A lot of Filipinos who move here don’t have any idea what life is like in New Zealand before taking the plunge. Spending a couple of hours on the internet does not tell you about the realities on the ground and most make their decision based on propaganda, half-truths and outright lies expounded by people with a clear financial interest of bringing people over. As you are investing heaps of your hard earned money, not to mention abandoning a secure job in the Philippines, it is imperative that you do a thorough research, perhaps make an initial visit and ask people who made similar moves to assess if the country is a right fit. Only after spending a couple of months living here did I learned the following things about New Zealand:
1. Limited Shopping Options
As I mentioned in my first post, the country is only made up of only 4.5 million people and as such, most multinational companies shun the country because of its limited market and high cost of doing business. The country’s biggest retailer, The Warehouse sells mostly cheap quality goods reminiscent of Divisoria but exorbitantly priced. They would sell a good morning type towel for $10 NZD (around 320 pesos today) or a generic Iphone charger for $30. To combat this, I would do most of my shopping online or overseas and just bring them over.
2. No big malls and shops close early
In relation to number one, American style consumerism is non-existent here, which could be to your advantage if you are a minimalist. Aside from petrol (read: gasoline) stations and supermarkets, stores normally close between 5 to 6pm. The streets would be virtually a ghost town after this time.
3. Cold, damp Housing
Back in the Philippines, I was not rich by any means but grew up in a middle-class bungalow in Marikina, east of Manila. Our house was built of reinforced steel and concrete and the wooden parts made of solid Yakal. It was built in the 70s but survived a major earthquake, strong typhoons year in and out and severe flooding. But here in New Zealand I was quite shocked on the condition of some houses which were poorly insulated, wet and moldy considering it is a so-called “first world country”. This in turn can cause respiratory problems especially to young children. I have travelled to some of the colder and poorer parts in Europe but they had better houses. A simple google search of “New Zealand leaky homes” would provide more detail.
4. Perennial Unemployment
Official data from Statistics New Zealand reveal that there are 146,000 people unemployed during the first quarter of 2015 and this is quite a huge number for a small economy like New Zealand. Most of these people, as well as low income families, rely on government handouts to survive. Thus, it is commonplace to see 200+ applicants per vacancy, as they need to provide proof they are looking for work (e.g. rejection letters) to continue receiving the benefit. Coming in as an immigrant poses an extreme job hunting challenge that I will discuss in a separate article.
5. Entry via Skilled Migrant Category/Job Search Visa carries a lot of risk
Immigration process is relatively fast and straightforward. However, the route that most Filipinos take which is the SMC, Work to Residence or Job Search Visa is actually a temporary visa that lets you find “skilled” work in a certain timeframe of say 6 or 9 months. If you don’t find work within a set number of parameters then you are kicked out of the country plain and simple, despite you paying thousands of dollars.
6. Geographical Isolation
New Zealand is at the bottom of the world and if you like to travel the nearest flight out would be to Australia which is 3 hours away. If you hold a Filipino passport, this would require a visa. Other options are Pacific Islands like Fiji, Samoa or Vanuatu which are visa-free but extremely expensive destinations as they are very remote and everything is imported.
7. High cost of living
Yes, the minimum wage here is around 80,000 pesos per month but the cost of everything is exponentially higher than in Manila. For example, the price of a two-piece KFC meal is twice as much as in the Philippines, and they serve no rice with it!
8. Bad weather
When it is sunny, the scenery of New Zealand is truly majestic but it is rainy and windy in most days of the month. The amount of rainfall that New Zealand gets is favourable to its agricultural industry but the same could make some people miserable and depressed especially during the winter months of June to August.
9. Few career opportunities
Data from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment show that 90% of all businesses in New Zealand have fewer than 5 employees while 70% have NO employees. More than half of these small enterprises close down before reaching its 4th year. This figure indicates that there are very limited opportunities for career advancement.
10. Poor public transport
If you picture mass public transport which is fast, efficient and on time like in Hongkong or Singapore, you will be disappointed with New Zealand. Because few people use it and prefer to take their own cars, the fare is hiked up to make a decent profit. So when you settle, getting a car and a driver’s license should be the first on your checklist especially in Auckland or Christchurch where everything is spread out.
In summary, you have to weigh the things above if you think these are deal breakers or the rewards greatly outweigh the downsides. I go with the latter. At the end of the day, no country is perfect and moving to a new city is all about taking the good as well as the bad.