How to settle in New Zealand in 10 days

Can you believe it’s been only 10 days since Ahmed and I set foot in New Zealand? We, for sure, cannot; it seems months rather than merely a couple of weeks that we were sitting in our house surrounded by stuff, trying to decide what to take and what to leave.

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Waikato River is surrounded by green strips that make for a perfect stroll, run, or bike ride.

We arrived Friday evening in Hamilton, where we are planning to live for the years to come. There was not much we could do during the weekend, but, to be honest, that gave us a much needed rest to recover from the arduous journey and jet lag. We did, however, explore the town, find the best mobile company and buy a sim card, and visited a Kiwi family, who gave us heaps of very useful tips.

All in all, we have settled quite well in just 10 days. Who would have thought! Here are the most important things we achieved during this time.

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Our apartment – furniture to be replaced soon!

1. Finding an apartment
We had no idea where we were going to live in Hamilton and booked a one-bedroom motel for the first four nights. After meeting a real estate agent on Monday, we figured we needed more time to find something suitable. We also realised that housing was more expensive than we were hoping. For three days, we visited eight properties with different real estate agents. We also got in touch with a lady who had two apartments for rent in the middle of the centre. Although we were convinced we did not want to live in a small apartment right in the city centre – given that we will soon have a baby to look after – we decided to have a look. Perhaps it could be a solution for the first few weeks, we thought. The minute we walked into the first apartment we fell head over heels with it! It wasn’t big, but clean, light, with a nice kitchen and bathroom and a balcony overlooking the river. The second apartment was a bit bigger but had the balcony overlooking the shopping street. Once home, we realised the first really was too small for us, and the next day we signed the contract for the apartment!

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Kitchen of our apartment

We figured it was an advantage to be in the centre, as we are planning to live without a car for a while. The river is right next to the apartment, so it is still easy to be away from the hustle and bustle if we want to. We are also happy to deal with a landlord who doesn’t work for a large company. It is all more personal and friendlier. The apartment comes with a fridge, microwave, laundry and dryer, and so we don’t need to buy all those things.

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Apartment hallway

2. Opening a bank account
Our experience in New Zealand has been very positive so far. We have noticed it is very easy to get things done, not in the least part because people here are extremely friendly and helpful. It was easy to get sim cards (without even the need to show a passport or ID) and opening a bank account was just as simple. Ahmed had already opened a bank account overseas, and we had an appointment at the bank on Monday morning to verify that account and open two more accounts. All went very smooth, and with the ANZ mobile app we can arrange most of our banking. A joint account is linked to both our individual accounts, which we can use for family expenses without the need of an extra debit card.

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Visiting a birth centre to find out my options for giving birth

3. Finding a midwife and birth centre
One of the things I am excited about is giving birth here. I had done some research when we were still in Saudi Arabia and soon discovered that New Zealand uses a system similar to the one in England and the Netherlands. To be short, in Saudi Arabia the only way to give birth is in the hospital. Anesthesia is common practice. Every month we visited a gyn who gave hardly any information about pregnancy and giving birth. I did get a shipload of supplements – multivitamins, iron, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, Vitamin D, and much more – each time I visited the hospital, but not once did he ask me about my diet, weigh me, tell me what symptoms I could expect and which ones I shouldn’t ignore, or at least where I could find trustworthy information.
So I was excited to go to a country where people give birth with a midwife and in a more personal environment, but I had no idea it would be this great! Coincidentally, Ahmed has a Kiwi friend whose family lives in Hamilton, and funny enough his sister-in-law is about to give birth to her first baby! She told me about two birth centres in town where many Kiwis give birth, and on Monday we visited both. The staff were very happy to show us around, answer our enquiries, and give us information regarding antenatal classes, antenatal yoga, midwifes, and costs. The two centres have water pools and medicine balls, among other facilities, plus they encourage natural birthing and skin to skin contact rather than taking the baby immediately away from the mother. While one of them had a more homey feel than the other, both had a very good atmosphere.
Through a list I got at one of the centres I easily found a midwife, and we already met her. Again, it was all very friendly, and it reassured me that this is the perfect place for me to have a baby.

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Hamilton Gardens is one of the city’s highlights.

4. Getting an insurance
As Ahmed is here for his studies, the university had asked him to choose an insurance and sign up for it while we were still in Saudi. Yesterday we visited the university campus and met with a lady from the university who deals with the student insurance. We found out the insurance does not only cover medical issues, but includes a content insurance for personal belongings and liability insurance for the apartment. Despite some shortcomings (the insurance does not cover giving birth, nor are dental costs included) we think it is a pretty good insurance for the price we pay. And even if content and liability were not included, it would have been a pretty easy procedure to get those. We had already enquired about them at our bank.

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Hamilton Gardens – a post about these beautiful gardens will appear soon!

5. Buying furniture
So we signed our rental contract on Wednesday and were able to move in on Sunday – if we had a bed, that is. Without IKEA in this country, this is a more difficult part of settling in than it is in most countries. We checked several furniture stores and found that the affordable ranges are pretty old fashioned. Lest we want to feel like we’re living in the fifties, this is not what we were looking for, but we also do not have a very high budget as long as we don’t get any income. Several Kiwis recommended us to find secondhand deals on TradeMe, New Zealand’s version of Ebay. However, without a car it is not easy to buy things on this website, and we did not even find furniture we really liked for a good price. We ended up buying a mattress online and also bought plenty of stuff – including a bedframe – from The Warehouse. We visited their largest branch in Hamilton but ended up ordering everything online and have it sent to our new address. Not cheap, but without a car this seemed the best option. As of now, we don’t have a couch or any other furniture yet, but our landlord was friendly enough to lend us a dining table and chairs as well as the sofa and chairs in the living room. This way we can take our time to find the best deals. Oh, and let’s not forget the stuff for the baby! We have found some good stores and are also considering buying some things on TradeMe. Luckily we still have a few months to finalise all that!

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Indian Garden

6. Picking up our boxes
Probably the stupidest thing we did is ship some boxes to New Zealand. Okay, perhaps sending them by cargo was not a bad idea, but we chose to send some totally useless stuff. Of course it is nice to have our books here, but would we really need to have them here already? And do we even have space in our apartment for them (let alone money to buy bookshelves)? Another thing we shipped are my running trophies. True, I am very proud of them, but there’s no way I can display them in our new apartment. Most probably they will stay in their boxes in our storage room. I should have left them with my or Ahmed’s family… Shipping my kitchen machine would have been more practical.
Not only was it expensive to ship them from Jeddah, we also had to rent a car, go to Auckland, get them cleared by Customs and pay for that as well. It probably cost us around US$400. Pretty expensive trophies, I would say…

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University of Waikato campus

7. Enrolling at university
As said, we visited the university campus on Friday morning. Apart from sorting out our insurance, Ahmed finalised the registration process and enrolled in papers (as they call university subjects or courses) for the first year. He is doing three papers in the first semester, which starts on March 2 and ends June 28. The second semester, which runs from July 13 to November 9, he will follow four papers, after which he needs to attend Summer school from November 9 to December 20. That leaves us plenty of time to visit my family for Christmas and Ahmed’s as well.

While these are probably the biggest steps we completed in 10 days, they are by no means the only things we had to do! A few other things we arranged was choosing a company for broadband Internet, getting electricity (not unimportant!), buying a bus card, and picking up our ATM cards.

And as said, we met Ahmed’s Kiwi friend and spent one evening with his family just outside Hamilton, where we saw again how friendly and hospitable people are here. After just 10 days, we already feel home in this country, and we are excited about the months and hopefully years we have ahead of us here!

Correction: It turned out none of the boxes contained my running trophies. Instead, there were souvenirs, books, shoes, picture frames and more. What a relief!

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