren't carried on the local market at the time). This was all due to NZ's very raw environment; my son has since healed and not had an eczema outbreak again.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Extreme. It gets very windy (and southerlies bring the arctic temperatures) and the sun is also very strong. Because of the average temps, I imagined using our patio for morning coffee (to take in the great views and scenery), but it was rarely comfortable weather - extreme winds, cold air, burning sun - to just sit in. Life is very outdoorsy, so long periods of gloomy weather + island fever can get to you at times.
It's also important to note the raw nature of the climate - if you have allergies elsewhere, prepare for them to be extreme in this country.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
No international school, and we used St. Marks because it was co-ed. They do not teach at the same pace or educational structure as you would find in the U.S. Your child starts Kindergarten when they turn 5 (on the day, if it's a weekday), and the Kindergarten is a much more relaxed and playful pace than you'll find in the U.S.
Getting your children to and from the different private schools can be very inconvenient as well. They're not located where most of our housing is - so most are on the other side of the city. Factor in the commute times, uniform and supply prices when choosing. I had three children in school, and it cost us thousands, even though tuition was paid and we ordered the minimum supplies.
The schools are friendly and well-meaning. I never met anyone over the moon with their choice, and I know we struggled (and in one case were set back a grade) because of the slower, less structured pace of the lesson plans. We kept U.S. grade-level books to work on through the summers, and my children still had a lot of catching up to do.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Available, but expensive.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Soccer, netball, and rugby.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small and high. There weren't many embassy-arranged activities while we were at post, but I suppose that changes with the CLO position. It was always fun to organize outings and events with other families.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
There are a lot of places to go exploring, and plenty of activities going on in and around the city. I've heard the sailing and fishing are amazing!
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I loved this post for families, and Wellington had a fun nightlife and great restaurants that I think singles and couples would definitely enjoy.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes, I would assume so.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
No, Wellington seemed very friendly and open-minded
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
We found delicious restaurants in every corner of the city, but favored the ones in the Karori neighborhood (where our home was): Yummy Curry is a must-have and the fish and chips there are to die for. It's a great city for foodies to explore. Taupo was a favorite trip, and we loved exploring all of the beaches and hiking trails. There were numerous directions to hike right out of our own backyard.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The beaches and parks on Seatoun were always our quick favorite, there's a souvenir outlet in Miramar (better prices than you'll find in the city), the licorice is the best we've ever tasted!, Karori Park is a fabulous place to run and play, Otaki beach was our favorite place to swim & spend a summer day.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Memories - get out and see the islands of the South Pacific while you're there!
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The scenery is unmatched; it's the Earth at its finest. There's so much nature to take in, and the city is set up for you to do as much as you can on foot (hiking trails and walking paths are everywhere). Kiwis are extremely friendly, good-natured and outgoing.
10. Can you save money?
The majority would vote "no", but we saved up a ton in two years (+/- 50K) from shopping online and keeping costs low.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How cold it was most of the time. I missed feeling warm!
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Honey! Don't mess with New Zealand's eco-system, they take it very seriously.
4. But don't forget your:
High SPF sunscreen, windbreaker, hiking gear.