New life an adventure

After eight years thinking about a move to New Zealand, everything fell into place for a Dutch couple.

Patrick and Esther Stegeman first thought of migrating after Patrick’s sister and her husband moved to New Zealand several years ago. After visiting them, Patrick was almost convinced. Back in the Netherlands, a routine visit to a crowded supermarket helped.

"For the kids, the move was one big adventure"

Patrick Stegeman

The Netherlands is quite crowded, Patrick says, about the size of Canterbury but with 16 million people. “I was with my wife in a supermarket when it came to me.” Half a dozen times the couple were stuck behind people who were too busy sorting out their own shopping to notice others trying to get past. “I thought, that’s really different in New Zealand. People are more relaxed and have more interest in others around them.”

Less than a year later, Patrick and Esther had swapped their busy life in Hoogeveen in the northeast of the Netherlands for Christchurch in the South Island of New Zealand.

The decision to move was made easier knowing there was some family waiting at Christchurch Airport – Patrick’s sister and her husband who have eight children. The plan was to stay with them for a couple of weeks but that turned into two and a half months because finding a rental house proved difficult.

They arrived in December 2012, with five children – soon to become six. For the kids, the move was one big adventure, Patrick says. “They checked it out on the internet, saw the things you can do here, and were really keen.” Their enthusiasm continued even after their parents told them that it would mean leaving behind friends and family for a place where they knew hardly anyone.

Patrick and Esther were surprised to learn that in New Zealand they needed references to rent a house

“Yes, it was a full house,” Esther says. “We were a big happy family – but it was nice when we finally got our own place.”

The couple were surprised to learn that in New Zealand they needed references to rent a house. They had to contact former neighbours in the Netherlands for references and provide proof of paying bills on time. One property manager advised them that because they had so many children, they should include a family photo when applying for rentals, to show that they were tidy. “We did this and it helped,” Patrick says.

The house was good, until winter. It was hard to heat and not well-insulated. “I was at work during the day but it was hard for Esther at home with two small children.” They began looking for a house to buy. One bank told them they needed a deposit of 20 per cent. They showed that they had the 20 per cent but were then told they would need 30 per cent because they did not have permanent residency status. That was impossible so they began looking for a new rental and they struck it lucky.

A neighbour told them she was going overseas for a year or maybe more and offered them her six-bedroom home for the same rent as they were paying for a three-bedroom one. They moved in March this year. “It’s amazing. We are all happy and the teenagers have their own rooms.” The house is warmer too, with a pellet fire – an efficient and environmentally friendly heating system that burns fuel produced from forestry by-products.

Patrick still has a recruitment business in the Netherlands but is limited by what he can do with it from New Zealand. With hindsight he says he should have found time to sell it.

He had investigated job opportunities during his visit and had liked Christchurch. His brother-in-law, who works in IT for medical recruitment specialists Kiwis STAT, suggested he try them for a job. He was interviewed by phone and because of his own recruitment experience was able to get the job offer he needed for his work visa.

Patrick used an immigration adviser to try to speed up the process which took six months. He will be eligible to apply for permanent residency in December this year, when he has been in New Zealand two years

Kiwis STAT recruits doctors and nurses for contract work in New Zealand and Australia. Strict regulations mean a lot of work even for filling in a short contract. “For example, a doctor or nurse is not allowed to have gaps in their CV,” Patrick says. “If they go on holiday for a few months, they have to mention that on the CV. We help them with all those sorts of things. “

In the Netherlands, he says, all types of employment are done through agencies. In New Zealand employees may start with a three-month trial period but in the Netherlands the trial can continue for a year and a half. After 15 months in Christchurch, the family has settled into a new lifestyle. “We really like it here,” Esther says. She is busy with two pre-schoolers but has met a lot of people through the children’s activities.

Jerandy, 15, Danisha, 14, Danny, 11, and Quinten, 9, like school even more than they did before they came to New Zealand. At first, they struggled with the English language but quickly made friends anyway, Esther says. Josephine, 3, is about to start kindergarten and New Zealand-born Germain recently turned one.

Among the things the family likes about living in Christchurch are the surrounding countryside, the beaches at Sumner and New Brighton, less than half an hour away. In winter there’s skiing and snowboarding at Mt Hutt, about an hour away.

Skype is a big help with keeping in touch with family and friends in the Netherlands. Esther’s sister and her husband and father, and Patrick’s father and his wife have already visited the family in Christchurch and more visits are planned.

Interested in coming to New Zealand?

Sign up to receive relevant job opportunities from New Zealand employers and practical advice on how to make your move to New Zealand a reality.