American Expat Living in New Zealand - Interview with Ellen & Scott

Published: 11 Aug at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,New Zealand
Ellen and Scott have lived overseas since 2001 - first in Scotland and then in New Zealand. They both have anthropology degrees and love to explore other cultures. When Ellen was transferred to Glasgow, it was an incredible opportunity to experience life in Scotland, as well as a great base from which to explore other countries. They couldn’t believe their luck when they had an opportunity to move to New Zealand in 2008. Who wouldn’t want to live in a country with stunning scenery, friendly people and a rich cultural heritage? Scott was particularly excited to move to Auckland (aka the “City of Sails”) as he developed a passion for sailing in Scotland. They ended up buying a sailboat and moved onto it at the end of 2013. Exploring New Zealand by water was one of the most rewarding things they’ve had an opportunity to do as expats. Ellen & Scott's expat blog is called The Cynical Sailor & His Salty Sidekick (see listing here)

Maori figures in Coromandel Town, New Zealand
Maori figures in Coromandel Town, New Zealand

Here's the interview with Ellen & Scott...

Where are you originally from?
We’re both originally from the States - Scott grew up in North Dakota and Ellen grew up in Ohio.

In which country and city are you living now?
Until recently, we were living in Auckland, New Zealand. Scott is now back in Scotland for work, while Ellen is visiting family back in the States for a few months. We’re planning on meeting up in the States to start looking for a new sailboat to travel around and live on while we explore other parts of the world.

How long have you lived in New Zealand and how long are you planning to stay?
We moved to Auckland in September 2008. We obtained permanent residency prior to moving to New Zealand and consider this beautiful country to be our home base while we’re off exploring the world by sailboat.

View from Mt Hobson on Great Barrier Island, New Zealand
View from Mt Hobson on Great Barrier Island, New Zealand
Why did you move to New Zealand and what do you do?
Ellen was offered a job in Auckland working in HR for a telecommunications company. Neither of us had ever been to New Zealand before, but after seven years in Scotland, we were ready to explore and live in a new country. So without ever having set foot in New Zealand, we decided to give it a go! Scott continued to go back and forth between New Zealand and Scotland for his work (he has a commercial archaeology business in Glasgow), while Ellen worked in New Zealand.

Did you bring family with you?
No, it was just the two of us. We did want to bring our “family” of cats and dog with us when we originally moved to Scotland, but due to the quarantine requirements, we decided to leave them in the States.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
The transition was relatively easy for us, especially as both Scotland and New Zealand are English-speaking countries with many similarities to the States. We really admire people who move to countries where they have to learn a new language and adapt to a relatively different culture! Ellen’s company offered lots of expatriate support when we were transferred to Scotland which was helpful in terms of sorting out accommodation, transport, banking etc. so that we could hit the ground running. Moving to New Zealand was pretty straightforward as well. Probably the biggest thing we had to adapt to was the different varieties of English spoken in Scotland and in New Zealand.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Whether you’re an expat or not, making new friends probably gets more challenging once you are out of university. We mostly made friends through work. When we moved to Scotland, we did socialize with some of the other American expats at Ellen’s work (which was a great way to get tips about Scotland from folks who had been there longer), but not exclusively. In New Zealand, we mostly socialized mostly with Kiwis.

Sunrise in New Zealand
Sunrise in New Zealand
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
There are so many great things to do in New Zealand – it is hard to narrow it down! We’ve loved going on walks and exploring the outdoors – some of our favorites are the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and climbing up Mt Hobson on Great Barrier Island. Sailing in the Hauraki Gulf is an incredible experience. But even if you don’t have your own boat, you can get to some interesting islands by ferry like Rangitoto Island, Motutapu Island, Rotoroa Island and Waiheke Island. Doing conservation volunteering is a fabulous way to meet people, as well as help restore native flora and fauna. New Zealand is a great place to explore by car so go for a road trip and check out both islands.

What do you enjoy most about living in New Zealand?
The people – Kiwis are laidback, down to earth and have a great sense of humor (think Flight of the Conchords). The outdoors – New Zealand really is as beautiful as all of those pictures you see and you get such different types of scenery as you travel throughout the country. And of course the sailing – New Zealand is known to have some of the best cruising grounds in the world. It is a great country to explore by water.

How does the cost of living in New Zealand compare to home?
We were surprised by the cost of living in New Zealand. For some reason, we had expected it to be much cheaper than living in Scotland, but that wasn’t the case. Groceries seem to be quite expensive – the cost of meat and dairy products always surprises us. The cost of housing in Auckland also seems to be quite high – home buying isn’t on our agenda anytime soon!

Our sailboat at Whangarei Marina, New Zealand
Our sailboat at Whangarei Marina, New Zealand
What negatives, if any, are there to living in New Zealand?
The only negative is how far New Zealand is from everywhere else in the world. When we lived in Scotland, we could get cheap airline tickets and go to Paris or Rome for a weekend. If you want to travel from New Zealand to anywhere else in the world, it is pretty expensive and the flights are long.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to New Zealand, what would it be?
Embrace the laidback lifestyle and try not to be a “tall poppy”. It is important to be humble here - don’t boast about yourself and your accomplishments.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Like many expats would say, the hardest aspect of being an expat is the distance you are from family, especially when you have older parents.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
Right now, New Zealand is home for us and we plan on continuing our travels around the world. At this point, we don’t have plans to settle back in the States, but you know what they say about plans, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

Wallaby spotted on Kawau Island, New Zealand
Wallaby spotted on Kawau Island, New Zealand
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Learn about the Maori culture and take a Te Reo language class. Learning a little bit about the Maori language provides a great insight into the traditions which infuse New Zealand culture. It’s also helpful to learn commonly used phrases (like Kia Ora or hello) and be able to pronounce many of the place names (like the city of Whakatane).
  2. Get a migrant banking account set up before you move to New Zealand. It is easy to do with most of the major banks and will make things much simpler when you get over here.
  3. If you’re moving to another country for work, take advantage of any expat programs that your company offers and make connections with other expats that work for your company. It is really helpful to get their tips and tricks before you move over, especially when it comes to deciding where you are first going to live. The last thing you want is to find yourself living in an area you don’t like with a 9 month lease.
  4. If you don’t know anything about rugby, try to learn a little bit about the game. Or at least know who the All Blacks are. They take their rugby pretty seriously in New Zealand.
  5. Have fun! Not many people get to experience life living in another country. Even after those frustrating days when things don’t go the way you planned or you can’t find your favorite peanut butter at the store, it is important to take a mental step back and try to find some humor in the situation.
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
We blog about our sailing and travel adventures at The Cynical Sailor. We try to inject a bit of eccentric humor in our blog. We’ve found that if you’re going to be an expat and/or travel to other countries, it’s important to be able to laugh at yourself and have a bit of fun. If you’re interested in finding out more about New Zealand, we have a "New Zealand" page on our blog which has links to posts about our time living here.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
You can contact us via our blog (either using the contact form on the sidebar or via email on our “Contact Us” page), through Facebook (The Cynical Sailor & His Salty Sidekick) or leave a comment on our blog. We would love to hear from you!

About the author

Expat Blog ListingEllen & Scott is an American expat living in New Zealand. Blog description: Travel and sailing blog about two Americans becoming full-time cruisers in New Zealand. Follow along to see where we travel to next on our sailboat!
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