Monday, 29 September 2008

We have our tickets!

I've been saying for a while now that we're going in January. And just a few days ago that was still the plan. Mainly because that would enable Bic to finish her first half of the year of school here, and get us to New Zealand right before the start of their new school year. Also it would give us more time here to pack and prepare, and let us have one more white Christmas.

But then I went to go buy our plane tickets. In January, two adults, two children flying one way from Boston to Napier, with a stop over in San Fran for 2 days came to US$7330 on Air New Zealand. We like Air New Zealand the best because they have direct flights from San Francisco, where we like to stop over to visit relatives. Plus they do New Zealand domestic flights, so we wouldn't have to switch airlines at all the whole way. We could have probably found a cheaper domestic flights for both the US leg and the NZ leg, but having it all on one ticket means we can bring the max amount of luggage on all the flights. Which is 2 per person before being charged extra. Most domestic flights in the US now charge for even the first checked bag. And we're probably going to bring as much as we can.

Anyways $7330 is a lot of money. It sounds like too much. So I did some searching around, and found that if we leave in early December the price drops by over $2000. That's too much money to ignore. So I bought the tickets. We leave Boston on December 6. Leave San Francisco December 8. And arrive in New Zealand on December 10. Whohoo!

I had a mini anxiety attack when it dawned on my how close all this really is to happening. There's really no turning back now. And December is SO soon. But now I'm good with it. Better than good, really. That extra month will give us more time to find a place to live, visit schools and kindergartens, etc. before the start of the new year. It will give us more summer and less winter. It will give us Christmas and the New Year in our new home and with Aidan's family.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Banking Before Embarking

This week has been insane for financial institutions in the US, so obviously my mind turns to our money. And where it's at. And where it will be.

We'll need a bank account in New Zealand, and it occurred to us that it would be best to set one up before touching down. On our recent reconnaissance trip we planned on doing so, but time got away from us, and in three weeks we never made it to a bank. So now that the date of departure is fast approaching, I've got to sort out a way to open a NZ bank account from overseas.

Thankfully we live in the age of the Internet, and all the major New Zealand banks have web sites. And on these sites they have pages devoted to people in just my situation... mostly. The Bank of New Zealand has a page titled Moving to New Zealand, but then the first line of the page states "The information is applicable to UK residents considering a move to New Zealand." Well, that's not very helpful for me. I'm not in the UK. So simply because of their discriminatory lack of information for other migrants, I've decided against BNZ.

National Bank is more inclusive, with a big link to their New Residents Services page right on the home page. Unfortunately, you must move to New Zealand within three months of opening the account. We're planning on moving in January, which means we would have to wait until October to get this going with them. I don't like the idea of being on a time restriction anyways. I mean, we're 99% certain we're moving in January, but should something happen, we may move a few months later. Then what would National Bank do? I dunno. Not really worth finding out when there are other banks.

ASB Bank is another big one, with their Migrant Banking information available in Mandarin, Cantonese, and Korean, as well as the usual English. They also have special services for UK residents (which again, don't help me). Their document requirements are a bit of a pain, though, as they want notarized copies of everything.

So in the end, I decided to apply with Kiwibank. Kiwibank is a relatively new bank, the only one in New Zealand 100% Kiwi owned. I believe they're partly government backed, so they have many branches in local post offices. Their Migrant Banking page is straightforward, with a link to directions on opening an account from overseas. The only slight confusion I had was that the "Migrant Banking Forms" are not migrant/overseas specific at all. There is no place for "Country" in the address area. The telephone number field doesn't have enough spaces for longer, international numbers. Little things like that.

So I wrote to Kiwibank and asked to confirm there were the right forms. They responded promptly, that yes, they were, and I should just write in whatever additional information I need to provide. Which I had to do in two cases. First was the rate the earned interest will be taxed at. The forms only have the choices 19.5%, 33%, 39% and Exempt. Well, as non-residents until we move, the interest should actually be taxed at the Non-Resident Withholding Tax rate of 10%. So I wrote that in. And then I also had to note that I would be wiring money to the new account once set up, rather than including a deposit cheque, as requested.

Yesterday I sent the forms, along with photocopies (non-notarized) of my husband's and my passports, and a recent bank statement. I'll let you know when I hear from them.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Early Education

So here in my area of the States preschools are private, often expensive, competitive, and hard to get in to. Most places recommend applying for a spot a whole year before your child would start. Kids usually start preschool the September after they turn 3 years old. My little on will be turning 3 in December, just one month before we relocate to New Zealand.

In New Zealand, preschools (often called Kindergartens or simply Kindy) are also private. The big difference is that the government now pays for 20 hours a week of early education for 3 and 4 year olds. This has apparently led to more kids enrolled, and fewer spaces free in qualifying centres. Knowing this, and being accustomed to the year-in-advance registration rule here, I've worried that little Nys won't have a spot in a preschool when we get there. And she is SO ready for preschool, seeing her big sis Bic go off to school every day is so sad for her.

So I've started emailing preschools in the areas we're looking at in Hawkes Bay. It seems like we won't have too much of a problem. Two of the Kindergarten associations I've contacted - Napier Kindergarten Association and the Heretaunga Kindergarten Association - have wait lists for their many centres, but the list order is based on the age of the child, not how long the name as been on the list. The oldest child on the list when a spot opens up gets the spot. And spots open up all the time, because as I explained previously, children move on up to real school when they turn five, be it at the beginning of the year, the middle, or near the end. There's no problem in waiting, then, till we arrive and visit a few of the centres before putting her name on the waiting list, because the term begins at the end of January, and she'll get a spot when she's the oldest on the list.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Residency in Hand

That was quick. I got my passport back today, just 8 days after I sent it down to the New Zealand Embassy in Washington, DC. It is now stamped with a Residence Visa, which I must convert to a Residence Permit by 8 September 2009 (by entering New Zealand). I also go a Returning Resident's Visa that lets me back into New Zealand if I leave in the two years thereafter.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Starting School

It's the beginning of September, so here in the States that means the beginning of a new school year! Having young children, their schooling obviously came into consideration when thinking about emigrating to a new country. And ultimately, differences in the school schedule have affected our time table for moving.

In Massachusetts kids start school September after they turn five. The first year of school, children 5 and 6 years old, is called Kindergarten. The second year of school is called First Grade. The third year is Second Grade, and so on. Confusing, I know. I think the names are holdovers. First Grade used to be the first year of school, and Kindergarten was just organized childcare for kids not old enough yet for school. But then The Powers That Be decided that starting school earlier is better, so Kindergarten was added on as part of the public education system as the first year. Legally, children don't need to start schooling until they're six years old, but pretty much everyone starts at five.

Kindergarten is still a transition year in a lot of places, though. For children never in a childcare or preschool setting, it's the very first time away from home. In some towns Kindergarten has shorter days than the rest of the school. But because of the big push for early childhood education, almost all children now start attending preschool at age 3. Babying the Kindergartners is not so necessary, and there's a nationwide trend towards full-day Kindergarten. My town is halfway there, sending Kindergartners to school full days 2 days a week and half days 3 days a week.

Now I'm not an expert, but I've been asking around about starting school in New Zealand. There are quite a few differences. Most obviously, the school year there goes from February to December. The school year schedule is the same all across the country, rather than being different town to town as it is here.

Confusingly, what we call preschool or nursery school here in the US is called Kindergarten in New Zealand. This is for 3 and 4 year olds and is provided by private early childhood education centers. Recently the New Zealand government started a universal preschool type system, which provides 20 free hours per week of early childhood education at these private centers. That's a huge bonus for us, considering that for Bic's year of preschool last year we paid over $5000, and she only went 15 hours per week!

Kids start SCHOOL school when they turn five. The DAY they turn five (or the next school day if it's a weekend, holiday or vacation). Depending on what part of the year it is, the child is put into either Year 0 or Year 1. If it's close to the start of the year, they go straight into Year 1. But if it's later in the year they start in Year 0. School is full-day, right from the start.

Bic turned five at the end of June, and last week she started Kindergarten here (see above). We had originally planned on moving to New Zealand in November, which would be pulling Bic out of school just over 2 months after she started. Then we would arrive just before the end of the year, so probably not a good time for her to start. Because of this, we've decided to put off our move till January. This will mean that Bic can finish the first half of her school year here, and leave during winter break, arriving down under just in time to start the new school year there as a Year 1.

For more information on NZ schooling, check out the New Zealand Ministry of Education main website or their info site for parents, Team-Up.

Thursday, 4 September 2008


Like I said previously, there's a lot to update. We went down to New Zealand for 3 weeks in July for a bit of reconnaissance. It was winter (note the snow on the Napier/Taupo road below), which wasn't ideal, but we got a lot of stuff sorted in our own heads, and it ended up being a wonderful trip.

So what did we sort out? Well, the biggest thing was deciding where we want to move to. We were divided between Aidan's hometown of Napier in the Hawke's Bay region, and Wellington. We spent a week in Napier, a week in Wellington, then a week back in Napier. And it became clear to us that Hawke's Bay is definitely where we'll go.

Not to knock Wellington. I mean, we totally love it there. But lifestyle-wise, I think Napier is more our speed. And really, lifestyle is the reason we're moving to NZ. Wellington is another big(gish) city. We've lived in the suburbs of a big(gish) city for the past 11 years. It's what we're moving away from. And housing in Wellington is SO expensive that we'd definitely have to live in the suburbs there, rather than close to town, which would defeat the purpose of being there anyways. The downtown is awesome... the suburbs, not so much.

Napier, on the other hand, is technically a city, but I consider it a small town. It feels like a small town, but with most of the city amenities you could want between Napier, it's sister city Hastings just next door, and the adorable village of Havelock North. Hawke's Bay is a gorgeous region.

We'll be able to afford pretty much anywhere we'd like in the area. Where in the end we settle exactly will depend on where our jobs are. And on that front, it doesn't seem like there will be any problem, since Aidan managed to meet with many potential employers, and they all seemed enthusiastic, some even offering him jobs on the spot! He didn't commit to anything. I assume when we arrive in January the situation will be similar.

So that was the major decision we made on this trip. More gleaned info to follow.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

I bet you thought it would never happen

It's here! Finally, an update!

There's actually a lot to update, but instead, I'll just share that today I sent my passport to the New Zealand Embassy to have my Residence Visa stamped, or attached, or inserted, or however they give it to me. The acceptance letter told me it would take about 4 weeks to be issued, and then from that point I have 12 months to move to New Zealand. No problem, the current plan now is to move in January.

Whohoo! Almost there. :)