How to Work and Play in NZ

New Zealand is one of only two countries (the other being Australia) which offer six-month working holiday visas to Malaysians below the age of 30. Only 1,150 visas are made available each year. Tham Pei Ting applied the day registration opened and tells us how her kiasu attitude paid off.

Outdoor educationist Pei Ting is set for a new adventure

Outdoor educationist Pei Ting is set for a new adventure

I had set two alarms and two calendar reminders. There was no need for them in the end; after just one hour of restless sleep, I jolted awake and could not nod off again. At 4 am I finally got up, made a cup of tea and sat in front of my laptop, my passport and credit card arranged strategically to my left. I pulled up the New Zealand immigration website and the loading speed was already considerably slow. When the clock struck 5 am—the time applications opened—the website could not be loaded. For the next 40 minutes I clicked ‘refresh’ over and over again while wishing and praying hard. It was 28 January 2015, and I had waited a long time for this day to come.

In 2007, a good friend went on a six-month working holiday stint to New Zealand. He bought and camped out in a station wagon while earning money working on kiwi fruit farms. It sounded like a grand adventure. Since then more and more friends have gone on similar adventures on the same visa.

There was Y, who was there for nine months. She worked in a potato factory sorting out spuds and pre-cut fries, then applied for a three-month extension, and spent another three months in a ski resort. There was S, who only applied on a whim, got the visa, and then worked as a receptionist and retail assistant. In fact, S is now back in New Zealand after one of her employers offered to sponsor her on a one-year working visa. She works as a telephone booking agent for a tourist attraction in Queenstown.

The strictest requirement on the visa is showing you have sufficient funds to leave New Zealand. Most working holiday travellers take on seasonal or temporary jobs in farms, factories, ski resorts, retail outlets and food and beverage businesses. In between work there are opportunities for camping road trips, bungee jumping, sky diving, glacier helicopter rides; in short, all the wonderful adventures that we all know are unique to New Zealand.

I can only generalise on the motivations for embarking on this journey. Many take it as a gap year between studies or after graduation. Those closer to 30, typically, are between jobs and looking for a change in scenery. I’ve heard stories of Malaysians working multiple shifts every day of the week, subsisting on instant noodles and crackers, travelling very little. I was told their mission was to earn and save New Zealand dollars, bring it back to Malaysia on a good exchange rate, and jumpstart major goals here. I’ve also heard stories of Malaysians who did not like the prospect of low-level physical work when they arrived. They spent their time travelling and came home after money ran out.

As a keen traveller, I always had this adventure on my to-do list before turning 30, and kept up with the news. In 2007, my friend applied in March and still got the visa; however in 2013, all 1150 spots were filled 20 minutes after registration opened. There seems to be a sudden spike of interest in the last three to four years. It could be the increasing trend for travel among young people, with cheap airfares and higher disposable incomes.

My friends and I have a somewhat more unscientific conclusion. A few years ago, a couple of travellers published travel journals—written in Chinese—about their working holiday in New Zealand. Since then, based on Facebook postings and forum threads, Malaysian Chinese seem to be the dominant group of working holiday travellers.

As for myself, I had waited for an opportunity to do this for a while. I will be finishing my undergraduate studies in August, hence the visa fits perfectly into that timeframe and gives me some direction after university. As an outdoor education instructor trained in Australia, job opportunities in New Zealand are definitely more abundant and attractive than Malaysia. Besides, I have only three more chances to apply before I am over the age-limit. I told myself to put my A-game on and prepare for the ‘assault’; I planned to be full-on kiasu (fear of losing) and kiasi (fear of dying).

I checked on a Facebook group, based on comments it seemed that most people were unable to load the immigration page. Such is the demand for the visa that we were probably crashing their website. At about 5.40am I finally managed to load the page. I wooped in joy to read that places were still available, and proceeded to fill up the registration form in under three minutes. (I had practised doing that on the Singapore working holiday page.) After punching in my credit card details and clicking ‘submit’, I felt a sense of relief and exhilaration. That lasted only for a while because I started worry if I had filled up the forms wrongly in my haste. Rejection was still a possibility.

The next day I checked on my application. My New Zealand working holiday visa was approved! And thus a new adventure lies in store for me. I am heaps stoked!

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