Michelle and JJ Calitz – Our Life in New Zealand

Articles > Michelle and JJ Calitz - Our Life in New Zealand

In essence, we decided to leave South Africa because we saw no future for our kids. We made the final decision in February 2019 and then put all our energy and time into getting to New Zealand as soon as we could. We signed up with Immigration Migration in March and, by April, Michelle had her first online job interview and she travelled to New Zealand in June and had a face to face interview with the same company. Ten days later her work visa was approved. We arrived in New Zealand in August 2019 – on our son’s 14th birthday. So the whole process took around six months.

We would highly recommend travelling to New Zealand to search for a job. We found that the companies and recruitment agents we contacted from South Africa, rarely answered our emails. As soon as I (Michelle) landed in New Zealand I bought a local SIM card and found that agencies were suddenly ringing and assisting me. It was obvious that Kiwis liked to see people make the effort as it showed serious intent and commitment to immigration. Having been here 18 months now, I’ve seen first-hand how many applications hiring managers receive when advertising a job. Easily 50% of those applications are from people living overseas without work visas, and as a hiring manager, you immediately know that those applications, no matter how great, will have time delays and other complications. So, if you’re applying from South Africa, you have to ensure you stand out and do everything you can to make the process as easy as possible for a prospective employer.

Children and Schools
The kids absolute love it here. They’re different kids and have developed tremendously. They’re now 12 and 15 and enjoying their newfound freedom. As soon as we arrived we bought the kids bikes so they could cycle to school but they had been so used to us following them in our car with our hazards flashing, that sudden freedom to cycle on their own was difficult for them. Growing up in New Zealand today is very similar to growing up in South Africa when we were kids, when it was safe for kids to walk or cycle to school or to their friend’s house. We are extremely grateful that our kids can now enjoy the freedom that we enjoyed as children. Here you see young children, maybe as young as six, going to the local shop on their own or walking to school. One thing we didn’t realise before coming to New Zealand was that our kids had grown up without learning basic skills such as how to cross a road, purely because of the restrictions caused by safety issues in South Africa.

The schools here start around 9am and we both leave the house at around 7am to go to work which means the kids have to get themselves up, dressed and out of the house so they can get to school on time. We trust them to lock up the house but if they forget, it’s not the serious issue it would be in South Africa. When we first arrived, we would text the teacher to check that the kids had arrived at school because we were so worried that they hadn’t made it. In time we managed to relax and realised that kids are very resilient and should be able to get themselves up and out and to school on time. In South Africa we cocoon our kids to keep them safe but that means that they don’t learn many essential life skills.

The schooling system in South Africa is driven by academia. It’s a rigid system with large classes which means that it’s easier for the kids to fall behind. New Zealand’s education system takes other aspects of ‘education’ into account and their system is based more on experiential learning rather than rigid academic disciplines.
We feel that if your kids are academic achievers, who get over 90% in exams, then the South African schooling system is great but, for the majority of kids, the New Zealand education system is definitely better as it focuses on experiential, life skills development. Our son who’s in Grade 10 gets very little homework and they rarely write tests. Our younger son never gets homework. This gives the kids time to play and be ‘kids’ when they come home from school.

The kids are given practical life skills projects to complete such as imaging they have $20 and they must plan a meal for a family of four. Not only must they cost the meal, but they need to work out the nutritional value of the foods they’ve chosen. This method of education has increased our sons’ confidence and skills to such a level that they are now different children to those we had in South Africa.

We were worried by the fact that Afrikaans is our home language and thought this would be a problem at school for our sons, especially in subjects such as science and maths, but the schools are incredibly supportive of all immigrant families. Before kids are enrolled in a school, the teachers and school principal meet with new parents and gauge where their children will fit in. We felt as if we were interviewing the principal rather than other way round!

Volunteering is an important aspect of life in New Zealand, especially for older kids. As soon as the kids reach 16 they start volunteering. They are also encouraged to get a part time job, such as packing supermarket shelves or packing groceries etc. New Zealand’s strong work ethic means that kids from every family – rich or poor, will have a part time job of some description and thoroughly enjoy doing it.

One thing we’ve noticed about Wellington is that people aren’t driven by status. This is great for our kids to witness and so different to many areas in South Africa. The people of Wellington don’t need flash cars and generally the cars in this area are old and functional. People don’t find the necessity to spend a fortune on clothes either, they happily go to shops in jeans and a T-shirt and no make-up. Most South African women in the cities wouldn’t be seen dead in a shopping mall without their make-up and smart clothes because there’s so much pressure in South Africa to look smart and change your wardrobe every season.

Housing and Converting to Rand
A word of warning don’t convert NZ$ into Rand or you’ll never buy anything! We are now eligible to buy a property, but property is very expensive and, as first time home buyers we need a 20% deposit. A four-bedroomed house in Wellington costs around NZ$850,000 to NZ$1,200,000 which is really expensive in Rand terms. Renting is also not cheap either, ranging between NZ$450 to NZ$800 per week – note ‘week’ not ‘month’. These rental prices ae a shock at first, but once people start earning NZ$, and budget carefully, you soon adjust.

On our first day, we bought four ham and cheese toasted sandwiches and chips and it cost $50 (around R500). We were horrified but eventually we stopped converting everything into Rand. The only time we don’t is if we’re buying big ticket items such as a TV or fridge, here we tend to still convert in order to guage whether the value matches the price. This doesn’t always apply, but was useful initially as a sense check.

Pressure on Relationships
Please be warned that immigrating may seem like an easy process but it’s hard and can take its toll on relationships. As partners, if you’re not on the same page, don’t even attempt it. It’s really important that you have each other’s backs when you land in your new country. Most people have no support or family, you just have each other and you have to keep it together for the kids.

You land in New Zealand, jet lagged and stressed, and everything is overwhelming. Everything is unfamiliar, even down to buying basic commodities in new supermarkets with unfamiliar labelled items. This unfamiliarity and frustration obviously leads to tension between couples, so it’s vital that you’ve both agreed that this move was a great idea. If one of you turns around and says, ‘Why did we do this?’ and can’t think of a positive answer because they didn’t want to do it in the first place, then that relationship is in trouble. We have heard that the divorce rate among immigrants is high due to this emotional journey.

The emotional journey begins once you’ve made the decision to move to New Zealand. You have to tell family and friends, perhaps say goodbye to beloved pets, sell your home and prepare to leave everything you know behind. The flight is emotional, arriving in New Zealand is emotional, the days where you miss home and family and friends are emotional, so you need a strong relationship with your partner to get through these trying episodes.

On a lighter note, just after we got our residence visas, we went to a rugby game in Wellington – Australia v. All Blacks. For the first time we wore our All Black jerseys and cheered for ‘our’ team. When the NZ team did the Haka, we cried. We were so embarrassed, but for us, it was the culmination of our journey and that was now ‘our’ team. However, just to get the record straight, if the Boks come to play in NZ, we will be wearing our Springbok jerseys.

Once you’ve made the decision to immigrate to New Zealand, start saving and stop spending. Start selling household goods etc so you can get as much cash together as you can, so you have a buffer when you land in New Zealand. We actually shipped our household contents to New Zealand, and it arrived six weeks after we did. Before it arrived we found some great companies where we could rent things like a TV and washing machine but we still needed to buy beds and basic things like cups and plates. You also need cash for a rental deposit and perhaps school fees and uniforms, plus your first big grocery shop. There are so many things that you’ll need when you arrive that you must ensure you have a cash buffer.

We opened up a New Zealand bank account while we were in South Africa, but we didn’t realise that we had to activate it in a branch in New Zealand. On the first Saturday morning we decided to buy a car but our account was frozen and the banks were closed. We eventually found one branch that was open but discovered that it was by appointment only. A lesson learnt for us – do your homework before arriving.

Unlike South Africa, fruit and veg here are seasonal so you won’t have all year round availability in New Zealand. Always buy fruit and vegetables when they’re in season otherwise it’ll cost you a fortune. When we first arrived we were shocked at the price of basics such as tomatoes as they were out of season. We’d been in NZ for around six weeks and then treated ourselves to two tomatoes! Three months later, they were in season and affordable.

There are lots of great Facebook groups that’ll give you tips on shopping and other aspects of life in New Zealand. Many of these have South African immigrant members, so if you want mayonnaise that tastes like Nola mayonnaise, just ask, someone will help you out. One word of caution from us, beware of using Facebook for immigration information, there’s a lot of misinformation on FB and social media in general.

Immigration Agency?
We are often asked if you should use an immigration agency. We always answer that ‘yes’: you can try and do it yourself but there’s so much conflicting information out there that its better to use a professional company. Everyone is different and everyone’s journey is different. For most people, it’s the first time they’ve immigrated and gone through this process. Even if they’ve moved to another country before, the process will be different for New Zealand. So to have someone on your side, looking after your interests, makes all the difference.

We have friends who signed up with another agency in South Africa, mainly because they were cheaper, but they’ve been unsuccessful due to an unfortunate event outside their control. We’ve often wondered if IML would have managed to get over the hurdles that blocked their way. Our theory is, you get what you pay for, and we’d rather pay more and know we’re going to receive the quality and professionalism that comes with that; a company that will carefully check your documentation and assist you with gaining employment.

Once you’ve decided to go, then do it. Do your research and don’t try and do it on your own. Life is good in New Zealand and we are delighted we made the journey.