"People don't understand, you can't just pick up and move to another country," Isaac said. It was just before the 2016 election, a very common time to hear disheartened Americans threatening to peace-out and move to Canada or New Zealand or wherever-else they dreamed of escaping to. And he was right, most Americans actually can't just choose to go live permanently in another country if they get sick of their homeland. Immigration is hard.
Yet here I am, with visas, passports, and a one-way ticket to Auckland in hand. In this post, I'll walk through exactly what it took to get my whole family to this place.
Step 1: Get married
First things first: I'm American by birth. Isaac is Kiwi by birth. We got engaged when Isaac was here in San Francisco on a tourist visa (love at first sight, we had met just a few months before), which put us in a sticky situation. We could either have him leave the country and apply for a fiancé visa, which could take up to a year of being apart. Or, we could simply get married ASAP at City Hall before his tourist visa expired and then apply right away for his green card. We did that.
Step 2: Apply for citizenship
When we began thinking about moving overseas, there was one problem. If we left the country for any sgnificant amount of time, Isaac would lose his green card. We wanted the freedom to be able to move back to the US at any point, what with beloved family and friends here, which meant we needed Isaac to get citizenship. We weighed the pros (a US passport!) and cons (always gotta file taxes ugh) and decided in the end that he should apply for it. We would always have ties to the US and very likely may move back someday.
Step 3: Apply for a partner visa
While waiting on Isaac's citizenship, I had to work on my partner resident visa application, which would give me all the rights I needed in NZ in order to go work, live, and raise our kids there. New Zealand's online application system was seamless, and the paperwork was straightforward. The worst part was having to provide monthly utility bills in both our names going back YEARS. Thank god for online billing history.
I got pregnant right around when we had started thinking about this, which meant I couldn't do the necessary chest X-ray for the visa's medical exam. I'd have to wait until after the baby was born. With this timeline, the soonest we expected to get my visa would have been near the end of 2021. But miraculously, around Christmas I got a call from immigration saying they were missing one piece of paperwork and then I'd have my visa. Hooray!
Step 4: Get the kids' passports
If you've ever tried to take a passport picture of a baby or toddler, you will understand when I say: that was the hardest part of this step. But, we managed to get surly-looking pictured of both our kids, with white backgrounds and non-patterned shirts, and sent them off with the basic paperwork required. Ta-da, both our kids are now officially New Zealanders!
Step 5: Get a spot in MIQ (the hardest step!)
Because of Covid, New Zealand is making everyone go into managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) for two entire weeks upon arrival. When we started investigating this step early in 2021, we realized it was nearly impossible to get a spot. NZ news had stories of people writing bots and scripts that would comb the site and scoop up any openings when they happened. It seemed impossible to get one, and without it there was no chance we'd get in.
One evening Isaac was up later than usual and checked the MIQ site. For a second the whole month of July showed up, then went away. He got me out of bed and said "I think MIQ is being released for July, should I get us a spot?!" We managed to catch them right as they released all the July dates and we snagged one, booked tickets, and that was that.
There is a ton of other stuff on our list now that all the official tasks are done. Find movers, for instance. Figure out where to buy a car when we get there. Transfer my prescriptions over to a whole new medical system, rent out our house, forward our mail– the list of "life admin" (as Isaac calls it) goes on and on. But I always remind myself we aren't the only ones who've done this. If other families can figure it out, we will too.
Now, how on earth will we keep our energetic 2-year-old occupied for two weeks of quarantine in a hotel room...