Moving to Christchurch

Looking towards the Southern Alps – Image by Bozeman
Name: Bozeman
Number Emigrating: 4
Emigrated from: Montana, USA
Moved to: Avonhead, Christchurch
When did you arrive in NZ: June, 2008
My Story Written: 2013
Daily Commute Time: 25 minutes (round trip)
What were your reasons for emigrating?

Our story is probably a bit more complicated than most. Although I’m an American, I lived outside the US on expatriate assignments for 15 years prior to our move to New Zealand. My wife is not American and has no ties to the US other than my family. The years we spent living in Bangkok, Shanghai and Hong Kong were fantastic up until it came time for the kids to start school. Although very vibrant and great places to work, we just couldn’t see bringing up children in a big, polluted city. 70-hour work weeks were also not conducive to raising a family.

Although New Zealand had been on our radar, it was really an understanding boss that got us moving this way. My boss knew that we were looking to move someplace quieter and that we weren’t keen on moving back to the US (too far from my wife’s family). Essentially, a position was created for me – a position that was very much off the career fast track that I had been on…

What were your reasons for choosing New Zealand?

New Zealand was attractive to us because of the outdoor lifestyle opportunities (like what I grew up), our perception of the quality of New Zealand schools and the egalitarian nature of the country.

What differences have you noticed between your NZ town and your home town?

In many ways the South Island of New Zealand is similar to my home state of Montana: agricultural-based economy, outdoor focus and generally friendly, helpful people.

Knowing how common it is for Kiwis to travel and to do an OE, I expected Christchurch to be more outwardly focused and open-minded but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Like Montana, parochial attitudes are common here in Christchurch.

One difference that is hard to miss is the Kiwi obsession with how New Zealand – or its cities – ranks on the various lists that seem to come from everywhere. Montanans generally don’t give a damn what anyone else may think of them…

What do you like best about New Zealand?

When we moved here five years ago, we said that we were going to live an outdoor lifestyle. We have been true to that pledge. Although their mum may not be quite so keen, our kids are rabid skiers, trampers, mountain bikers, etc. We love having the mountains 45 minutes to the west and the beach 20 minutes to the east.

We moved here for our kids and our kids are absolutely thriving – at school (we eventually moved the children to a private school after finding they were not sufficiently challenged at their public school), at sport and simply in terms of growing up to be productive members of society. I reckon that is a pretty powerful testimonial on its own.

We like the fact that very few people are chasing material trappings – the Joneses don’t even try to keep up with the Joneses… We like the fact that most folks speak plainly and don’t put on airs.

We know all of our neighbours and we’re all there to help each other out at any time.

What don’t you like about New Zealand?

The #1 thing I don’t like is the oft found sentiment that New Zealand – or Kiwis – are somehow innately special. Many people have the idea that Kiwis, for instance, are especially innovative. Not only wrong but dangerously wrong. I’ve worked all over the world and what I see is a Kiwi workforce that is probably less innovative than others and certainly lacking the work ethic that many other countries possess. My team in China would work 12 hours a day for days on end if that’s what it took to fulfil a commitment. That just doesn’t happen around here. The work/life balance is one of the attractions of New Zealand but I worry about how we’re going to compete going forward.

Following closely – and somewhat relatedly – is the hated “she’ll be right” attitude. Like “manana” in Mexico or “mai pen rai” in Thailand, it means, “I know something is wrong but why should I bother with it?” The worst part is that there can be a sort of peer pressure not to deal with the matter (you’ll make the rest of us look bad if you take action). It seems I heard this awful phrase more often during our earlier days – maybe it’s on the wane or maybe I have learned to shut it out…

I could mention how expensive (sometimes astonishingly so) New Zealand is but that’s just a fact of life and you find a way to manage or you don’t.

What do you miss from your home country?

Other than Triscuits (there just isn’t anything similar to be found in these parts), the only thing that I really miss is the ready access to family and old friends. We get back to the US every other year and my parents visit us here twice a year (they like the idea of Christmas in summer…) but it’s hard to build relationships with nieces and nephews (for instance) when contact is so limited.

How easily did you find work in New Zealand?

We were fortunate that I had a good job lined up before we moved.

How does your working life in New Zealand compare with your previous work experiences?

People work fewer hours, get less done and are more easily satisfied with their own – or the company’s – performance. Frankly, I see a lot of people that just want to put their time in – they don’t want to be bothered with thinking or with finding a better way. “What is the company going to do for me?” usually comes before, “what can I do for the company?” As mentioned above, I worry about our future.

Streetscene from Avonhead, Christchurch
How much did you pay for your house:

We were fairly well cashed up when we arrived in New Zealand and, as such, I figured we would be looking at the higher level of housing in Christchurch. It was a real wake-up call to see how far a bag of money *doesn’t* go when buying a house around here. We have a “nice” home but for the same money, we’d have a much higher quality, custom-built home on a big chunk of land back in my home town in Montana. There would probably be money left over for the horses… It is what it is. We’re lucky that we could afford a home. It probably won’t be so easy for our kids.

How does your standard of living in New Zealand compare with your previous country?

We now drive much older cars than we used to and we don’t go out to eat as much as we did in the past but we go skiing much more often and thus we have no complaints.

How does your quality of life now compare with your previous country?

Compared to Hong Kong (our last place of residence), our quality of life (for all of the reasons mentioned above) is much higher. Compared to Montana, it’s probably about the same – maybe a bit lower due to the much higher cost associated with life in New Zealand.

Do you have any other comments?

I would advise anyone contemplating a move to New Zealand to carefully consider the following:

1. New Zealand is expensive, salaries are low and taxes are high. Make sure you can make the numbers work before you leap.

2. New Zealand is far from everywhere (other than Australia). A trip to the US or Europe or even Asia is a big, expensive production. If you’re prone to homesickness, have a plan for how you will deal with it.

As a final thought, I often see people who have yet to relocate to New Zealand asking about access to their favourite foods, TV shows, retailers, etc. IMHO, this is a recipe for failure. The sooner you adapt yourself to the local offerings, the sooner you will find happiness here. Jatz crackers are actually better than Ritz…

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3 thoughts on “Moving to Christchurch”

  1. Reading these stories it would seem that most of the authors would find Wellington a better fit than Christchurch or Auckland. In fact the type of Westerner that is attracted to NZ is usually of the sort of blue state worldview that is a key Wellington characteristic. The reason Kiwis don’t seem innovative is because you live in Christchurch. Wellington is full of refugees from ChCh who complain about how conservative and inside the square people there can be. A lot of these testimonials conflate NZ with Auckland. Things that may be the case in Auskland may be quite different elsewhere. The problem with Wellington is our weather.

  2. I’m not sure why anyone would miss Triscuits, but Martha’s Backyard (The American Store in Auckland) sells them.

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