What if you could hop on an airplane and move to another country tomorrow? Which destination would you pick? Ask me that on any given day, and my answer is likely to be different. But always in my top few picks is the alluring island country of New Zealand!
And I reckon I’m not the only one with “God’s Own Country” at the top of my list. From stunning coastlines to active volcanoes, glacial lakes to ancient forests and achingly beautiful valleys, New Zealand has a wealth of wonders to offer. And of course there’s also the lure of the warm hospitality for which Kiwis are known. Who can resist a beautiful country filled with friendly people, right?
Imagine becoming a local, experiencing what it’s like to live in New Zealand and making lifelong friendships with Kiwis. It's actually easier than you think. And in case you’re not sitting on stacks of money to spend on several months in New Zealand - and you enjoy working with children - you should definitely consider becoming an au pair.
1. There is no language barrier.
If you’re reading this, chances are quite good you speak English. And since English is an official language in New Zealand, you don’t need to crack open any language books before you go. But you will come back with a new vocabulary, enhanced by lots of fun Kiwi words and phrases. You’ll know what “arvo” and “wop-wops” mean (“afternoon” and “middle of nowhere”). And you'll learn that “jandals” are flip-flops and that “lemonade” is not water plus lemon and sugar but rather a lemon-lime soda like 7Up or Sprite. You’ll even learn some Maori words and phrases, like “kia ora” for “hello.”
Speaking English will make life easier for you on an everyday basis (with the noted exceptions of instances where you’re spoken to exclusively in Kiwi phrases: “Waggle your dags and get us some hokey pokey ice cream, chuddy and lollies at the dairy”). It will also make it easier for you to instantly bond with the children. For obvious reasons, au pair agencies require that you speak English fluently before enrolling in their programs and families often make fluency in English a stipulation.
However, if you do speak another language, it can be a definite "plus" for families looking for bilingual nannies. With nearly 1/4 of New Zealand's population born overseas, there are a good number of families looking for au pairs that speak the language of the childrens' grandparents. Thanks to your language skills, you’ll ensure the bridge between generations is maintained. You can call up the kids years later and remind them that you are the reason they were able to communicate with grandma and grandpa (unless their grandparents were just terrible people, in which case you’re better off reminding them of other things).
2. Adventures are awesome!
New Zealand is home to some of the most spectacular landscapes on the planet. Travelers the world over have voted it a top destination time and again. And it’s the ultimate destination for adventure lovers. If you live there, you definitely won’t be short on itinerary ideas.
In the North Island, where over 3/4 of the population lives, you’ll find everything from the nightlife and culture of Wellington and Auckland to the stunning skydiving and water sport mecca of Lake Taupo and the famous Huka Falls. Explore the geothermal wonderland of Rotorua , where you can relax in the rejuvenating thermal pools. Go white-water rafting down the Kaituna River (which has the highest commercially rafted waterfall on earth – nearly 23 feet or 7 meters. Yipe!). Or try a more wacky activity like Zorbing (you in a giant, clear plastic ball rolling crazy-hamster-like down a hill). Rotorua was reputedly home to the first Zorbing site, so while wacky, the activity is very a propos.
Not really an adrenaline junkie? If you prefer reading about others' death-defying experiences rather than being a daredevil yourself, then embrace your inner hobbit and step into a world of fantasy-come-true. Where? Less than 50 miles away from Rotorua, you’ll find the Hobbiton Movie Set - which unless you’ve been hiding under a rock since the year 2000 (in which case thank you for making this article one of the first items on your reading list) you know was the part of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. And these are just some of the incredible adventures awaiting you on the North Island. Tap into your new network of local friends once you’ve settled in to get the inside scoop on the best places to visit.
On New Zealand’s South Island, equally beautiful landscapes and adventures await! Discover Lake Wanaka, which offers year-round activities but is world-renowned for its winter skiing. Head to nearby Queenstown for everything from spa treatments and shopping to river rafting, bungy jumping, canyon swinging and sky diving. If you love wine regions, or just want to enjoy one of New Zealand’s sunniest areas, take a trip to Marlborough. Venture to the Marlborough Sounds and explore the waters by kayak, hike through native forest, or swim with dolphins.
Or you can head over to Coastal Otago, the eco-capital of New Zealand to see the mysterious Moeraki boulders, the storybook fishing villages of the Waitaki district, and the world’s rarest penguins. Yeah you read that right, "world's rarest penguins"! Be prepared to be blown away by the stunning landscapes of Fiordland and World Heritage Site Fiordland National Park. It's home to Milford Sound, which Rudyard Kipling described as the 8th wonder of the world. And what does this area have in store for you? Breathtaking peaks, incredible lakes, waterfalls (including New Zealand’s tallest) and ancient rain forests. Au pairs who fancy hiking can enjoy three of the country’s “great walks,” including Milford Track. What's that? Arguably the most famous walk in New Zealand.
There’s so much to do, you won’t run out of places to explore during your au pair experience. And that's just in New Zealand. Barely 3 or so hours of flight time from Auckland is the tropical paradise of Fiji, with its miles of white sand beaches and turquoise waters beckoning. Who knows - you might even get to visit with your host family, making the trip not only alluring but also affordable.
3. You'll meet bunches of friendly, laid-back people.
As an au pair abroad, you’ll be living far from home. So moving to a place where the people are inherently friendly will go a long way toward helping you feel at ease in your new country. My boss who was in New Zealand for a few weeks last month told me the local people were so friendly, that twice he found himself walking down the street with his big suitcase and being offered a ride by non-creepy-looking people. Not that kidnappers always have a sign that says "Seriously disturbed individual" or give off creepy vibes. But you gotta admit the chances of someone randomly abducting a man and his suitcase are rather slim. Of course I haven't seen the suitcase, so I don't know how alluring it is, but I digress. As further proof of the incredible Kiwi hospitality, he mentioned that every time he met up with someone, even during business meetings, the other parties insisted on paying for food and drinks. One of the business owners he met with even hosted him in his home. Again it was a non-creepy situation. He had a lovely family and was a very gracious host.
Bringing in more - shall we say scientific evidence than my boss hauling a suitcase down the street - an HSBC survey of 3,385 expats living in 100 countries named New Zealand as the world’s friendliest, most welcoming country. More than twice as many expats based in New Zealand reported they would stay or return to the country as the overall rate worldwide.
So a New Zealand expat was far more likely to say they would stay or return to the New Zealand than expats in most other countries. And according to a 2013 World Economic Forum report, there is only one country on earth where the people are more friendly to foreigners than in New Zealand. Way to go New Zealand - (nearly) the friendliest place on earth!
4. The visa sitch is easy-peezy.
To work as an au pair, you'll need to apply for a working holiday visa. Fortunately, in line with the generally friendly attitudes of locals to foreigners, New Zealand offers participation in their working holiday scheme to a large number of countries. Whereas destinations like the UK include only 6 countries (plus Hong Kong and British Overseas Territories) in their list of eligible nationalities for their working holiday schemes - and Switzerland includes only one (Canada) - New Zealand has 39 countries, plus Hong Kong. Is your country on the list? Take a look at the lucky countries:
- Czech Republic
- Hong Kong
- South Korea
- United Kingdom
And not only does New Zealand welcome working holiday visa holders from a large number of countries, but the working holiday permits have travel conditions allowing for multiple entries. This means that you can leave and return freely, making it possible for you to travel to exciting nearby destinations like Fiji and not having to worry about limitations on the number of times you can leave and re-enter.
There will be no "Sorry I'd love to go with you to Fiji this weekend but I've maxed out the number of exits and entrances, so I can't" situations for you. Furthermore, your working holiday visa can also allow you to do occasional or part-time jobs for additional employers, should you wish to use some of your free time to earn some additional income. That means if you want to make some extra money teaching yoga lessons or tutoring adults in language courses, you can. Just double-check with New Zealand Immigration rules first.
Also important to mention: being a citizen from one of 39 specific countries (or Hong Kong), is not enough to be granted a visa for employment. You also have to fulfill a number of requirements to be granted a working holiday visa in New Zealand. You must be between the ages of 18 and 30. You must have comprehensive health insurance for the duration of your stay. And you are required to show evidence of your intention to leave New Zealand upon the expiration of your visa, typically in the form of a plane ticket or sufficient funds to purchase one. It's worth noting that if you have been previously approved under the New Zealand working holiday scheme, you are not allowed to apply again - even if you never actually used your visa to work. So don't apply unless you have concrete plans in place. For answers to questions you may have about acquiring a visa for your au pair work, visit the New Zealand Working Holiday Schemes Q&A section on the official Immigration New Zealand site.
5. You won't be alone!
Sure many of us travel abroad to immerse ourselves in adventure and a whole new culture, to step out of our comfort zones. But sometimes it’s also nice to know you have fellow adventurers pursuing a similar path – especially when you’re spending several months to a year in a new country. Fortunately for you, if you’re headed off to be an au pair in New Zealand, there are many others like you. Many Kiwi families have au pairs. In fact the government grants a subsidy to families for having an au pair, through the Department of Work and Income. Given the social support, the amazing places to visit and the friendly people, it's no wonder New Zealand moved 4 spots up to become the 8th most popular country in the world for au pairs, according to the International Au Pair Association's most recently-completed survey. And if I had to bet, I'd put my money on it climbing even higher in the next survey!
The fact that so many au pairs love heading to New Zealand is great news for you - whether you choose to go it alone or go with an au pair agency. Chances are you'll meet up with fellow au pairs at the playground that you could maybe meet later for coffee or have as a travel buddy. Don't want to leave it to chance? Agencies frequently arrange social events where au pairs can meet each other. You’ll have new friends with whom you’ll instantly share a connection and can exchange useful tips and inside info - like the best shops and restaurants for finding your favorite food from back home or the best games for keeping kids entertained.
Particularly if you are au pairing in a city, you can rest assured you will find lots of other people your age from around the world who have come to New Zealand on a working holiday.
Feeling the allure of becoming a New Zealand au pair? If you don't know any Kiwi families and don't want to chance it with a classifieds site, you'll probably need to work with an agency. Programs vary based on cost and level of support. Some au pair agencies, for example, offer travel insurance and include the cost of your flights in their fees, whereas others do not. Some agencies, such as Au Pair Link, even have a placement guarantee, where if your placement doesn't work out, they'll help you find another host family and pay for your accommodations in the interim.
And often agencies, as is the case with Dream Au Pair, offer driving lessons (oh yes, you'll have to learn to drive on the other side of the road). There are options to fit just about every reasonable budget. If you really don't want to work with an agency and prefer to find an au pair job online independently, try a classified site like Gumtree. If, however, you prefer to participate in an agency program, take a look at the au pair program reviews on Go Overseas. Either way, this could be the beginning of your adventure of a lifetime!Photo Credits: 1 2 3 4 & author.