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An Expats Perspective: The Pros and Cons of Living in New Zealand

Erica Nothnagel (Licensed Immigration Adviser)

 Like so many expats who choose to live here, I came to New Zealand in search of security and a better future for my family. It had become frighteningly clear that the crime in South Africa was on a steep incline; and the metal bars that adorned every window in our house was not (and should not) indicate a ‘normal’ part of everyday life.  The constant fear and paranoia that dominated the cities, towns, and farms had become stifling. Nobody was safe from the very real possibility of rape, home invasion, armed robbery, farm seizures, assault, and murder. In hindsight, it astounds and appals me to recall that our home had been robbed approximately eight times; we had been asleep in the house during one incident and awakened the following morning to a bare living room.  Incidents such as this were considered normal and inevitable occurrences.

My sister in-law’s fateful visit to New Zealand was the catalyst behind our decision to leave South Africa. The brochures she brought back with her depicted New Zealand as an idyllic country that offered vast opportunities and a brighter future for my sons.  She used adjectives such as ‘safe’, ‘secure’, ‘clean’ and ‘friendly’ to describe this country that we knew very little about; but was enough to persuade my husband and I join them in their exodus out of Africa. In 2003, my family and I boarded the plane to New Zealand and have not looked back since. Our first year was rife with ‘settling in’ hurdles. I can empathise with every migrant who has experienced frustration over the delayed arrival of furniture or living in a house overcrowded with fellow newcomers, or doubt and stress over the process of finding employment and adjusting to a completely new culture. Nevertheless, we soldiered on, confident in the knowledge that we had made the right decision to come here. Each day we are constantly reminded of how fortunate we are to be here in this amazing country that is of course, not without its imperfections.

I remember one of the first things I noticed upon arrival in New Zealand was the calm and relaxed atmosphere that appears to blanket the entire country. There is no sense of immediate danger lurking just around the corner. No feeling of being watched from a distance. I do not get the panicky urge to tighten my grip on my handbag when I am out and about in public. The people here are friendly, and as one of my clients put it: they smile so genuinely. There are no bars on any of the windows of our house or office. Police do not carry guns. The traffic laws are actually enforced. We can leave our windows open at night. I feel safe. In fact, I am safe or as safe as anyone can possibly be in civilised society. It takes living in a country where the word ‘safety’ is a goal rather than a normal state of living to truly appreciate how safe New Zealand is. Of course, crime does still exist: there is organised crime, a serious methamphetamine problem, houses are robbed, there are still murders, and rape, but nowhere near on the scale that I was accustomed to in South Africa. Crime or the threat of becoming a victim of it does not govern everyday life. People do not wake up in the morning thinking, “Well today could be the day that I am killed in an armed robbery, or hijacked in my car”. In this country, that kind of mentality is classified as paranoia.

One of the major positives that come with living here is the close proximity to and abundance of natural attractions. Regardless of where you live in New Zealand, it is guaranteed that you will be only one hours’ drive from the nearest beach and national park which are free to explore. Over the last decade New Zealand has fast become known as the world’s best kept secret – an adventure playground for nature lovers and adrenaline junkies. It is land of dramatic and beautiful contrasts that never ceases to impress and inspire.

Another thing that I appreciate about New Zealand is the political transparency. Corruption is almost non-existent and government officials who choose to participate in it are crucified by the media and the public. Politicians are constantly held accountable for their actions or lack thereof. Dictatorship, civil war, and religious conflict are vague concepts that are used to describe the problems of far off countries.  New Zealand holds one of the best track records for honouring human rights laws and peaceful relations with other nations; and politics is governed by social accountability and legal constraints. The only downside to New Zealand politics that I can think of is the rigidity of its political correctness.

The government support that is given to students is another benefit of being a resident or citizen here. Interest free student loans and allowances are almost unheard of in most countries but in New Zealand financial support is provided to students who would otherwise not be able to afford a tertiary education. A strong emphasis is placed on up-skilling and equipping school leavers with qualifications that will enable them to contribute positively to the employment sector and the economy; and in spite of recent government budget cuts, financial support to students remains high on the governments’ initiatives.

Paradoxically, the continued emphasis on up-skilling and education is highlighted against the backdrop of an economy that has been hit hard by the ‘global recession’. For some, the current economic climate may prove to be a downside of setting up base in New Zealand. Local businesses have suffered the brunt of the recession, with many closing their doors and/or making staff cuts. The GST rise has also signalled an increase in prices of consumer goods and services, and household costs have risen due to a higher Official Cash rate. Nevertheless, the job market continues to improve – albeit slowly – with a major demand for experienced and highly skilled professionals in the IT and automotive industries. Overall, I would say that the economy is the major concern on most New Zealander’s list, but in spite of the economic knockbacks, the country continues to grow and develop. There are various industries that have yet to be explored here and I foresee a positive future for New Zealand’s economy.

Taking all of the above into consideration, New Zealand is a country with imperfections that pale in comparison to the woes of other nations. Although, I find the current economic climate worrying it is by no means irreparable; nor does it outweigh the positive aspects of living here.  My family and I arrived in this country with the aim of attaining a better future and quality of life. We have achieved all of that and more.

By Erica Nothnagel
Founder & Managing Director of Silver Fern Immigration

For more information migrating to New Zealand please visit   

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