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Working & Travelling in New Zealand: Stories from a Canadian on a Working Holiday Visa (WHV)

For outdoor and nature lovers, New Zealand should be at the top of the list for a Working Holiday Visa (WHV) destination. The Land of the Kiwis is known for breathtaking landscapes and the warm welcome of its inhabitants! That’s good news because Canadians between the ages of 18 and 35 can get a WHV to stay and work there for up to 23 months. To motivate you to prepare for your trip, Émilie, a French-Canadian who backpacks around the world while working online, described for us her year on the North and South Islands.

  • Name of the WHV country: New Zealand
  • Name: Émilie
  • Last Name: Robichaud
  • Age: 31 years old
  • Hometown: Montréal
  • Period of the WHV: April 2014 to March 2015
  • Instagram handle: @nomadicemilie
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What Drove You to Apply for a Working Holiday Visa in New Zealand?

After 18 months of backpacking around the world, I wanted to settle down in a place where I could earn money while learning more about a new culture.

During my previous trips, I noticed how the attitude of “locals” started to change after I had stayed in the same place for several weeks. By settling in for a bit instead of just passing through, I noticed that people began opening up more easily to me. New encounters became more enriching, and I was able to uncover the subtleties of a culture different from my own. For these reasons, I wanted to stop being a simple tourist and live somewhere for an entire year.

How Did Your Family and Friends React to Your Decision to Work and Travel in New Zealand?

For Canadians, New Zealand is clearly not a hop and a skip away! My family would have preferred that I choose a closer destination so they could visit me. My entourage was already used to me always travelling, so this didn’t really surprise anyone. With Skype, my friends, mom and brother knew we would stay in touch and communicate frequently enough.

Why Did You Choose New Zealand as a Destination for Your WHV?

I had already travelled to New Zealand for three weeks on the more populous North Island to visit a friend during my world tour. I was really charmed by the country’s incredible nature and hiking opportunities.

I also knew of the country’s high cost of living. The solution of a WHV seemed to me to be a great way to explore the whole country while financing a good portion of my trip by working there.

Nicknamed Kiwis after the native, flightless birds, New Zealanders are so hospitable; I still have wonderful memories of my first short stay with them, so a whole year in their company? Well, why not?

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Did You Save Some Money Before Leaving? How Much?

I arrived in New Zealand with just over $4,500 in my bank account—just the amount required to demonstrate that we could provide for our needs during our stay. I had saved up a larger amount, but I was coming off a two-month backpacking trip to Latin America that I had combined with a stopover in Fiji (a budget-gnawing paradise!)

I knew that I had to find work upon arrival if I hoped to continue travelling.


What Are the First Things You Did When You Arrived in New Zealand?

When I arrived in Auckland (the country’s metropolis), I immediately took a bus to meet my friends in Taupo. I thought I would find work there, but it was the low season in this tiny village.

So, I continued my journey for three days to New Zealand’s capital, Wellington. I started looking at job postings but was not convinced that Wellington (nicknamed the Wind City) was the answer to my search for breathtaking scenery. Although I enjoyed the view of Mount Victoria, South Island was beckoning me more and more.

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After shopping for deals online, I flew to Christchurch for a whopping $35. Domestic flights within New Zealand are incredibly affordable! The city of Christchurch was quietly recovering from the earthquake that had destroyed it a few months (or weeks?) earlier. There was a lot of work to be done in construction and painting, but the post-apocalyptic atmosphere didn’t appeal to me one bit.

I finally headed further south for Queenstown, a city I had long dreamed of seeing with my own eyes.

When I stepped off the bus, the splendour of the New Zealand Alps captivated me. I said to myself, “This is it; this is where I want to stay!”

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What Steps Did You Take to Find a Job?

Landing my first job was a real challenge. Since I had chosen to stay in Queenstown, the most popular place for WHV travellers, there was more manpower than positions available.

I scanned grocery and hostel ad boards. I waited religiously for the weekly edition of the local newspaper to search for new job opportunities in the classifieds. After coming across one of these ads, an employment agency offered me a pre-interview. I had several short term contracts with this agency in hotels and event hosting.

What Work Experience Did You Have During Your WHV?

Following this succession of short-term contracts, a hotel complex in Queenstown hired me for a few weeks, but for a paltry salary. During the winter there, imported fruits and vegetables are very expensive: I had to pay $5 for a single tomato. Most homes don’t have the same insulation as our Canadian homes, so heating consumes a lot of energy and gets expensive.

So, I ended up going back to Auckland to find a higher-paying job. I contacted most advertising agencies and quickly found a job in my field of study. I worked as a Web project manager at Takapuna for seven months (with a salary equivalent to the one I would have received in Canada).

Would You Say That the Money Earned During Your WHV Was Enough to Cover Your Cost of Living?

I have mixed feelings about this, but let me explain: a minimum-wage job is insufficient to fully cover daily expenses (although I was very thrifty). On the other hand, with a specialized job, I even managed to save money.

Where Did You Travel in New Zealand During Your Working Holiday Visa and What Was Your Favourite Place?

I roamed the two islands and fell in love with the Maori culture in the Rotorua region. For unique landscapes, the Fjordland is a wild and fascinating place where I’d love to return.


Share an Anecdote or Travel Story From Your Experience in New Zealand:

With the arrival of summer in New Zealand, I discovered to my surprise that many New Zealanders walk barefoot—not just on the beach, but anywhere! In the grocery store, at school and in the shops, it’s fairly common to see children and adults alike walking in public places without shoes.

It really struck me to see people in jeans and long-sleeved shirts doing their grocery shopping barefoot!

What Was the Most Rewarding Part of Your Stay Abroad?

The New Zealander pace of life proved especially rewarding during my year there. I watched the seasons pass one after another, followed the country’s news and discovered the relaxed vibe of an isolated nation at the end of the world!

I found the people open and inviting. Several people offered to let me stay in their home for a few days, and I was even loaned a car several times. It’s customary in New Zealand culture to go backpacking abroad after one’s studies, which may explain why all the people I met were so kindhearted and generous during my stay.

Did You Visit Other Countries During Your WHV?

Thanks to cheap flights, I also travelled to Australia several times and even visited Samoa.

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Did You Return Home With Savings or Debts?

I left New Zealand after a full year on my WHV with enough savings to travel for several weeks in Asia!

What Advice Would You Give to Someone Who Would Like to Get a Working Holiday Visa for New Zealand?

The best advice is to do it! Apply for your WHV and jump aboard a plane! If you’re dreaming of travelling to New Zealand, the WHV is definitely the best option! Remember that you’re only a flight or two from home if ever you feel the need!


You may also like: Working and Travelling in Japan: Stories From a Canadian on a Working Holiday Visa (WHV)

Make your dream of working and travelling in New Zealand come true. Head over to International Experience Canada’s website to find out about the 30+ countries/territories where you can apply for a Working Holiday Visa as a Canadian.

Emilie Robichaud
Emilie Robichaud
Je suis accro au mode de vie nomade! J’ai quitté ma zone de confort pour voyager à temps plein. Mon tour du monde sans fin compte plus de 71 pays et ça continue! Le voyage, c'est un style de vie et un état d'esprit!


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