Migrant Tales – Life after 4 Years in NZ, Back in the States the Quality of Life is Better

Montana national park

Glacier National Park, Montana. The USA also does scenery, and has a better lifestyle than NZ

Continuing in our series of Migrant Tales – first hand accounts of the migrant experience of New Zealand. This series has been going since we started this site in 2009 and we have collated hundreds of stories from migrants (and expat Kiwis) about life in New Zealand. Some of what they have to say may take you out of your comfort zone, these are uncomfortable truths, but from the heart and personal experience.

For more tales click here. If you would like to share your experience leave a comment at the bottom of this page, or join us on Twitter.com/e2nz.

Today’s tale was sent in by an American migrant. Here’s her story

“We were in New Zealand for 4 years and I can honestly say my mental health improved 150% only two months after we returned home to the U.S. We went there because we believed the marketing, hype, and surveys about one of the “best places to live in the world”. We, like others here, were concerned about the trajectory of the U.S. economy. For the first 1 1/2 years I had my rose colored glasses on. Big Time. I was insanely happy to be there. The views were magnificent and I believed the environment was 100% pure. Laugh out loud. I happily hung my laundry out, recycled, and learned to make the meals everyone else was making. I wanted to blend with the “Kiwi culture”. What I didn’t realize was hanging out my laundry and making vegetable curry from my garden vegetables were more cost-cutting measures rather than environment preservation. Kiwis would be happy to use their dryer in the middle of the day but it is ghastly expensive to do so. They need to dry them late at night after 11 p.m. when the cost of electricity goes down. They say they prefer to hang them out which does have it’s pluses but I assume that the families who are working multiple jobs and raising a family would love to throw their laundry in the dryer carelessly at 3 p.m. before they have to be somewhere. As for the environment, the stories of the uses of pesticides and poisons resulting in cancer cases are astronomical. One Kiwi pointed out that just on one hill, up over the road, there was one guy here, one guy over there, and another family down in the valley who all got cancer. Well, if you are unlucky enough to get cancer then don’t depend on the healthcare. On “family doctor” out in the country failed to diagnosis two people that I knew about until they could ignore their symptoms no longer. This is just my opening paragraph. There is so much more to tell.

Job and Cost of Living: My DH went over first and surveyed our selected city. We had a retired pension from his prior U.S. job so we were lucky to still have that and some savings before we arrived. He, like others on this forum, took a lower paying “immigrant” position to have a job and pay his dues initially. The problem was that he never left it the entire 4 years we were there. He was promoted after a year of being there but I believe this was only because he worked for other immigrants in the public sector, not a Kiwi directly. After being there 4 years we blew through our savings and realized we would never be able to have a comfortable retirement with the high cost of imported goods, expensive petrol, and lower wages.

Education: We have very bright children. We wanted to home school initially but wanted to “immerse” our children in the Kiwi culture. This was a big mistake. Our oldest daughter was two years ahead before we moved there only to be two years behind after we left. If you want your children to learn something, teach them yourself. In public NZ school they will learn how to kayak, sail, orienteer, garden, cook, camp, make trinkets at “technology” and have access to computers. However, forget any of the traditional or classic curriculum you might have acquired in the U.S., Canada, or even Europe. It has been largely forgotten or doesn’t even exist. The children there rarely, if ever, do homework; not even in high school. For maths they do “mental math” instead of the traditional way of calculations. You might think this is great but my oldest daughter told me that her Year 10 classmates were unable to do long division. My youngest son and daughter cannot borrow, carry, or rename at the ages of 10 and 8. I also just introduced multiplication to them so we can begin the process of catching up. I volunteered some hours over at their school in NZ but it was met with skepticism and resentment. Kiwis thought we must have had a lot of money in order for me not to work. They didn’t see it as a sacrifice on my part or even a welcome plus to having an extra warm body help with the workload. I never once saw any textbooks or workbooks come home. There was NEVER anything provided to the parents about what they were learning. We were invited to parent-teacher conferences where they would go over some metrics and goals they had set out for our children but they seemed “random”. I’ll admit that I didn’t push their teachers because I had heard about the “Tall Poppy Syndrome” in NZ and I didn’t want them to think I wanted “elitist” treatment. I was happy that my children had an hour for lunch everyday at the primary and intermediate levels. They also had a morning tea (recess) for 15-20 minutes each day. Our time in New Zealand allowed them to be kids but they suffered academically. The large break times would have been wonderful if they would have been given some rigorous mental prey to chase after in the classroom.

Culture: Kiwis do think they are wonderful as a population. They are constantly pumped up by tourists and new immigrants who come over and tell them how great things are. This is only on the surface. The longer we were there the more we realized they are leading a life of quiet desperation. Yes, the have more space. Yes, the have less population. Yes, their views are wonderful. But, then reality hit us like a ton of bricks. The comments that were made about us behind our backs. The jealousy, sarcastic comments, and endless questions about “Why did you move to New Zealand again?” is an underlying way of saying, “We are stuck on this island knowing that we can barely make ends meet and we can’t get off. Why the heck would you leave the wonderful U.S.? You must be out of your mind, unskilled, stupid, or running away from something.” Indeed, I fully didn’t research this country before we arrived.

Jealousy: Kiwis are incredibly jealous. There is the passive-aggressive nature that other people on this forum describe. They have to be that way because they cannot adequately defend a verbal accusation or criticism. They have no intellectual legs to back it up. So, they backstab, slander, and culturally eviscerate you until you disappear. Which is why most people from the U.S. don’t make it past the 1-2 year mark before they cry uncle and want to go home. If you want to sue for slander, forget it. Kiwis don’t use the legal system. Plus, you would never find a lawyer who would take the case, even if you had solid legs to stand on.

Medical system: One word…STINKS. This “free” system is not free. You pay high copayments which would have been the actual cost of the care at your local doctor if you would have just paid in cash and he cut some of his staff and bureaucratic middlemen. The U.S. system is headed this way and I cringe at the prospect. The NZ doctors are highly unqualified and don’t know what they are doing. The medical system was initially sold to the NZ people as free but copayments were initiated shortly after (oops, we miscalculated). Classic bait and switch. Getting a specialist in NZ is a treat. There are few of them and I was told that my family practice guy could handle most everything. No thank you. Waits are long for specialist care and surgical care. I missed my American physicians (all of them…even the “bad” ones). There is little care for children with disabilities. They have a saying, “She’ll be right”, which means “Don’t worry, you can’t do anything about it anyway. We don’t have the tools, specialists, or knowledge.” There was a family who, not long ago, needed to leave NZ for Dyslexia care in the United States: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/8755641/Family-heads-to-US-for-dyslexia-support
One of my daughters had problems speaking in public and I addressed this with her teachers and physicians with no resolution. She had the long, inappropriate stares and other classic autism symptoms. The other two children were fine. The NZ “professionals” defaulted to “it must be abuse”, although they never outright made that accusation. I asked if it could be autism but they wanted to believe what they wanted to believe.as they didn’t have the tools or knowledge to consider that it could be autism. They are uneducated. My daughter has since been officially diagnosed in the United States. The NZ professionals defaulted to abuse because of their experience with it. There is more abuse in New Zealand than in America. I am convinced of it. There is a notorious history of alcohol and drug addiction in New Zealand which makes it more possible for people to abuse their loved ones…physically, mentally, and sexually. I watched a man berate his teenage son after running his bicycle off a curb accidentally. He yelled, screamed, and told the young man how worthless he was using expletives that would make a sailor blush. He did so until I yelled back at him, “Enough!”. I felt so sorry for the child but somehow the event made me realize how pervasive the unacceptable behavior is within Kiwi families. My children would often come home from school and tell me all the four letter words that were being used on a regular basis. Kids in U.S. public schools are rarely heard using these terms (not as often as what we encountered in New Zealand).

One last word: Jealousy.
I know I mentioned this before but it is worth mentioning again. We sold a used minivan in the U.S. before we moved to New Zealand for $7800 (about NZ $10,600). When we wanted to purchase the same year, make, and model in NZ we were surprised that it would cost us NZ $25,000. So, we decided to buy one family car and one back-up smaller convertible sedan. The convertible sedan was red and “fun” and very old….1995…and New Zealanders called it a “flash car”. It cost us only $8,000 NZ. What I have come to understand is one of three things:, “How dare a woman with three children drive a fun convertible car”…or, “I would love to drive that foreign car but it is too expensive to fix”….or “You must make a lot of money in order to afford that type of used foreign car…we are jealous…and secretly hate you”. That is the kind of thing

Three immigrant comments and stories that are not my own:
1) From a man from India: “Stay in the city and stick with your own kind, you’ll be better off”. (True, I should have bonded with Americans or Canadians from the outset. I might still be there if I had some sort of safety net…”Yeah, Nah”.)

2) From a woman from Denmark: “You are lucky we have not burned your trees down yet”.

3) A young 20-something told me this about her South American father: “Dad was more highly skilled than his NZ coworkers. He turned off a machine before he was to go in and fix it. While he was in the machine his coworkers turned it back on and he lost two fingers. When he came out of the machine his coworkers laughed at him and told him to call his own ambulance.” Not surprisingly, the man moved back to South America without his wife and daughter.

If you move to New Zealand, keep your eyes wide open. I greatly miss the food and coffee and overall nutrition is better than in the United States. Before we left NZ, the cons heavily outweighed the pros. I might go back to NZ if things continue to deteriorate in the U.S. but I can honestly say that the quality of life in America is definitely better. If you move there get a solid home country support network. If there isn’t one, then start one. That is the only way to survive there. The Chinese do it well. The Indians do it well.”

You may also like some of these other American Migrant Tales

30 thoughts on “Migrant Tales – Life after 4 Years in NZ, Back in the States the Quality of Life is Better

  1. I am amazed at the extremely broad brushes that are being used not only by the original poster but also in the comments thread.
    I am a Kiwi living in Germany with my German wife and kids and we are contemplating a move to NZ for the sake of the kids and having a more outdoors focused lifestyle.
    New Zealand is by now means perfect. Nowhere is. I have lived in several countries over the years including the US/UK/Ireland/Australia/Germany and feel that on the balance of everything NZ still offers more to me. But each to their own.
    With regards to organic and GMO that has nothing to do with the quality of food. Organic and non-GMO food is not any better or healthier than conventionally farmed foods and GMO foods.

    • You may find that you have a different view of New Zealand when you return. Kiwis that have spent time overseas tend to get treated the same as foreigners. Be prepared for a VERY different experience of New Zealand.

      • I am intrigued to see what will happen. The family will travel to NZ this year so that my wife can visit NZ for the first time and then we will discuss a potential move. I know that the last time I visited 4 years ago, after 3 weeks I was ready to leave and head back “home” to Berlin and was sure that it was not for me. However, 4 years and 2 kids later my views are starting to change – Berlin is definitely not somewhere I want to raise children and the lure of NZ is getting stronger.

        • Hi Timothy – I am in NZ but from USA but am curious as to what you don’t like about Berlin, is it getting bad there too? (I am honestly sorry to hear that)… I have been in NZ over a decade but almost going home and so grateful to. It is wise you are going on a trip here – but please remember that you will feel very different travelling from living the reality here long term – read this site very thoroughly! It is hard to really take in something unless you experience it – but…do you really want to experience what we have? Just a cautionary thought. Wishing you the best – and echoing E2’s comment – there are other countries you might want to consider instead! God Bless!

          • Berlin is a great city as far as big cities go….but I no longer want to be in a big city. Small town Germany is an absolute no-go for me due to the extreme conservatism and xenophobia.

        • Germans I have met out here tend to have high achieving children so you might find you need to factor that into your choice of schools. Also, on a positive note Germans I have met here aren’t shy about demanding high standards and are pretty thick skinned. If your family are like that they will be fine.

        • There are plenty of other countries, but there is only NZ or Germany feasibly available to me. As I said, there are problems with NZ for sure, as every country has, but on the balance of things I think it offers the most to my family. We could also move to another EU country, however, at my age I don’t want to learn another language and rebuild networks in order to try and find work.

    • I agree that nowhere is perfect. I enjoy the outdoor lifestyle in New Zealand. There is a particular problem around having an honest conversation with people. Kiwis like to talk a lot about about how special this country is and how great the people are here. It is really hard to engage people in conversation about the negative stuff. When I first came here, I soon found that if I pointed out something negative I would be called a whinger. I didn’t like that term, it wasn’t how I saw myself I so started keeping my mouth shut. The good thing about this website is that it is a forum to discuss the not so good stuff. I think the broad brushes come about because people can feel isolated. John Kirwan has talked about telling people he had depression and getting told to “Man Up”. Nothing sums up NZ more than getting told to “Man Up” .

      • I wholeheartedly agree with the attitude that NZer’s have of NZ. There is definitely a smugness or arrogance about coming from NZ which is completely unfounded. But at the same time this misplaced patriotism is found all over the world and is not unique to NZ.

    • Depends how long you have been away, how much savings you have and were you intend to move too in NZ. If more than 10 years I think you will be coming back to a vastly different country in many respects. In particular you will notice the now prominent inequality gap between those with a lot and those with little (and the decline of the middle class). The term “working poor” is probably a pretty accurate description.

      • Yes I have been away for more than 10 years. If we do end up moving we would not move to Auckland (where I grew up) I would look for a smaller more relaxed centre…perhaps Napier/Hawkes Bay region.
        I do not doubt that the inequality gap has increased over this period – NZers have got what they deserved in that respect by voting in that complete international embarrassment as a leader

        • I thought John Key was ok for a long time but revelations in the last year about the Government using the likes of Cameron Slater to target people in a malicious way is repugnant. Some of these people are honest, hard working New Zealanders who due to a set of circumstances are critical of the Government on a particular issue. Obviously this is a tactic used elsewhere in the world but enlightening to see the nasty workings behind democracy.

    • Sure, but on the balance of things Glyphosate is far less toxic than the traditional pesticides that it replaced.

  2. I also throw into the mix that NZ has per media reports the highest rates in the world of alcohol/drug consumption while pregnant. That causes a whole range of issues, which I think include the problem with skull development. NZ also leads the world in bullying per media reports, This also creates all sorts of issues. When I was growing up I bet my parents didn’t worry about me or other family members committing suicide.

  3. Regarding nutrition, my husband (he’s Kiwi by the way) has been doing serious research on NZ soils. It is well known among many Kiwis that the soil is deficient in selenium which is why people will often supplement their diet with brazil nuts. However, my husband has discovered that NZ soil is not fertile and is extremely nutrient poor. (He is not a soil scientist but has a geology degree and understands rocks and the composition of soils)

    I have personally felt that the vegetables here (sold at supermarkets, farmer’s markets) are of poor quality- nutrient wise. After eating super high quality “beyond organic” vegetables back in California and grass-fed meat, again by conscious growers and farmers, we have come here and felt our health sink down in a spiral. Of course we could not afford to buy similar quality here (even though we live a very modest lifestyle- no technical gadgets, no manicures, no clothes shopping for me, no new shoes for me, kitchen appliances and bric a brac, furniture all from sallie’s), at times only able to afford meat and veg from pak n save.

    We have experienced health problems which we did not have in California: dental decay, respiratory problems such as asthma and bronchitis, miscarriages, advanced ageing. I have worked with children here and the prevalence of ASD (autism spectrum disorder), behavioural problems, soft easily broken bones, delayed learning abilities, and small heads/faces (indicating insufficient skeletal development) seems to extremely high per capita. I am glad that I have had my kids already before moving to NZ, I would not want to have children here, due to poor nutrition- would be afraid they would have some physical or mental underdevelopment.

    Unfortunately my comment here is not flippant and casual, but based on nutritional knowledge, my husband’s soil knowledge, keen observation and working with Kiwi children. This information does not seem commonly known and I do fear for Kiwis and anyone else eating the food in this country (even if one eats “healthily”).

  4. You must have noticed why there are hardly any indians commenting on this website.Because most of them are on students visa. They have been duped to come to nz. Very low quality indians with no proper education and with no english ability who cant migrate to other countries take nz as a jumping board. Surprisingly nz has removed criteria for IELTS for them. So basically they are bought here for their money and cheap labour. Inside indian community they keep back stabbing each other. Worst is the punjabi indian community which is the majority. Indians from other states are even scared to mingle with this voilent crazy rough community. Asians are the best in forming groups.
    What I see is as a migrant myself that nz govt dosent care for their own citizens. Smarter ones have left nz. Now there is no housing. Govt is forcing people to buy disgusting appartments for half million bucks on the pretext of low interest rates. Which is not going to be like this forever. It is impossible for a person to survive in nz as a single. Its like a web if you are trapped you have to say goodies about nz..if you are rich you can live in your own circle like a king. I have always told my self before going for an interview..my boss shoudnt be a low brain kiwi.
    So basically migrants from developed societies with no groups are isolated. Auckland is like a souless zoo. No decent affordable houses. Dead end jobs. How will someone take risk of taking huge loan when there is no sure way of returning back. Its not just the govt has failed but society as a whole. Not to mention just one city makes up the whole country…rest of the country is in dark ages without a doubt. No migrants or foriegners want to invest outside auckland.

    • Well, I am an Indian and have been commenting here for quite sometime now. There are plenty of other Indians who have commented here as well. I agree that I was duped (came here on a partial scholarship though), however I am no ‘low quality’ Indian and I had proper education even before I landed here, not to mention that I earned a few more degrees after landing here.

      I agree that an average Punjabi has issues, but compared to an average kiwi, they are are levels better. But i do agree that I don’t mingle with them as much as I would have done, If I was in India ( I hail from New Delhi). The only reason why I don’t mingle with them because of language and cultural barriers (India is a multicultural place).

      Asians are forming groups because kiwi don’t intermingle with them or are xenophobic (with the exception of white kiwi blokes eyeing and preying for asian girls). I agree that smarter migrants (and kiwis) have left NZ, however, there are so many other smarter and educated ones who are trapped here (like myself).

      Agree that the properties here are of ‘sub-standard quality’, but no body is forcing anybody to buy the houses. Kiwi are dumb buggers (generally), they have been swindled by the International banking industry for a long time. They like to build wealth on credit. However, the bubble will pop and these same people will be on the streets and they wouldn’t have much worry because they expect the government to help them. See…this problem wouldn’t exists in countries like India, and an average person there never borrows to the hilt like kiwis do.

      Most of the workers are un-educated morons, they have nothing more than a NCEA. Great work is not appreciated here, mediocrity is rife. Governments are created by people and people are morons, thats why the government is just a reflection of their intellect. Mr John key is a smart cookie, he understand that and average kiwi has the IQ of a sheep, he keep the grass green here (or at least paint the grass).

      New Zealand is worse than a third world nation, people feel alienated and disgruntled here. STUPID ONES SURVIVE AND FLOURISH HERE, THE SMARTER ONE ARE PUT DOWN (OR THEY LEAVE).

      • “Great work is not appreciated here, mediocrity is rife.”


        Nailed [part of] it.

  5. I was born in New Zealand and I agree with everything this women has written. They are very weird people. I have been away from New Zealand for over twenty years now and although I have brothers and sisters out there I will never return again.

    The amount of violence within the family dynamic is frightening and how they accept it and normalise it is very strange. I could tell you stories of the violence I suffered at the hands of my own father that would bring tears to your eyes. I have two boys of my own and I could never beat them in such a manner regardless of what they had done but then again I don’t have any concerns there.

    I am now estranged from my whole family because I am not prepared to accept their poor quality behaviour and I am certainly not having them near my children. In the past when they said they were visiting here in Europe it would fill me with dread but now they have all been banned and to be honest, I am a lot happier for it.

    Your average Kiwi has low self worth and will always put you down to alleviate himself. Totally get the jealousy thing / cutting down poppies. Most Kiwi’s are at their happiest point when they are drunk and watching the AB’s.

    Each time I visited there it felt like Ground Hog Day.

    • Thank you Jerry for your perspective. I’m glad you escaped the dysfunction and you are happily enjoying a new productive life off the merry-go-round of “Ground Hog Day” (very appropriate and a great mental picture of what it feels like…made me smile). 🙂

    • Thanks ,I am also estranged from many of my kiwi family as I do not accept nor tolerate their beliefs and behaviour ,sociopathic narcissists .good luck

    • Thanks for sharing the realities people encounter. Far too many times, people like to romanticize a place while ignoring the abject horror so many people face.

  6. Can confirm everything except – why on earth miss the food and coffee? Have had to cook everything from scratch here, and even organic food is cheaper in US than in NZ at regular prices. The restaurants generally are bland and boring, same old sandwiches, meat/curry pies, or the same cold deli fare in most places (pumpkin pasta, sausage roll) or greasy fish/chips; for the most part. Eating at the few nice Japanese or other foreign cuisine restaurants was too pricey to do more than a couple times a year. The choice, quality, abundance and prices are vastly better in the US…especially in certain areas… And oddly enough, I’ve noticed, I can eat LESS ‘healthily’ whenever I’ve visited home (the USA) .. in a short time, I feel great, health vastly improves, my energy is revived – but every time I’m back in NZ, and eating veggies, cooking Extremely “healthy” from scratch every day, I become ill, day in, day out…without end – no amount of vitamins or cooking healthy helps.

    So I’m (genuinely) just curious what she’d miss about the food and coffee?

    • You have a good point about the food. From the perspective of having less GMO I say the food is better but there may also be soil deficiencies in NZ that aren’t being properly addressed. I like the handmade barista coffees on almost every city block as they taste much better than the syrupy brand name coffee joints in the U.S. Yes, the pies, sausages, and British food are fatty but we have that in the U.S. too. I also miss the dark golden yellow egg yolks I got in NZ on unrefrigerated grocery shelves. I find it very interesting that my refrigerated organic U.S. eggs are pale yellow in comparison. A few years ago the regulatory agencies in the U.S. watered down the rules that allowed a product to claim itself as organic. So, unless you grow your own garden in the U.S., I wonder if organic is even organic anymore. Thanks for adding your comments about the food.

        • Michelle,

          I can confirm E2NZ’s comments, the type of feed does determine the colour or egg yolks. My wife and i used to operate a farm producing free range eggs, i.e. the chickens were allowed to forage and eat bugs, snails etc, the result was very yellow yolks. Their diet was more ‘natural’ than some of the large scale certified organic producers in the area.

          Since we’re on the subject—The label ‘Free Range” is meaningless here in Australia since the regulations allow very high density ‘free range’ operations. The consumer magazine “Choice’ recently published a list of genuine free range producers, it’s a lot smaller than than consumers might expect from the labelling.

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