6 things to consider before moving to Fiji

living in fiji Australians moving to Fiji

Have you dreamed of living the expat lifestyle on a Pacific Island?  Sipping sunset cocktails overlooking the beach every night.  Somer, an Aussie expat living in Fiji, shares some of her experiences and things to consider before you decide living in Fiji is for you.

This article is written by Somer Henderson.  Somer shares her stories of an Australian family experiencing life in the island nation of Fiji on her website Me and Fiji.

My family has moved to Fiji from Australia on three separate occasions, living in over thirteen different properties across two divisions.  These are the top six things you need to consider before making the decision to move to the tropical islands of Fiji.

1. Visas

Ensure you research your visa options thoroughly before departure.  The different visas available are varied and very specific.  As an Australian you will automatically be granted a four month tourist visa upon arrival in Fiji.  However, this will not give you permission to work, or for your children to attend school.  For working and living in Fiji, you have a couple of options.  The most popular being:

  • Working Permit – an Employer needs to apply through Immigration Fiji on your behalf, whilst you are out of the country (in our experience of gaining working permits twice, this process has taken at least eight weeks!)
  • Investor (Working) Permit – the process is relatively easy provided you can meet certain requirements (including monetary), are prepared to wait, and ‘tick a lot of boxes’ throughout the process
  • Residence Visa – this visa will not entitle you to earn any form of money, and you will need to meet strict monetary requirements, including be able to sufficiently support yourself

You should note that by obtaining a working or investor permit, your spouse and children will gain resident visas.  This will allow the children to attend school, however your spouse will not be permitted to work.  A lot of expat spouses plan to volunteer whilst living abroad, but this is also restricted, and you will require certain permissions.  These regulations are very strict and it is to prevent any local Fijian missing out on any working opportunity.

Expat Tip:  The important thing to note is that whilst everyone jokes about ‘fiji time’ or ‘island time’ when living in Fiji, when it comes to immigration, there is no such thing.  The immigration process will take time and you will feel as though your application is on ‘fiji time’ but it does not work the other way.  If your visa has run out, or you are found to be working or living in Fiji on the wrong visa, they will not accept any excuse.  I have known three separate people who have been removed from the country, or banned from coming back upon departure, for breaking the rules of their visas.

moving to fiji and living in fiji

2. Schooling

There are four options for schooling your expat children whilst living in Fiji.  Remember you will need the correct visa to attend any formal schooling in Fiji.

  • International School – there is one in Suva, and one in Nadi. Both are incredibly expensive but if your employer is providing schooling as part of your remuneration package, go for it.
  • Alternative School – the learnings are based on the New Zealand curriculum. There are numerous choices in Suva and a couple spread across the rest of the country.  A lot of expat kids attend these as many find the cost of International Schools prohibitive
  • Local / District School – run by the Fiji government’s Ministry of Education. This is where most local Fijian children attend, and the learnings are based on the Fijian curriculum.  The class sizes are large and some of the topics will seem too basic for your expat child, for example. how to brush your teeth, how to wash your hair.  Sport is a big part of a local/district school, with boys playing rugby and girls, netball.  Volley ball comes a close third..  My eldest daughter went to two different ‘local schools’ – one a Catholic school and the other a District school
  • Home Schooling/Distance Education – you will need to arrange this before you leave your home country. Be sure to bring all your educational tools, as you won’t find them easily in Fiji.  We employed a retired Fijian teacher, and she came to our home three days a week.  It was great, and I would definitely do that again.

My children have been in each of the above options, except for the International School.  They liked the local/district schools the best, with the home teacher coming in a close second.  Despite being schooled in the Fijian curriculum for most of their time in Fiji, which a lot of expats may be concerned about, both were able to integrate easily back into Australian schools when needed.

Expat Tip:  The most important thing to take from this topic is to really push for international schooling fees to be included in your remuneration package.  If you can get this, you will have minimal schooling concerns.

3. Health Insurance

It is vital to obtain quality health and medical insurance before you depart your home country.  If you are relocating to Fiji as part of employment with a large corporation, you will likely gain it as part of your remuneration package.  This is preferable.

The medical facilities in Fiji are not what we are generally used to, or even expect in Australia.  If you have a bad accident, you are going to need to be medivacked out of the country, and this can cost upwards of $50,000Aud easily.  One friend of ours simply got the flu, which turned ugly, and after being treated in one private hospital unsuccessfully asked to be moved to the government run hospital where the international treating doctors there discovered something more sinister.  She was medivacked back to Australia for urgent treatment.  It is a large leap from a simple flu to needing to be sent out of the country, however things seem to escalate very quickly in Fiji and it is unfortunately all too common.

Expat Tip:  I cannot be more blunt – you need quality cover.  Get medical and health insurance included in your employment package, and make sure it is the top level, which gives you access to the Private Hospital and medication, and medical evacuation to your home town.

Australians living in Fiji

 

4. Location

If you are moving to Fiji for employment, you won’t have choice as to which town you live in.  Most expats are sent to the capital city of Suva, a smaller number to Nadi.  However, if you have the choice of where to live, you need to carefully consider the realities of the different locations.  Whilst living in a smaller town like Sigatoka can seem like the idyllic ‘island living’ that we all dream about, it can be somewhat different to that.  Consider things like access to grocery stores, activities, proximity to the ocean and protection from possible cyclones/bad weather, even the availability of extra-curricular activities for the children.

Expat Tip:  Living and working in Fiji does not automatically translate to ‘sipping cocktails’ on a beach each day.  This is the biggest misconception that my friends/family have had.  Suva is a good 45 minute drive to a beach that you would want to sip cocktails at.  A lot of expats I’ve met have chosen the Coral Coast town of Sigatoka after staying at one of the big luxurious resorts in the area.  Despite living like ‘Kings and Queens’ at the resort, living in a house in the same area does not necessarily equate to the same.  Issues that you have likely not even considered will pop up.  Annoyances like the national water authority cutting water supply to provide enough supply for the big luxurious resorts.  When you can’t shower for the third day in a row, you are not going to feel very much like ‘Kings and Queens’.  Remember tourism is the main industry in Fiji, so tourists are treated exceptionally well, and almost everything is geared around keeping them happy.  Speak to expats living in the area you are considering about the realities of residing there.  Ask about water cuts, electricity cuts and the water pressure, because across all our homes in Fiji this has been a constant problem.

5. Cost of Living in Fiji

It is surprising how expensive day-to-day costs can be living in Fiji, especially if you are trying to live to a similar standard as your home country.  There is a vast difference between the ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ in Fiji.  If you are willing to drop your standard of living, you can live relatively cheaply.  However, to keep a standard of living similar to that of home, it will not be cheap.

The cheapest rent we paid was $350Fjd per month (I know, very cheap by Australian standards) and the most expensive we chose to pay was $3,500Fjd per month.  Friends of ours paid $7,800Fjd per month in the capital of Suva, for an outstanding rental – views, pool, garden, maids quarters, fully furnished with quality furnishings.  It was however, not without it’s fair share of issues, like poor water pressure.

Across the board, a lot of consumables are imported in to the country, so they are generally more expensive than you will be expecting.  Electrical items, furniture, kitchenware and clothing are all expensive, whereas local food and services are inexpensive.  Going to the movies is a cheap family outing in Fiji, with tickets starting at $5Fjd.  Heading to the hairdresser is also very reasonable, my husband got his hair cut regularly for $3Fjd.  Transportation by taxi is also inexpensive by our expected standards.

Expat Tip:  Be sure to educate yourself before your departure on what you should take with you to Fiji and what you should leave behind.  There are little things that you would not expect to have to pack, like the kids lunch boxes and drink bottles, or a doona cover.  By doing this you will save yourself a lot of money and/or a lot of time running around Fiji in search of your desired item.

6. Rugby

In hindsight, this topic should have been at number one of this list of things to consider before moving to Fiji.  Fiji is affectionately known as the ‘Rugby Nation’ or the rugby capital of the World.  From the time they can walk, Fijians live, breathe and die for their sport, and rugby is at the top of the list.  If you are not a rugby fan, and are moving to Fiji – you may want to reconsider your choice of expat relocation.  The streets will literally go dead when their national 7s team is playing; you will not be able to get a taxi, or go to the bank, or even grab a coffee.  During the recent Rio Olympics, Westpac actually shut its doors and closed for the afternoon whilst the Fiji went to battle for the Gold.  When they won, the Prime Minister declared a public holiday.  There is no possible way to escape their love of it.

moving to fiji living in fiji

Expat Tip:  If you aren’t keen on rugby, consider moving to a different country.  When I say that they live, breathe and die for their sport, I am not exaggerating!

 

Our family has lived and worked across many towns in Fiji over the past eight years.  Each place has had it’s good and bad points.  Great adventures and experiences have left us with amazing memories, and the bonding moments you can only get with experiencing new and different things as a family.  The best piece of advice we would give anyone considering a move to Fiji is to set your expectations at the right level, and then take everything as it comes.  ‘Rolling with the punches’ will be your best friend when living in Fiji as an expat, as will be having a good laugh at the end of each day.

 

This article is written by Somer Henderson.  Somer shares her stories of an Australian family experiencing life in the island nation of Fiji on her website Me and Fiji.

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