The Big OE in London? No thanks, Kiwis are flocking to Canada
Move over, London. Kiwi expats are shunning the big grey city in favour of adventure in a country that looks - and feels - a lot more like home: Canada.
From the laidback, big town vibe of Vancouver to the polite man's New York, Toronto, and the snowy destinations in between, the home of maple syrup and poutine is increasingly finding favour with New Zealanders.
It was the snow that drew Kirsten Mills to Whistler, a winter resort town north of Vancouver on Canada's west coast, nearly two years ago.
The idea of an OE in London never crossed her mind.
"Definitely not. It's too much of a big, grey city. There's so much more to explore here. I guess, London, you get most of Europe in, but if you're into the outdoors, and into seeing stuff, Canada's pretty good."
The 24-year-old Aucklander has the International Experience Canada (IEC) visa - a 23-month working holiday available for New Zealanders between 18 and 35.
In the past two decades, the number of Kiwis taking up the visa has soared: in 2000, there were 360, rising to 1706 last year.
And while most choose one of Canada's larger cities, like Vancouver or Toronto, Mills - more "snow angel-maker" than ski bunny - took a chance on the "super chilled-out town" (literally: over winter, it got down to -18.7C).
"Every weekend, I'm snowboarding. In the summer, it's climbing, there's all the lakes, and hiking. I'm pretty much always doing something outside here," she says.
"It is a lifestyle. I definitely couldn't live here if it wasn't for that, purely because it's so frickin' cold. It is definitely a lifestyle choice as to why Whistler."
FROM LONDON TO VANCOUVER
Shannon Crowley followed a traditional Kiwi OE route when he left home 13 years ago: from Palmerston North to Sydney, then London.
With his UK visa up and money running out, but not feeling ready to go home, Crowley headed to northern North America in 2009.
"Because of the Winter Olympics coming to Vancouver, I had two friends who were already here, they said it was pretty cool. I wanted to try snowboarding, and so I decided to come over for that."
The 34-year-old has been in Canada ever since. Now, he has permanent residency, a Canadian wife, a job with a major player in the financial services market, and his snowboarding is "a lot better now".
Crowley also heads up Kia Ora Vancouver, the local expat group with more than 1700 members. To him, it's clear why Kiwis are choosing Canada over the UK.
"The pace is very slow here, it's very laidback and relaxed. It's more about the outdoors and the natural scenery and going out for a hike, going snowboarding, going to the ocean, whereas London is more about seeing performances and artists and festivals.
"In the summertime, we go camping, we go out to the wine regions, we go to [Vancouver] Island, swimming in lakes. In wintertime, it's all about snowboarding and doing snowshoeing, I definitely do more outdoor things here, just because it's so close and accessible, everyone else wants to do it."
There are some similarities between the two: rents are sky high, jobs are tight (and, in Vancouver, Kiwis often find themselves paid less than at home), both suffer from gloomy winter weather - though Vancouver gets considerably more rain, earning it the nickname "the wet coast".
Compared with London, Crowley sees one other downside to Vancouver: "It's more of a large town than a small city – it's not really bustling with nightlife, you wouldn't come here for the nightlife, that's for sure. That's probably one of the things that's lacking here."
However, Canada has another drawcard up its sleeve: the working holiday is available to Kiwis up to age 35, compared to age 30 in the UK, making it the perfect final stop for an expat.
When Megan McArthur moved to Toronto two months ago, a potential shift to the UK was already in the back of her mind.
The 27-year-old had already set her OE plans in motion when she met her partner, Julian Curtis - who, at 44, is over the age limit for the IEC visa. He's seeking a job that will sponsor him for a visa; if that fails, London is the couple's plan B - though somewhat reluctantly.
"[In London], you spend months looking for a tiny room in a flat that ends up being terrible, and you spend months looking for a job that you like, and it all seemed really, really, really hard, so I thought 'I'll just go and do something different'," McArthur says.
"New Zealanders have been going there for decades - parents went there, grandparents went there - so when you go to London, everybody already thinks they know what you're about as a New Zealander … When you come to Canada, you're almost still a little bit of novelty - although everybody knows about Lord of the Rings and Flight of the Conchords, they actually don't know what you're all about, so you get a different experience when you're interacting with people."
Upon arriving, McArthur was immediately struck by Toronto's vibe, "like a friendlier New York ... it has the same energy but without the sort of hard edge that you find when you go there". And just like any other big city, she adds, it's a tough place to find a job and an affordable rental.
They're hopeful their plan A will work out, though McArthur says she's "come around to" the idea of living in London.
"They're both big cities and they've both got lots of people and they're both busy and there's lots going on, it's just, for me... Canada just has a more 'North American' vibe. It just has that energy to it.
ABOUT THE IEC VISA:
* A 23-month working holiday visa for Canada.
* Available to New Zealand citizens aged 18-35.
* Up to 2500 IEC visas are available to New Zealanders each year.
* More information is available on the Canadian government's immigration website.