U.S. expat in New Zealand was 'embarrassed' this moving cost tripled his budget—but has no regrets

Karen Kroll

Jon Kroll's path to New Zealand was several decades in the making.

Kroll, 61, lived in Los Angeles for 35 years. Since the early 2000s, he and his wife, Karen, traveled to New Zealand for vacation. They grew to love Wellington, the country's capital, because it boasts big-city amenities like restaurants, museums and festivals, while also having a small-town ease and walkability.

Being minutes away from the mountains and ocean by foot doesn't hurt, either.

So, in 2019, the Krolls began planning in earnest to move from LA to Wellington.

The expense that tripled their budget

The couple began filing their immigration documents and figured out how they would make a living there (he continues to work freelance in the TV industry while she works as a competitive archer). Their applications were approved by mid-2022 and they moved to Wellington by December.

They funded the majority of their move by selling their LA home and using that money to cover shipping costs and new furniture. The couple got rid of most of their belongings and sent the rest in a shipping container, which cost under $10,000 and took three to four months to arrive.

But one other major expense caught them by surprise: bringing along their two dogs, Xena the Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The Krolls have two dogs, Xena the Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Jon Kroll
The Krolls have two dogs, Xena the Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

"I cannot emphasize enough how important it is, if you plan to bring animals with you, to make that part of your early planning process," Kroll tells CNBC Make It. "It is quite complicated and much more expensive than bringing your belongings."

It's a logistical battleground — there's a limited number of spaces on planes and in quarantine facilities, so "you just have to really carefully orchestrate your plan for it," Kroll says. And it's an expensive process, at that.

Online estimates put the expense north of $4,000 per pet on the low end, though Kroll says through experience that the process can easily cost $10,000 or more per pet.

"All in, it's more expensive than you're going to get out of me because I'm embarrassed of how much I spent," Kroll says. He adds there may have been a cheaper way to bring his pets to New Zealand, but "none that I found that were worth risking the well-being of my precious fur children."

Even so, Kroll says he has "not regretted that for a moment."

"Once we arrived in our rental home we felt disoriented and unsure we had made the right move," he explains. "But once we retrieved Buffy and Xena from quarantine, our house instantly felt like a home."

Wellington is recruiting American workers

More foreigners may be joining the Krolls in Wellington — an economic development agency there is actively campaigning for U.S. workers to fill open jobs and move there. They're hoping to attract early-career workers to address talent shortages in technology, health care, construction, film and other industries.

Kroll says the cost of living is pretty comparable to his old life in LA. Some things are cheaper, like high-quality coffee, wine and seasonal produce, while things that must be imported, like electronics and cars, come at a higher price. Taxes, utility bills and health insurance even out, too.

He thinks of all the new challenges, including moving surprises, as a trade-off: "You have to feel like the benefits outweigh the risks or the downsides, and I think that the quality of life increase going off the charts is the biggest benefit."

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