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Tricia Alach has interviewed many Kiwi expats upon their return to New Zealand. Here she explores the four main phases of planning involved when moving country: extraction, landing, transition and long-term. All have to be considered when deciding how best to organise and manage a move.


1.  The Extraction Plan

Several interviewees reported that they had been thinking about making the move for a long time before they actually started organising in earnest. In a couple of cases, they had purchased property in NZ several years before making a firm decision to actually return to NZ.

Once a firm decision was made, the interviewees reported that it took them between two months and a year to organise their departure, depending on the complexity of their situation. The factors that influenced how much time their extraction would take included:

Who is moving to NZ?

Where the person was single and moving on their own, the actual extraction plan might include nothing more than giving notice to employer and landlord and booking a flight. If, on the other hand the NZer had married a non-NZer, visas needed to be arranged for the partner which meant contacting NZ Immigration and going through that process over several months.

To facilitate job hunting in NZ, the partner might also need to have a professional qualification recognised in the NZ context which may necessitate contact with that profession’s governing body. Other considerations were to do with the length of the notice period each adult had to give or, if self-employed or a business owner, how quickly that person could wrap up their obligations and be able to leave or, continue to work from NZ.

If there were children, they might also need to apply for a NZ passport which might be more or less straight forward, depending on the citizenship rules of the country in which the child was born. If children were of school age, the parents might decide to plan their departure at the end of the school term to minimise disruption.

Animals also needed to be factored into the extraction planning as NZ has strict rules about importing pets from abroad. This meant in some cases that the interviewees had to leave their animals behind with friends who would put them on a plane once they had met the requirements set by MAF.




What to do with the house?

Several interviewees owned property in the place they were living. Some decided to sell up before moving back which could add months to the time frame needed to organise their departure. Others decided to rent out their properties to enable them to move more quickly and/or retain the possibility of going back.

Sell or send?

A number of interviewees actually chose not to bring their stuff back to NZ with them when they first came. Instead, a common decision was to put their things in storage for at least a year while they found their feet and decided whether or not they were going to stay. This meant some of the interviewees also had to factor in a return trip at some point to arrange transportation to NZ of the goods they wanted to keep and, to dispose of the rest. This also meant keeping bank accounts and credit cards active in order to be able to pay ongoing bills.

Staying for significant moments

Several interviewees reported that they based their extraction planning around key events in the place they were living that they didn’t want to miss. This included being in London for the Olympics as well as being able to attend certain social or family events.

Hedging your bets

Wanting to stay until they had received British Citizenship was also an important factor in extraction planning for those who were based in the UK. This was considered to be even more important in the post-Brexit context where there was a sense that the UK might be tightening the regulations all round. Many reported that even though, at this time, they didn’t want to live in the UK, they felt comforted by having the legal option to return.



  2.  The Landing Plan

The landing plan centred on deciding where they would live when they first arrived in NZ. This decision was made primarily based on the following factors and reflected the priorities of the interviewees at the time of the move:

  • Closeness to family
  • Closeness to friends
  • Job opportunities, both current and future
  • Access to a particular lifestyle
  • Affordability

For some interviewees, ranking these priorities was relatively simple and became the anchor around which all other decisions were made. Others made the initial decision on where to land based on one priority which then changed once they were back in NZ.

Many interviewees reported staying with family when they first arrived back. This could be for as short as a week or as long as two years, depending on the transitional plan.

Most interviewees began exploring job opportunities while still living overseas. A number of them had considered both NZ and Australia when planning the move and reported having numerous Skype conversations with recruiters on both sides of the ditch.

Those who had done this reported that the NZ recruiters they spoke to were generally encouraging and, happy to conduct interviews via Skype and give advice on industry trends, as well as pointers on how to present their CV and translate overseas experience into the NZ context. This meant several interviewees already had a job lined up, or meetings booked, with recruiters soon after they arrived back in NZ.

Some interviewees were self-employed, or business owners, who had already put structures in place to enable them to work from NZ, with or without short trips back to their business’s home base. In most cases, they had done this before making the decision to return to NZ, driven instead by a bigger life goal of working in a location independent way.

Facebook, in particular those pages and groups targeting expats and repats, was also cited as a useful source of online information for both, practical information like which moving companies are best and, insight into the process of transition. See this blog’s facebook page for links to some of these pages and groups.

Others had done a lot of ‘on the ground’ research on trips back to NZ in the years preceding the move. There was a general sense that it is better to come and check things out for yourself, rather than believing media reports on ‘life in NZ’ which don’t always reflect the reality.



3.  The Transition Plan

Most of the interviewees reported that they expected their return to be a process of transition during which they would establish themselves in a new life in NZ.

Some began this experience of transition by taking the scenic route back to NZ, travelling for between two and eight months on their way back. In most cases this meant, the person chose to maintain some flexibility over their return date which meant they didn’t start making firm decisions about what they wanted to do, or where they wanted to live, until they actually arrived back in NZ.

Others, had a clear vision for the life they wanted to create in NZ and an expectation this would take several years. Some had begun working on this plan several years before they booked their flights home. For example, buying or building a new home in NZ while still abroad, which they could move into on their return.

Others wanted to take some time to try out different locations before deciding where they wanted to live. This meant they planned to live in a temporary situation – with family, housesitting, renting alone or sharing a flat – while they figured out the next step.

The desire to keep their options open, also extended to the way in which several of the interviewees chose to work when they first got back to NZ. As they had done when they first moved abroad, many of the interviewees began their job search looking for temporary or contract work. Some did this as a freelancer, while others set up a limited liability company depending on which structure was most suitable for their line of work.

Several of the interviewees had a transitional plan that included continuing to live and work some part of the year abroad. The more complex this part of the plan, the longer it generally took to put in place, especially if there were legal requirements to meet in order to make this happen. Those who had chosen to manage their transition in this way were generally open minded as to how this might play out in the future. Some seemed quite happy to be constantly on the move while others, having got settled back in to NZ life, were looking at ways to reduce the amount of time they spent away.

Complying with the taxation system in the country you have moved from, as well as NZ was also something to be addressed in the early years of relocation. This could be especially complicated for those who had assets or sources of income in different parts of the world. A good accountant, knowledgeable in international tax, was considered a must for this aspect of the transitional plan.




4.  The Long-Term Plan

A number of interviewees reported that they deliberately chose not to have a long term plan because they preferred to take life as it comes and figure things out one step at a time. Interviewees with this orientation reported the importance of being experience led and staying open to changing your mind.

Others though, had a very clear sense of the life they wanted to live in the bigger sense and, a very clear understanding of how this move to NZ, at this particular time, contributed to them achieving that goal. In some cases this was a very tangible goal e.g. building an off grid house which they would eventually run as a retreat.

In others, it was a more of sense of the kind of life they wanted to lead and the belief that being in NZ at this time was an important part of that journey. For some, NZ was essentially the final stop on that journey while many saw their relationship to NZ as more of a revolving door – one they would walk through many more times in the future.


If you enjoyed this article, you’ll probably also like these others from Our Stories:

What is most surprising, challenging and joyful about the return home to New Zealand?

In 2017, Alyson Garrido and her whanau packed up their things and moved to NZ from LA.

Moving back home after time abroad can be difficult, you're still filtering life through a global mind-set.



Tricia Alach is a freelance consultant specialising in leadership development, talent management and OD. She has recently returned to live in NZ after 12 years as a glomad living in the Netherlands, the UK and the US. She is also the author of the How to Have a Happy Homecoming blog, which tells the stories of Kiwis returning to live in NZ.

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Part 12