Americans arrived in New Zealand and left ‘chaos’ behind

Australian letter is the weekly newsletter from our Australian office. This week’s edition is written by Pete McKenzie, a reporter based in Auckland, New Zealand.

In 2022, Lucy Schultz is fed up. She and her husband were traveling across the US in a recreational vehicle while she worked as a wedding photographer. Everywhere they went, the community seemed polarized and the news seemed bleak. “Our view of America is at its lowest,” she said. “It was an endless period of confusion.”

Ms. Schultz was then hired by an American client who wanted to get married in New Zealand. She had previously been there once in 2014 before meeting her husband. Later, when she described the remote Pacific Islands to him, she said: “It was deafening, because the way I described it to him seemed like a fantasy.”

This time, after work ended, Ms. Schultz’s husband joined her on a trip through New Zealand’s sparsely populated north. The country proved to be an easy sell. In a small cafe near a golden sand beach, he turned to her and asked, “When are we moving?”

As the mood in the United States becomes increasingly tense, New Zealand has become the object of attention for many Americans, as well as for Ms. Schultz. Following Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory, more Americans moved to New Zealand dance equal to 65 percent. In a 2020 presidential debate, “How to move to New Zealand” was is trending Search on Google. As another US election nears, those who made the move say they have no regrets.

“One of the big advantages of leaving America was that I could hit the unsubscribe button in the chaos,” Ms. Schultz, 31, said. “Politics and elections put a strain on your nervous system when you live there. And I was just able to test that.”

Mrs. Schultz and her husband have settled near Hamilton, a small city on the North Island, and are applying for permanent residence. She was delighted by the country’s function. “This may be a strange example, but public bathrooms are not a nightmare. You can go to the bathroom and the hand soap dispenser will actually work,” she said. “Or there would be a public park with an actual working grill.”

She volunteered at a nearby nature reserve, where she hiked through virgin forests and was enthusiastic about the country’s friendliness. “I probably have a few rose-colored glasses,” she admits, but she says she was struck by “the sense of community that permeates the culture. Kiwis always look out for each other.”

Other Americans were similarly enthusiastic. Sophie Zavaleta, 27, was studying to be a teacher in Alabama when she left for a study abroad program in New Zealand in 2020. She planned to stay for two months, but when Covid-19 hit, she left. Extend your stay.

She soon fell in love with this country. Her host family took her on a trip to the beach, where she became obsessed with the coastal scenery. She got a teaching job in Auckland, the country’s largest city, and found it much less stressful than what she would have faced in the United States. Her two-month trip has turned into four years and could become permanent.

There are some disadvantages. Food and rent in New Zealand are much more expensive than in her home country, Ms. Zavaleta said, and she misses her family. But as the US election approaches, she said: “I’m happy to live here and not necessarily have to deal with all the political madness that I know is going to happen there.”

New Zealand has a points-based immigration system, which largely requires migrants to have specific skills or do certain jobs to fill labor shortages. According to Statistics New Zealand, 5,874 Americans moved to New Zealand between June 2022 and June 2023.

Todd Henry, a 41-year-old bar owner from Auckland, grew up in Pennsylvania and moved to New Zealand permanently in 2013, after living there temporarily. He said the country’s positivity stands in stark contrast to the mood in the United States, where “a sense of negativity pervades a lot of the conversations you have with people. It’s hard to describe, but I felt it weighing on me. Everything is a political disaster.”

During Mr. Henry’s visits home, he noticed that more and more people were interested in his decision to move. “I’ve seen people say, ‘New Zealand, what is that and why do you want to move there?’ to ‘How do I move there?’” he said.

He has noticed some familiar changes in New Zealand. The country recently experienced a divisive election in which several conservative parties ousted the liberal government from power. “Unfortunately, New Zealand is also changing in the direction of the United States. Although not too serious,” Mr. Henry said.

Even then, Mr. Henry and several other Americans who moved to New Zealand said they were shocked by the situation back home. “It’s really strange watching those things from here,” Mr. Henry said. Few said they were tempted to return. “America has come too far to be saved by voting alone,” Ms. Schultz said. “If I thought it was salvageable I would still be there.”

Below are the stories of the week.

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