First of all, it’s official – I am going to be spending the winter in New Zealand. Doing what, I’m still not sure - I’m hoping to find work for at least a few months of the time – but one thing I will definitely be doing is enjoying warmer weather than will be found up here in Alaska. I am leaving in a little over two weeks, and I am hoping to be able to sneak out of the Icebox before I have to do any shoveling, snowblowing, or chipping ice off of my car.
I originally thought I was going to be staying in Alaska for another winter; unfortunately, the job I had thought I had lined up with a former employer fell through. Oh well. However, the longer I think about it, the happier I am that I won't be spending another winter up here battling the elements and staving off cabin fever. (Which was one of the reasons I started writing a blog in the first place.) So, I figured as long as I was leaving Alaska for the winter, why not go to a warm-weather vacation spot - as opposed to the glacially-refrigerated rainforest I live in now. Also, New Zealand has been on the list of places I’d like to visit for several years – ever since I took advantage of a similar temporary working visa arrangement in the UK back in 2006. The organization that sponsored that program (the British Universities North America Club) also had a similar program in New Zealand (among other places – New Zealand piqued my interest mainly because they speak English, and they have kiwi birds.) What I didn’t know until a few months ago is that if you just apply for the visa through the New Zealand immigration bureau directly, you don’t have to pay the agency a $500 fee.
In fact, applying for the work visa was ridiculously straightforward. Also, it was free. As in, the New Zealand government is letting me come and live in their country for six months, and the only thing I had to do was to fill out a form saying that I’ve (a) never been convicted of a crime, and (b) do not have tuberculosis. I filled out the whole form online in about thirty minutes, and they processed it in about three days. (In comparison, for a New Zealand person to get a similar visa for the United States, it would cost a little under a thousand dollars in visa and agency fees alone – and you have to be in college, or have graduated within twelve months. Lady Liberty, I think you’re hiding the welcome mat…)
Perhaps because it’s free, the visa is a little less spectacular than the ones I’ve got from the UK. Getting a visa for Britain involved a whole process of sending my passport to a consulate somewhere and then getting it back with a huge embossed sticker and a lot of fine print in a tiny serif font, which the immigration people would minutely examine with a lens and some sort of blacklight pen every time I arrived in London.
In contrast, the New Zealand immigration people sent me an email with a number on it. That's the visa. All I needed to do was print out the page. No serif fonts, security codes, or weird hidden passport microchips.
Something else I’ve been getting in order is various forms of travel insurance. I’m changing my medical insurance to a company that will cover me both in the US and abroad. What’s interesting about this is that I am paying the same premium as I did under my US plan – but I get a $2000 deductible, instead of a $10,000 deductible. This is just one indication that health insurance costs over here are insanely overpriced compared to the rest of the civilized world. Want another example? I was advised by my doctor to bring a three-month supply of my birth control medication with me to New Zealand. Which sounded like a great idea, except that my (current) insurance won’t approve me getting that much in advance. Paying for it without their negotiated ‘discount’ would be $90, as opposed to the $45 that I’m usually charged. However, buying the same amount of the same drug (even without insurance) in New Zealand comes to... about $18. I ran into this situation in the UK as well – the sticker price of most prescription drugs in other civilized countries is usually well below the ‘discount’ price that my US insurance says that they are negotiating for me.
And this is why my friends in Texas stock up on pharmaceuticals every time they visit Mexico…