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How to Move to New Zealand in 31 Easy Steps


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I have, at times, found myself a bit frustrated with our oldest daughter Leah. She is quite a stubborn persistent child. If someone tells her that she can’t do something then there’s no stopping her until it’s done. It’s not a bad quality, to be sure. I guess you could say her parents are a bit like that too. We lost track of the number of times people told us over the past few years, when we’d mention that we might like to live and work in New Zealand, that it couldn’t be done.

“There are no jobs in NZ.”

“It’s impossible to get a visa there.”

“You guys are too old.”

“Your health is not good enough.”

I guess you could say there wasn’t any stopping us until it was done. Last month, the beautiful, friendly and peaceful little country of New Zealand granted us residency which means we can live, work, vote, enjoy affordable socialized healthcare, and go to any school here as long as we like. It’s an outstanding honour.

It certainly wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t all that difficult either. There was a lot of paperwork, fees, a lot of waiting and hand-wringing and stress. We’ve gotten a number of emails from friends asking how we did it so I’m going to tell you for three reasons: (1) we want all our friends to move here with us, (2) we wish we’d had this information 8 months ago, (3) to prove it really can be done and if it’s your goal too don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

I want to add an important caveat here: we are not lawyers or immigration advisors of any kind. I am documenting how WE travelled down our New Zealand immigration path and yours may be completely different depending on your circumstances. Immigration laws and regulations change all the time as well and what I describe was only true at the time of our application process, the first half of 2013. However, the cruisers we know who have landed and stayed in NZ have pretty similar paths to residency.

So here you go, 31 easy steps to move to New Zealand:

1. Bookmark this page: Immigration New Zealand (INZ) website –  This site will answer nearly any question you may have about the immigration process, assuming you can find it on there. If you don’t find your answer, just give the immigration folks a call directly (via the Contact Us link at the top). Each time we’ve called INZ the person we’ve talked to has been so friendly and helpful we’ve had to pick ourselves up off the floor.

2. Send your polished resume to friends in New Zealand to get the job search going well ahead of your arrival. Back when we were still in Tonga, Michael sent his CV to a couple of amazing friends who had lived in New Zealand for several years and had a great number of IT contacts. Within days, he had already gotten callbacks from several IT recruiters and he literally had interviews set up the first week after we’d arrived in Opua. Of course, we weren’t ready to think about work just yet but our bank account sure was and we were thankful the ball was rolling. Other good resources are, and of course LinkedIn.

3. Sail to New Zealand. Easier said then done. People tell us you can fly here too but we are afraid of airplanes.

4. Check your boat into New Zealand and obtain your visitor visas. Upon arrival in New Zealand (Opua for us) each of our passports were stamped with Visitor Visas, good for three months. (In case you are wondering, the boat gets a “Temporary Import Permit” that’s good for a year. Keep it handy as you don’t pay GST on boat-related purchases and moorage when you show it! See the NZ Customs page here for more on this and checking your boat into NZ in general.)

5. Get your FBI fingerprint checks (i.e. Police Certificates). This was the most difficult part of the entire process for us to stumble through but we will tell you the secret! You DO NOT get this done directly through the FBI! That can take literally months to get the results back as you are competing with all the people buying guns in the U.S. (and in the meantime, ahem, your new employer will be waiting impatiently for your work visa to get completed….) Note: The steps I describe below are for US residents only. Refer to the NZI website above to see what they require from other countries, including countries you may have lived in for more than 12 months in the past 10 years as you will need a police certificate from those too. Yes, this includes Mexico. In fact, if you’ve been in Mexico for over 12 months, get one before you leave (thankfully we had not and only needed a US one for Michael and I).

6. Get fingerprinted at a NZ Police Station. If you are in Auckland they require you make an appointment to do this. Don’t wait! Sometimes it takes weeks to get an appointment. Hint: try a police station in a smaller town, say Pahia, where you can just walk right in and get it done. Just print out the FBI fingerprint form here and get two good sets of prints.

7. Use an FBI-approved channeler to get the FBI check. After waiting around for the FBI, we ended up using Accurate Biometrics ( and were extremely happy with them. After they received our original fingerprints and application (which we overnighted via DHL at a hefty fee), we had the downloaded certificates in less than 24 hours. Instructions here.

8. Get a job. Preferably one on the Essential Skills in Demand ListsIf you are in IT, healthcare, engineering, education, construction, or are a food technologist you are golden. It also helps if your employer is accredited with INZ as Michael’s is (most large companies are, it seems) as it smooths the process.

9. Collect proof of previous employment. Ah, this is where the fun starts. You’ll need a letter confirming employment dates, job description, salary, etc. from each of your previous employers. Also collect any letters of merit, pay stubs, etc; the more proof you are an awesome worker the better. On second thought, you’d better start this step in Tonga or Fiji too.

10. Collect proof of qualifications. High school and college transcripts, copies of diplomas, training certificates, etc. Again, the more the merrier.

11. Get an immigration medical. There are clinics all around Auckland that will do the entire thing for a set fee, usually NZ$250. This includes the medical exam, chest x-ray (for TB), blood and urine tests and submitting the entire report electronically to INZ. After cruising for several years and neglecting our checkups, we considered this a deal! All four of us had to have an immigration medical; the girls’ cost less since they did not have x-rays and blood tests, mine was a bit more as I had extra tests for my diabetes issues. We had an excellent experience at Symonds Street Medical Center in downtown Auckland.

Wondertime girls apply for NZ residency

12. Lodge the work visa application. Once you have a job offer in hand, drop off your bulging package of documents, application, passport and fee (credit card details) to the INZ office the Immigration website directs you to. (The Auckland Central branch for us.)

13. Wait. For Michael’s work visa we twiddled our thumbs for about three weeks.

14. Check post office box daily.

15. Rejoice when passport is returned with a lovely fancy work visa sticker!

16. Go to work. Yippeeeeee!

17. Apply for student visas for kids 5 and up. Children of work visa holders are entitled to attend school as domestic students, fee-free. Children over 5 attend primary school, which requires a student visa. Leah’s student visa application included her passport, copy of Michael’s work visa, medical certificate, and her birth certificate. We got her stamped passport back in about three weeks as well and she was off to primary school.

18. Apply for visitor visas for kids under 5. Since Holly was 4 she simply needed an extension of her visitor’s visa. (At 5 she would need to switch to a student visa to attend primary.) Again, this was tied to Michael’s work visa.

19. Gather evidence that you are in a “genuine and stable relationship” for the partner work visa. Now you get to prove to New Zealand that you are not in a mail-order marriage that got finalized last week. Things we included to prove we’ve been partners for nearly 15 years were: copy of marriage certificate, children’s birth certificates, copies of joint property documents (like boat documentation, house, cars), bank statements, letters from long-time friends attesting our marriage, bills, mail addressed to both of us, magazine articles about our sailing trip. Hint: it is MUCH easier to collect these things if they are not in your storage unit 7,000 miles away.

20. Apply for Partnership-based work visaNow that Michael was off to work raking in New Zealand dollars, I could apply for my own work visa. The best part about this one? While his work visa was printed directly with “Michael can work at [company name] as a [job title]” i.e. his work visa was only good for that specific job, my work visa was good for ANY job! (Of course, my job continues to be stay-at-boat-mom-without-pay but there’s at least hope of a promotion one day and I was free to stay in NZ as long as the rest of the family.)

21. Get used to “regular life.” Each of our visas were good for 30 months so nothing more really needed to be done at this point but enjoying Kiwi life!

22. Consider Residency. Michael had been awarded a “Work to Residence” visa which means that after two years we could apply for residency in New Zealand. But, his IT job appeared to qualify us for the Skilled Migrant Category which would allow us to apply for residency immediately. It was a bit more of a gamble, and considerably more expensive, but we ultimately decided to go for it. Note: You can in fact start by applying to be a Skilled Migrant directly and do know friends that have done so successfully while cruising their boats in Fiji. Or you can dip your toes into the immigration process like we did, building on each successful step at a time.

23. Add up your points. Do you notice how we don’t start talking about “points” until way down here on step 23? But that was the first thing anyone would ever talk to us about whenever we’d mention living/working in New Zealand. It turned out to not be that big of a deal at all; “points” refers to submitting the Skilled Migrant Expression of Interest. We got points for Michael’s job and past experience, my college degree, and our age range. DON’T let your age get you down! While it’s true you have to be 55 or under to apply as a Skilled Migrant, the difference between being 30-39 and being 40-49 is only 5 points. On the other hand, a bachelor’s degree will earn you 50 points. You currently need 140 points to have your Expression of Interest selected for further processing.

24. Submit your Online Expression of InterestAlong with another fee.

25. Wait for the next selection day. These were being held every two weeks. You can log onto your INZ account to check the status of your EOI/applications. If you have the minimum number of points your EOI will be selected. Nothing really seems to happen for a while and you continue to…

26. Wait. 

27. Check post office box daily. INZ does some checking and other mysterious stuff. Eventually an “invitation to apply” for residency appeared in the mail, the application already filled out for us!

28. Submit application for residency. Believe it or not, this was the easiest step! We simply had to resubmit everything we’d already submitted with each of our previous four applications along with a few additional forms. And the fee.

29. Wait.

30. Check post office box daily.

31. Receive an email that announces our residency application has been approved. We’d been told by INZ that it takes 3-9 months to process residency applications but ours took an unbelievable six weeks. At this point, we turned our passports back into INZ, along with another fee, and a week later they were mailed back to us with shiny “New Zealand Resident” stickers in them. Done deal.


I can’t begin to describe what an amazing feeling it is to be a resident of this sweet little country. There are many tangible benefits like beautiful scenery, crazy-affordable college, good jobs, fantastic wine, music, chocolate, coffee…. But what makes us so thankful we can live here as long as we want — even become citizens five years from now if we wish — are the intangible ones. The outrageous kindness and friendliness of nearly every person we meet, the vibrant Polynesian culture, the strong sense of community that is found everywhere, kids having the freedom to be kids, responsive government, the deeply-rooted values that everyone deserves healthcare, equality, a living wage and a chance. We love New Zealand and hope you come here one day too.


New Zealand's newest residents


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  1. Ante Mazalin | SailingEurope says:

    What a great guide guys, thanks for compiling all the steps together. Good thinking about sending your CV ahead.

  2. Dani says:

    Thank you SO much for compiling all of this. I am going to bookmark this and plan to bring many of the documents you listed with us on our journey in case we’d like to do the same here or somewhere else.

    Congrats on your residency!!

  3. Nita Bell says:

    So happy for all of you. You guys look so healthy and happy. The adventure contunues. What a great life!

  4. Jacob says:

    Thanks so much Sara! This is great!

  5. Galaxy says:

    Geez, moving isn’t easy.

  6. lin pardey says:

    Great having drinks on board Wondertime last week. Hope your US trip is going well – bet the family is having a great time playing with Leah and Holly.

    We’re enjoying our time in Auckland. Winters icy blast makes me glad the boat is safely on her mooring and we are bound for California in a week. Nice website and good advice for those thinking of coming down to New Zealand for work. I’ll put a link from this to our website as so many ask us this same question.

    1. Sara says:

      Hi Lin~ We sure enjoyed having you and Larry over. It was a real treat! We are having a good time in the US, the weather has been amazing. A nice break from winter! Enjoy your trip to CA! ~Sara

  7. Jacob says:

    OMG. You seriously had Lin and Larry Pardey over for drinks on Wondertime? You’re a third of the way to the trifecta. Now if you can just Nigel Calder over for scones and Fatty Goodlander for whatever he likes, you’ll have it!

    You guys are so living the dream.

    1. Sara says:

      It’s true. They are our neighbors after all! Proof of how small, friendly and fabulous New Zealand is. 🙂

  8. Thomas says:

    What a great and insightful paper trail…. Thank you for publishing this!

  9. Catherine says:

    It would seem that the main reason your path to residency was smooth was the fact that you were able to get a job and a work visa. What about if you couldn’t get work, even with skills and qualifications?

    1. Sara says:

      Hi Catherine- Having a job offer is required, at least for the path we took (Skilled Migrant). It was also required for Michael to keep the job for a certain amount of time (3 months, done thankfully!). If we couldn’t get work we’d be on our final approach to the NW from Hawaii by now. 🙂

  10. Tom & Jeanne says:

    What a great story and information that will help may people I the future. That is so awesome!!` We are proud of you guys. Don’t know how long you will be back in the states, but Jeanne will be in Seattle from the 12th-17th of August

    An update from Mexico….Jeanne and I also have had our time with a new country’s red-tape. We now have almost completed our residency, have a Mexican Corporation, and now operate several new ventures. We have a yacht management company, yacht repair company, opened up a new store called La Paz Cruisers Supply in Marina Palmira, and have a gallery featuring our photography for sale. So I f you figure in the lawyers, accountants, notaries, bankers, property owners, immigration, I am pretty sure we could come up with the better part of a 31 step course as well!

    1. Sara says:

      Sorry to miss Jeanne in Seattle! We are already back in Auckland. It was a crazy fast and furious visit.

      I absolutely love your idea of “retirement” in Mexico. Sounds like a 100-step process I bet! We dream of sailing back one day. We miss it so. Hopefully we’ll cross paths again before too long…

  11. Allison says:

    Thank you Sara for this list. I traveled just about every inch of NZ last year and fell in love with the country. I have considered moving there as well but wasn’t sure where to even start. This information is invaluable, thank-you.