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Moving to Christchurch

Christchurch's character has been heavily influenced by the 2011 earthquakes. These earthquakes caused numerous deaths and destroyed much of the city centre. Since then, the only constant in the city seems to be change, as Christchurch launched into a period of intense reconstruction. Expats moving to Christchurch will be able to enjoy the efforts of this labour, which have resulted in a period of economic growth and cultural renewal. 

Changes to the city can be seen within the city centre, which had closed down following the earthquake, and has since reopened to reveal a quirky and charming mix of old and new design. Other key social and commercial hubs in Christchurch include the areas of Riccarton and Papanui. 

The Metro, Christchurch's public transport network, consists of a fairly extensive bus system. Transport times are aggravated by road works and, although the city is trying to reopen old routes, there are still central areas that are not adequately serviced by the Metro. 

Following the earthquakes, the local economy has recovered substantially and it shows signs of steady growth. With a steady base in agriculture and tourism, and with a growing IT sector, some career opportunities are open to expats. Predictably, jobs in civil engineering and construction are also available.

Overall, the cost of living in New Zealand is high and Christchurch is no exception. Imported goods are particularly expensive (and most goods are imported). 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 which decreases the cost of living in Christchurch. Notably, healthcare in New Zealand is of a high quality and medication and services are either free or extremely cheap. Public education in New Zealand is also heavily invested in by the state. Expats with residency status can benefit from these subsidised services.

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-educational high schools are also highly regarded. 

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 for easy day or weekend trips from the city. Akaroa, Hanmer Spings and Kaikoura have always been popular destinations for a quick getaway.

The weather in Christchurch can change rapidly and frequently throughout the day. Locals dress in layers, and often grab an extra jacket before leaving the house “just in case”. 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.

Accommodation in Christchurch

The housing market in Christchurch was effected by the 2011 earthquakes, in which many homes were destroyed and about 10,000 more had to be demolished. This resulted in a high demand and a low supply of accommodation in the city. The housing market has recently stabilised with the reopening of the market in certain areas as well as an increase of newly built homes. 

Another impact on the housing market came after the city centre was effectively closed down following the earthquakes. As a result, many workplaces have relocated to the outer suburbs, as well as into the industrial area around the airport. This has increased both the prices and the number of people living in these areas. 

The choice between renting and buying in Christchurch is mainly determined by availability and the long-term plans of expats themselves. Many foreigners in Christchurch anticipate only being in the city for two to five years. Buying property suits those with long-term plans in the city, but there are many long-term expats living in rented accommodation.


Types of accommodation in Christchurch

Within the city, housing is mainly offered in the form of apartment blocks or townhouses. The suburbs offer mid-sized homes with varying sizes of gardens. The outer reaches of Christchurch, such as Rolleston, Prebbleton and Lincoln, offer more space, and are therefore popular choices for expats wanting larger homes. Expats wanting a view should explore Sumner which offers a variety of housing options, many of which overlook the sea. Otherwise, villas in Port Hills offer views of Christchurch's cityscape. 

The quality of accommodation varies with the age and location of the property as well as the level of damage sustained from the 2011 earthquakes. Modern apartment blocks offer compact one-or two-bedroom properties, usually with private parking (either behind a security gate or in a designated parking zone) and a communal garden area. Modern townhouses provide a larger living space, usually within a group of similar properties, whereas older ones tend to be detached. It is possible to have a garden area within the city limits. However, the further from the city centre, the higher the chance of finding accommodation with a garden.

Due to regulations in building design following the earthquakes, new properties are built to a more scrupulous standard than older buildings, many of which have been altered to meet the new codes. Some properties that have been deemed safe to live in may still have superficial damage such as minor cracks, or internal fittings that aren’t completely level. These should be corrected in time and, as a tenant, it may be necessary to vacate the property during repairs. It is best to confirm the likelihood that this may happen before signing a lease.


Finding accommodation in Christchurch

There are a number of websites that list properties available for rent or sale, as well as providing links to established estate agents. 

Estate agency offices can be found throughout Christchurch. Expats shouldn't struggle to find an agent with offerings in their desired area. Several of these agencies produce their own property newsletters which can be picked up for free from their office. 


Renting accommodation in Christchurch

Unfurnished properties are more common than furnished properties in Christchurch and rent is usually paid weekly. When securing a lease, landlords will usually require a deposit equivalent to one month's rent, as well as the first two weeks of rent in advance. 

When using an estate agency, leases tend to be for a fixed term, often for 12 months, and allow for changes to rental agreements when renewing a contract. If using a private landlord, lease terms can be more variable and may be negotiable. Although estate agents have traditionally charged a fee for their services, recent legislation has banned agents from charging tenants letting fees.

Lifestyle in Christchurch

Following the four big earthquakes of 2010 to 2011, Christchurch has undergone a dramatic change. Having struggled through a period of reconstruction, the city has succeeded in returning itself to its characteristically tranquil state. With the expansive Hagley Park and the Botanical Gardens to the west of the city centre, the beautiful coastal suburb of Sumner to the southeast, the Port Hills to the south, and the stunning Banks Peninsula beyond, Christchurch is perfectly situated for outdoor pursuits while still offering the amenities of city life.

Although generally cooler than the North Island, Christchurch is often drier than the likes of Auckland. There are many ski sites located an easy drive away from Christchurch. Hiking and mountain biking areas such as MacLeans Island, Bottle Lake and the Port Hills are also nearby. Taylors Mistake and New Brighton, two famous Christchurch beaches, are ideal spots to surf or paraglide. 

The skyline of Christchurch may have changed from tall buildings to tall cranes, but the influx of workers helping with the city rebuilding project has kept the city alive. The speed of reconstruction has meant that the image of the city is constantly changing. 

Roadworks pop up and move locations on a regular basis, and the humming noise of diggers and drills provides a background soundtrack to any working day. The benefit to all of this work is the excitement of watching a new city emerge from its foundations – something that most people won’t get to experience anywhere else in the world.


Shopping in Christchurch

There has been a moderate change in the distribution of retail outlets in Christchurch following the 2011 earthquake.

For a long time, the city centre was closed for reconstruction. As a result, the suburbs flourished in their new positions as key commercial areas. With a newly revitalised city centre, however, businesses and capital have begun filtering back into the city. 

The main shopping attraction in central Christchurch remains the longstanding department store, Ballantynes. Away from the city centre, Christchurch's malls are hugely popular. Here expats can expect to find cinemas, restaurants and department stores.

Expats looking to furnish their homes should visit the furniture and decor stores found on Moorhouse Avenue and Blenheim Road.


Eating out in Christchurch

From cafés and pubs to restaurants and fine dining, Christchurch has a varied and sophisticated culinary scene. There are a number of mobile coffee carts, so there is no need to go far for a caffeine fix.

When it comes to food, expats will be able to find flavours from around the world, including Italian, Mexican and Indian food, as well as specialist vegetarian restaurants. Food stalls and trucks around the city cater for several Asian and European tastes and some weekend food and farmer markets have become Christchurch institutions. 


Nightlife in Christchurch

The nightlife in Christchurch is vibrant. A variety of quirky restaurants, pubs and craft-beer bars have opened since the 2011 earthquakes. The suburbs of Addington, Fendalton, Merivale and Riccaron, all of which are near to the city centre, are popular nightlife areas. Otherwise, the themed bars around the Viaduct Harbour provide an urban atmosphere coupled with exquisite harbour views.