Portland to Wellington; comparison needed.
January 6, 2016 10:53 AM   Subscribe

I need some assistance comparing Wellington, NZ to Portland, Ore, for the purposes of existing as a middle class family.

Given our jobs and general affluence, I've never really entertained the idea of moving to another country outside of vague escapist fantasies. We've always wanted to visit NZ, but outside that don't really have a good grasp on what its like to actually live there. I'm fully aware at the difference between trying to vacation somewhere, and actually set down roots (We tried this with the Northeast, and it imploded, mainly due to our lack of gainful employment), so we're trying to gain as much information in that regard as possible.

I've been in talks with a company that would provide me with a rather lucrative career move. They're willing to sponsor a visa for me (and from our cursory research, my wife would qualify for a work visa as well). Our eventual goal would probably be to emigrate, and become naturalized citizens. One of the more attractive aspects of this process would be providing our son with dual citizenship.

For Portland, we're dead middle-class in almost every way. The family consists of myself, the wife, the boy (4/yr) and the dog (lab mix, 7-ish/yr). Us adults both work full time, and the kid is in daycare three days a week (we overlap our schedules to cut down on daycare time).

We're not seasoned expats. We don't know any seasoned expats. How does one successfully expat (this might be too broad of a question…oh my)? Overall impressions of life in Wellington are welcome, but since Portland is the city we know best, drawing parallels between the two is particularly valuable to us in making this decision.

Specifics we're wondering about;

1. Is car ownership optional? I currently commute by transit or bike, with the child. My wife drives, but only because her workplace is far away; she would prefer to bike. Wellington seems compact, and at most seems pretty similar in terms of geography to my current commute. Is this a fools errand?

2. How is the educational system actually built over there? PPS is pretty solid, and the schools my son is slated to attend are middle of the pack in terms of quality. Is the NZ school system good/bad/ugly?

3. How are educational special needs handled? Our 4yo son has a Sensory Processing Disorder (filed under an educational autism diagnosis, but he's not medically diagnosed as on the spectrum, he does have the medical diagnosis of SPD). This is a pretty big point of concern for us; any insight on how this would be handled by the schools?

4. We've found a fair amount of information on home prices, but we wouldn't be looking to purchase right away (we own a home in PDX that we would most likely keep and rent out, given the insanity of the market here). What is the rental market like there?

5. Are there any good PDX-to-Wellington analogs for neighborhoods? We try to be aware of the difference between 'cute neighborhood, we'd love to live here' and 'grungy neighborhood, we can actually afford to live here.' Right now we live in a grungier-up-and-coming type neighborhood, because thats where we can really thrive…we don't expect to live in the nicest zone, and we're used to making sacrifices to the ideal living situation for what is a net-benefit for the family.

6. I've tried evaluating the cost of living in general, but any nuanced views on Wellington's economic climate would be appreciated. We know its not going to be identically in terms of cost of living here, we're just wondering where the peaks and valleys of pricing will be (I remember while living in Canada during college that the cost of records were insanely low, and doubly so after you applied the exchange rate.

7. In that same vein, I'm having a bit of difficulty examining how the cost of living is tied to wages and

8. For the love of all that is holy, what is the craigslist analog for New Zealand?
posted by furnace.heart to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
To answer your last question first: the Craigslist equivalent is www.Trademe.co.nz - has rentals, properties for sale, jobs, cars, secondhand and new stuff for sale, etc.
posted by reshet at 11:15 AM on January 6, 2016


and the dog (lab mix, 7-ish/yr)

If you are bringing the dog, New Zealand has some quarantine requirements that you'd need to plan ahead for.
posted by mochapickle at 11:22 AM on January 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


1. You can get away with bike commuting if you live in Wellington proper (not the Hutt, Johnsonville, other satellite centres) and you are fit. Wellington is very hilly, like San Francisco, so you need to accept you will be climbing hills and breaking a sweat unless you live very centrally. Bus system is very good by New Zealand standards, which may not be saying much.

2 & 3. The state funded system is pretty ok, but schools vary a lot. Read ERO reports to try to get a handle on specific schools' performance. Beware chatter about "deciles": deciles are about the socio-economic makeup of the school population, not a ranking system for educational quality, but many people seem to mix this up. There is some state assistance for special needs kids, depending on the nature of the needs, but you will have to fight to get your share. Some schools are much more welcoming than others. I recommend Berhampore Primary as being exemplary in this respect.

Understand that the standard of housing in NZ is shit. Poor to no insulation, no central heating, lousy build quality, dampness. And Wellington rentals are among the worst. Sorry.

Trademe is probably the closest you will get to Craigslist.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:41 AM on January 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


We know its not going to be identically in terms of cost of living here, we're just wondering where the peaks and valleys of pricing will be

I think a middle-class income in the US in US dollars is vaguely the same as in NZ in NZ dollars, eg NZ$50,000 should get put you in vaguely the same quality of life overall in NZ as USD$50k would in the US, but some of those peaks and valleys:

A key thing is consider the what it means that New Zealand is a small country. The Portland region has 2.3 million people, all of NZ has 4 million people total. Portland is nestled within an economy of 300 million, or 500 million within ground shipping distance, while NZ is about as opposite to that as is possible within the developed world.

So some of how that shakes out is that anything that must be shipped into the country and is heavy/bulky (such as new books) will be eye-wateringly expensive compared to what you're used to.

Anything that must be sourced from overseas manufacturers or suppliers (such as laptops) will cost more than it does in the US, relative to the respective middle class income, because the price is the same, but the US dollar is worth 30% more than the NZ dollar. (If you'd be being paid in US dollars but living in NZ... well... that sure is nice work if you can get it! :) )

Those higher prices for international goods are somewhat offset by better prices for local goods - cheaper housing, better food cheaper, etc.

Anything that is esoteric or specialized, you probably need to mail-order from overseas, and either pay airfreight, or wait three weeks for surface shipping. (And some companies don't want the hassle of international shipping and that further constricts your options)

Some things you might not even realize they're esoteric because in an economy of 300 million, or a city region of 2.3 million, there is a big enough market to make specialist stores viable and normal. In a regional economy of 400,000, unless it's something somewhat mainstream there isn't a big enough market to support it. For many people this is a non-issue because many of the good things in life are universal. For some people (eg with oddball hobbies) then either foresight or frustration is just a fact of life.


Regarding schools, every impression I have is that the school system is quite a bit better in NZ. In fact in my opinion, it looks like the only jewel in the entire US education crown is the tertiary sector (for example most of the world's elite universities are in the USA), however NZ universities are more than sufficient for the world stage and (while I haven't checked recently) I doubt they've fallen anywhere near as badly into the out of control inflation spiral of college in the USA. I think your kids will do much better in NZ, education-wise.

Cars are optional. Though it's good to have access to one.
posted by anonymisc at 11:53 AM on January 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


As for some of your other questions:

1. Car ownership is optional in a lot of suburbs. Public transport is by bus and the bus system is extensive and easy to use and journeys are quick if you live in the city or city fringe. It's not without its issues, like anywhere. Commuting by bike is also popular and there are (some) bike lanes.

Wellington is a hilly city; however with a lot of the city fringe areas you will be mostly on the flat and have a flat ride to work/school. A lot of people I know with kids do most of their commuting and inner city travel by bike, but still have a car because there is a lot of good stuff to see and do around the outer parts of the city and in the region.

4. The rental market has pretty good availability (especially, I am guessing, by comparison to where you live now) and a two-income family (or one good income) will be able to afford a nice place to live by local standards.

Something important to know is that housing stock in New Zealand is not like in the US, Canada and Europe. Houses are often not fully insulated, are almost never double glazed, and the cost of energy is high. A lot of the beautiful old painted villas you see dotted around the hillsides here are going to be drafty and cold in winter.

We call an air con unit a heat pump and it's almost exclusively used for heating rather than cooling. It's much cheaper to run than space heaters or radiators and it's worth having one. Wellington gets cold in winter but not THAT cold: low of 3C and high of 7C would be considered a very cold winter's day.

5. I don't know anything about Portland neighbourhoods but some areas here that might suit you:

Newtown (flat, easy medium-distance bike to town, good community feel, a bit grungy but very popular and vibrant).

Mt Cook and Or Mt Vic (very close to town, hilly, not such a community feel but nice neighbourhoods, especially the latter which is a little bit upscale).

Brooklyn (short downhill bike to town but a fairly intense uphill climb back up, good community with a small cluster of shops and cafes).

Kelburn (pretty suburb, short uphill bike to get home each day, university suburb, a bit more pricey).

Thorndon (right next to the CBD, flat ride in and out of town, right next to parliament and home to lots of public servants, pretty, more pricey).

Aro Valley (very small suburb, artsy, kind of young and student-y, right next to town, flat strip of shops surrounded by steep hills covered in houses).

Wellington is small and distance is relative; I might describe something as medium-distance to town but by Portland standards it's practically CBD.

6 and 7. Most New Zealanders feel that the cost of living is high relative to average income. However all of the educated professionals in good jobs that I know enjoy a good standard of living - they live in pretty nice houses, can afford to have a couple of kids, have some nice things, have hobbies, go on holidays, own a decent car, and save.

Your power bill will be higher here. It makes no sense, because 80% of New Zealand's energy comes from renewable hydro and geothermal sources. But there it is. That brings up another tangential point - NZ is a small country and therefore particularly vulnerable to monopolies, duopolies and just a general lack of competition. It can be extremely annoying.

Being at the bottom of the globe, anything imported is more expensive, and that's a lot of everyday stuff. Food costs are on the medium to high side, I think. (Veggies are much cheaper if you go to a weekend market, there are several of them.) A reasonably nice three-bedroom family house in an inner suburb is going to be around the $NZ600 per week mark. (Rents tend to be expressed per week rather than per month.)
posted by reshet at 12:06 PM on January 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


Currently live in CA, grew up in Wellington.

I think car ownership is not optional if you have a kid or like to grocery shop. Yes public transport is pretty good in Wellington, and you can find walkable neighborhoods. But honestly, winter in Wellington is seven or eight or nine months a year of howling winds and rain (there's the odd nice, still, dry day). It gets pretty old trying to drag a 4 year old around by bus or bike when it's raining cats and dogs and blowing a gale. The streets are narrow, hilly and winding so especially in bad weather I would be worried about safety. And the public transport timetables are much more limited on the weekend, so your ability to go places and explore will be very limited if you don' t have a car. You'll also find that many many homes are placed high above the street or down below the street, meaning to get from street level to the house you have to climb stairs.

Public schools are mostly very good, private schools can be EXCELLENT but expensive. There's not many places in Wellington proper where you would be concerned about the quality of the primary school. High schools vary a little more but that's a way off for you.

For special needs education, see: here.

Rental market is ok, but agree with the previous commenter, you're not going to find the quality of housing you have here at similar rental prices. There is not a lot of apartment living. Houses are cold in winter, most don't have central heating and you will need to heat with fires or space heaters.

Cost of living: you will find the prices of everything high, I think. The cost of housing in Wellington is cheaper than in the Bay Area. But not a lot, especially in the nicer suburbs, it is easy to pay $1 million plus for a four bedroom house. Food and clothing are comparatively very expensive. I never paid less than $120 for a pair of jeans before I moved to the US. When my husband visits NZ he turns white at the cost of groceries. Meat, fruit and vegetables are pretty expensive. A paperback book costs anywhere from $25 to $40. Just for some benchmarks.

Having lived in 6 different countries, I feel qualified to comment on the expat life in general. The first thing you need to handle is ohmygod the PAPERWORK. When you hit a new country you have to complete a lifetime's worth of paperwork in a few months. Visa,, shipping, moving, unpacking, driver's licence, insurance, lease documentation, bank accounts, school enrollments, rental bond, utilities, buying a car, leasing a car, tax documentation. It feels never ending. Don't let it take over, but don't let anything slide. I know someone who didn't bother getting a local drivers license for ages and ended up with a nasty fine to pay. NZ is easier than Australia, the UK or the US in my opinion. But there is still a lot.

Secondly I would estimate it generally takes 1 or 2 months for the bloom to wear off being in a new place, and 6 months or more before you really start feeling comfortable . Once the rush of moving is over, you really do start to feel like you're in the same old groove, just in a different place - and without any of your friends or support networks. It can be hard to meet people, it's especially hard if you're past the "going out drinking on Friday nights" age or have kids, and it can take a long time to feel at home.

All that said, sometimes I'd give my eye teeth to be back in Wellington, I loved it there. The central city area is fantastic and nothing beats it on a good day.
posted by yogalemon at 12:26 PM on January 6, 2016 [5 favorites]


I grew up in Wellington and my brother still lives there. I am not familiar with portland though. Cycling in Wellington is horrible in winter because it rains a lot. One winter I noted in my diary the weather every day and it rained for 62 days straight. And Wellington is the only city I've lived in with driving rain that... drives UP your nose.

But my brother doesn't have a car. He mostly lives pretty central, and relies on walking and buses. I wouldn't own a car if i lived in Wellington. The traffic is unpleasant and it's a nightmare of narrow hilly streets and one way lanes. I think I'd die in a traffic accident pretty quick trying to drive there and I'm used to driving in the left!

Schools in nz are good in general and Wellington schools especially so.
posted by lollusc at 1:50 PM on January 6, 2016


Yes, you need a car. I think it's totally interesting folks differ on this! With a child, you need a car.

Give away your umbrella. It's not usable. Do invest in proper rain gear. It's not that bad getting wet walking around. With the right jackets and hats and shoes it feels really really refreshing! I liked that part. You still need a car with a child if you want to maximize your lifestyle options.

In many ways Portland and Wellington are similar. By far I prefer Wellington.

I liked living in Mt Victoria and would do it again in a heartbeat. Don't live on the shady side of Wellington, too much mold and damp. Don't live outside of town. I mean, you can. Probably you shouldn't. You're already leaving home, don't make it worse by being very very far away from the center of things. YMMV.

Try to get central heating. Trust me.

There are 3 people in Wellington. You know 2 of them, and the 3rd one? You know where he ate dinner last night and who he went home with. If you can live with level of un-privacy socially, you'll be away.

It's a little weird to be stuck in such a small (tremendously awesome amazing) country. Budget for travel and experiences abroad. Make travel a lifestyle requirement. I think that will solve 90% of that concern.

If somebody was paying me like they want to pay you (I'm a small business owner tied to where I currently live) I would move myself, my husband, and our 4.5 yr old son back to Wellington. I would happily rehome my cats. Wouldn't think twice, actually.
posted by jbenben at 1:59 PM on January 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Am reminded: because of the hilly terrain, some houses get very little sun, and whether a house gets sun makes a big difference to warmth and damp, even mental health issues. Worth checking with Google Earth, which can show you sun exposure over the year.

jbenben is not kidding about the umbrellas.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:12 PM on January 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


If you like to travel think very carefully about becoming expats - we spend all our vacation time going home to visit now rather than vacationing or traveling.
posted by jrobin276 at 4:29 PM on January 6, 2016


OMG people! Just to say it doesn't rain THAT much in Wellington! 62 days straight, which I'm dubious about, is very rare.

The thing that no one has mentioned so far though ... THE WIND! Wellington is the windiest capitial city in the world, one of the windiest cities full stop. Spring is especially terrible. Here's a handy representation of the Wellington seasons.

The wind will stop you wanting to cycle much more than the hills or rain.
posted by maupuia at 6:26 PM on January 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


It can be hard to meet people

I found the opposite of this, Wellington is full of expats and there is always lots going on.

There are 3 people in Wellington. You know 2 of them, and the 3rd one? You know where he ate dinner last night and who he went home with.


Ha ha. This is correct.

THE WIND


And this.

You Portlanders may have the best bookshop in the world, but Wellington has the second best one.

Have you seen this little video? I think it sums up the feel of Wellington perfectly.

One thing to consider is airport transfers. I've found that it's really nice when you can take a direct flight somewhere (eg. Auckland-LA) but gets to be a pain when you have to transfer at each end (Wellington-Auckland-LA-Portland). Where are your families?

Sometimes it can be tricky to find a rental that will let you have a dog (I think there's a box you can tick on Trademe to narrow it down).

Have you seen Expatistan? You can compare cost of living in different places.

There are so many things to consider when moving somewhere. If you want a recent NZ experience, feel free to Memail me.
posted by superfish at 8:56 PM on January 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Consider this as general NZ experience FWIW:

1. I think no, kids and the hills will make life without a car difficult. Also leaving town will be made more difficult the rail system is not widespread, and seeing the great outdoors is most of the benefit of being in NZ. However, cars are really expensive - hence they stay on the roads for years, the quinticential kiwi car has a lot of peeling paint - though Welly may be a little posher than out in the wops...

2. NZ has one of the best free English speaking education systems in the world, that said, I only have direct experience of preschool - 3 to 5 year olds get 30 hours of subsidised day care per week - these are private companies and quality varies from establishment to establishment, so you'll have to shop around to get the best fit.

4. nthing that the rental market is full of cold, draughty, uninsulated and sometimes unheated properties. If heating is provided, it is sometimes in the form of unflued gas heaters - which scared the crap out of us - we got family in Europe to send us a CO detector immediately, as they weren't available in NZ at the time. Kiwis tough it out over "winter", which is fine for adults but our toddler got hospitalised with suspected pneumonia (hospital care great BTW!!!). We only spent one winter in rented accommodation...

6. Cost of living is high and variable - supermarkets charge seasonal prices rather than averaging over the year - in our first winter, a loaf of bread went from $4 to $8 and back again... same for veggies - only buy in season and be prepared to go without some food which is always really expensive (e.g. Aubergines). We found that much of the quality NZ food we were used to seeing in Europe was unavailable in NZ because it all got exported - get used to eating hoggett instead of lamb. However, the fish is amazingly good and cheap when bought from the fishing companies.

8. TradeMe is pretty much all there is, occasionally someone tries to compete but it falls flat...

Other considerations:

There is no iodine in the soil, and therefore none in the veg, so you need to take supplements.

The UV in NZ in vicious, and sun block is essential 90% of the time, especially for the littlies.

It's a long way from everywhere else - you can fly for 10 hours before you even get past Australia.

We came back because it was a long way from family, especially with young children. We had over 30 hours to get home and Portland-Welly looks like 20 hours which is still considerable for you and your visitors when they come.

Overall, I loved it and would go back in a heart beat aside from the distance from family.

As with superfish, feel free to memail if you want to...
posted by SpacemanRed at 4:40 AM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


" There is no iodine in the soil, and therefore none in the veg, so you need to take supplements. "

Standard table salt here has iodine added to it. Use it, don't worry about iodine supplements.

If you don't eat meat, it might be worth looking into selenium though -- most NZ soils are very deficient, stock have to have it provided their salt-licks, and deficiencies are implicated in heart disease.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:31 PM on January 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Ok well I started writing this the other day but it turns out there are far more Wellingtonians on here than I thought! Anyway, some of this is repeating earlier answers.

1. Is car ownership optional? I currently commute by transit or bike, with the child. My wife drives, but only because her workplace is far away; she would prefer to bike. Wellington seems compact, and at most seems pretty similar in terms of geography to my current commute. Is this a fools errand?

I've lived in Wellington with and without a car and with and without a child and I'd have to say that unless you're living right in the centre of town you'll want and need a car. It's also worth it for the day-trips the region offers. You can get groceries delivered to your door but at a premium.

I cycled to work for a year and while it depends a lot on where you live I think the best word I can think of to describe cycling in Wellington is "exciting". If you're cycling in a hill suburb you're going to be on steep narrow winding streets competing with buses and local drivers who know exactly where the side of their car is. If you're on the flat you're not going to want to cycle about half the time (or half the commute) because of the wind. For reference the wind is gusting to 85mph today.

2. How is the educational system actually built over there? PPS is pretty solid, and the schools my son is slated to attend are middle of the pack in terms of quality. Is the NZ school system good/bad/ugly?
Public school funding depends on socio-economic indicators of the surrounding suburbs so schools in poorer areas receive more public funding than schools in richer areas. However the schools in richer areas tend to be able to solicit higher fees (technically donations) from parents. The schools in richer areas tend to perform better than those in poorer areas but this is likely less to do with the quality of the teaching than the independent effects of the aforementioned socio-economic factors.

3. How are educational special needs handled? Our 4yo son has a Sensory Processing Disorder (filed under an educational autism diagnosis, but he's not medically diagnosed as on the spectrum, he does have the medical diagnosis of SPD). This is a pretty big point of concern for us; any insight on how this would be handled by the schools?
I have teacher friends, friends in the ministry of education, and family and friends with special needs children but I can still only give you anecdata here. My understanding is that special needs care is reasonably good but not excellent. Generally special needs children learn alongside "normal" needs children but I believe there has been a recent push to focus special needs resources in particular schools rather than spreading those resources thinly across all schools. This is your best place to start: http://www.education.govt.nz/quick-links/special-education/. I've dealt with Ministry of Education a lot in the context of early childhood education and they have always been patient and responsive to email queries.

4. We've found a fair amount of information on home prices, but we wouldn't be looking to purchase right away (we own a home in PDX that we would most likely keep and rent out, given the insanity of the market here). What is the rental market like there?
My experience with the rental market (in fact we're trying to find a place right now) is that it's difficult in the < $500/week price bracket and pretty easy above that. It's a landlord-friendly market and I highly recommend trying to rent direct from a landlord, rather than through a property management company. For general advice about renting (and market rents) check out www.tenancy.govt.nz. They've got a useful helpline as well. The government has just introduced a "warrant of fitness" for rental properties - this will require landlords to insulate etc. but will probably push prices up.

One thing to be super-careful about when renting or buying is any house built from about 1990-2000 potentially has weathertightness issues. Google "leaky building syndrome" for more information. In general Wellington rental properties are in poor condition. Do you want double-glazing, weathertightness, insulation, sun for more than a few hours a day, or a front door level with street? Pick two.

Because of the hills you'll want to check street-view for any place you're considering - compare satellite view with street view here and you'll understand why. Also don't forget that the sun is in the North here.

5. Are there any good PDX-to-Wellington analogs for neighborhoods? We try to be aware of the difference between 'cute neighborhood, we'd love to live here' and 'grungy neighborhood, we can actually afford to live here.' Right now we live in a grungier-up-and-coming type neighborhood, because thats where we can really thrive…we don't expect to live in the nicest zone, and we're used to making sacrifices to the ideal living situation for what is a net-benefit for the family.
Can't really help you with Portland comparisons and my evaluation of suburbs would be heavily biased having lived here my whole life. As a general rule though hill suburbs are more affluent than flat suburbs but they're often far less practical and far less cosmopolitan. If you're looking for somewhere similar to where you are already then Newtown or Petone are probably your best bets but again be aware that the housing stock in these areas tend to be old wooden villas or bungalows and while the weather is far warmer here in winter the lack of insulation makes the houses colder.

6. I've tried evaluating the cost of living in general, but any nuanced views on Wellington's economic climate would be appreciated. We know its not going to be identically in terms of cost of living here, we're just wondering where the peaks and valleys of pricing will be (I remember while living in Canada during college that the cost of records were insanely low, and doubly so after you applied the exchange rate.
It's a government town so the economy is relatively stable. Prices don't vary much nationally so if anyone on the internet has asked the same question about Auckland or Christchurch those answers will apply equally for everything except transport. Expect to spend NZD$3.50-$5.00 for an espresso, $3-5 each way on the bus from most city suburbs, $2/litre petrol/gas, $4/hour to park a car in the city, $7-$10 for a non-craft beer, $9-15 for a craft beer, $10-$15 for Malaysian food, $20-$25 for a main at a cafe/restaurant, $25-$40 at a nice restaurant, $50-$250 for a pair of jeans, $20-$50/month on cellphone plan, $40-$80/month on broadband, $20/month for rubbish collection, $100-$300/month on electricity/gas (water is free in Wellington), and $600/week for an adequate 3 bedroom house with the caveats I mentioned above.
posted by ddd at 7:07 PM on January 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


Some pretty good advice here, I'll add a few cents worth:

Travel: commuting by public transport is easy. Anything else, less good. (For example, if I go to a weekend evening sports match then there might only be a bus every 30 or 60 minutes, and it's likely to be packed; if I go to a gig then the buses have stopped running by the time it finishes). I agree with those who say that you probably want one given you have a child. You can easily get groceries delivered and we do that.

Rental: as others have said, not great. My friends from Canada and Michigan routinely curse the coldness of our houses. I can't compare to the US, but when I lived in London houses would be furnished, very clean, modern and insulated. NZ flats would be lucky to be more than one of these.

Costs: I think some replies over-exaggerate the costs of things here. It is certainly easy to buy jeans for less than $120 or bread for less than $4 (never mind $8), and $1mn would get you a very nice house indeed. ddd seems to be more accurate (though I pay slightly more for broadband). Be aware that things you'd expect to be available everywhere might not be (e.g. some ingredients I was used to cooking with in London are very hard to get here; we're unlikely to have many American brands).

As others have said, though, food is expensive here. New Zealand lamb was cheaper in London than in Wellington [I don't know why: no sales tax, supermarkets with very strong bulk purchasing power, something else?]

On the other hand: healthcare is cheaper (I'd assume you'd qualify, but you might need to check). I was chatting yesterday to my Wellington-born cousin who lives in NY state, and we established that even with insurance, her co-pay costs are close to what I pay without insurance (say $60-80 for a GP or physio session; $5 for a prescription; free ambulance and hospital care).

Location: I'd go Newtown/Berhampore or Petone, probably Newtown, if you want somewhere a bit vibrant, some interesting shops/restaurants. Sounds like you'd be less happy in the hill suburbs.

Schooling: agree that our schools are pretty good. My nephew is on the spectrum, I could ping my brother for some advice on his experience if you like? One thought: schools are moving to a model of combined classrooms, so you have 90 kids in one big class instead of 30 in three small ones. This sounds hideous to me, and i don't think my nephew likes it, so that might be something to consider asking about.

Finally, call a meetup when you get here - we're not great at organising them ourselves but hopefully you could meet some people :)
posted by Pink Frost at 2:48 PM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


My sister's advice when I was talking to her about moving to NZ was that you basically rent (airbnb or trademe) for a few months until you know you want to live in a particular suburb, then you buy a house in the area you want to live by the school zone if you have a kid. The rental cost to buying a house for a few years worked out the same, because the rental market is so bad, and NZ is a land of home ownership. They have terrible housing stock from certain periods so you have to be pretty aggressive about the house inspections and pushing to make sure that you're getting a solidly built house and not a DIY job that will freeze and require space heaters in every room during winter (her first home).

You have to pay attention to crime ratings too. NZ has higher crime than is known because of the tourist image. My siblings have been burgled and had their cars robbed frequently enough that it's just normal to lock and deadbolt everything and carry pepper spray, and they didn't let their kids walk to the busstop in their neighbourhood during the day when they were younger. Wellington has at least for the 2013 crime stats, higher crime rates than Portland for just about every comparable category.

Wellington is probably the best city in NZ though - compact, interesting and close to amazing places.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:56 PM on January 8, 2016


Follow-up on general expat things: the thing that always catches me is the small differences - like having someone in LA airport literally not understand me due to my accent and use of "car park" instead of "parking lot".

How things are done (like how you pay in restaurants, whether you tip, etc). It's never anything unmanageable, but it can take a lot of energy remembering Kiwi English not US English.

The fact that everyone will be focused on different things (different sports, say. Or will have different cultural touchstones, though obviously we look to the US a lot). That the issues that are important might be completely different - like say abortion is a settled issue here, there's never been a debate over guns, but OTOH Maori sovereignty is huge, and I've had immigrants tell me they're surprised by the focus on Maori issues. (Tying those points together, NZ English incorporates a lot of Maori, often without translation).

In some ways I think it's easier going somewhere quite different, where you expect everything to be different, than it is going somewhere with the same language but maybe different customs.

it's just normal to lock and deadbolt everything and carry pepper spray,

Pepper spray is illegal in New Zealand, FWIW. Though sure, I'd certainly look my door; burglary is definitely a thing here.

and they didn't let their kids walk to the busstop in their neighbourhood during the day when they were younger.

You don't say where your sister lives, but this sounds odd to me and not likely to be an issue in the parts of Wellington that the OP could afford to live in. I've lived in London, in neighbourhoods where you have to watch yourself. Wellington is not really like that.
posted by Pink Frost at 10:51 PM on January 8, 2016


Pink Frost, that is hilarious, I had no idea my sister was doing something dodgy! She moved neighbourhoods a couple of times in Auckland to find a safer neighbourhood in part and I've had other relatives around NZ in different areas - Wellington seems the nicest of the cities to live in, but they all have stories of petty, street and personal crime that are alarming, and their teenage kids getting mugged or attacked. The OP's likely to find a nice safe neighbourhood in Wellington, but the local crime rate is something to take into account when you're house hunting because it's surprisingly high in NZ and not publicised to foreigners at all.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 3:28 AM on January 9, 2016


It's funny, as an American living in Wellington, I'm finding the kiwi comments here fairly negative, not sure if that's the tall poppy syndrome at work. Yes, prices will be higher than in the US, as I'm reminded by visiting relatives all the time. So, too, will taxes be, but I'm responding under the assumption that the OP recognises some of these differences between the localities. Likewise with crime, geography, and climate, there's a lot to factor in, and all depends on personal preference or tolerance. How does one successfully expat? My strong suggestion would be to come visit first. I'm not saying that one week here would give you a firm feel on all the differences and similarities to Portland, but would definitely help on some of the day-to-day, how-does-one-get-by kinds of questions. But for all the others, such as house-buying, friend-making, school-selection, etc., you really must jump in and do it. Not all New Zealanders will know how best to do these things, and part of the excitement of uprooting oneself and sloughing off your support circle is to make your decisions facing the unknown. It sounds like you're willing to make the leap long term, and I think that is the most important insight. If you constantly look for outs and ways to be able to quickly return to your old life in America, you not immerse yourself enough to have a fulfilling "ex-pat" experience.

Lots of good comments on some particulars, only a couple things I'd add:

Previously

You mention citizenship, you may want to make sure you know what Dual Citizenship means in US terms.

And since people are mentioning suburbs, you can see how we define them in this Wellington suburbs link; the further you get from the Wellington Central area the cheaper the house prices, etc., generally speaking.
posted by Metro Gnome at 6:10 PM on January 11, 2016


Worth noting that a handful of people (including me) suggested the suburb of Petone as a potential place to investigate. That's not on Metro Gnome's map because it's part of a neighbouring city called Lower Hutt. Petone edges the harbour at middle-right of that map.

It's funny, as an American living in Wellington, I'm finding the kiwi comments here fairly negative, not sure if that's the tall poppy syndrome at work.
Last week it was so windy that we had to recover our barbecue from halfway down a bank. Not the barbecue cover, the whole damn barbecue.

The suburban libraries are closed on Sundays.

There appears to be a rule that bus drivers have to have their heaters on full regardless of the weather so if you get on a bus wearing more than underwear you will be unpleasantly damp for the rest of the day.

If you try and buy anything on Amazon it will cost $185,000 to ship it to Wellington.

There are whole streets that don't see the sun for 10 months of the year.

The museum is sparse and empty and 99% of its collection is stored in a warehouse up the road.

If you miss the Tinakori Road exit on the motorway you can't turn around until you get to the Newlands offramp 7km away.

The Lambton Quay juggler busker guy always has a semi-erect penis and once you know about it you can never not look at it.

At any moment the entire city could be devastated in an earthquake.

But actually I think the negativity in this thread comes from the fact that we're not trying to sell the place we're trying to honestly and helpfully answer the asker's questions. There are loads of great things about this place and for the most part I never shut up about them but that's not the question furnace.heart asked.
posted by ddd at 9:31 PM on January 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


Some clarification on some points:

Food prices - agriculture in NZ is 100% unsubsidised & exposed to international markets.

get used to eating hoggett instead of lamb

This cracked me up, Hogget is incomparably better than lamb. Revel in it.

I never paid less than $120 for a pair of jeans before I moved to the US.

Wot? I generally never pay more than $30 for jeans, and the prices for jeans in the US made my eyes water, also the quality was the pits.

When comparing prices, be aware that the pricetag in NZ is the total amount you will pay [taxes included], and you never need to tip, ever - as a result prices for restaurant food look higher in NZ, because in the US you're expected to pay significantly more than the price shown on the menu. The quality of food in NZ is better too in my experience.

You can expect to pay significantly less in NZ for stuff like insurance, medical, car repairs etc.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 7:59 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


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