Emigrating to New Zealand or Australia


As someone who has come the other way, I get asked a lot about emigrating to New Zealand or Australia (many people seem to think they are the same place), so I thought I'd put a couple of general thoughts up here for wider consumption.

What are you looking for?

Whether it will be a success or not depends largely on why you are doing it and what your expectations are. Some people leave the British Army and head 'over there' having never actually been there, even on holiday. This can result in unrealistic expectations of the new country, which can cause big problems.

Spouse buy-in

Something that will considerably increase the odds of failure is not getting the full buy-in from wives/husbands, which in more than one case has resulted in returning to the UK in less than a year. In one case in 2008, the wife said "You can stay here if you like, but I'm going back". It is OK for the service member, you put on a slightly different uniform, go to work and the mess etc in a similar way that you did back home, and pretty soon you have a bunch of new friends. Spouses do not find it so easy - being so far away from their family (no grandparents/siblings to babysit etc) they can feel very isolated. And if your wife is not happy, you are not going to be happy either. She will make sure of that.

It is a long way

Both countries are isolated compared to the UK proximity to Europe, New Zealand is the more isolated of the two. It is a 30 hour trip (including stopovers) to New Zealand, about 26 to Australia. This means it is a long and expensive business to get home to the UK if a family member is sick or something.


While both New Zealand and Australia are some of the best places in the world to live, they are not entirely without disadvantages. New Zealand and Australia are not the same. It might seem obvious, but a lot of people I talk to seem to have that underlying assumption. They are different countries with different histories.

Australia is a conservative country in many ways, and is not as British as many would think. It is slightly American in many regards. The easy-going image is not always the case; for example relationships between the ranks in the Australian Army are more formal than in the British or New Zealand armies. There is a slight anti-British undertone - I have heard Australians profess to "hate the Poms", though they don't really, well at least I don't think so. The myths partly spawned by the Mel Gibson movie Gallipoli have a bit to do with it; lots of apocryphal stories about the British Generals sacrificing gallant Colonial boys. Their banter is similar to what you get in the British Army, but you will probably get tired of Pom jibes, especially around big rugby/cricket event times. Australia spends money where it is needed, which is why Aussies are so good at sport - the Govt pours millions into it. However, there is a lot of mineral wealth in the country so they have the money to spend. The population of Australia is about 21,000,000 although the total land area is almost the size of the USA.

New Zealand is a more radical society, and more left wing than Australia overall. It is more similar to Britain but probably more left wing than the UK. Examples are the 1980s anti-nuclear policy, and the introduction of universal old age pensions and universal suffrage in the late 19th/early 20th centuries before Australia and the UK. New Zealanders are not as boisterous as Australians, and keep opinions more to themselves. New Zealand is more like Britain, in the climate, the green appearance of the country and the presence of British influence in such things as literature and television programmes. New Zealand has more of a miserly, UK-type culture of doing everything on the cheap, though this is partly a function of the small population and smaller tax base. The population of New Zealand is only 4,100,000 even though the land area is 10% larger than that of the UK.

Both countries have talked about becoming republics, though this is more advanced in Australia where there has been a referendum (defeated) about it.

Another inaccurate assumption is the oft-heard statement that "New Zealand/Australia is/are a bit like the UK 40 years ago". In terms of population density and its social implications this does have some truth, but you are not going to find a time warp society with every second car being a Morris Minor. They are both go-ahead, forward looking societies. A good example is the banking system. While banks everywhere are a bunch of self-serving, greedy *******, the banking system in both countries is considerably more modern than you will have found in the UK. Most banks in New Zealand are Australian-owned so the same comments generally apply to both countries. New Zealand has had debit cards able to be used in shops since 1987, partly because international companies use it as a testing ground for new concepts because of the small population. The banking bureaucracy is noticeably easier to deal with, and there are less of the incomprehensible archaic bureaucratic idiocies found in the British banking system.


The Australian Army is a professional and well-equipped force. Defence spending is seen as important by most Australians, and the forces are well-supported. You will even get American-style incidents of random civvies coming up and telling you what a great job you are doing, which is nice. Salaries and allowances are good, and accommodation is generally to a high standard. Salaries and allowances while on operations are not taxed, and operational allowances are generous. They are not as highly committed as the UK though they contribute to Afghanistan and Iraq.

The New Zealand is a small but professional force, but at 4500 regular and 2000 reserves it does not have the range of capabilities or budget of the British or Australian armies. Its culture is more British than the Australian Army, such as uniforms, relationships between ranks and ways of doing things. For its size it does a lot overseas, and has contributed to Afghanistan since 2001 and had engrs in Iraq 2003-2004. It is more into peacekeeping ops and is not doing combat ops with the exception of the SAS which has deployed to Afghanistan several times. It is incorrect to say "the Kiwis don't do much operationally", but it is true that there are not many combat ops. Support for the armed forces used to be lower than in Australia, but wit hthe growth in international commitments from the late 1990s, there is a lot more support than there was before that time. Be aware that due to the small size there are not the career prospects you could have in the British Army, but it comes back to why are you doing it.

Moving to Aust/NZ

Visas can take some time. Both countries do not make it particularly easy, as there is a lot of tit for tat in this area. If you visit Australia on a British passport, you will need a visa, but to visit New Zealand you will not need a visa. To live/work in either you will need a work visa of some kind.

The Australians are generous regarding assistance to get over there - they will fly the family business class and pay for your personal effects. However, if you don't serve out your initial contract you will have to pay a proportion of it back. New Zealand is more variable in the assistance it offers - some get more than others but overall it is not as generous as the Aussies.

Other stuff

Even though you have been brought over for your experience, which they will want to know about, be careful about being overbearing. Too much of the "in the British Army we did it this way" can irritate people. The retort I have heard offered is "well, you are not in the British Army now". Both countries are proud of their achievements and they are very sensitive about being talked down to. And don't use the word 'Colonial' unless you want to deliberately wind people up. They are not colonies any more.

If you hear people go on about how cheap it is to live over there, they are not telling the whole truth. Years ago these places were very cheap to live, but with commensurately lower salaries. Now, especially in New Zealand's case it is not particularly cheap, and some things are expensive. Cars for example cost the same as in the UK, but it takes longer to earn the money to pay for them. Australia protects its domestic car industry, so cars from overseas can by expensive (unless they are re-badged for sale by an Australian manufacturer). Of course if you have a UK pension and are spending pounds, you can be very comfortable. But not so much so if you are earning New Zealand dollars. Australia generally has higher salaries than NZ.

New Zealand and Australia are sparsely populated which has implications for infrastructure. For people used to the UK, the sparseness will be obvious. Public transport is not as frequent or comprehensive as in the UK, so most people drive everywhere. Night life in the major towns and cities is quite good, though outside the main cities it can be a bit quiet. Restaurants and cafes in big cities in both NZ and Australia are excellent and a huge variety of cuisine is available, and even in small NZ towns it is possible to get good espresso coffee.

My best piece of advice would be to ensure you are moving countries and leaving all your family and friends behind for good reasons, and do it with your eyes open.
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