Experiencing life in New Zealand: Q & A

7 05 2008

I thought it may be good to have a Q&A session, just to get my friend to share his experience in NZ. He did so it his earlier entries on why he moved, first festive seasons in a new land.

I got more out of him, so here you go:

Q: Would you continue staying in NZ for the long term?

I have not decided on this yet, given a choice, I would want to stay for a longer period, because I basically like the environment, but on the other hand, living away from family and friends for an extended period of time does not sound like a good idea to me.

Q: After staying NZ for awhile, what are the plus points and not so great points that you think of that place as somewhere worth migrating to?

Plus points:

a) Extremely family friendly work environment, personal time is greatly respected and work schedule are planned with minimum overtime expected. Flexible working hours, as long as one clocks the agreed number of hours per week (usually 40).

b) Space, a population density of 15/sqkm makes a difference (Spore is 6000/sqkm). Although some places like shopping malls can be “crowded” at times, but one can still be around and be at ease and doesn’t feel suffocated.

c) The climate, Auckland’s climate is considered mild (not necessarily true for all parts of NZ), so it’s quite pleasant most time of the year, and plenty of sunshine throughout.

d) The landscape, natural surroundings, heaps of parks no matter where one is, beaches, mountains, etc.

Not so great points:

a) Cost, I’m not sure if this is still a problem now, with the global rising cost of living, things are definitely not cheap here, but I’m not sure if they are expensive compared to other parts of the world with similar living conditions.

b) High tax rates, every single dollar earned is taxed, saving interest is taxed, etc. About 30% of my gross income goes to taxes.

c) Weak law system, which led to higher crime rate, although generally NZ is still quite a safe place.

a) The people, people are mostly friendly, but there have been cases of racism around (I have no personal experience with this), I believe are driven by xenophobic, which exist almost everywhere.

Q: Are there certain jobs that have more demand there?

Yes, there is a list of skill shortage that’s put up on the immigration website, for people possessing those skills, they will be able to apply to come to NZ under the skill migrant category.

Although I must emphasise that looking for a job here is not as simple as possessing the required skills, I have not personally experienced great difficulties in getting my skills or experience recognised, but I have read about people with skills who can’t find suitable employment. One common reason cited is the lack of “Kiwi Experience”, though nobody can explain what that is.

Q: Can you survive without a car in NZ?

I have been surviving without a car all the time I’m here. Public transport is not excellent, but is still accessible, it’s a matter of planning your trip around the timetable, which is readily available online.

Living in the CBD helps because almost everything is within walking distance. On the other hand, parking in the CDB is extremely expensive, between NZ$3 to NZ$10 per hour. So owning a car is not a good idea.

I do miss out on things like outings to the remote beaches, plantations, orchards, vineyards, some tourist spots, etc, which are not accessible by public transport. Maybe not because I don’t own a car, but because I do not really drive, because rental cars are readily available if the need arises.

Q: What do you do during the weekends and week nights?

On week nights I would usually cook and have my dinner, after which I’ll laze around, watching TV and to catch up on things on the Internet. Weekends are for grocery shopping, household chores, trips to the parks, or library. I would sometimes take a walk around my neighbourhood, or to the malls. Other than those activities, it’s more lazing around.

Q: With the high income tax, would one still be able to cope with rental, expenses, and still manage to save?

I guess this mainly boils down to how far one is willing to go in cutting expenses and living frugally. I noticed that many people are willing to pay for convenience, eg. eating out, buying things in just one supermarket (different supermarkets have different things on sale each week).

If one plans ahead and shops carefully, it’s actually not very hard to keep to a certain budget. Sales are good opportunities to bag good bargains, if one is patient enough to wait for them.

Besides my rental and expenses here, I’m also sending money home for my mother’s expenses and to pay for the mortgage of the flat. After all these, I’m able to save about 20% – 30% of my take home pay. With careful planning on the recurrence expenses, eg. Rental, groceries, etc.

Q: Does living abroad make you more inclined to check out the news back home more frequently?

Yes, for various reasons:

a) To evaluate the situation in each place, which may help in my decision on where to live in the coming years.

b) Can be great conversation topics with friends. Because most of the friends I talk to nowadays still pretty much back home, ironically.

Q: Would you think about moving to other countries to stay there after this experience?

Definitely yes, the experience is not one can get from being a tourist. Every country is unique , especially multi cultural countries.

Q: Do you miss home often? What are the things that you miss back home?

Until now (1.5 years) I do not miss home at all. As much as I would like to have my family and friends with me often, I appreciate the time to be away and be on my own. Although I can’t tell what’s the effect in the long run.

Besides the family and friends, I think the next thing that I miss most is the food back home. It’s not very difficult to find similar food here, but the taste can be different and they are more expensive (generally the case when eating out), so they are more like occasional treats. Being able to cook or learn to cook helps a lot, and it’s healthier.

A few things that have got me thinking:
1) Why is it that having live in domestic helpers (aka maids) is not a norm here?

2) What are the government policies that enables the elderly people to choose whether to continue working into their old age or to retire comfortably? I don’t see many old people who are working not because they choose to.

3) A multi party government, is it a good system? With the whole system under the close scrutiny of all the parties, there seem to be self regulation within the system such that bad things don’t happen, because if they do, the other parties will start jumping on the culprit

— If you are thinking of moving overseas, getting out of the country, do drop your comments here 🙂

My second Christmas in New Zealand

26 12 2007

The Christmas in New Zealand is another pleasant surprise for me. Being in the southern hemisphere, I realised that December is actually Summer (the Silly Season). So, instead of celebrating a white(or Winter) Christmas, the people here spend this most celebrated festive season with their family and friends over a barbecue, many go to the beaches on Christmas day morning, around the Pohutukawatrees, the New Zealand Christmas Tree. Going to the cemetery to pay respect to their loved ones who have passed on is also a tradition for some.

Many companies will “shutdown” over the 2 weeks between Christmas and the New Year. So, many people will go on leaves on the days besides the statutory holidays, and they will travell around the country. The Auckland CBD is basically a ghost town on Christmas day. This is also partly because Christmas day is one of the 3.5 days where all shops must be closed by law.

Christmas in New Zealand, Auckland particularly, is as commercialised as any other big cities. About 2 to 3 weeks before Christmas, it’s said $1 billion was spent every week. Although the traditional values of Christmas is very much alive here, for example the spirit of giving. Unfortunately, to many, it’s no more just about the thoughts, but it’s more about how expensive the present is. As it turn out, Christmas can be a stressful time for some.

Boxing day sale is the highlight on well, Boxing day, which is a statutory holiday. All the shops and businesses offer excellent discounts, personally I do no encourage consumerism, but for someone who is well planned, one is able to get some very good bargains on this day. It’s said some people actually shop for Christmas presents on Boxing day, of course, for the next Christmas. 🙂

Finally, my damage for this Christmas:

Christmas 2007

About the culture shock(or the lack of it)

15 12 2007

My first stop in Aotaeroa (the Maori name for New Zeland, meaning The Land Of The Long White Cloud), is Auckland, the City of Sails.

Being the biggest city in New Zealand, about one quarter of New Zealand’s population reside in Auckland. The culture here is rich and diversified. Besides the Maoris and the Europeans, there is also a large population of Asians here. Asians here came from various countries, mainly China, India, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and so on. Besides the Asians, there are also immigrants from the Middle East, US and African countries, not to forget the Pacific islanders from Fiji, Samoa, etc. So it’s indeed a melting pot.

There is no Chinatown here in Auckland, because one can easily find merchandise from Asia around the community, no matter which part of the city one lives in. Asians operate supermarkets that carry products from the various Asian countries, eg. Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, China, etc. Groceries like Kaya spread, Chilli sauce, noodles, Super 3 in 1 coffee/tea, and even Durians, you name it, it’s available here. Besides the groceries, one can also easily find Asian restaurants in the various parts of Auckland, Hong Kong style BBQ, Dim Sum(Yum Cha), Chinese/Indian Restaurants, Malaysian/Singapore restaurants, Kebab, Si Chuan Restaurant, and so on. Taking a walk down the famous shopping belt here, the Queen Street, chances are one will see many Asians faces

The everyday life of the people here are very much influenced by the Maori’s culture, and they are easily spotted from the street names, everyday conversations (which include some Maori terms, eg. a Sweet Potato is called Kumara), the National Anthem is sung in 2 languages, English and the Maori language. The free to air TV channels include a Maori channel, a Chinese channel, an International channel, and 4 English channels.

So I did not actually feel the culture shock. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the richness and diversity of the culture.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2008.

About some numbers

8 12 2007

In this entry, I’ll write about some numbers that I encountered after I started living in New Zealand, I must emphasise that these numbers are true as of today, 8 Dec 2007. I’m sure they will change over time.

This entry is meant to highlight some of my own observations in the system here, in comparison to a system I have experienced before. Not to complain about anything.

The personal income tax:

up to $38,000 – 20.8 cents
$38,001 to $60,000 inclusive – 34.3 cents
$60,001 and over – 40.3 cents
*I excluded details like ACC earner’s levy, which makes little sense to readers.

Hmm… it seems to diminish the motivation to negotiate for a pay increment if one is already earning more than 60K, because for every 10K one gets, only about 6K can be brought home.

Well, I’m not sure it is fair to say this, but it does sound very much like a welfare state to me.

Kiwi Saver, something similar to CPF, but it’s optional, and the money contributed is invested.

– 4% or 8% of employees income, employer contribution is 1%, phased in 1% yearly from 2008 till it’s 4%. Tax breaks are given to both individual and employers to encourage participation. Response is quite good.

There are other details which I did not find out, because the % sounds a bit pathetic to me. Besides that, there is also things like Super Annuation which I also did not find out.

Numbers related to banking:

Savings account: 8%

Term Investment/Deposit (something like FD): 8.5% to 8.75% for 6 months

All interest earned are subjected to personal income tax based on a system shown above. For example, if one is already earning more than 60K a year, all the interest earned from the savings will be subjected to a 39% income tax.

The GST is 12.5%

Health care (I must say I don’t really have all the details, I think the following are what I know):

  1. GP visits, subsidised rate of about $35 for the consultation, prescription is $15 each (some capping apply, don’t know the details). Interestingly there are no things like government operated Polyclinics (which provide significantly cheaper services), but all GPs are part of the system. 
  2. Hospital care is usually free.
  3. If a lab test is ordered by the GP (eg. a blood test), it’s also free
  4. Expenses related to having babies in the hospital – Free (As far as I know)
  5. Senior citizen care – I think it’s cheaper than 1 above, I’m not too sure.


For a “young” bachelor like me, the whole system does not benefit me a lot, because I do not expect a baby soon, do not see a doctor very often, no family to support (as far as the tax man is concerned), and if my income is a little on the high side, I’m worst off due to the high income tax rates. No wonder so many people are crossing the Tasman Sea.

About that move to New Zealand some one year ago

5 12 2007

When I started telling the people I’m coming to New Zealand, they will usually ask 2 questions:

1) Why leave?

I found my life was pretty much dominated by work. Long hours with no personal time (including non office hours and weekends). Although I was holding the best job I have ever had in all my working life, working in a MNC, and getting an average of 13% annual increment when the national average is just 4%. In fact I was on the verge of giving up on my industry and was seriously contemplating a career switch. But IT has always been the area of interest for me, because it’s dynamic and challenging to me. So I decided to give the industry another chance, but in another country with a different culture. Since, I believe hectic life of the industry is very much a problem with the mindset of the employers and the culture of the society.

2) Why New Zealand?

Frankly, I don’t know. I did not do much researches as everyone else will usually do when they are talking about a migration. Simply because I’m just moving here all by myself, and I reckoned, I’ll can always fall back to where I came from, so there’s really nothing to lose. Of course if money was my priority, US would be the best place to go, but I thought it’s too far, similarly with places in the Europe. Asian countries are definitely out if I want to experience a different culture. So I’m left with Australasia. New Zealand naturally came to my mind, since I know of a friend who migrated here with his family, I know many people would prefer Australia, but I am not into following the crowd. Finally, my heart told me to choose NZ, so here I am. 8)

The chain of events that happened seems to tell me that I have made the right choice. From knowing someone through a friend which ultimately led me to finding my first accomodation here, to finding my first job(contract basis) within 5 weeks of arriving here, to being converted to a perm just as I was told by the immigration that my adventure might end if I do not get myself a permanent job.

So, did I get what I was asking for? I would say, yes. The culture here is indeed quite different from what I had experienced previously. 40 hours work week is a norm. Everyone is entitled to 4 weeks of annual leave by law. We are respected more as professionals, like, being asked to give estimates of time required to get the job done, instead of being told how much time we’re given. But that comes with a price, due to the much higher tax rate, even when I’m earning almost the same salary, I’m effectively taking a pay cut. But hey, since money is not really a consideration in the first place, I reckoned, as long as I’m making enough to cover my expenses here, send some back to my family and have some savings, I’m good. So, I never bothered to try looking for another job with higher pay, at least not in the near future.