Changes in migrants' backgrounds and societies sending and receiving migrants might increase adaptation issues and reduce retention. To enhance migrants' well-being/health and their likelihood of staying it is necessary to gain an understanding of psychological and social factors that contribute to resilience and adaptation. This paper presents findings from a qualitative study that investigated the experiences, interpretations and actions of German migrant couples to New Zealand throughout the whole migration process to identify these factors. In depth, episodic interviews were conducted with four couples who decided to stay in New Zealand and four couples who decided to return to Germany. Interview data were complemented with participant observation. This paper provides insights into how the pre-migration experiences, interpretations and actions of German migrants to New Zealand influenced their establishment, their interpretations and actions and consequently adaptation, well-being/health and the decision whether to stay in New Zealand or to return to Germany. The findings illuminate the influence of psychological and social factors on migration experiences, interpretations and actions throughout the migration process. The paper offers some solutions for addressing the identified barriers to successful migration and integration into host societies. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.