Moving to Christchurch
Expats moving to Christchurch shouldn’t expect the same city described in guidebooks written before 2012. In February 2011 Christchurch was hit by a devastating earthquake that killed 180 people and destroyed much of the city centre, as well as a series of powerful aftershocks in the following months. Since then, the only constant in the city seems to be change: half the buildings over five stories high had collapsed or were demolished by May 2012.
That said, the people of Christchurch are determined to rebuild a stronger city, and the council is taking time to plan a unified and attractive theme for downtown Christchurch.
With the central business district inaccessible, many of the city’s businesses have moved to the eastern and northern suburbs. The areas of Riccarton and Papanui, in particular, have developed into commercial and social hubs.
Before the earthquake, the city’s public bus system was comprehensive, servicing all of the city’s suburbs though a central station downtown. The central station closed after the earthquake, but the city has since re-opoened many of its routes, although some now follow detours around ongoing repair work in the city centre. Expats can check the Metro timetable and routes at Metroinfo.co.nz.
The earthquake has also caused the local economy to slow down considerably. Unemployment has risen, and jobs in most sectors can be difficult to find. Predictably though, jobs in civil engineering and construction are available.
Christchurch was a beautiful and vibrant city before the earthquake, and will doubtlessly be a great city again.
Overall, New Zealand is an expensive place to live and Christchurch is no exception. Imported goods are particularly expensive (and most goods are imported) and in addition to the cost, there is a 15 percent national sales tax attached to all purchases.
That said, many services are subsidised by the government. Notably, healthcare services and medications are either free or extremely cheap. Expats with resident status can benefit from the subsidised services; but those without will find themselves paying more. Healthcare in New Zealand is of a high quality, though uncommon treatments and procedures should be attended to overseas.
Education is also subsidised, and public primary, intermediate and high schools are free to attend. Universities are also much cheaper (for citizens and expat residents) than they are in most other countries. School uniforms are worn in both public and private schools (from primary school through high school), though private schools often require more complicated (and expensive) outfits.
There are a number of highly regarded high schools in Christchurch. The single-sex schools in particular are known for academic achievement, though many of the public co-ed high schools are also well regarded. Education in New Zealand is based on the British system and evaluation of high school students is almost entirely based on long, end-of-year examinations.
Christchurch is the gateway for most visitors to the South Island and the city’s tourism industry is well developed. There are also a number of popular attractions that make easy day or weekend trips from the city; Akaroa, Hanmer Spings and Kaikoura have always been popular destinations for a quick get-away.
The weather in Christchurch can be quick to change: expect a beautiful day to turn windy then rainy and then beautiful again before lunchtime. Locals dress in layers, and grabbing an extra jacket before leaving the house “just in case” may soon become second nature. The seasons are fairly mild in Christchurch, but winters can feel brutal as few houses have insulation or central heating.
For the most part, New Zealanders are well travelled (it’s virtually a rite of passage for Kiwis to spend a few years travelling after finishing high school or university) and get along well with foreigners. Many expats find it easy to make friends and assimilate into the culture. Still, Christchurch is not a racially diverse city and some newcomers might find it an easier adjustment than others.