Moving to New Zealand had been a childhood dream, but it wasn’t until I turned 40 that I decided to make it happen.

The right place at the right time

I had explored opportunities to make the move for many years but at various times didn’t have the chance or didn’t have the courage to take the leap. At 40, I suddenly felt ready to leave my home of Catania in Sicily and make a new start.

As an ambitious construction engineer, I wanted to make a career plan, which included getting international qualifications. I first moved to Milan, Italy with my wife and son. We spent two years in Milan, then moved to London in 2016, where my daughter was born. In January 2020, I was offered a job in Auckland with Auckland Transport, started the visa process, and arrived in March 2020.

On the job – projects and progression

My role as Health and Safety Technical Lead at Auckland Transport involves providing technical health and safety advice across all divisions. Auckland Transport is a large Council organisation responsible for all of the Auckland region’s transport services (excluding state highways), from roads and footpaths, to cycling, parking and public transport.

One of the highlights has been working on the Auckland City Rail Link project, which is New Zealand’s largest infrastructure project ever. After eight months I was promoted and as a subject matter expert I’m now supporting the wider business in delivering complex rail projects such as the Auckland Rail Franchise, the Southern Stations, and the Auckland Level Crossing. We work with the biggest construction and infrastructure companies in New Zealand, as well as international organisations.

The best thing about Auckland Transport as an employer is the opportunity for career progression. I’ve had the chance to demonstrate my passion for the role, my commitment to common goals and my competencies to support teams across the entire organisation. The work environment is also friendlier compared to some countries too, and general managers are more approachable.

Why Auckland – quality of life and career prospects

I came here for the future of both my family and my career. I wanted a better quality of life and a work-life balance, and I was also looking for the right job opportunity with an organisation that would value my skills.

I visited Auckland twice, in 2018 and 2019, and I definitely knew it was the right option. The place felt familiar, with similar landscapes to Catania – the sea, sand, lava, wind, and sun (it’s just a bit rainier here!). I like Wellington because it’s compact and full of character, but I prefer Auckland, which I consider the hub of New Zealand. From a work perspective, business in Auckland is more dynamic; there are lots of job opportunities for all professional levels.

The city is modern and the CBD is fascinating, with several urban regeneration schemes in progress. And there’s a diverse range of shops, restaurants, things to do and outdoor places to explore. Overall, I definitely thought the city was the best fit for me and my family.

A new life by the beach

I live in Takapuna, which is a beachside suburb on Auckland’s North Shore. Takapuna Beach is my local and we go there a lot, whether it’s swimming, coastal walks, picnics or even just enjoying the sunrise. I love both salt-water and fresh-water fishing too (which lots of Kiwis do), but I release the fish. There are lots of cafes, restaurants and shops in Takapuna, and the bus ride over the Auckland Harbour Bridge to the CBD where I work is only around 20 minutes.

Because of COVID-19, we haven’t been able to travel around New Zealand as much as we’d like to yet, but we have explored a lot of the wider Auckland region. We’ve visited some of Auckland’s west coast surf beaches like Muriwai and Piha, and were very impressed by the black sands and the power of the Tasman Sea! They’re quite different to the North Shore’s more sheltered white-sand beaches, so it’s an interesting contrast. Exploring further north of Auckland has been wonderful and great for escaping from routine too – we went coast to coast for 10 days over Christmas time in 2020, including Matakana, Matauri Bay, and Paihia in the Bay of Islands.

My lifestyle in Auckland is similar to my home of Catania, but quite different to Milan and London. Although the cost of living is quite high, there are so many public places to go that are free – the easy, safe and free access to the beaches is one of my favourite things about living in Auckland and something I didn’t have in the UK. And I like the polite people.

Changes and challenges

As well as leaving friends and family, the biggest challenge in moving across the world is to get a job offer. The time zone difference is a barrier and it was difficult to show that I was 100% committed to making the move. I decided to come to New Zealand so I could do interviews in person and then I got three job offers from three interviews!

Once I’d accepted the job at Auckland Transport, the process became easy with the right Immigration Advisor. I was lucky to have secured a job beforehand, and my employer’s relocation package covered almost half of our moving fees. I booked temporary accommodation for the first 30 days, and then the unexpected happened…

The COVID-19 curveball

We moved to Auckland in March 2020, just three weeks before New Zealand went into its first Level 4 ‘lockdown’ due to COVID-19. Needless to say, that was not part of the plan!

I had planned to find a school for my son and a home before starting work in April, so while we were in temporary accommodation and in lockdown, there was a very high level of uncertainty. We were blessed to secure a rental property and we moved in the day after the announcement, with only our luggage and some basic food. But not only were we safe, we will never forget the kindness people in our new neighbourhood showed us in that tough time, providing all sorts of furniture, appliances, a TV, toys and food – it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

I had to work from home for the first two and a half months of my new job, which was definitely challenging. My boss and my team helped and supported me a lot though, and virtual meetings and flexible working definitely helped.

The last word

My advice to people thinking about moving to Auckland to live and work is to make a plan and don’t lose hold of that dream, whatever happens.

Antonio Di Francesco moved with his family to Auckland in 2020; he is the Health and Safety Technical Lead at Auckland Transport.

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