The prospect of a Trump presidency led to some prominent Americans — including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — joking, or perhaps half-joking, that they would move to New Zealand.
Well, as that prospect became a reality this week, a whole lot of other Americans suddenly started looking not just at moving north of the border to Canada, but at the idea of moving far, far away to a small, pristine country at the bottom of the planet, where sheep outnumber people 6 to 1.
With a human population of only 4.4 million, a spectacular environment and socially progressive policies, New Zealand often ranks at or near the top of global surveys of best places to live.
Just this month, the London-based Legatum Institute crowned New Zealand top of its global-prosperity index. “Over the past decade, [New Zealand] has consistently delivered a large prosperity surplus through the combination of a strong society, free and open markets, and high levels of personal freedom,” it concluded.
It’s isolated: a 12-hour flight from Los Angeles, and also 12 hours from major Asian cities such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo. Much of the country looks like the backdrop for the Lord of the Rings trilogy — because it was — and New Zealand’s main contribution to international news is a steady stream of weird animal stories, like Inky the escaping Octopus or the roadkill cat that was turned into a purse.
(Full disclosure: the writer of this blog post is a New Zealander, although she left almost 17 years ago so can’t really be considered much of a proponent living there.)
The idea of New Zealand as a safe haven isn’t new. The South Pacific island nation enjoyed a real estate boom after Sept. 11, 2001, when wealthy Americans apparently asked themselves the question: Where’s the last place on Earth terrorists would strike?
Ginsburg gave a nod to this splendid isolation during an interview with the New York Times in July. “‘Now it’s time for us to move to New Zealand,’” Ginsburg said her husband would be urging if Trump won the election.
Billy Crystal had the same idea. “I might consider finding a nice little ranch in New Zealand,” he told Australian media earlier this year. (By the way, Billy, we call it a “farm.” Yes, even the ones with animals only.)
But the idea has taken off this week. Web traffic from the United States to the New Zealand government websites that deal with immigration has skyrocketed.
The Immigration New Zealand website, the government’s immigration department site, usually gets about 2,300 visits from U.S. Internet addresses each day. In the 24 hours until 9 a.m. New Zealand time on Thursday, it had received 56,300 visits from the United States — a 25-fold increase in traffic.
In the same period, the New Zealand Now website — which contains information about living, working, studying and investing in the country — received 70,500 visits from the United States, said Greg Forsythe of Immigration New Zealand. That’s up from the usual 1,500 visits.
In a typical month, about 3,000 Americans register on New Zealand Now, Forsythe said.
“In the past 24 hours, 7,287 registrations have been received from American citizens — more than twice the number of a typical month’s registrations,” he said, pointing out that these were just registrations of interest in coming to New Zealand, not official visa applications.
Google data shows a sudden spike in searches for “how to move to New Zealand” this week, concentrated in blue states like Washington, Oregon and California.
Cindy Mullins, a communications consultant from Alabama who has lived in New Zealand for the past four years, said she had “received many, many requests” from American friends for help getting to New Zealand. “Can we come live with you if Trump is elected?” she quoted friends as saying to her. “Will you adopt me?”
“If everyone came who said they would after a Trump presidency, we'd be body-to-body in our four-bedroom house, Mullins said. “No room in the inn for one more refugee!”
Liz Carlson, an American who also lives in New Zealand and writes the Young Adventuress travel blog, this week posted advice on how to follow in her footsteps (while also acknowledging that the country is not 100 percent utopia.)
“The emails and messages have already started pouring in from my fellow countrymen about moving to New Zealand, so I thought I’d jump the ball and share how you escape, too,” Carlson wrote.
She runs through the working holiday visa available to Americans younger than 30 and notes that for skills-based visas, the skills that New Zealand is short of include some surprises, such as builder, baker, snowboarding instructor and winemaker.
If you’re older than 30 or can’t teach snowboarding, it’s not that easy to get a visa to live and work in New Zealand. The immigration authorities use a points-based system that give credit for degrees, experience and sought-after skills, as well as a willingness to live outside Auckland, the biggest and most cosmopolitan city.
Stuff, one of the main news websites in the country, published its own advice, under the headline: “Hey, disaffected Americans, here's a guide to moving to New Zealand.”
And there’s no shortage of lists like this, taunting people with pictures of incredible mountains, clean air and wide open spaces.
But the final word must go to one of New Zealand’s top exports, not potential imports. Here’s the Flight of the Conchords, the Kiwi comedy duo who did this skit of a “trade and migrant expo,” encapsulating the stereotype of the plucky little New Zealander.