International Dental FAQ
None of this information is official. It is a very broad outline of the questions I have been frequently asked regarding my move abroad and registering my American dental hygiene license in New Zealand.
Helpful sites that I often used were www.immigration.govt.nz and New Zealand Dental council (www.dcnz.org.nz). I emailed the DCNZ many times and not only were they were extremely helpful, but also prompt with responses. Please check out the above official resources when considering your move to New Zealand. Another helpful site is, http://www.dcnz.org.nz/i-want-to-practise-in-new-zealand/dental-hygienists/
A sponsorship from an employer in New Zealand and a New Zealand dental license are required before you may start work.
What made you chose New Zealand? I chose New Zealand because I was approved for a Working Holiday Visa (available to Americans under the age of 31 for one year). I was only supposed to be here for six months and then go home, but I fell in love with the country and its people, so I took the opportunity while I was here to apply for my dental license and stay longer. Technically, you may not apply for any permanent jobs under a WHV. I worked as a server at a café for nine months while applying for my license and the correct sponsored work visa.
Had you been there before? No, I showed up and figured it out.
Is it as beautiful there as I think it is? Yes, it is as beautiful as you think it is. Check out my blog "22 Reasons to Visit New Zealand" to view photos from my travels here. This place completely blows me away.
How did you go about getting a job? Did you go online and answer ads? I got lucky with the job. I knew someone who knew someone. They don't advertise many dental jobs online, most are word of mouth or on a newsletter that circulates the offices through Henry Schein. The main sites to check out jobs are www.trademe.co.nz and www.seek.co.nz.
Did you have to sell a home in the U.S.? Do you have pets? No and no. I put my things in storage and came to New Zealand with one suitcase. Initially I lived in the capital city with a couple other young professionals in a fully furnished apartment. These are not hard to come by in the big cities, but will be more difficult to find in the smaller towns.
Did you get a car over there? Not initially, but once I became a permanent resident I did. It depends on where you live whether you need one or not. I live in Wellington, which has great public transportation, so it is possible to be without a car, but most places in New Zealand will require you to have transportation.
What kind of visa did you apply for? I applied for an Essential Skills Working Visa. Taking into account blood tests, chest x-rays, and transferring my American dental license, it cost me around $3,000.00. I came to the country with most of the paperwork and it still took me three months. If you are starting from scratch, I would give yourself six months to be safe.
Do you need a sponsor to work in New Zealand? Yes, you cannot move to New Zealand and work without an employer sponsoring you. They are required to fill out a form that will be sent in with your paperwork, and are also required to prove that a Kiwi could not be found to work in your place. All information for this can be found at www.immigration.govt.nz. Check out this site for any additional information on your visa.
How many days a week do you work? 4-5 days a week, full time with full benefits.
Are the patients difficult? What is the work atmosphere like? Patients are extremely friendly, the work atmosphere is very professional, and laid back. Everything is digital and high-tech, just like the United States. Instruments, ultrasonics and radiography are all up-to-date. The computer systems for dental are different here, but not difficult to learn. I have anywhere from 30-60 min with patients, average time is 45 minutes with separate exams (the dentist does not come in to do a “brief exam” – this is a separate appointment).
The dental field here is different. If you come over, you have to accept that it is not America. It is a foreign country that follows suit with England when it comes to teeth. The biggest difference is dental hygiene is relatively new here. In the U.S., dental hygiene has celebrated their 100th year anniversary, where in New Zealand it has only been around since the 1990’s and is still relatively “up and coming”.
Here are the basic (and almost shamefully general) guidelines: Pt see's the dentist when something hurts and if their gums are a mess, they are then referred to the hygienist. It is changing over here, especially in the bigger cities - they use hygiene systems (six month recalls etc.) like the States BUT... it still isn’t the norm country-wide.
I work in a great office that is trying to give me an hour, but there is very limited dental insurance here, so people pay for the TIME - out of pocket. A 30 min cleaning is around $120, a 60 min clean is around $220. Some people cannot afford that twice a year plus dental exams, x-rays and dental work. So it is not uncommon see periodontal disease with sub-gingival ledges (even just small ledges because it has been a year or two). I often have new patients who have never seen a hygienist before - only a dentist who mostly scaled supra-gingivally, and took about 10 minutes to do so… for years. But oral health care is rapidly changing in New Zealand, so most people are very receptive to better care and more frequent recalls.
Is the cost of living high? Yes, cost of living is high, but as a hygienist you'll get paid pretty decent, so you shouldn’t ever have to worry about money. But the cost of everything here is about double. It’s a couple islands in the middle of nowhere, so everything will be expensive. It’s worth it though; I would never consider that to be a burden enough to be unhappy here.
How much do dental hygienists make? It varies depending on where you live and how much experience you have. Count on anywhere from $35-$50 – smaller towns being closer in the $30’s and Auckland being closer to $505-$60 from what I’ve heard. However, Auckland has a surplus of hygienists so getting a sponsorship there may prove very difficult.
Do you do any local anesthesia in your office? Hygienists may do local anesthesia but that is an additional “Scope of Practice” that you need to add to your license. This will be very time-consuming and expensive with double the paperwork needed to get your license in the first place. I have had this scope added back to my NZ license and it has been really nice being able to give local again after a few years of restrictions.
All in all, moving to New Zealand and practicing dental hygiene here has been the best decision of my life. It has also been frustrating and expensive. I wouldn’t take it back for anything, but it was also made possible largely because I was here already. I got lucky. Having said that, if it is your dream to come to New Zealand, there are no rules that say you can’t and it is a very exciting time to be here as a dental hygienist. And it can be done. Don’t take no for an answer and you’ll find your way!
*Check out my Special Feature in ADHA's Access Magazine on New Zealand Dental Hygiene and Therapy!