Reader Question: Moving to New Zealand

Reader Charlee writes in with this question:

I’m having difficulty finding helpful information on moving overseas permanently. Most articles are about temporary moves and what you should store in the US or take with you depending on the length of your stay. The majority of those are for military families.

My husband is from New Zealand. We’re planning to move there within the next 2-3 years. We’ve been hard core uncluttering our home of 15 years, and are planning an enormous sale soon of stuff we don’t want now, then another shortly before the move to get rid of the remainder — the stuff we’ll use until we move. Do you have any advice about moving permanently to the other side of the planet?

This is a great question Charlee — not just for moving from one side of the planet to the other but even across the continent.

The first step is to investigate the country you’re moving to. Your husband is from New Zealand so I would assume that you have visited there a few times over the course of your marriage and are probably very familiar with how people live, what their homes are like, and what the cost of living is. If you don’t know, check out websites written by expats. Social media sites can also be a good resource. You can learn a lot from following journalists, businesses, and social services (health care, police, etc.) on Twitter.

Here are a few things that might not be so evident to our readers.


In New Zealand, they drive right-hand drive vehicles on the left-hand side of the road. A North American vehicle would probably need modifications to meet New Zealand’s auto standards. You would likely need special auto insurance and/or special licencing. Additionally, it would be very difficult to sell your vehicle (even for parts) when the time came. You might not even want a car in your new location if you are living downtown in a large city and auto fuel and parking fees are more expensive than a bus pass.

Recommendation: Sell the car before you leave even if you have to use a rental a car for a month before you move.

Electrical items

The electrical power grid in New Zealand is 230/240V and 50Hz. In North America, it is 110V and 60Hz. You can get a “step-up” transformer however, they are designed for short-term use and will cause your electrical devices to wear out very quickly. However, some lamps and lighting can be re-wired so if you have an antique or very expensive lamp, ask an electrician if it would be possible and feasible to re-wire. Computers, laptops, tablets, and phones can work on both 110V and 240V. Check your systems. You might only need to purchase a new power converter.

Recommendation: Sell or give away anything that plugs in and does not work on 240V/50Hz power.

Cost of the move

I am assuming that you will be paying for your own move (as opposed to an employer paying for it). If this is the case, calculate the cost of the move. Most moving companies use volume to calculate the cost. For example, it might cost $6,000 USD to move 1000 cubic feet (a small 3-bedroom house). This works out to $6 USD per cubic foot. If that old sofa in your basement takes up 65 cubic feet, it costs $390 USD to move. (Check out this household goods volume calculator.) Is that old sofa worth $390 USD? Would it be better to buy a new sofa on arrival? Consider that you will have to pay import duties on the current value of all imported items.

Recommendation: Do not pay more to move goods than the goods are worth — with the exception of sentimental items.

Import restrictions

Depending on the country to which you are moving, some items are not allowed to be imported. Usually these consist of hunting trophies, food and agricultural products, unfinished wood, alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and ammunition. Some children’s toys, furniture, and craft items may not be permitted if they do not meet the country’s safety standards. Medications that are over-the-counter in one country, may be restricted because they require a prescription in another country.

Recommendation: Check importation restrictions via Customs Services of the country you are moving to. Consider selling or giving away restricted items before you move. If you are keeping restricted items, start the process for ensuring these can be imported when the time comes.


Managing your “stuff” is pretty straight-forward compared to the amount of documentation you have to keep track of for an international move.

Vital Records

Ensure you have original copies of all your important documents including birth certificates (long form with birth location and parents’ names), marriage licences, divorce decrees, passports, wills, powers of attorney, etc. It will be difficult to get them replaced once you move. Carry these documents with you but make a copy of each and store them in a secure cloud location.

Insurance and licencing

Contact your auto and home insurance companies. Ask them to provide proof of insurance for as far back as you can go. You may need to contact previous insurance companies as well. Try to get at least 10 years of positive history. This will help you get insurance in your new country.

Obtain a driving licence abstract from your State. This will show how long you have been a licenced driver and your past driving infractions. Getting 10 years of history will help with your auto insurance. Depending on your new country, you still might be required to pass a driving test.

Health records

Contact all of your medical, dental, and other health providers and obtain a complete health record. Often it will be provided on a password-protected CD. If it is on paper, scan it, and keep a copy in secure cloud storage. Check the vaccination requirements of your new country and get your shots before you go as it might take a while before you can access their health care system. This is especially important for children who may require specific vaccinations before they can attend school.

Pay for legal and financial advice

I cannot stress this enough — pay for professional advice from a lawyer and an international tax accountant (not your Cousin Vinny who “knows a guy”). There are legal and tax ramifications when moving money from one country to another. The laws are complex and depend on your specific situation (citizen, resident, immigrant, visa holder, etc.). The last thing you want is to get arrested at the airport by the IRS for tax evasion when you return to the US for a family reunion! These will be initially expensive appointments but you will sleep better at night knowing that you are operating within the law.

Your wills, living wills, powers of attorney, etc., although valid when created in the US, should be re-done in the new country to adhere to their laws. Should anything unfortunate happen, you will not waste time in courts to be able to access finances or determining a proper care plan.

There is much more we could add about document management and moving in general so check out these other Unclutterer posts that might be helpful.

We hope that we’ve given you some good information here Charlee and our readers often chime in with incredibly useful advice so please keep your eye on the comments section.

3 Comments for “Reader Question: Moving to New Zealand”

  1. posted by Julia on

    I recommend moving to Australia instead of New Zealand (since I am an ex-pat Aussie). Moving principles remain the same but the end result would be far more satisfactory! 🙂

  2. posted by Victoria on

    As someone who has moved countries and continents a few times and shipped belongings across the world, I can say that apart from the crucial documentations the things that really are worth shipping are the things you love, really mean something to you and can tell a story e.g. that precious piece of furniture you might have inherited or bought at an antiques fair or the teddy bear someone gifted you, a set of plates you bought on holiday …. Everything else is replaceable and you might find that for the cost of shipping an entire household you may be able to furnish your new home with new furniture in the new country. Often what worked in one country doesn’t work in another. We once shipped a fairly new mattress from the UK to Australia only to find out that the sizing there was different, we had difficulty finding bedding and a bedframe and sheet that fit well so in the end it would have been better not to ship the mattress at all. Also as an extra tip, know that quite a few airlines may give you extra baggage allowance if you tell them in advance that you are moving permanently.

  3. posted by Charlee Griffith on

    I *just* found this! Thanks so much for posting my question. We are definitely selling our cars and most of our furniture. We’re taking our 1 yr old Flexsteel sofa – definitely worth the cost of moving. We bought a Sleep Number bed about the same time. It was hella expensive and we LOVE it, so will bite the bullet, get a transformer, and move the hulking thing (probably LOL). Not moving any appliances, large or small, except my beloved Rocket Espresso machine. I *think* it can be rewired for NZ at the place I bought it – they’re made in Italy and rewired for the US.

    We will not be having any kind of sale but are donating clutter & no longer wanted “good stuff” as we empty things. Whatever amount of money we could make is just flat not worth the hassle of having to store and price all the stuff, then deal with all the people. I don’t people well. I doubt I’ll have more than 25 books to move, and those only because of utter sentimental value (said the woman who nearly had panic fits donating more than 500 to the local library). I do have some truly good antique furniture & lamps I’ll sell – but not off the driveway.

    Your links and advice are so helpful and very on point, especially the documentation & legal sections. Transferring funds, especially in large amounts, can be tricksy and I don’t wear orange well at all.

    A few things have bubbled to the top as we’ve been talking about this process. What to do with awkward items, like framed artwork? I know it comes down to how much am I willing to pay to keep the item, whatever it is. It just pains me to think about keeping the art and ditching the frame, then paying again to have it framed/buying new frames. What about antique lamps? I have several floor & table lamps that are not only sentimental, but gorgeous. 3 have very delicate glass shades. *flinch* Rewiring shouldn’t be an issue, just the packing. Spray foam? I do tend to pack like drunk elephants will handle everything.

    LOL’ing @ Julia!! We’ve been to Oz together once and loved it, but the in laws are all in NZ, so that’s where we’re bound. @ Victoria, you make an excellent point. I think we can manage new dishes and another set of el cheapo wine glasses, but my great-grandma’s cast iron skillet can’t be replaced.

    Thanks so much!!

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