My family has moved to Fiji (from Australia) on three separate occasions, living in over thirteen different homes across two Divisions. These are our top 6 things you need to consider before making the move to the tropical islands of Fiji.
1. VISAS & IMMIGRATION
As with most countries across the globe, obtaining the correct visa prior to entry is very important. Aussie holiday-makers can enter Fiji on a tourist visa which gives you 4 months of holiday time. However, if you are planning on working, attending school etc, you will require a Working Permit and the kids will require Resident Permits to legally attend school. I can't stress enough how important it is to stick strictly to the rules, as set out by the Immigration Department. You will need to be either working in the country, retiring there, or running a business of your own. Each has a separate visa/permit. Dates are important too! You must abide by the dates outlined when you get your passport stamped - we have personally known a few expats who failed to stick by the dates, and were refused entry back to the country. There is no "Fiji-time" when it comes to your visa deadlines. Also be prepared to wait (and wait some more!) when applying for your visa... because whilst there is no "Fiji-time" with leaving the country on time, there is most certainly"Fiji-time" at the Immigration office.
Passing time at the Immigration Office - hours and hours of time spent there!
2. SCHOOLING & EDUCATION
If you have kids, education is probably on the top of your list of potential concerns. If you aren't planning on home-schooling, or following an online Distance Education program from your home country, there are definitely some options for you. Combined, my children went to six different schools in Fiji. If you can get your Company to cover the cost of schooling as part of your remuneration package - your best option is either of the two International schools (Nadi and Suva). However, there are definitely other options as well. My eldest daughter went to two different ‘local schools’ – one a Catholic school and the other a District school. Both went to a smaller type ‘international’ school in Suva, which followed a NZ based curriculum. They also undertook a stint of being home schooled by a Fijian teacher who would come to our home each day. Happily, both my kids are have not had any problems re-entering the Australian curriculum. There are definitely little nuances and things you would not expect, but that's the adventure of life in a new country.
My girls enjoying an afternoon snack of Bu (Coconut) on the walk home from school in Suva
3. HEALTH INSURANCE
I can’t stress this point enough - it is so important to obtain quality health and medical insurance. If you are moving with a larger-type company, this may be part of the remuneration package (that would be preferable). On one occasion it was provided for our family, but the other times, we had to obtain it ourselves. This is so important because the medical facilities are not what we are generally used to in Australia. If you have a bad accident, you will likely need to be medevac'd out, and this can cost upwards of $25,000 easily. One friend of ours simply got the flu - which turned ugly - and after being treated unsuccessfully in one private hospital asked to be moved to the government-run hospital. It was there that the treating doctors discovered something more sinister. She was medevac'd back to Australia for urgent treatment. She is fine now, but from a simple flu to being medevac'd? It's not a situation where you will want to be worrying about whether you can afford to do it or not. So I will say it again - it is seriously important to get good insurance.
If you are moving due to employment with a Fiji-based company, you won’t have much choice in which location you live. Most expats are sent to Suva, the capital city. However, if you have the choice of where to live, you need to consider the realities of where you choose. Let me remind you that living and working in Fiji does not automatically translate to sipping cocktails on the beach each day. This would have been the biggest misconception that my friends had whilst we were living there. Suva is a good 45 minute drive to a beach that you would want to sip cocktails at. Whilst living in a smaller town like Sigatoka can seem relaxing and peaceful, it can come with it's challenges different to the capital city. It is not the same as holidaying in Sigatoka's Shangrila or Outrigger - let me be clear! (been there, thought that!!) I have lived in both Suva and Sigatoka – and in Sigatoka alone, we lived in 3 different ‘suburbs’ for want a better word, with each being very different. Do your research!
5. COST OF LIVING
Whilst none of us want to consider cold hard cash whilst thinking of the beautiful island of Fiji, unfortunately it is a big reality you can't afford to neglect. Unless you are earning international level wages, or earning international dollars (AUD, or USD as an example), you may be shocked at certain pricing in Fiji. The cheapest rent we paid was $350FJD per month (I know, very cheap for Aussies) and the most expensive we chose to pay was $3,500 FJD per month. There is a big variance, and depending on the quality of living you expect is what you will get. Friends of ours paid $7,800FJD per month in the capital of Suva, and it was outstanding – views, pool, garden, maids quarters, security guard, fully furnished with quality imported furniture – but it also wasn’t without it’s fair share of issues. Some issues I have encountered across all levels are water pressure (if you live on a hill with great views, don’t naturally expect to have a full pressurized shower - that was one mistake I made myself!).
In hindsight, this really should have been Number 1 on this list. Fiji is the Rugby Nation of the world. Fijians live, breathe and die for their sport. My only advice if you aren't a rugby fan, and you are moving to Fiji, would be to get a set of headphones and some good DVDs because when there is a game on - it's on for young and old. The last HSBC 7s tournament that we were in Suva for, the capital city went dead quite - not a car on the road, not even taxis! And I won't even mention the Rio Olympics - businesses shut down to watch that final. Luckily for us, we are a rugby-loving family and have run tournaments ourselves over there, so it only added to our love of Fiji. It's likely that if you arrive without a love for Rugby, you will quickly be turned.
It does go without saying that our time living in Fiji, as a Fiji expat, across all the different locations and housing has left us with great memories and great bonding moments as a family. Living in Fiji is amazing, you just got to get your expectations at the right level, and take everything as it comes. Roll with the punches, and fall in love with Fiji Time!