Finally, A Short Post!

Hey, everyone! It’s been a while. Anything interesting going on back home that I should know about?

Kidding. As my friend Anne said, “You know, I wouldn’t mind living in precedented times for a little while.”

This is going to be a short post because I promised that I’d intersperse long, rambling blog posts with short, to-the-point blog posts and we have yet to see any of the latter. And also because I haven’t anything posted in six weeks—!

Before the short post, here’s a photo of a bouquet of flowers that I picked from our garden yesterday. Just a reminder that it’s the dead of winter here. Winters where we live are mostly in the 50s/60s during the day and the 40s overnight with a fair amount of sporadic, driving rain. It’s nuts that we have daffodils and hellebores coming up in what roughly equates to November back home in New England. Daffodils and hellebores herald the end of winter/arrival of spring back home. It’s very hard to wrap my head around.

Okay, here’s the actual post. It’s short. Ready?

When someone asks me where I’m from. I always start geographically small (“Cape Cod?”), and if the person hasn’t heard of the Cape, I start expanding the search until they hear something they recognize (“Just south of Boston? Massachusetts? New England? The upper right-hand part of the United States”).

Three times so far when I have said that I’m from Cape Cod, the other person has exclaimed “Oh, with the rockets!”.

The first time it happened I was confused, and they were confused that I was confused, and then I figured it out. Absolutely good for them for even having heard of Cape Canaveral, but I thought my Cape (Cod) people would get a kick out of hearing this. And it’s happened three times! 🚀

My *New Job,* Along With a Brief (“Brief”) Rundown of New Zealand’s Workers’ Rights, How Taxes Work Here, and How a Stranger Saved Me From a Lifelong Financial Nightmare

Yep, that’s right; I got a job! I actually got a job like…..less than a minute after I was granted my work visa. You may remember from my previous post that I was at my volunteer nursery gig when I got the punctuationally-deadpan but nevertheless thrilling email from Immigration saying that I had been granted a one-year work visa. I happened to be working alongside the co-owner of the nursery/landscape company, who offered me a job on the spot (and then–which I found very sweet–she immediately added that I should take some time to think about it, since I’d literally *just* gotten my visa, and that they’d be open to full- or part-time employment; whatever worked best for me, and that we could chat about it once the news had settled in). I’ve gotten to know the couple who own the company and some of their employees during my volunteer time, and I really like all of them. So a few days later I sat down with them and voilà: I’m employed! I’ll be doing a bit of nursery work and a bit of landscape work.

I spent the past four years working for a landscaping company on Cape Cod, so in a lot of ways this will feel familiar to me. But the one glaring difference between my job back home and my job here–aside from the wildly different flora and the fact that the guys I work with speak English (well; if Kiwi English counts 🤣)–is the fact that I am legally entitled to a whole bunch of what I can’t help but think of as “job perks,” even thought they are in fact national laws designed to help Kiwis maintain a healthy work/life balance. What a novel concept, eh?

The landscaping company has hired me as a “casual employee” for my first 6-8 weeks there, both because they will only have part-time work available until one of their full-time employees leaves in August, and also as a way to make sure I’m a good fit for them (and vice versa) before we move into my being a “permanent employee”. “Casual employee” is a term used to refer to an employment situation where the employee has no guaranteed hours of work, no regular pattern of work, and no ongoing expectation of employment. As defined by the Employment division of the New Zealand government website, “Each time a casual employee accepts the offer to work it’s considered a new period of employment. If an employer decides to stop offering work, this doesn’t count as a dismissal because the employer has no responsibility to provide work”. The employer doesn’t have to offer work to the employee, and the employee doesn’t have to accept work if it’s offered. Casual employees are entitled to the same rights as contract employees, but the way in which annual holidays, sick leave, and bereavement leave are applied can vary for these employees. I’ll explain that further down.

Disclaimer: before I launch into everything I’ve been learning about employment in New Zealand, I want to state unequivocally that although I try my best to research and fact-check the hell out of everything I post on this blog, citing official government websites as much as possible, there is always the possibility that what I write may not be entirely accurate, either factually or in a lived day-to-day NZ experience. This whole “living in a new country” thing is a learning process for me as much as for everyone reading this. If I find that I need to go back and amend or clarify anything, I will always mark it as “Edited” so everyone knows that I was actually talking out my tuchus.

A picture of me with one of the nursery’s farm dogs, just to break up the monotony.

There are several different categories of employees in NZ:

A permanent employee–be it full or part-time–have the full set of rights I’m about to list for you. New Zealand has no law specifying the number of hours which differentiate full-time and part-time work, though 35-40 hours is generally considered to be full-time.
A casual employee is an employment situation where the employee has no guaranteed hours of work, no regular pattern of work, and no ongoing expectation of employment.
A fixed term (or “contract”) employee is someone hired for a specific amount of time; their employment has an end date (think someone hired to cover someone’s maternity leave).
A seasonal employee is exactly what it sounds like. There’s a ton of seasonal work in NZ thanks to the thriving fruit, vegetable, fish, and meat industries.
A contractor, or independent contractor, is essentially the same thing as being self-employed. Contractors earn income by invoicing the principal for their services. A contractor pays their own tax and isn’t covered by most employment-related laws, which means they don’t get things like annual leave or sick leave.
Triangular employment situations. This is where someone is employed by one employer (the agency), but is working under another business or organisation that directs or controls their day-to-day work (controlling third party). An employee is employed by a recruitment or employment agency, and is sent on work assignments to another organisation. In other words, temping.

Here is a quick summary of the rights which Permanent Employees (full or part-time) are entitled to, taken directly from the employment.govt.nz website:

Vacation Time:
Employees get a minimum of 20 days annual paid leave. Annual leave is accrued every full year with the company rather than the calendar year, and employees can only take their paid leave after completing a full year with the company unless agreed upon otherwise.

Holidays:
There are ten national public holidays, plus one regional anniversary day. Employees are given the day off, but are paid for, public holidays that fall on a regular working day. Employees who work during a public holiday are entitled to 1.5 times their regular pay plus an alternative day off.

Sick Time:
Sick leave entitlement is 10 days per year after six months of continuous employment and can be accumulated to 20 days. Employees can use sick leave when they themselves are sick, or when a child, spouse, or someone else in their care is sick.  

Maternity Leave:
Maternity leave in NZ is more commonly known as “primary carer leave” or “parental leave” and is available to someone who is pregnant, a new mother or their partner, an adoptive parent, a Home for Life parent, Whāngai (Whāngai is the Māori tradition of children being raised by someone other than their birth parents — usually a relative), a grandparent with full-time care, or a permanent guardian.
The length of leave is as follows:
* Six months before the due date: 26 weeks (half a year) of paid primary carer leave, and a further 4 weeks of unpaid extended parental leave 
* Twelve months before due date: 26 weeks  (half a year) of paid primary carer leave, and a further 26 weeks of unpaid extended parental leave

Miscarriage Leave:
Three days of paid leave for miscarriage or stillbirth at any point during the pregnancy.

Domestic Violence Leave:
Domestic violence victims can claim up to 10 days of paid domestic violence leave in every 12 months.

Because I am starting out as a casual (part time, non-consistent) employee, I’m not eligible for the legally mandated paid vacation and holiday times. However, rather than just getting screwed over, my employer–by law–has to pay me at least minimum wage (which, as of April 1, 2024, is $23.15/hour) plus at least an additional 8% “casual loading fee” per hour. Casual employees are also entitled to sick leave and bereavement leave after 6 months of starting work if, during that time, they have worked an average of at least 10 hours a week, and at least one hour a week or 40 hours a month.

Filling out the paperwork for my new job was a trip, since of course I’ve never had the pleasure of filling out new-job-paperwork in another country. It was refreshingly brief and straightforward: I had to write my name, IRD number, and tax code. You need an IRD (Internal Revenue Department) number in order to have a job in New Zealand; I applied for mine online as soon as I got my visa and it was automatically generated and emailed to me within an hour. The “tax code declaration” was made easy thanks to the helpful flowchart that came with it:

Lastly, I had to sign a special form declaring that I was opting the hell out of something called KiwiSaver.

KiwiSaver
. Oh, my dear, sweet, complicated KiwiSaver. Where do I even begin with you.

KiwiSaver is a voluntary savings scheme set up by the government to help New Zealanders easily and affordably save for their retirement. As an employee, you can choose to contribute 3%, 4%, 6%, 8% or 10% of your gross wage or salary to your KiwiSaver account, and employers are required to contribute close to 3% of your gross salary (unless they are already contributing to another superannuation fund for them). Additionally, as long as you’re eligible, for every $1 you invest into your KiwiSaver account, the government may contribute 50 cents, up to a maximum amount of $521.43 every year until you’re 65 (to get your full KiwiSaver government contribution, you need to contribute $1,042.86 to your KiwiSaver account, which works out to just over $20 a week. This $20/week can be through your wages/salary deductions and any voluntary contributions you may decide to make. Any contributions from your employer do not count). Your KiwiSaver savings are invested on your behalf by the KiwiSaver provider of your choice. If you don’t choose a provider, Inland Revenue will assign you to a default KiwiSaver fund. 

It sounds pretty great, right? [Insert annoying buzzer sound].

I cannot throw enough gratitude towards an American woman named Melissa who has been living in NZ for ten years. I first made her acquaintance on the Americans Coming to Aotearoa/New Zealand Facebook group last year when she posted a link to a book she’d just self-published called So You Want to Move to New Zealand. I fully admit that after a decade of running an independent bookstore, I will forever be a bit dubious about self-publishing. It’s come a long way since I left the bookstore in 2012, but back then anyone who shelled out a bunch of money could have a book published. They tended to have terrible cover art, were rife with cringey typos, and more often than not came with pushy authors who demanded front and center displays in the store. However, all of Melissa’s posts in the FB group were eloquent and informative, and I decided that shelling out a mere $5.97 for a copy of her ebook couldn’t hurt. It turned out to be fabulous. She is indeed a terrific writer and her book has been a massive financial lifesaver for me (disclaimer that I know she’d want me to put: she is not a financial adviser or CPA and nothing that she’s written should be taken as legal advice. She’s just done her homework and knows her s**t). Despite my many many many hours of diligent research about moving to NZ, I had never come across this whole KiwiSaver thing. And it sounds great, so I absolutely would have signed up for it and then royally screwed myself over…for life.

Here’s the deal: Most of my (non-self-employed) Kiwi friends agree that KiwiSaver is awesome and has allowed them to save up a nice chunk of change. I mean, it sounds awesome, right? And I’m sure it is awesome, if you’re a Kiwi. I, however, am–and always will be–a United States citizen, and it is most decidedly not awesome for me. Although I first learned about all of this KiwiSaver stuff from Melissa’s book, it’s been verified over and over again on a tax-centered FB group for American expats living in NZ.

The United States Internal Revenue Service has this thing they call Passive Foreign Investment Companies (PFIC). They define PFICs as something where at least 75% of a corporation’s gross income is passive and at least 50% of the company’s assets are investments which produce income in the form of earned investment, dividends, and capital gains. PFICs came out of a tax reform law passed in 1986 to close a loophole which some U.S. taxpayers were using to shelter offshore investments from taxation, as well as  to discourage Americans from seeking tax advantages in foreign mutual funds. PFICs are subject to strict and extremely complicated tax guidelines by the Internal Revenue Service.

Funds and investments with KiwiSaver are seen as passive foreign income by the IRS. And PFICs are taxed up to 50% annually on realized gains (realized gains are when an asset is sold for a higher price than it was originally purchased for; a gain is the difference between the purchase and sale price) and up to a cute little ONE HUNDRED PERCENT when you withdraw funds. And once you open a KiwiSaver account, the only two ways you can ever close it are if you 1. Die or 2. Permanently leave New Zealand, neither of which I plan on doing. Melissa’s “Avoiding Banking Blind Spots” chapter saved me, literally and figuratively. One of the biggest topics of conversation in the aforementioned tax-centered Facebook group for American expats living in New Zealand is the whole KiwiSaver thing. Most posts are by people who unwittingly signed up for it and were desperately begging for information about how to get out of it. It’s heartbreaking. They are never given good news. You either have to leave NZ or die.

Needless to say, there wasn’t an ice cube’s chance in hell that I was opening a KiwiSaver account, and I could not have signed that op out form any faster if I’d tried. Because I opted out of KiwiSaver, the only thing coming out of my paychecks (thus far) is something called PAYE: Pay As You Earn. PAYE is a New Zealand system where the employer deducts a certain amount from every employee’s paycheck, which goes towards income tax and Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC). The employer is responsible for paying this to the IRD.

For 2024 and 2025, the PAYE tax rates are as follows:

$0 – $14,00010.5%
$14,001 – $48,00017.5%
$48,001 – $70,00030%
$70,001 – $180,00033%
$180,001 +39%

So there you have it! I am gainfully employed, starting to understand employment laws and the tax system here, and, thanks to an internet stranger, do not need to get myself deported or throw myself off Shakespeare’s Cliff to get out of having opened a KiwiSaver account. I have no idea if anyone back home aside from my CPA and New Zealand-loving friend Hazel had any desire to know any of this, but hopefully this deluge of information can help someone down the road.

I hope all of you back home are doing well! As we are now in the early stages of a mildly chilly, somewhat overcast, damp winter, I’m loving seeing all the photos from people’s gardens (especially my mom’s). Keep ’em coming!

Lotsa love from the Antipodes,

H.


PS: In a future post I’m going to get into the fact that I still have to pay taxes to the US government, though because I’ll be making under a certain amount of money I may be exempt from this. 🤯

So, now what?



I want to include photos in all of my blog posts, so although this is a complete non sequitur, please enjoy this picture I took a few weeks ago of the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis). It was unreal.


Back to our regularly scheduled blog post.

A few people have asked me what happens next with my visa, so I thought I’d lay it all out for everyone here.

My Work Visa is valid until May 21, 2025 (one year from the date of issue). Partner of a New Zealander Work Visas are good for 1-2 years depending on how long you and your partner have been living together. If you’ve been living together for fewer than twelve months (as is our case), the visa is good for one year.

Sometime around February/March 2025, I will apply for a Partner of a New Zealander Resident Visa (processing time: 80% within 9 months, 20% within 12 months), since we will have at that point been living together for more than 12 months (January 2024-January 2025). At that time I will also resubmit my Work Visa, as I need to maintain that until the Resident one is approved. During the 9-12 months that I’m waiting for my Resident Visa to come through, I cannot leave the country or else I have to restart that whole process. This 9-12 months will be the longest time frame during which I’m not allowed to come home.

Once granted the Resident Visa, it is valid for two years, during which I can continue to work (and study) here, as well as come and go from the country as I wish.

Towards the end of those two years, I can apply for a Permanent Resident Visa. Processing time: 80% within 3 weeks. You must have held your Resident Visa for at least 2 years when you apply. The difference between the Resident and Permanent Resident visas is that Resident Visas have travel conditions that only allow you to re-enter New Zealand as a resident for those two years, whereas a Permanent Resident Visa allows indefinite re-entry to New Zealand. If I am granted a Permanent Resident Visa it will, as the name suggests, allow me to live and work in NZ, coming and going whenever I wan to, forever, which is my goal.

After five years of being in NZ on the Permanent Resident Visa–so long as I have spent 240 days of each of those five years living in NZ–I am eligible, if I so choose, to apply for Citizenship, which would give me a New Zealand passport. The U.S. allows dual citizenship, so I will still legally be American and won’t have to surrender my passport.


Approximate timeline breakdown:

February/March 2025, apply for Resident Visa
November 2025-March 2026, Resident Visa should come through 🤞🏼
October 2027-February 2028, apply for Permanent Resident Visa
November 2027-March 2028, Permanent Resident Visa should come through 🤞🏼
November 2032-March 2033, if all goes as planned, I will be eligible for New Zealand Citizenship.

Oh, I also wanted to mention that Immigration did indeed require me to get a psychiatric exam because of the medications I’m on. I had anticipated this happening, so I went ahead and booked an appointment. And I’m glad I did, because they were booked out two months and my entire visa was waiting on that exam. I drove to Auckland (5 hours round trip) and met with a psychiatrist for 90 minutes to the tune of $600 NZD ($370 USD). He was very friendly and kind and told me to just call him “Dr. Karim,” which I thought was super nice of him until I later found out that his name is Dr. Karim Abdelrahaman Nabil Mohamed Aly Salem (yes, really). As irritated as I was when I first found out about the unexpected expense and hassle of a psych exam, I also found out that the only way for me to have my local clinic refill my medications here is for me to meet with a psychiatrist, so I would have had to do it anyway. Dr. Karim wrote a letter to Immigration on my behalf, and less than a month later, my visa came through. 😊

GUESS WHAT I GOT??? (Visa Update #6)


Two things of significance happened today.

1. I learned that I am not the sort of person who can call two of my closest friends out of the blue and go “GUESS WHAT I GOT???”, because apparently I’m enough of a wild card that even my sister and my significant other were so utterly perplexed that they ventured tentative speculations ranging from “a pet?” to “a tattoo?” to “a kitten or a puppy?” to “a kitten and a puppy?”. I assumed it would have been obvious what I’d just gotten that I was so damned excited about, but to be fair, I did almost pick up a cat on the side of the road last week and bring it home to live with us, so it’s entirely within the scope of possibility that I could be calling my sister and/or significant other to tell them that I’d just kidnapped someone’s cat and gotten its likeness tattooed on my arm.
In actuality, I was calling to tell them that…

2. I got my Partner of a New Zealander Work Visa!!!!

Yep! I am now allowed to legally work and live in New Zealand for one year. ☺️

I was pulling weeds out of hundreds of potted plants this afternoon–one of the assortment of volunteer jobs that have kept me busy while I’ve been treading the water of the visa waiting game–when an email came through my phone from “onlineservices@mbie.govt.nz,” which I almost ignored because what the hell is that. But the subject line caught my eye: “Your Communication with Immigration New Zealand.”

Immigration. OMG. Could it be…?? I mean; the turnaround time was supposed to be 11 weeks and it’s been 9 weeks, so….

The body of the email just stated my name, date of birth, client number, and application type, casually adding “Attached to this message is a letter about your application with Immigration New Zealand.”

OMGOMGOMG…..

I had to read it several times to make sure I had, in fact, been granted the visa. I was honestly confused by the lack of exclamation points. Despite this being a piece of formal, legal correspondence on Immigration letterhead, I strongly felt that there should have been at least seven exclamation points scattered throughout the document. But it definitely said the words “approval” and “approved,” the former in bold, which I took as Immigration’s way of giving me a secret little thumbs up.

The very first person I told is the extremely funny Australian woman who works at the nursery, who happened to be weeding next to me when the email came in. After responding with enthusiasm and a bunch of s**t yeah!!s and f**k yeah!!s followed by a good on you!!, she asked if I was allowed to work any job in New Zealand. I told her I’m not allowed to work as a prostitute and she said “Awwww. All that hard work and you can’t even follow your dreams”. 🤣

(That’s actually true. Sex work is legal here in NZ, but it specifically states in the fine print of my visa that I am not allowed to engage in prostitution).

What happens next, you ask? Well; I find a job. What kind of job do I want, you ask? That’s an excellent question, and I’ll let you know when I figure that out. For now, the world is my (non-sex-work) oyster. I am utterly delighted and immensely relieved. It has been a celebratory night in our house, a night filled with flowers and chocolate and lots and lots of exclamations of joy when one or the other of us are hit by the realization all over again that I actually got my visa!!

I’d like to extend a massive thank you to all of our friends who wrote letters on our behalf–really beautiful, heartfelt letters–and to my family and friends back home for having always encouraged me to live in my own wild, weird way, to the point where a phone call out of the blue asking “Guess what I got??” leaves you with absolutely not a single goddamned clue. ☺️

The Story of How I Came to Own Two Different Cars in Two Different Countries, and Why I’ve Felt Weird Telling You All About It Til Now

Kia Ora, everyone!*

*This is the standard greeting in New Zealand which you will see and hear everywhere. It’s te reo Māori (“te reo” means “the language of”) but used by everyone across the board here, Māori or otherwise. It literally translates to “have life” or “be healthy,” but everyone uses it in place of “Hello”.

I can’t believe this is my first post in a month; so much for my goal of 2-3 posts a week. I actually have been doing a lot of writing for my blog, and have about a dozen drafts going right now. I just get so bogged down in the details and fact-checking that I get overwhelmed and decide to “come back to it later.” I do post regularly to my NZ Chronicles Instagram account, so if you’re not already following that, you should (I don’t think you need to have an IG account to see my posts…?). I’ve started posting videos as well as photos, and with the help of my new car dash mount, I’m about to start posting videos of what it’s like driving around the Coromandel Peninsula. You will be astounded by the beauty of it.

Anyway: my car!

When I lived in New Zealand for three months last year and told people back home that I was thinking about buying a car to use while I was here, most of them thought I was nuts. One friend even said “Do you mean bring a car? Like bring your car over?”, because apparently the idea of paying god knows how much money to ship my own car to and from New Zealand for three months was somehow less insane than buying a used car while I was here and then reselling it when I went home.

Believe it or not, buying an old(er) car when you land in New Zealand, using it while you’re here, and then selling it back when you leave is a surprisingly common practice. Purchasing a car or campervan for your NZ road trip can be significantly cheaper than renting a car (I’m talking if you’re here for a month-long road trip, not like a 3-4 day road trip). I have a friend from the States who is studying here for six months and just bought a 23 year old Subaru which she’s going to resell when she leaves (I should say “if” she leaves. Chuck, I am in no way convinced that you won’t be canceling that return flight at the end of your semester 😊). A lot of older cars are imported to NZ from Europe and Japan, so it’s not uncommon to see “fancy” older cars being driven around (ahem…).

When I got here in January 2023 for three months and decided to buy a car, Stu knew just the guy to ask. One of his friends is a skilled self-taught mechanic who has a little side hustle finding used cars for friends; he knows how to spot a good deal and he loves the thrill of the hunt. Stu called him and asked him if he could find me a car. Within a few hours, his friend sent him a listing off of TradeMe (which is like a combination of Craigslist and eBay and is used by tons of people here). I took one look at the listing and thought his friend was joking. “There’s no way I could drive that”, I laughed. I forwarded the listing to my sister and said “HA, could you imagine if this was my car?? 🤣”. I forwarded the listing to my Mom and said “Could you imagine if I drove a James Bond car?!” to which she responded “You wouldn’t be driving a James Bond car. He drove an Aston Martin.” (I’d gotten the fancy car names mixed up).

I laughed because the car was one of those fancy kinds that make you reflectively say “Oooooo 💅🏻” in a fancy way when you hear the name. But Stu’s friend was not joking, and an hour later he showed up at the house with the car so that I could take it for a test drive.

Wait, let me sum that up in Kiwi English: my partner rang his mate, who rocked up later that arvo with the car. Speaking of Kiwi English: one of my best friends here is a fellow American who has lived in NZ for 6 years. I told him that I’d started saying “reckon” to Stu in a *wink wink nudge nudge* way, as in “I *RECKON* we should go for a walk before it rains….eh??”. My friend chuckled and said “Yeah, that’s how it starts. You start using Kiwi slang a joke and before you know it, you’re just saying it.”
I reckon everyone back home is allowed to slap me upside the head if I rock up at your house with an accent.

Back to the car. So the friend shows up with the “Oooooooo 💅🏻” fancy, albeit very old, car for me to test drive. When I sheepishly said that I couldn’t possibly drive an [insert make of car], both Stu and his friend were confused and surprised. Me: “But it’s so fancy!!” Stu and his friend: “Seriously?.” (I later spoke to my American friend about this, with Stu present to witness the conversation. Me: “Back me up here: if I post on social media that I’m driving an [insert make of car], people back home are going to think I’m some spoiled little princess, right?”. Friend: “Oh, yeah, totally, you can’t post that online.” Me to Stu: “See?! I told you!” Stu: “[baffled]”).

So Stu’s friend rocks up with the car for me to test drive, only…I couldn’t. I couldn’t drive it because it was a stick shift. To clarify: I am a lifelong diehard stick shift driver, but I was completely unable to wrap my head around the idea of driving manual transmission and shifting with my left hand while sitting in what my brain still thinks of as the passenger seat. So Stu took my potential new car for a test drive while I rode in the (actual) passenger seat. He said he liked the way it handled, and I said I liked the way it felt, and even though I still felt suuuuuuuper weird about buying this “Ooooooo 💅🏻” car, it was a really good deal and I went for it.

That, my friends, is how I ended up the owner of this cherry red, five speed 2002 Alfa Romeo 147.

💅🏻💅🏻💅🏻💅🏻💅🏻💅🏻💅🏻💅🏻💅🏻💅🏻💅🏻💅🏻💅🏻💅🏻💅🏻💅🏻

I purchased it with the agreement that his friend would buy it back from me when I left, at a slightly lesser price to be determined when the time came. I paid $2,200 NZD and sold it back for $1,800 NZD, meaning that I ended up paying $400 NZD–around $236 USD–to have a car for two and a half months. I would have paid that much to rent a car for a week. Like I said, it was a fantastic deal.

It took me several dozen slow, hesitant trips around and around and around our little cul-de-sac before I was suddenly able to drive with ease and confidence, and within a few days of owning it I drove the incredibly windy and scary road from here to Tairua and back (which is about an hour and a half round trip). It was a zippy little car in great condition, but it came with a whole bunch of charming quirks. The radio was held together with a paper clip which had to be twisted around every time the stereo shut itself off. The fabric lining the interior roof of the car was held up with push pins. The entirety of the car’s cherry red paint was covered in little bumps due to a poor paint job on someone’s part. And at one point the driver’s side window fell down and got stuck inside the door somewhere (Stu’s friend fixed it immediately). But I adored it, paperclips and thumbtacks notwithstanding. And at 10.87 km per liter, or 25.58 miles a gallon, it was really good on gas/petrol.

I fell in love with that little car, and as luck would have it, Stu’s friend was so taken with it himself that he ended up keeping it, sprucing it up, and then selling it back to me–for good this time–when I got back this past January. I paid him $4,000 NZD ($2,370 USD). The paperclipped radio and collapsing roof fabric were both taken care of, and he’d always wanted to try his hand at repainting a car, so the exterior is now smooth and gorgeous. It still has some charming little quirks–some fun, different ones this time!–including the fact that the power window buttons rattle around like loose teeth and there’s a 50/50 chance that if you roll down the driver’s side window it’ll either roll back up with ease or take five minutes to s-l-o-w-l-y squeal its way back up, which is really fun when it starts raining.

So that, my friends, is why I’ve been so shy about sharing the fact that I’ve been zipping around New Zealand in an Alfa Romeo 💅🏻. I promise you that I’m not a spoiled little princess 👑 😊. Things just work differently here.



SOME Q&As ABOUT BUYING A CAR IN NEW ZEALAND AS A TOURIST

HOW THE HELL WOULD I GO ABOUT BUYING A CAR IN NEW ZEALAND?

Facebook Marketplace, TradeMe, and Turners Cars are the best places to look, which you can do before you even get here. You may be able to line up a sale from the States, which will save you valuable time when you arrive. Heads up that you’ll encounter lots of car models you’ve likely never heard of, such as Toyota Starlet, Toyota Wish, Honda Jazz, and Subaru Exiga, all of which sound like jokes that would be used in a round of “Bluff the Listener” on NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me .

This website has some good basic info about buying a car as a tourist. You want to make sure the WOF is up to date, which you’ll be able to tell by the sticker on the windshield. WOF is a Warrant of Fitness; it’s the same as our inspection sticker. You should also check for a valid “rego” (registration) sticker on the windshield (or “windscreen,” as they say here).

HOW WOULD I GO ABOUT PAYING SOMEONE FOR A CAR?

For a small fee, you can do a bank transfer via the Wise app, which usually goes through within a few hours. Tip: if you know you’re going to be buying a car in NZ, set up the Wise app on your phone ahead of time so that you’re ready to go. You’ll need to input your bank account/routing information and add money to your account. The Wise fee varies depending on the dollar amount and currency being exchanged. When I sent Stu’s friend $4,000 NZD in January, I paid a fee of around $11 USD.

DO I NEED A SPECIAL DRIVER’S LICENSE TO DRIVE THERE?

NO! As long as you have a valid US license, you can drive for up to one year in NZ, after which you’ll need to get a NZ license. I made the mistake of paying about $25 for an international license before my first trip to NZ only to find that it was a total waste of money.

HOW EXPENSIVE IS GAS?

It’s expensive (and it’s also called “petrol” here, and is priced by the litre rather than the gallon). I talked about the price of gas in this blog post dated January 12, 2024. At that time, it was about $6.75 USD/gallon, so you’ll want to find a car that gets good mileage.

The cute detective Gaspy guy

I highly recommend downloading an app called Gaspy. The adorable logo icon indicates that it’s supposed to be “Gas Spy,” though I can only ever say it as “Gasspy” in my head. No matter how you pronounce it, it’s invaluable. When you open the Gaspy app, it detects your location and tells you where the cheapest gas is around you.

Another way to save a little bit of money is by purchasing something at a New World, a national grocery store chain. It tends to be a bit pricier than the other grocery stores, but if you spend more than $1 NZD at New World, you get 6c off a litre at their petrol pumps. Your fuel voucher is printed off along with your receipt, so don’t toss it. The discount is good for a week, but the one catch is that you have to redeem it at THAT location, so make sure you use it right then and there. If the New World that you’ve visited doesn’t have its own pumps, the fuel voucher is redeemable at Z Petrol stations.

As an American, I was thrown off by the prices listed on gas station signs. Using the photo below photo as an example, I would go “Oh wow, gas is only $2.05 a gallon here??,” but of course it’s not. They go by liters (“litres”) rather than gallons, so that would have been $2.05 a litre. One litre is about ¼ of a gallon, so if the gas station has a sign saying $2.05/litre, that’s around $8.20/gallon, not $2.05/gallon.

Generic NZ petrol station photo. Confusing as hell to my American brain.

DO I NEED CAR INSURANCE?

Crazy but true: no one is required to have car insurance in New Zealand. That being said, I’ve found that it’s quite a bit cheaper to insure a car here than it is back home, so you should at least consider getting third party insurance. AA Insurance seems to be the biggest and easiest-to-work-with car insurance company in New Zealand. As long as you have a valid US driver’s license, they can cover you for as long as you’re driving in NZ. Before I got here, I chatted with AA Insurance on WhatsApp (having WhatsApp on your phone is an absolute must when you’re traveling abroad). They were able to answer all of my questions, which was handy since I then had everything in writing. Their number for WhatsApp is +64 9-966 8131.

To insure my 2012 Toyota Yaris back home, valued at $4,900 USD, it costs me $585 USD/year. To insure my Alfa here, I pay $274 USD/year. Anyone else who drives my car, as long as they’re over 25 years old and hold a valid license, is automatically covered by my insurance; I do not need to add their name to my policy.

In addition to having AA Insurance, I also pay for a roadside assistance program through AA Roadservice, which is essentially what AAA is back home (yes; it’s confusing: AA = insurance, AA = roadside assistance, and AA = support group for alcoholics). I have read that AAA members in the States can get a discount as an AA member in New Zealand, but I have yet to talk to anyone at AA who has ever heard of that.

IN CONCLUSION: Let me know if you have questions about anything that I didn’t cover here! I may or may not be able to give you an answer, but I’m happy to try. 😊

I hope everyone back home is doing well and enjoying the arrival of spring! I promise I’ll post more regularly.

Aroha (that means “love”!),

Hilary

Visa Update #5: Interim Visa Granted!

Keep those champagne bottles corked; this isn’t THE visa that I just applied for. This just means that my case has been assigned to an Immigration Officer who has determined that yes, I provided them with all of the documents they need and that yes, I can now remain in New Zealand for six months until they make a decision. It doesn’t mean they won’t be contacting me with questions or asking me for more information once they actually begin reviewing my application in depth, but it’s still a relief knowing that I’m rubber-stamped to stay here in the meantime. And it feels especially good because a year ago today, I was weeping into my suitcase as I packed to fly home to the States 24 hours later, not to return to NZ for ten whole months. There shall be no suitcase-packing today! (Also hopefully no crying 😆).

The basic parameters of my Interim Visa are that I do not work (duh) and that I don’t leave the country or else the visa is nullified and I have to start all over again.

Current processing time for the Partner of a New Zealander Work Visa is 11 weeks. Stay tuned. 😊

For those of you keeping track: I submitted my visa application at 5:30 PM on Friday, March 22 and this email from Immigration was in my inbox when I woke up on Wednesday, March 27.

A Maritime Storytime Rhyme Crime

When the boys are staying with us, they each choose a book for me to read them before bed. The other night, Kevin (reminder: that’s his Minion name, not his actual name) came running in with this book, telling me to get ready because it was so funny:



We settled in to bed and I began to read. The book starts off with a piranha named Brian offering his friend a banana.

“Hey there, guys, would you like a banana?” he asks.
“What’s wrong with you, Brian?” says his friend. “You’re a piranha.”

Kevin and I halfheartedly chuckled. I turned the page and kept reading. The story, and the illustrations, were very funny, but we weren’t really laughing. Something was off, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Brian the vegetarian piranha tried again:
“Well how about some silverbeet?”

“Are you serious, Brian? We eat FEET.”

And then it hit me: beet/feet. OH, the book is supposed to rhyme. But with my American accent the joke fell flat, because I pronounce it “buh-nan-nah” ( [bəˈnɛ̃ə̃.nə], for your phonetics geeks) and Kiwis, like the Brits, say “bih-na-na,” ([bəˈnɑː.nɐ]). Although the pretty Kiwi pronunciation of “banana” doesn’t exactly/perfectly/technically rhyme with “piranha,” it’s a hell of a lot closer to rhyming than my aggressive American “BUH-NAN-NAH.” 🍌👎

I shared my revelation with Kevin, who said “OOOOooh,” as in Oh, so that’s why the story isn’t funny when you read it! I cleared my throat and proceeded to try and pronounce “banana” with a Kiwi accent so that the rhyme worked. That experiment went so well that Kevin immediately took the book out of my hands and said “NOOOOO, stop! I’ll read it.”

And he did it perfectly, and the true humor/humour of the book came through. Bih-na-na/pih-ran-ha: a sublime bedtime rhyme paradigm.

Visa Update #4: My First Visa Application Has Been *Submitted*!

As I mentioned on my New Zealand Chronicles companion Instagram account last night, I was really hoping for some sort of autogenerated, celebratory, emoji-filled email to land in my inbox so that I could screen shot it and post it. Alas, the fanfare was minimal; once you submit your application, it merely moves it from “Unsubmitted” to “Submitted.” So this underwhelming screen shot will have to suffice.

But yes: Visa #1 has been submitted! And I submitted it four years to the day that Stewart and I met, which–considering that the entire application is based upon the strength of our partnership–felt like perfect timing.

I called Immigration yesterday to confirm what the last person had told me, which is that at some point in the next week, an advisor will be assigned to me. They will look over my application to make sure that all the required documents are there, and then, if they decide the application is ready to proceed, I will be issued an Interim Visa. This allows me to stay in NZ for six months until they make a decision on my visa. According to the Immigration NZ website, the turnaround time for this particular visa is currently 11 weeks, so I should theoretically have a decision around mid-June (if for some reason they haven’t made a decision on your visa by the time your Interim Visa is set to expire, you can apply to extend the Interim Visa). If I haven’t been notified about the Interim Visa by mid-week, I’ll call Immigration to check in, since my 90-day Visitor Visa expires on April 1st. The Partner of a New Zealander Work Visa cost $860 NZD (about $515 USD). This is non-refundable, even if your visa is denied (yikes).

Despite having put in countless hours preparing the application, I still ended up spending a full eight hours on it yesterday. Most of the day was spent putting the final touches on the Relationship Timeline (which I discussed in depth in an earlier post) and organizing a massive chronological PDF of photos. I sent the Relationship Timeline to my friend Dan, who is the world’s best, funniest, and most brutally honest editor. Thankfully, the majority of his edits were simple grammatical ones (complete with mini lectures on the subtle but important difference between the em dash and en dash), though he did raise a few very valid points, such as pointing out that 2021 was pretty sparse. He suggested I could use that space to reiterate/remind whomever was reading it that New Zealand’s borders remained closed due to the pandemic.

Once I finished, reread, edited, reread, edited, and reread the timeline, I uploaded it to my application, along with the PDF photo album and our entire four years’ worth of WhatsApp chat history, which was such a massive file that I had to pay $1.99 to compress it down enough to be able to upload it. I cannot describe to you the feeling of relief and accomplishment I felt as I scrolled down the final page of the application and saw how much was uploaded. Headshot: check. Police background check: check. Picture of Social Security Card: check. Picture of my passport: check. Picture of Stu’s passport: check. Form INZ 1146 that Stu filled out: check. Contact information for three people in the country who can be contacted in the event that I flee: check check check. Letters of support from friends: check check check. Letter from our landlord stating that we live together: check. And then I uploaded stuff they didn’t actually ask me for, such as my birth certificate and NZ driver’s license, but since they let you add as many “supporting documents” as you want, I figured why the heck not. Then I went back (for the 87th time) and checked that every part of the application was correct and complete, and then I held my breath and clicked “Submit Application.” And then waited for the fireworks-emoji-laden email from Immigration which never happened, but who cares because it’s DONE. 😍 🍾 🎇

I will, of course, keep you all updated on what happens next.

But wait, I have more exciting news!

I now have a NZ bank account AND a NZ driver’s license! It feels like I’m levelling up in the Immigration video game…

Although both the driver’s license and bank account were satisfying accomplishments to cross off my list, getting a bank account was a much bigger deal. My Partner Visa application will be significantly stronger now that Stu and I have a bank account together, whereas I technically don’t need a NZ driver’s license until December, since you can drive in NZ for one year on a valid foreign license. But since I have time on my hands, I figured it couldn’t hurt to upload a photo of my NZ driver’s license (with my NZ address on it) to my visa application.

I’ll start with the bank account. It was a real headache–and therefore a real sense of accomplishment–to get it done.

There are three banks here in the little town where I live. Each bank is only open ten to twelve hours a week. I’m not kidding. BNZ is open Tues and Thurs from 10-3, WestPac is open Wed and Fri from 9:30-2, and KiwiBank is open Tues, Wed, and Fri from 10-2.

KiwiBank and BNZ both told me that I couldn’t open a bank account, let alone a joint bank account, without having a visa (even though it makes your visa case a lot stronger if you have a bank account when you apply, so clearly there is a way to achieve this). WestPac said they’d look into it for me, and when they emailed me a few hours later, they explained that Stewart and I would have to come in and meet with them for an hour to an hour and a half….during business hours, which is smack in the middle of his work day. He is the librarian for a regional school with something like 1,100 students; stepping out for an hour and a half in the middle of the day is impossible. So although I got the furthest with WestPac, who at least told me that yes, it was possible to open a joint account even though I don’t have a visa, we kept running into walls since 1. their business hours are so scant and 2. due to the fact that their business hours are so scant, they were booked out about 5-6 weeks for appointments. And we needed to get this done ASAP.

Luckily, I’d had the soundness of mind to email BNZ off of their website and double-check that what the bank teller had told me was in fact correct, because it turns out that it wasn’t. Charlotte, god bless her, emailed back and apologized for the confusion and said that it was definitely possible to open a joint account—and we could do it together over the phone any time between 9-5–!!! I had to open my own personal account first, which I was able to do online in less than five minutes. After preliminarily approving my application, I got an automated email with a reference code and instructed me to go into my nearest BNZ branch with my passport and the reference number to complete the process. I showed up with both of those things, plus my social security card, birth certificate, MA driver’s license, dental records, FBI background check…I just brought my entire file folder of documents with me, along with a bunch of NZ currency which I’d converted back home when the exchange rate was really good (it turns out that I did indeed only need my passport and the reference number; at no point did she mention needing my dental records). It took about 20 minutes to finalize the process and voila, I had a bank account number. I could have cried with relief. The only thing I wasn’t able to accomplish that day was to deposit the NZ currency I’d brought over with me; she explained that I had to wait a week or so to get my debit card and then I could deposit my money at the ATM right outside the bank. I glanced over my shoulder at the two bank tellers who were both waiting on customers at the counter. As much as I wanted to ask what exactly BNZ tellers *did* do, I didn’t want to sound rude, so I just thanked her profusely, shoved my cash back into my bag, and went on my merry way. When my card arrived in the mail a week later, I raced down to the ATM and deposited all of my cash, which was really fun since the ATM is right there on the main street of town and I had to do it in several different transactions.

In order for us to get a joint account, Stu had to open his own BNZ checking account online (without ever having to go into the bank, since he’s a NZ citizen). And then we set up a phone call with our banking angel Charlotte, and after a few easy questions, such as what we were planning to use the account for, we had a joint bank account. The account almost immediately appeared on the BNZ banking app and it even gave me the option to download a PDF on BNZ letterhead stating very succinctly that (full name of person #1) and (full name of person #2) who live together at (street address) have a joint account with Bank of New Zealand. I’m guessing that this is a common request for Immigration purposes, and man did they make it easy. Huge thanks to BNZ, and especially to Charlotte!

Now, on to the driver’s license.

License photo rating: 5.5 out of 10. Not the worst photo of me, but it does look like a borderline-transparent picture of my floating severed head. It reminds me of that time on Arrested Development when Gob had to photoshop Lucille’s driver’s license to make her look younger.

The MA DMV form that ended up being the key to everything.



As I reported on in an earlier post, I tried—unsuccessfully—to get my New Zealand driver’s license last month, but was turned away because my Massachusetts driver’s license was reissued in September 2022. In order to convert an overseas license you need to have held a valid driver’s license for two years, and they required proof that I had been driving for more than 18 months. After much frustrated Googling, this form from the MA RMV ended up being the answer. I had to fill out the form (“license inquiry”), email it to my Dad, have my Dad print it off and mail it to the RMV along with a $5 check (for which I Venmoe’d my Mom), and then had him watch the mailbox for a letter from the RMV, which arrived last weekend and contained exactly what I needed: proof that I’d held a valid driver’s license for more than two years. My Dad scanned it and emailed it to me, Stu printed it off for me, and then I took it, along with a completed overseas license conversion form, my passport, my MA driver’s license, and full-color copies of my passport and license, per the form, and drove 5 hours round trip to the city of Hamilton, where I visited one of the few AA Centres that deal with overseas license conversion.

There was, remarkably, only one other customer in the lobby. I was summoned to the next available person and the entire thing took about 20 minutes. And I had misjudged the cost of the license conversion by $120—in my favor/favour! It only cost $26.40 (plus $1, because she had to photocopy the back of my MA driver’s license, which I had failed to do). I’d misread it online and thought it was going to be $144.60. Woohoo! The fact that I didn’t have to take a driver’s test, even a written one, is still bananas to me. The U.S. is on the “exempt country” list, meaning that no road test is required. Some of the other countries on that list make sense: Australia, Ireland, the UK, and Japan all drive on the left like they do here, so it makes sense that they’d just pay a small fee to get a NZ license. But I’m from the States, where we drive on the right, and I’m from Massachusetts, where drivers are so notoriously aggressive and impatient that we are (unaffectionately) referred to as “Massholes” by everyone else. But nope, it’s true: no written exam, no driving test. Just $26.40 and a bit of a drive to get there. I walked out of the AA Centre with a flimsy paper license which the woman had filled in by hand, and a week later my license arrived in the mail.

So yeah: it’s been a busy but massively productive few weeks. Lots of boxes checked, lots of documents uploaded, lots of items crossed off the to-do list. Now I just wait.


PS: If any of you need an eagle-eyed editor, I can put you in touch with my friend Dan!

BEHOLD THE WONDER!!! 🙌🏼

During a phone call with my sister last month, it somehow came up in conversation that New Zealand does not have something that most Americans consider to be one of the absolute staples of wholesome, delicious, nutritious American foods, beloved by generations of children across the United States.

My partner Stewart has two boys, who are 8 and 10 years old. I haven’t mentioned them in my writing thus far because although I absolutely adore them and they are a huge part of my life here, they’re not my children, and it’s certainly not my place to plaster them all over the internet. But because they are such a huge part of my life here, and because I have–as they say in NZ–“heaps” of great stories about them, I think it’s okay with all parents and children involved here if I make up names for them so that they can be a part of my story. They’re borderline obsessed with the Minions, so I shall henceforth refer to the 10 year old as Bob and the 8 year old as Kevin.

Yesterday I was sitting at the kitchen table, immersed–ironically–in researching the history of the New Zealand postal service for a future blog post, when a lovely NZ Post woman woman “rocked up” (Kiwi for “showed up”) at the open slider door and went “Hi there!” and I went “[insert horror movie-level scream]” (I startle easily). After apologizing, and mentioning with a chuckle that it happens to her constantly, she handed me a big box…..from Gillian. And I knew, I just knew, that my awesome sister had sent us a jar of this sacred American food.

The care package, addressed to all of us, was a veritable treasure trove of gifts. Gillian sent us State Park stickers and fake tattoos of trout (both acquired from a national conference that she, as a MA State Parks Supervisor, had recently attended), two sheets from her page-a-day true crime calendar (because what 8 and 10 year old doesn’t love true crime, right?? 😆 I’m guessing those were meant just for me), and two mini “SuperPets” figurines. Also enclosed was a pencil from the Birdwatcher’s General Store on Cape Cod, which you can only get by telling them a bird joke (my sister’s was “Why didn’t Mozart keep chickens? Because they were always saying BACH BACH BACH!”).

And she sent us Marcus! Marcus is a sweet, cuddly, super soft sloth that I found on Etsy and sent to my sister years ago, when we happened to be living far apart (though not this far apart) because Marcus has nice long arms for hugging. He’s settling right in to life in the Antipodes.

But the absolute star of the care package was……….





…………..wait for it…………..



…………..wait for it…………..



….. a ginormous jar of that wholesome, delicious, nutritious American food beloved by children across the States:

DURKEE’S MARSHMALLOW FLUFF.


It’s true: they do not have marshmallow fluff in New Zealand (hey, I said it’s an amazing country; I never said it was a perfect country).

My sister enclosed a note regarding the ingredients required to make a proper fluffernutter sandwich:

1. The cheapest bread possible
2. Cheap peanut butter
3. Fluff

A taste test ensued, which had me on the edge of my seat because Gillian had just send this to us from the other side of the world and what if they didn’t like it….?!

Tiny spoons were passed around, and Stu, Bob, and Kevin (again; Minion names, not their real names) each dipped theirs deep into the gooey vat of sticky, sticky deliciousness. Eyes widened and everyone got very quiet while they experienced their first taste of good old-fashioned American fluff.

The reviews were unanimous: marshmallow fluff is amazing. Bob looked up at his father and asked theatrically, in an Oscar-worthy performance, “Please, sir, may I have some more?”.

I told the boys I would text my sister and tell her that they liked the fluff. “NO!!” Kevin said emphatically. “Tell her Kevin LOVES THE FLUFF.” My sister’s reply was “Happy to be ruining teeth and diets worldwide!”.

Although no one has yet to graduate to an actual fluffernutter sandwich–the fluff on its own is just so good–Stu did try a spoon of fluff with a spoon of cheap peanut butter and declared that it was delicious.

The fluff has somehow made its way into every conversation topic in the past 24 hours, from “What does everyone reckon we have for dinner tonight?” (“FLUFF!!!!”), to “How was the swimming tournament at school today?” (“Can I have some fluff??”).

I will be sure to report back to all of you when the gang here has eventually graduated to a proper fluffernutter sandwich.

Gillian, you are the master of care packages and the best sister ever. ❤️

PS: I of course did a deep dive on marshmallow fluff. The Fluffernutter Sandwich was invented in Massachusetts in 1917 by a man named Archibald Query—!!! I’m curious to know if any of you knew this!

Visa Update #3: Telling Your Beautiful, Intimate, and Private Love Story to a Complete Stranger Is Just As Complex And Icky As It Sounds


Lemme start out by filling you guys in on where I am with the visa application.

As I detailed in my brief, calm, and not at all insane visa update last week, I have now completed all of the required medical exams.

I’ve made three calls to Immigration thus far to clarify a number of questions I’ve had. The biggest question, which I asked all three people, was “How late can I submit my application?”. I want to submit it as late as possible, since that gives me a chance to collect even more proof of our partnership, i.e. bills we have both been paying. I asked each of the three different people at Immigration and received three very different answers, which is both infuriating and baffling.

My Visitor Visa, the 90-day visa I was automatically granted the day I arrived here, expires April 1st. The first person I spoke with said that I could submit my application “right before my current visa is set to expire.” The second person I spoke with said Oh god no, early March at the latest!! The third person I spoke with said that it takes about a week for Immigration to look over my application and decide whether it’s completed to their satisfaction, in which case they issue me an Interim Visa which allows me to stay until they’ve made a ruling on my case.

The third guy sounded the most confident, and his answer made the most sense, so I’ll be submitting my application the weekend of March 23/24.

Here is what I have left to do before I submit it:

  • Fill in the names/addresses/phone numbers/DOB for three (it doesn’t specify the number, but three is the general consensus) people I know who live in New Zealand. From what I understand, these people will not be contacted unless I flee into the hills of Aotearoa and go into hiding. In other words, it’s just a safety net so that Immigration has a starting point if they need to track down someone who violates the terms of their visa (by overstaying, I imagine).
  • Stewart has to complete Form INZ 1146, “Partners Supporting Partnership-Based Temporary Entry Applications.” Despite the lengthy form name and the fact that it’s six dense pages long, it will take less than ten minutes to complete. It’s a lot of basic information—full name, DOB, city or town of birth, passport number, etc—and then there are entire pages he can skip since they pertain specifically to culturally-arranged marriages or people who are eligible to support a partnership-based application but are themselves not New Zealand citizens.
  • I need to upload documents proving that we live together in a “genuine and stable partnership,” such as a joint tenancy agreement, screenshots of our joint bank account, photos of mail we have both received at our address…stuff like that. That will be the very last part of the application I’ll do, since I want to collect as much of this proof as possible. (A Kiwi friend of mine, who has gone through the partner visa thing with her American parter, informed me the other day that you can go back in and keep adding stuff to your visa application once you’ve submitted it, which is amaaaaazing because that means I can continue to send them proof that we continue to live together in a “genuine and stable partnership”).
  • We need to ask ___ number of people who know us as a couple to write letters on our behalf testifying to our love for and commitment to one another. Technically this is not a requirement for the application; in fact, it’s not even listen on there. But I’ve done a great deal of research into this and it’s really, really good to have people testify on your behalf. Some websites recommend getting letters from “prominent members of your community, such as a priest or rabbi.” Guess we gotta get real religious in the next 4.5 weeks….

  • And lastly, I have to write the “Relationship Timeline.”

    Oh, the Relationship Timeline. The deceptively simple-sounding assignment which is in fact an absolute beast of a task, upon which Immigration will base a good portion of my case.

    From my research, it seems that Immigration purposely keeps the required “Relationship Timeline” vague in terms of what they’re looking for so that people who are trying to cheat the system don’t just go down and tick off all the boxes. Okay, fair enough, but like…..what do they want???

    I have spent so many hours of my life Googling this mysterious Relationship Timeline to find out what exactly they want to see.

    I have searched for posts from complete strangers on the internet who wrote Relationship Timelines that satisfied Immigration, and then picked through their posts/comment threads with a fine-toothed comb looking for any tips sprinkled in there.

    I have foraged around the websites of licensed immigration officers to see what they had to say about it.

    I have found subreddits where people in my shoes have asked what the hell Immigration wants to see, and then eagerly read through successful applicants’ responses while jotting down notes.

    Here is the general consensus: the “Relationship Timeline” is where you get to tell the story of your relationship in your own words. There’s no recommended length for this document, but absolutely everyone says the more you tell them, the better. Tell them everything. Send them everything. Do not make them have to contact you for more proof.

    I’ve screenshot the most thorough description of the Relationship Timeline I’ve found, which is from a licensed immigration website. You can click on the photos to enlarge them (those of you reading this on your phones may have to just zoom in; apologies). Grab a seat for this doozy of a read:

Yeaaaaaaaaaah. That’s A LOT.

Thanks to my years of partner-based NZ visa research, I’ve known about the existence of this “Relationship Timeline” for a while. And I knew it would be laborious putting it all together. But what I did not expect was that it would feel so emotional and…..well, if we’re being honest, so violating. Everyone (“everyone”) says to include screen shots of significant moments in your relationship, such as when you first told one another that you loved each other, and when you decided to become a committed couple. Show them how you got each other through tough times. Include lots and lots of photos of you and your partner on trips, out with friends, having fun. If your partner has kids, include photos of you/you and your partner with the kids. Etc etc etc etc etc.
Just give them everything.

About 85% of our relationship has been long-distance, meaning that we have nearly every one of our “significant milestones” in writing, which–I hate to say this–is convenient in terms of having to provide evidence. But going back through our four years of beautiful, private conversations for the sole purpose of cherry picking “the good stuff” for my application feels awful. I don’t want to send someone a screen shot of the first time we said “I love you.” I don’t want to send someone a cute picture of us on our first date. It feels like in order to prove the genuine depth of this immense love we have, I have to cheapen our story down to a bunch of juicy sound bites. I am not a particularly private person, but those moments belong to us.

Let me emphasize again that the visa application *does not* state that it requires any of this information. It simply says they want a “Relationship Timeline.” I could therefore just send them a simple list of dates and events. But I know that won’t be sufficient, and there’s just so damned much at stake here that I feel like I have no choice but to use these intimate, significant moments of our love story as a means to a end.

But that’s exactly how I have to think of it: a means to an end. The more you send them, the stronger your case, says the entirety of the internet. And I’d rather send them too much proof than not enough. And in this case, the “end” part of “a means to an end” is the first step in my getting to live here.

So rather than allowing this monumental assignment to make me feel like my privacy is being invaded, I’m choosing to look at it this way: if there’s one thing I’m good at—in all modesty—it’s telling a story, and we have a damned good story to tell. If they (allegedly) want everything, I’ll give them everything.

The first page of our Relationship Timeline is going to be the most bare-bones list of significant events and their corresponding dates, in case my application lands on the desk of someone with a short attention span who happens to be in a foul mood that day. As for the rest of it? I want it to be the best damned Relationship Timeline that person has ever read. I want them to be riveted, I want them to be moved to tears, I want them to laugh out loud (years ago I came across this obscure quote–attributed to a court jester–which I’ve never forgotten: “Make them laugh; they’ll have a harder time shooting you.”). I want them to forward it to their colleagues. I want them to tell their spouse about it over dinner that night. I want them to be rooting for us.

If they want a good story, they’ll get one.

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