-In which country and city are you living now?
Dunedin, southern New Zealand
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I live here with my wife, who has been imported, just like myself.
-How long have you been living in New Zealand?
-What is your age?
-When did you come up with the idea of living in New Zealand?
I had always been fascinated by the idea of a small, neat country, tucked away behind Australia, yet highly developed and displaying amiable, Victorian streaks. I first became aware of New Zealand's existence as a teenager, in a bookstore in Germany, while browsing travel guides. I still remember vividly opening a page at random and seeing images of Wellington, with parking meters, Austin Minis, and people looking just like me and you walking down well-kempt city streets. That's when I was thinking, "I've got to see that for myself!" The thought that a perfectly civilized country with stores that sold tennis socks could be found that far away somehow held an immense sense of gratification for me. Maybe somewhere along the lines of "Look! Mankind can actually do it, there are now cafes everywhere on this planet!"
-Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit?
I spent the first 20 years after my discovery of New Zealand agonizing over the fact that it is one of the hardest to immigrate to. Until, one day, as I was sitting behind my desk in Manchester (UK), a job ad popped up on a website specializing in academia, and I learnt that my profession, design lecturer in the tertiary sector, was actually on the skills shortage list for NZ immigration. I applied for the job, got it, and was ready to immigrate with all the necessary paperwork within three months. That even included two cats and my wife, although I hear things can take a lot longer if there is no job offer.
Overall, obtaining the necessary paperwork to live in New Zealand is actually a very transparent process. The immigration process can be initiated and monitored online by the applicant, on the official government website. The criteria are very clear, and we've found the officials extremely helpful and friendly. Having said that, there is a whole lot of running around required before the paperwork is considered ready for processing, and unfortunately, some documents have "expiry dates" on them; so the trick is to synchronize them well. You need pretty immaculate police reports from all the countries you've lived in over the past ten years, and none of them may be older than 3 months when you send away your application pack. Having lived in 7 countries in that period of time myself, this became quite a white knuckle affair, as obtaining police reports in different countries requires all sorts of different procedures.
Another thing are the medical exams; there have been plenty of stories about New Zealand Immigration barring overweight immigrants, and I can attest to the fact that, yep, they do. If your BMI is dangerously high, and you have a few other things wrong with you (like requiring dialysis, or having a mental disorder), or not enough mitigating factors such as a profession that's required, it may do you in. We had a frightful little brush with that ourselves, and put ourselves on a diet so that we'd make it. It makes sense though when you think about it, because New Zealand is a small country with low population in which a few extra people with special needs can definitely make waves in the structure of the system. After all, there are less people in the whole of New Zealand than there are in London.
Once you have your OK-stamps though, it's easy. Just wheel in your stuff and set up shop. New Zealand is geared toward new arrivals, and we managed to have cars, a place, phones connected, TV, a full fridge, friends, and an idea of where things were in town on the very day we arrived, and started work the following day. We arrived on work visas, which we held only for a few months, until we could apply for permanent residence. We had that status within eight months of our arrival, and it means that we can now consider ourselves permanent fixtures. There is one catch to it though: You can lose your residence if you stay away too long, which is why many go for citizenship as soon as possible. Currently, you need to have spent five years as a permanent resident in New Zealand to qualify for it. New Zealand accepts dual citizenship, but your current country of citizenship may not, so better check before you jump, lest your old country takes away your citizenship.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
As New Zealand provides universal healthcare for all residents, just like the UK, where we came from at the time, we just arrived and were "ready to be sick", with full coverage active right there and then. So, no, it was a breeze, a non-event.
Being ill in New Zealand is not a biggy. As in the UK, your first point of call is always your GP, general practitioner, a doctor in your neighbourhood who is assigned to you. He or she then refers you on if need be, and depending on how urgently the ailment is to be treated, you go to a specialist. Your GP charges a base fee per new ailment, which is currently at about NZ$27. You pay that fee on your first visit regarding a certain ailment, and any subsequent visits pertaining to that ailment do not incur that fee anymore. It's all the money you'll ever spend on doctors in New Zealand. Specialists are not charging you any fees and are state funded through the social system. Medication is heavily subsidized, which means you get to buy some pretty high level stuff for peanuts. I required medication for a few months, and spent absolutely laughable amounts on it - we're talking NZ$ 14 for a three-month supply of pretty fancy medication.
Waiting times for some treatments can be long, but are usually in line with how life threatening your condition is deemed to be. Thus, it may happen that you wait months to get an anti-snoring device like a CPAP, but if you turn out to have something critical, they wheel you right into the OP.
If you have an accident which incapacitates you for work, a government fund called ACC takes care of you with 80% of your normal salary until you can go back to work or are diagnosed as disabled and go on a pension. Employers usually stop paying after six weeks of permanent illness.
-How do you make your living in New Zealand? Do you have any type of income generated?
I'm a lecturer in design at a polytechnic. I acquired the job via a website specializing in tertiary sector education jobs, and I basically just stumbled upon it one day while still in England. The day I applied for it, I had eaten breakfast and brushed my teeth fully expecting to spend another five years or so in England, that's how suddenly it all came to pass. Two weeks later, I had signed my contract, and we were having going-away parties.
Work in New Zealand is intense. They certainly take everything very seriously around here, and the mentality reminds me of Sweden or Switzerland. While being nice colleagues, New Zealanders are very idealistic in their pursuits and really tend to put their backs into stuff. Having said that, sticking out in any manner is looked down upon - so, if you happen to be a genius, better keep it quiet, and if you happen to be a slacker, better make sure it doesn't do you in. It's all about being in the middle, fitting in, keeping everybody in the loop, and not pulling rank.
The "Tall Poppy Syndrome" ensures that anyone who flies too high will be brought down. This can be enormously frustrating especially for people from fast paced environments with a can-do attitude like the US, Germany, or Australia. I've seen almost every single one of my colleagues from those countries near the edge of despair, and many went on anti depressants or left the country after a few years because of it. It's like Sweden's "Jantelagen", and I find it easy to deal with, but that's possibly because I've been tempered by life in places like that. It's all about muzzling your ego in favour of doing what's right and professional.
The key to not losing your mind in this overly democratic place is to simply play along with it and realize that there are other things to define yourself with than whether or not the organization will be getting its own petting zoo. There's a life out there, after all, with beaches, restaurants, and time off. And there's a good amount of that in New Zealand, about on the same level as most western European countries. Coming here is a lifestyle choice, and while mastery of the tools of your trade is important, using them comes second to things like harmony in the workplace and family life. I feel it's as it should be.
Also, New Zealand is pretty much a classless society, at least in theory, so there's no "better life" to be gained through hard straining and huge risk taking in the workplace. Everybody has a house, a boat, and a Subaru, goes hiking on weekends, and likes barbecues; there are no castles to be bought here, the profession of the butler is all but dead, and owning a Rolls Royce will merely mark you out as a guy who likes that brand (and one who may be a bit nuts for driving around in a cumbersome beast like that if you can get perfectly good, nimble Japanese cars for those narrow roads).
So, if you're rich in New Zealand, what does that amount to? You may have a newer house, a newer Subaru, a bigger boat, and better hiking boots, maybe more stuff on the barbie, that's it. It isn't worth the sweat, as you can see. Just go along and be a good person, it's nice enough.
-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
It goes without saying that speaking English is vital in New Zealand. The pronunciation is a bit startling at first if you're used to British or North American English though. The i- and e- vowels are very nasal and high, pretty much making "e hivvy suitcoise" out of "a heavy suitcase". There are some surprises, too: "Head" is pronounced like "heed", and "bring a plate" means "bring a dish" (to a party; I learned this the hard way). There is little of the intense lingo Australia is famous for here, which is a relief for newcomers, but once you get into things, you may sometimes wish there were more funny terms like "the wop-wops" for a rural location, or "bomb" for an old car. We got used to it very quickly, and now find ourselves sometimes puzzled by American or British pronunciation in movies instead.
The Maori population is usually fluent in English, as well. But Maori classes can be taken at many institutions, and most documents and even some signage will be written in both English and Maori.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes? Describe your favorite recreational activities there or those that are available.
Well, home is where your stuff is, and mine is all here. I've lived in too many countries anyway, and miss all of them at times, so I'm not a good example. My wife loves it here and has told me repeatedly that she would be staying here even if I got carried off by space aliens some day, and she'd be on her own. She has certainly arrived. My family and that of my wife is almost constantly here on visits. It's the funniest thing, now that we are on the other side of the earth, all our friends and family are always making trips to see us. We enjoy simply being where we are, and never venture out much further than daytrips require. The scenery is so stunning even in our village by the bay that we simply feel no urge to travel at all. Hanging out at home or in restaurants makes us happy enough, although there would be plenty of other options.
There are stunning destinations everywhere around you, anywhere in New Zealand. I've made a list of worthwhile places going to with overseas visitors to impress them with and be back home for lunch, and that list contains 32 things in the Dunedin area alone. Most of them are stunning, natural features like beaches, walks, caves, and views. We never tire of those ourselves. A beach with snow-covered mountains in the backdrop, basking sea lions, penguins, and fine, white sands in front of clear, pacific waves just doesn't get old on you, ever.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
We are keeping an open mind about possibly living in Israel or Australia at some stage in the future, but we currently feel we will want to return to New Zealand, if we ever leave.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
We own two old villas with bay views, which cost less combined than our little semidetached home in England. Each has three bedrooms, and even with a 100% mortgage, NZ$ 1.000 a month pretty much covers each of them. NZ$ 130.000 to 280.000 will buy a character home around the Dunedin area, albeit one with much "potential", like ours (I've come to believe that DIY stands for "Death In the Yard"; there's always something leaking or creaking or collapsing, they know everything about us at the home improvement store. Houses like that are quite typical for New Zealand though).
Houses in New Zealand are a chapter unto themselves. When we first arrived, we couldn't believe some of the things we suddenly had to put up with, as they had never been an issue, neither in Europe, nor in Latin America, and let alone in North America. We are talking about simple things like "why isn't there a heater in the toilet, and how do you survive going there at night with temperatures near freezing?" Insulation is only beginning to become an option, and is often installed quite haphazardly. The houses are drafty and leaky, and due to the fact that most of them are built on "piles" (little pillars), their floors warp, the houses twist and contort, and animals live underneath them.
Heating is mostly done with coal stoves, which put a smog cloud of epic proportions over even the smallest of villages, and give them that exciting Soviet Union fragrance on cold days. Heat Pumps (airconditioners with a heating function) are considered all the rage, and people install them at an amazing rate. These things are noisy, and really good at blowing volumes of lukewarm air around without doing much to feel any cozier on stormy days, since they only heat up air, not the objects in your room, as other types of heat sources would. If you like leather couches, you'll reconsider after sitting down on one on a cold day.
On the upside, those houses, being built like furniture more or less, don't seem to mind earthquakes very much. That's a major plus in a country that is about as tremulous as a truck on a bad highway. Our houses are over 100 years old, but seem to have weathered the myriad of quakes they've been exposed to without any damage. That's no miracle - after all, does a closet collapse when transported on the bed of a pickup truck? Usually not, and that's how those houses are built.
-What is the cost of living in New Zealand?
We are both fulltime-working vegetarians with two used cars and no expensive hobbies or children, in jobs that are fairly specialized. By comparison to the UK, Germany, or France, life in NZ is dirt cheap to us. Once you start comparing to Canada or the US though, things tip the other way a little. What's incredibly cheap here are car insurance (my old Mercedes 300 SE costs NZ$ 18 per month for full coverage), health insurance (all inclusive anyway), and real estate, at least down south. Food is relatively expensive though. A lettuce costs around NZ$ 3! That's a multiple of what it used to cost in the UK. Clothing, electronics, household goods, and furniture mostly comes from the nearby, Asian countries, and can be sensationally cheap, while providing acceptable quality.
Used cars are often brought in from Japan directly, with incredibly low milages. They seem to cost more than used cars in Europe or North America, but are of substantially better quality as used cars. It is not unheard of to buy cars that are 10 years old and have less than 40.000kms on the clock. This is genuine, and New Zealand has very strict laws and regulations with regards to running cars, which include strict, technical checkups every year. Buy with confidence. Petrol is about half the price of that in Britain, Scandinavia, or Europe, and comparable to Latin American fuel prices. Many convert their petrol cars to LPG gas, which costs slightly less still. Diesel cars incur an annual fee based on their milage, and diesel costs two thirds of petrol at the pump.
One thing that is painfully expensive on an NZ-salary is airfares, even to Australia. Once you're here, you'll find yourself thinking more than twice about flying anywhere, and not only because it's so nice here.
-What do you think about the New Zealanders?
The New Zealanders are great to live with. Rarely have I encountered a bunch of people who are more "user friendly". Granted, they may not have the humour of the British or the Australians, but they are quite well traveled, refined, professional, and very considerate of people's feelings. I do consider them a bit odd at times, especially with regards to staying relaxed in the workplace when things get stressful, as they sometimes exhibit an astoundingly neurotic streak for inhabitants of such a beautiful and serene place, but I have an inkling it may just be island fever. Other than that, I felt as if I'd lived in New Zealand all my life when I arrived. Even better, I didn't just arrive here, I came home.
Of course, it isn't all pure bliss. New Zealand has a few scary statistics which actually do reflect things you notice in daily life. As far as I am concerned, it's the drugs and the driving that dim the bright light a little. According to some statistics, I believe I've seen them at www.nationmaster.com, New Zealand is one of the top cannabis consumers per capita in the world, which is reflected in a surprisingly high rate of people with mental disabilities and depression. Or maybe it's the other way round.
Anyway, the driving does suffer, and I've seen stuff on the roads here you normally need to go to Russia, Hungary, or Argentina to experience. It's not that New Zealanders are aggressive people, because they surely aren't. But if you give them cars, they seem to misunderstand them as video games, and that's how they drive, at least in my opinion. There appears to be absolutely no realization of any kind that a car is one and a half tons of steel which turns into a compact ball of tinfoil as soon as you crash it, and what the telltale signs are that you're on the best way to achieving it.
Having learnt to drive on South America's rural mud tracks myself, I've always been a hugely defensive and cautious driver, thankful for traction, empathic of a vehicle's physical realities, never expecting the road to be free around the bend, or the car to survive reckless bursts or acceleration; and I've taken to simply staying out of everyone's way by pulling over and letting everyone pass whenever traffic materializes. Thankfully, that's a rare occasion. But what few cars do drive around sure do so murderously, so be warned.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in New Zealand?
In a nutshell, coming here to make a fortune is a hopeless undertaking. But on the other hand, you don't have to be rich here in order to live in a way you'd have to be a millionaire for in most other countries.
I'd put it this way:
Positives: Life here is almost carefree by comparison with other countries; a good social system takes care of those who need help, the scenery and colours are unbelievably beautiful, and you can feel you're about as far away from the world's trouble spots as it gets. It's easy to live well here. A proper house, a few cars, a boat or three, going skiing and surfing whenever, eating out, all of that are realities of life in New Zealand pretty much anyone can afford, and they do. The school system is excellent, the health care system one of the best in the world, and old age bears no special financial horrors either, as there is a universal pension system in place.
The variety of landscapes and natural spectacle is amazing, and in easy reach even for day trips, wherever you may live. The climate is mild, never excessive in any way. There is abundant water supply. There are no dangerous animals whatsoever, and even the spiders are small and innocuous-looking.
The country is full of interesting, well-traveled people, has a highly cosmopolitan feel to it once you scrape through the quaint, rurally inspired surface. Your neighbours usually turn out to be anything but country bumpkins upon closer inspection, will turn out to be Reiki practitioners who used to teach shamanism in Iceland before becoming airplane engine engineers, but turned kindergarten teachers now for whatever reasons, and are constructing steam engines in their garage, or training for a dolphin triathlon, or what have you. If the hippie movement automatically had a citizenship attached to it, it would certainly be that of New Zealand.
Negatives: Once you're here, that's it. You'll find it expensive to travel elsewhere, because everywhere is far away. Also, from an NZ perspective, the rest of the world doesn't always look too good, and we've caught ourselves having cocooning thoughts of all kinds here: "Why would we ever go anywhere else? What could possibly warrant such an expensive and risky undertaking as traveling anywhere now? And we'd miss our friends, and the cats, and at least we know where to get organic grade eggs now in that shop..." So, you tend to quietly sink into this pretty, little existence, detach from the world, forget about places you used to like, and get forgotten in return. It's not such a bad fate, and you hear stories like "... and he re-settled his family in New Zealand and was never heard from again" often enough. This place can be your "final resting place" in more ways than one.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in New Zealand?
Keep in mind that New Zealand's history has made it a place where all authority, innovation, and new influences used to be from the outside - both the good and the bad. This has made New Zealanders very cautious about accepting new things, and patient about seeing them succeed or fail once they are on their turf. If you want to be happy here, you'll need to factor in that relatively collectivistic thinking, and the slowness and democracy of the processes here. The term "Design by committee" could have been invented in New Zealand. Thus, if you tend toward the fast paced and dictatorial, bring plenty of tranquilizer.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about New Zealand?
I believe in reading local newspapers to get a feel for a place: