Visa Options Down Under: Escaping to Australia and New Zealand

Visa Options Down Under: Escaping to Australia and New Zealand

In early March, my wife and I spent eight days vacationing in Sydney – it’s a fantastic place, but that’s also priced in.  Everything is very, very expensive (as in London expensive…Sydney leaves New York in the dust price-wise!)

While it’s always fun to travel internationally, these days it takes on a new level of importance.  With Western governments going increasingly insane, taking the steps to “internationalize yourself” may prove very prescient as borders continue to get locked down, from both a human and capital flow perspective.

Today, we look at the visa – and lifestyle – options offered by Australia and New Zealand, courtesy of International Man correspondent Colleen Murphy (no relation to Doug Casey’s book, though the folks at IM are carrying the internationalization torch these days via their blog and newsletter).

After Colleen’s piece, I’ve added a piece of intel from an astute reader of ours living in New Zealand as a US expat…

Australia or New Zealand? Same-Same, But Different

by Colleen Murphy, International Man


It’s a tough life in the sunburnt country: space aplenty, abundant natural resources, pubs with enormous beer gardens and an almost nationwide addiction to coffee, seafood, global cuisine and sports. As some say, “Where else can you win the lottery twice?”

It’s the country of the “fair go” and the Australian economic miracle. Since the late 1990s, a fortuitous combination of precious rocks and dirt, attractive tourist destinations and a housing boom created significant wealth for a country that is used to being an underdog on the world stage. While the rest of the world was enduring chaos and tumult in 2008-09, Australians were lolling in the surf and downing local wines.

This prosperity comes at a price, of course: Australia is now high-income, high-cost and high-tax. In 2010 the AUD broke parity with the USD for the first time as a freely traded currency, and it’s still trading above historical levels. As a result, the cost of living in Sydney is now 50% more than in New York, whereas a decade ago Sydney was 25% cheaper than New York. Melbourne was recently crowned the world’s most liveable city, but it’s also the eighth most expensive city in the world. Restaurants, clothes, beer – any typical household purchase – will almost certainly cost more than you’re used to if your tarting point is the USA or the UK. Two years ago I visited Broken Hill, an isolated mining town in the New South Wales outback, and was stunned to pay Sydney prices: $4.50 for a small latte.

While the Australian economy has weathered the storms of recent years, it’s possible there has been too much self-congratulating and piling on of public and private debt. A growing movement is forecasting a housing bubble burst; high costs are encouraging other countries and companies to look elsewhere; and Australia’s dependence on resource exports to China could be a case of too many eggs in one basket.

Visitors seeking the perpetual sun-and-fun stereotype will be amply rewarded, but Australia can also be wild, raging and fearsome. It’s possible to have blazing bushfires in Victoria, cyclones and floods in Queensland, and unabating drought in the middle – all at the same time. Add to that the occasional croc attack (for which Obama was jokingly insured during his 2011 visit), and you begin to see that Australia is not for the faint of heart. The early settlers that survived – convicts and gold-rush-era fortune-seekers – must have been a hardy lot.

Australia Visa Options

There is a range of options available to those seeking to live temporarily or to migrate permanently to Australia. Broad categories include:

  • A one-year “working holiday” visa
  • Employer sponsorship
  • Marriage to an Australian or a New Zealander. (Residents of each country can freely live and work in the other.)
  • Skilled migration
  • Business visas that require the applicant to have net assets or make an investment ranging from $500,000 to $5 million. (The $5 million scheme is new and the source of much press.)

New Zealand

An island country in the southwestern Pacific that’s geographically remote from everywhere except Australia and Antarctica, it’s believed NZ was the last major landmass settled by humans. It is a gobsmackingly beautiful natural paradise with productive land, reliable rainfall, and just over four million people in an area smaller than California. Whereas Australia has crocodiles, cyclones and arid land, NZ is green, clean and fertile.

In New Zealand, all dairy products must be free of antibiotics, chemical residues and hormones. As sports-obsessed as its rival neighbor, it’s also the country that started bungee jumping and it boasts exquisite Sauvignon Blancs. Australia might have a chip on its shoulder, but New Zealanders just want you to have a really, really good time.

And yet there is little self-congratulating to be heard in NZ. Perhaps that’s because wages are lower and cost of living is still high. It’s a small, remote country with fewer professional opportunities compared to its bigger sister or England, the colonial mothership. NZ has suffered from a brain drain – in 2005, the OECD reported that one quarter of New Zealanders with higher education were living overseas – but it has also benefited from a brain gain of qualified foreigners seeking a quieter life. Recent earthquakes in Christchurch have depressed tourism and encouraged more New Zealanders to move, but it’s also created job opportunities for skilled workers who can help the city rebuild.

In any natural paradise, there is a sobering reality to consider: the country’s stunning glaciers are melting at an alarming rate; waterways are threatened by runoff produced by the cows that supply a quarter of the country’s exports; and the controversial practice of fracking for natural gas and oil has begun.

New Zealand Visa Options

Categories of visas are similar to those for Australia, with a carve-out
for horticulture and viticulture (translation: seasonal work picking fruit). NZ was at one time considered a “backdoor” to Australia, which might have contributed to a 2005 decision to extend the time required to obtain citizenship (now a minimum of five years).

Hanmer Springs, New Zealand

Where to from Here?

While boots-on-the-ground experience might expose more differences than similarities, when viewed with a global lens, the two have more in common than they are willing to admit.

If you’re landing in either country from a major metropolis, your first reaction is likely to be, “Where is everyone?” For a period of time, you might feel you have quite literally fallen off the map. Both countries suffer the tyranny of distance, but you can enjoy the amenities of an urban lifestyle with less crowding.

They also both receive ‘nanny state’ critique: police forces can feel big brotherly, there are strict gun laws in place and television advertising is not subtle. The upsides are that both countries are relatively safe and things generally run as they should.

If you’re deciding which country might be for you, consider that you’ll realize an improvement in quality of life only if this is the life that you want. Sun, fun and clean air are meaningless if what’s really important is raising your children near their grandparents or the comfort of hearing your own accent. Yes, the emotional cost of leaving home is lighter than it’s ever been, thanks to increased mobility and fast communications, but with a twenty-four hour plane journey and thousands of dollars in airfare, you probably won’t get a lot of visitors.

But the early settlers had it harder than we do now, and plucky adventure-seekers should not be deterred. Whether you’re a greenie looking for a quiet place to grow vegetables, career-driven and seeking to diversify, or a retiree who wants a serene place to spend your golden years, Australasia has something for you.

About the author: Colleen Murphy has spent the last four years living in Australia and making frequent trips to NZ, for both business and pleasure.

[Editor’s Note: If you’re going to successfully internationalize – whether assets, income or personally – you’ll need some good resources to do it. Join us at the International Man Network and gain access to our library of useful reports on a wide range of diversification topics from moving gold overseas or finding an international broker to getting set up on the ground in a number of different countries around the world. Click here for free access.]

As promised in the intro, a big thanks to astute reader Troy, a US expat living in New Zealand, who wrote in immediately after reading this piece:

Being a US expat living in NZ as a permanent resident since 2006 I can tell you that it’s not 5 years to get citizenship here. The legal requirement is actually 1,300 days as a PR living and working in NZ to qualify for citizenship. So if you don’t leave NZ once you get PR (BTW you can actually gain PR before even setting foot here) you can apply for citizenship as early as 3.5 years.

BTW 1,300 days doesn’t need to be consecutive ether, you just need to prove that you stayed here for 1,300 days as a PR prior to applying for citizenship.

Also, I think the working visa here in NZ is 24 months. I came here on a working visa and it was 24 months from the date I arrived in the country.  I’m not aware of any changes to that policy but I could be wrong since I haven’t had any interaction with NZ immigration for 2 years now. Most young adults from overseas come here for 2 years then go to Ozzy for a year. The immigration policies for young persons, under 30, are vary lacks.