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Queenstown - Where God Starting Showing Off

Posted by Iain on Nov. 9, 2018, 1:54 p.m. in New Zealand Lifestyle

I have been in beautiful Queenstown the past few days, working and getting ready for our five day hike along the Milford Track which starts at sun up tomorrow.

Queenstown is without doubt my favourite New Zealand city. When I help clients plan their ‘Look, See and Decide’ trips to NZ, I always encourage them, no matter what the purpose of their trip, to squeeze a few days staying in this beautiful part of Te Wai Pounamu (South Island). There is no place like it on Earth. Bold claim I know.

I often say to people ‘If there is a God she lives in Queenstown’ such is the magnificence of this place. Rugged snowcapped mountains that lie 15 kilometres away seem to be within touching distance, yet recede as you drive toward them so clear is the air.

I may have been one upped by Oprah Winfrey who when here last year filming said that when it comes to this place ‘God was just showing off’. I couldn’t have said it better.

Although it is termed the adventure capital of NZ, with jet boats racing through steep sided canyons, mountain biking, water sports, fishing, hiking, paragliding, skydiving, skiing and snow sports in winter, along with being one of the areas where The Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed, I tend to think of it as being the ‘chill out’ capital of New Zealand. That might be age talking when restaurants, cafes, bars and vineyards (with restaurants and bars) and orchards (with restaurants and bar) are more your idea of adventure. The wine produced down here is usually world class.

There is definitely something here for everyone.

When you are in a small lakeside city where almost everyone is on holiday it seems that everyone is seriously relaxed, in no great hurry and simply enjoying themselves. As I sat lakeside yesterday, sipping on a damned fine coffee, I could almost feel the stresses of dealing with immigration bureaucrats being sucked out of my midriff. It was a very nice feeling indeed.

Surrounded on all sides by towering mountains at this time of year the highest of which still have snow, the lower ones are now largely clear.

The climate is very benign and ‘continental’ meaning unlike Auckland for example there is minimal humidity and little rainfall with the average annually only 300-400mm; winters are crisp and cold and summers can be very hot. High 20s are common through summer and mid-30s more often than Auckland which lies 1000km closer to the equator. In fact Cromwell, which lies around 50km from Queenstown, has the honour of being both the hottest and coldest city in New Zealand such is the influence of it being east of the Southern Alps and lying in a mountain basin (as Queenstown does, only this Queenstown’s basin was formed by glaciers which supported ice over 1km thick).

Two weeks ago it was 27 degrees here and the next day roads were closed because of snow. That’s spring in this part of the world for you. Yesterday was 22 degrees, today it is 8 degrees as a front passes through and the wind wraps round to the south. Tomorrow it is supposed to be 17 degrees.

The city now attracts 3 million tourists a year and the plan is to double that number over the next decade. Nine new hotels are being built to add to the scores that are already here. They have had to put in traffic lights. They have ‘peak hour traffic’ and the place is expensive.

Chatting to the (English immigrant) taxi driver who charged us $40 for a 5 kilometre taxi ride from the airport, he was moaning about the sheer number of tourists flooding the place pushing up prices of everything - it does have the most expensive real estate in the country. I couldn’t help but ask him to look at his fare meter which was spinning so fast I thought it was broken! To catch a taxi in Auckland five kilometres might cost you $20 but everything seems double down here.

Therein lies the challenge for this place. The more popular it becomes the more expensive it seems to get. And the more people that flock here for the views, the activities and the food the less it becomes about what made it so great in the first place.

It’s a problem facing not just this part of the country but the entire country. We are groaning under the weight of tourists and we are scrambling to build enough facilities, hotels and the like and then find people to work in them, to meet demand.

And being from a relatively big city I crave wilderness (or at least quiet) places but with the roads heaving with rental cars, camper vans and bikes it is becoming harder to capture what I have loved about this town all my life.

How many tourists do we need to give us the lifestyle and income as a country we need?

Queenstown seems to be doing pretty well off the back of what those 3 million people spend now and the place is still pretty amazing. I am not so sure the same would be the case if we see the 7 million being planned (and hoped?) for.

The locals have managed to cap the number of flights landing at the airport and that means the two airlines that fly in here can almost charge what they like. Hotel rooms have to be booked months in advance and cost $250 - $400 a night (you can get cheaper and you can get much much more expensive - as in thousands of dollars per night). A coffee costs $5 and most places we eat at are more expensive than Auckland (which is on par with most major cities now around the world in terms of cost, so not cheap).

Every second bar/restaurant/retail shop has a ‘worker wanted’ sign in the window. This is a city where you can get a work visa without labour market testing to do any type of work (so long as you have a job) such is the chronic shortage of skilled and unskilled people. The fact it is so expensive to live here doesn’t help given tourism and hospitality jobs are usually fairly poorly paid (not sure why given what everyone charges for everything round here!). The city is full of Holiday Working Visa holders from all over the world which adds to the energy and vitality of the place.

This morning I heard Chinese being spoken, Cantonese, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Dutch and I heard English being spoken with accents from Ireland, England, South Africa, Australia and America.

The regional council wants to try and move more of the tourists to Wanaka to spread the load, another drop dead gorgeous big town/small city that lies around 70km away, but plans to expand their airport have been met with solid local resistance.

Freedom campers are everywhere and we don’t have enough public shower and toilet facilities and so they tend to do their business in places they shouldn’t (have to). It is starting to irk a lot of the locals.

Government is spending a relative pittance given tourism is an industry that employs directly or indirectly 400,000 people and is worth something like $25 billion a year, to get facilities in place. Like most governments though it seems to be a case of catch up.

However, as my wife said to me yesterday as we drove over the Crown Range to Wanaka to have a BBQ with a friend, ‘There is just nothing ugly is there? There’s no rubbish. The air is so clear and fresh, the spring growth on the trees almost looks polished and even the sheep look beautiful’.

And that sums this magnificent part of New Zealand up. There is just nothing ugly about it.

I just hope that we don’t get greedy and it becomes ugly through sheer weight of numbers. We need to preserve the reason we all love coming here.

Off tomorrow to start the five-day walk in Fiordland National Park. Had the briefing. Got all the gear in the backpack (all 7 kgs of it) and given it is spring we have been told to be prepared for heat and sun (sun hats and sun block) or cold and rain (water resistant jacket and pants) and for the high mountain passes, possibly even snow (thermal pants and tops)….um, really? Righty ho, anything and everything in five days then?…….

The scariest bit for me is not the weather -  it was the advice that we need to buy ‘special’ insect repellent because apparently the sand flies (midges) are ‘somewhat voracious’.  There was some talk of shotguns to deal with them*. Never see that in the tourist brochures!

I’ll report back next week if the blood hasn’t been all sucked out of me.

*Sandfly joke

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

 

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Tags: lifestyle

Skilled Migrant Point Changes

Posted by Iain on July 31, 2015, 5:58 p.m. in Jobs in New Zealand

The New Zealand Government announced a few days ago that it was increasing the bonus points that can be claimed for a skilled and relevant job offer outside of Auckland from 10 to 30 points. The internet is abuzz!

Not sure why. I suggest everyone stay calm. Much ado about very little.

Government announced they were doing it in order to encourage more migrants to settle outside of Auckland. This was clearly a response to the overheated Auckland property market and rising disaffection by Aucklanders that migrants are contributing to an overheated property market.

As usual when the press get hold of a very modest tweak in an existing policy they get confused on the consequence, don’t seem to bother asking an expert and the misinformation spreads like wildfire.

My inbox is full of enquiries from people asking me if they ‘must’ now get a job outside of Auckland and if this means it is easier to get into the country? One even telling me he read that if you have a job ‘offer’ outside of Auckland you don’t even have to live there but it is now easier to get in if you say you are ‘planning’ on settling outside of Auckland but you don’t actually have to live there.

Oh a dollar for every false rumour!

Sorry folks but this change is modest and if you get a job outside of Auckland you must take it up.

In fact not only must you take up the job you must work outside of Auckland for 12 months. Those with jobs in Auckland ‘only’ have to stay employed for three months for their resident visa to become unconditional.

So how effective will it be? Does it really change anything?

No is the short answer. This is a case of politics trying to trump labour market reality.

The pass mark for those with a job is 100 and so far I am not seeing anything that suggests that pass mark will increase. This policy will only make any significant difference if it does.

This is because a 30, 37, 41, 45 and 54 year old (and everyone in between) will still qualify for residence with a skilled job in Auckland if they have between 8 and 10 years of relevant and related work experience (all other things being equal). Even a 54 year old will still be able to get a job in Auckland, work for a while and accrue the points necessary to get to 100 point passmark.

The only people we have identified that will benefit from this policy would be a 55 year old with no qualifications and at least ten years of work experience related to the job offer he or she gets outside of Auckland. When you hit 56 you cannot apply no matter how many points you might claim or where your job is.

So the winners here? Unqualified 55 year olds. Absolutely neutral for everyone else.

I am in South Africa and have over the past week consulted with 44 families who are looking to gain entry under the skilled migrant category. Only one would benefit from this policy change. One. That individual will now qualify with a job outside of Auckland because he is 55.

More than that it is all very well rewarding people to head out to the regions to spread the skilled migrant love and their skills sets but the reason about 70% of migrants already get jobs in Auckland is largely because that’s where the jobs are. Not all of course and we have clients spread all around New Zealand but around 70% in Auckland.

So might the Government increase the pass mark for those with jobs to 100 or even 120?

They could and that would force greater numbers to look outside of Auckland. Is this on the table? Not as far as I am aware.

I would hope that behind closed doors Government will have been warned against it.

Given Auckland is the engine room of the economy and has the critical economic and cultural mass for many migrant communities (which feeds through into good settlement outcomes) a higher pass mark would prevent many otherwise excellent skilled migrants from coming. 

So the Government has found a nice way of appearing to be doing something without in reality doing anything at all. They did get the headlines they needed however...

Good politics is all folks. So stay calm. You won’t be moving to the sticks – unless you want to.

Our photo competition is going along great guns and we are getting some fantastic photos coming in. I would like to see a whole lot more from those who live in New Zealand and illustrating what it is about every day life in New Zealand that they love.

I am thinking about photos of your house and street (no burglar bars or security walls you South Africans), your children climbing a tree (you Singaporeans), morning coffee at a sidewalk café (you French), walking along the street with your baby in a stroller without a protector, children riding their bikes, your office colleagues, and so on.

I am loving what we are getting but let’s see some of the real life stuff that you love about this wonderful country of ours. If you have missed the competition we are giving away a weekend in Queenstown at the five star Azur Hotel plus $1500 spending money. For further details if you have missed it click here to submit your photo entry - you can enter as many times as you like for more chances to win.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

 

 

Southern Man


Eternal Sunshine of an Immigrant’s Mind

Posted by danni on July 10, 2015, 12:41 p.m. in Immigration

This week I am handing over the keyboard to Danni Balsaras. Danni is an ex-pat South African who has lived in Auckand for a few years now with her husband. She is employed by IMMagine as our Social Media and Marketing Co-ordinator. We have some very interesting disussions together about Advisers, migrants, their expectations (exceeded, met or dashed) and she wanted to provide an insight into how she, and she hopes many other, migrants, view the process of moving from one country to another. In her case, from South Africa to New Zealand.

Take it away Danni...

There’s something to be said about leaving one’s paths behind: the roads you grew up on or where you went to school, the corner shop you loitered around with your friends in your (perhaps) misspent youth, the mall you frequented for your grocery shopping, the place you were married, the hospital you first held your newborn child. These experiences, places and stories are ingrained in our minds and do, as clichéd as it may sound, help form the person that you are. These are the things that you imagine letting go of when you leave your country of birth; these are the chapters in the history of you.

The longing for a sense of “history” in your new country is confronting. A migrant is the epitome of being without roots and even if just subconsciously; you grapple for the comfort of familiarity. You miss it when it is not there. 

But at the same time...don’t we all love the opportunity for a fresh start? After moving I found that my family and I committed to positivity and promised ourselves things like eating healthier, walking more, not taking things for granted, loving each other more obviously. It became clear that we’d orchestrated a massive life change and that changing the details we’ve “always overlooked” would be easy. We had an insatiable sense of doing things better “this time around”.

And the point of this blog post was to say that I’m not sure when that changes, or indeed if it ever does or should.

Of course, it’s not unique to we immigrants to want a fresh start, but the psychology of a great big move tends to prolong this state of mind. In my experience that’s been a good thing - every new adventure has significantly more meaning. Driving down a road we’ve never seen before is thrilling and the 50th time we drive down it we’re acutely aware of it becoming part of our new stories.

The staples never get old: you’re safe; paying tax will benefit you as a member of your new society; lawlessness barely exists in your everyday life; the education system is remarkable and so on. But it’s the everyday living of life stuff that really excites you as an immigrant because over time you begin to get a sense of your own history again, just in a new location, and that’s been one of the most important aspects of integration for me.

 If you’re familiar with the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (or the 18th century poem by Alexander Pope on which the concept for the film was based) you’d know that it involves the idea of erasing portions of one’s memory entirely in an attempt to always be happy.

I’ve often thought about whether doing so would benefit me, and more so as a migrant always comparing my “here” with my “there”.

After 5 years I think I’ve learned that the answer lies in knowing that your book doesn’t end when you leave your country, your memories and your histories aren’t cast aside. The new joy is in taking pleasure out of the everyday opportunities to start afresh. You’re not floundering without roots; you’re trail-blazing with the eternal sunshine of an immigrant’s mind.

Until next week when the Southern Man resumes...



Third Most Prosperous Country

Posted by Iain on Nov. 14, 2014, 4:04 p.m. in New Zealand Lifestyle

New Zealand has once again been ranked in the top three most prosperous countries in the world for 2014.

Topping the annual list this year is Norway followed by Switzerland in second place.

For what it is worth Australia came in seventh so a tidy little double for the Immagine Immigration countries of destination……

The least prosperous country this year was the Central African Republic. The United States came in 10th.

The 2014 Legatum Prosperity Index ranks 140 countries on their health and well being and so assesses factors including education, safety and security, health, economy, entrepreneurship, governance, personal freedom and social capital.

New Zealand ranked first for personal freedom, second for social capital and governance, seventh for education, tenth for safety and security, 15th for economy, 18th for entrepreneurship and 20th for health.

Not a bad effort when you are ranking 140 countries.

Translating this into the sort of lives we lead here I can explain it as reflecting our being a capitalist, socialist democracy which in other words means you have to play your part in paying your way pay but if you cannot, as my neighbour we will not leave you behind. 

That philosophy runs very deep in the DNA of virtually every New Zealander and probably explains why Australia ranks in the top ten as well given their similar (if not louder) worldview and the Scandinavian countries also rank so high.

In new Zealand this mix of free market capitalism with a dose of redistribution of wealth all happens within bounds that the vast majority of New Zealanders are comfortable with.

There is a constant tension (relaxed and good natured if it needs to be said) between the philosophies of those that want untrammelled free markets and no regulation and those that want more centralised planning and Government involvement in our lives.

When it comes to heath, education and pensions for example we are all firmly in the camp of socialising risk i.e. spreading across all taxpayers, the cost of caring and educating all.

It does solve all problems however.

If you look at youth unemployment statistics in New Zealand they can be very high and 18-24 years olds runs as high as 20% in some parts of New Zealand.

Yet only this week the Tourism sector was bemoaning the fact that they cannot get enough young people into changing beds in hotels, bar work, café waiting and the like – there is a labour shortage. They were calling on the government to allow greater numbers of under 31 year olds here on open holiday working visas (meaning they can do whatever they wish without their employers having to prove they cannot find a local to fill the vacancy). Government responded that there are currently 62,000 young people from all over the world filling these sorts of jobs when the annual target was for only 50,000 to be here.

What this demonstrates is that the alternatives to what is often lower paid work in New Zealand are simply too attractive to many young New Zealanders.

It is hard to fathom how in a country which has strong economic growth, 1600 people a week coming off welfare, over 100,000 jobs created in the past 3 years, strong growth in tourist numbers that there is not a bit more ‘stick’ with regards unemployed young people. At this point in time for example the state agencies that are tasked with assisting young people into work do not say – well you can either go to, say Queenstown or Auckland and find work or you can lose your unemployment payments. They are generally allowed to stay living where they are with no incentive built in to getting off their chuffs and working. We do have cars, trains, buses and planes here I often reflect…

In what was an extraordinary first when the NZ government recently offered up to 1000 long term unemployed a one off payment of NZ$3000 (about US$2500) to go to Christchurch where unemployment hovers around 3% and find a job they filled the places. But seriously? We have to pay people who are being paid to do nothing to get off their backsides move to a city to find work?

It is just as well we are a prosperous first world economy and a nation of very tolerant tax payers. If we weren’t things here could get quite ugly quite quickly for a lot of people, particularly the young, who may well have squandered one of the worlds best education systems but who have a mentality of the world owing them a living.

Overall we get the balance pretty much right as is reflected in this survey and once again reinforces the view of many migrants and locals alike that this really is a very special little country. Possibly the best kept secret in the world.

Speaking of which the final seminars for the year in South Africa are underway and I will be travelling to Hong Kong and Singapore in about ten days. If you know anyone that might wish to attend they can click here for details.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man


Growing old gracefully...

Posted by Paul on Oct. 24, 2014, 4:01 p.m. in Retirement

We all grow old. It is an inevitable consequence of living. Can't escape it, can't change it. You may, if you happen to be incredibly wealthy and with no medical aversion to plastic, be able to postpone it, but no matter what tactics you employ to stave off father time, we all get there in the end. 

For some (including myself), the thought of the 'twilight years' brings with it visions of plush leather recliners, comfy slippers and hot cups of tea in the newly built conservatory attached to a free-hold home in the suburbs. This would all be nicely topped off with being able to throw off the shackles of employment (or self-employment) and live a life of freedom away from the daily grind.

For others, the thought of growing old brings a sense of dread. Where will the money come from, will there be support, will I have house, where will I live and of course the overwhelming sense that this burden will have to be carried by the children.

In many countries, caring for the eldery is both culturally and economically the responsibility of the children, which translates, interestingly enough, in to differences in attitudes between how New Zealanders see their responsibility towards parents as compared to people form South Africa, or many parts of Asia.

I'll give you an example of how this works. I regularly catch a ferry home in the evenings and amongst my fellow travellers are Kiwis, Brits and South Africans. There was a group of us yesterday who got on to the topic of migration (it follows me around) and that then led to whether or not each person in the group had considered bringing their parents to New Zealand. The two Brits, who were both ten years plus in New Zealand, were quite adamant:"We love having them here for holidays but anything longer than a few weeks...no thanks" (said in the nicest possible way).

Myself, I wasn't really able to comment as my mother lives in New Zealand (where else would she be?!).

The South African however, who had only been a Resident for a few years was quizzing me right away on the Parent Category, because they had already made up their minds that mum and dad were NZ bound. Given the prospects for the elderly in South Africa, that is a pretty common and understandeable reaction.

I suspect that most New Zealanders have quite a different outlook on caring for their parents than people in a great many countries around the world do; mainly because we have far less to worry about. New Zealand as a country has always had a tradition of looking after its older generation, administered at the State level. Whether that is economically sensible with an ageing population has yet to be fully seen, but for now it works. 

But how does it actually work?

Well we start off with all the usual benefits that are afforded to Residents and Citizens, including first class healthcare, which, lets face it when you are heading into senior years is probably one of the most important 'perks' you will have. You will inevitably need it more and so knowing you don't have to pay for any of it (ever) is quite a nice bonus.

Then on top of this, the state gives everyone over 65 that meets the criteria (see below), a liveable income in the form of superannuation; this is paid even if you continue to work past 65. Granted it is not going to send you on luxury cruises every month but it will keep you supported for the essentials. It was always intended to 'top up' the elderly who by that stage, one would hope, have accumulated their own assets, paid off a mortgage and have some savings.

There are varying rates of assistance, dependent on your circumstances but in basic terms if you are married or in a defacto relationship and you both qualify under the critieria listed below, then each person would receive a fortnightly, after tax amount of $564.52, which over a year would be equal to a combined income of NZD$29,355.04. That would get you to a few bowls matches.

If you are single, then you receive slightly more, taking you to a yearly after tax income of NZD$19,080.88.

Of course there are some rules to qualify for this, which include the following:

  • You must be 65 years of age or over to apply
  • You must be a New Zealand Citizen or Resident
  • You must normally live in New Zealand
  • You must have lived in New Zealand for at least ten years since you turned 20 with at least five of those years being after your 50th birthday.

You can get more information on all of the above, by clicking here>>

Of course there are also other minor perks such as concessions on local transport and cheap entry to Museums, galleries and certain tourist attractions, but the key staples, such as healthcare and an income are given to you by the Government. Add this to a country with one of the lowest crime rates on earth (and falling), then it is easy to see why New Zealand is an attractive destination for not only the younger generation of migrants but their elders as well.

There are of course immigration categories that cater for this, which although were changed a couple of years back in an attempt to reduce parent numbers have actually made it slightly quicker for those parents who come from English speaking backgrounds. This is particularly useful for South Africans, where parents are the next item on the 'to do' list once the kids have migrated.

From my own perspective, I have a mother approaching 80 years of age (in fact 80 next week), she lives in her own home in Hamilton, she receives her superannuation and fortunately for her, she also receives a pension from Holland (having not lived their for over 55 years - another country that looks after its elderly). She travels every two years, does plenty of shopping for her 11 grandchildren and lives an independent, worry free life. I should probably visit her more than I do, but I have no fears that she doesnt have all she needs to live out her twilight years, with comfy slippers, leather recliner and sunny conservatory. Thanks NZ, I appreciate the help.

If you are thinking about making the move or have made it already but want to know what might be available for your parents, by way of a safe and secure retirement, then perhaps you should get in touch. Speaking of which I will be in South Africa, in mid November for two weeks (the last trip of the year, before we all take a break) and the Southern Man will be in Hong Kong and Singapore later in November for our last SE Asia tour.

If you want to attend, drop by the website and register - comfy slippers optional.

Until next week (after the long weekend here)

Paul Janssen, standing in for the Southern Man.


The Daily Grind ... In Paradise

Posted by Paul on July 18, 2014, 3:36 p.m. in Immigration

For anyone who has ever been to one of the seminars we regularly hold in South Africa or Asia, they will be aware of the fact that we give a very realistic picture of what it’s like to live in New Zealand. We don’t sell the country (it sells itself) and we don’t hand out rose-tinted glasses for the show. In fact, we are pretty well known in the industry for calling a spade a spade and giving hopeful migrants a realistic view of what it’s like to live in New Zealand. 

Our world famous (in South Africa and Asia) seminars, although presented by different consultants, all carry the same message: “New Zealand isn’t paradise, but it’s pretty close”. That statement might get a few laughs but the serious point we want to get across is that New Zealand isn't perfect, it just has a lot less problems than most other countries. If you are migrating here don't expect a completely different life, just expect a better one.

Globalisation and the power of international brand media have removed many of the differences that countries used to have and created ‘comfort zones’ where people can latch on to familiar surroundings. You can now walk down pretty much any street in any city in any country and find familiar brand names, foods and corporate logos.  If you are ever stranded somewhere just look for a Starbucks, there is bound to be one nearby.

New Zealand is no different and for most migrants, there are a number of things that they will find familiar when they move here. We have many of the same international brands, drive on the same side of the road (as most) and speak English. We live in houses and apartments, we go to work and to school and we pay our taxes. 

Yet for all the similarities which may be more overt, there are a lot of subtle differences. Differences that really only become apparent when you are part of it all and differences that often catch people off guard (both good and bad).

I regularly tell my prospective clients, when we are sitting down at the initial face to face meeting, to think about life in New Zealand from the perspective of an average working day. Forget about the 'honeymoon period' which normally happens over the first few weeks/months of your arrival. Think about it in terms of the ‘daily grind’.

Unless you have a plentiful sum of available funds to make everyday a holiday for the vast majority of migrants life in New Zealand, in terms of the day to day routine, is going to be pretty much the same.

You will get up in the morning, shower, get dressed and rush through breakfast. You may also need to prepare the kids for school, pack lunches and shuttle them off on the morning family taxi run. You will likely sit in traffic or if you are more eco-conscious stand in line for a bus, ferry or train. A quick stop at Starbucks or for those who missed breakfast McDonalds, before heading to the office, factory floor, construction site or wherever your work takes you. The working day will pass and you will get back into your car and that traffic or on that particular mode of public transport to head home. There will be the evening chores, catching up on the national news which will most likely consist of the latest sports results and finally some time with the kids. Wind down the day, head to bed; wash, rinse, repeat.

Sound somewhat familiar?

It probably will be, but now let’s dig a little deeper for those subtle differences.

If you lived in South Africa your routine would probably be the same up until the time you left the front door. You would of course need to check the security gates and lock all five locks before setting the security system (custom built by the guys that developed the Star Wars program). You most likely wouldn’t have the option of public transport and traffic would take you twice maybe three times as long because no one else uses public transport either. Of course whilst in your car, your doors and windows would be fully locked and intersections would be your morning round of Russian roulette. 

You would work a full day, realising that you are one of a dwindling number of tax payers, wondering whether this job might be your last. You would head home in that same traffic with the same race through those red lights. You would arrive to do another perimeter check before going inside. Dinner and then time to catch up on the latest news, consisting of which politician has now been found funnelling millions of Rand out of Government coffers or any one of a number of stories of upward trending crime statistics. Time with the family before a last security check and then off to bed with one eye on the alarm monitor and the other on the window locks. 

If you happened to live in Singapore, Malaysia or most other parts of Asia your day would also be fairly similar to a typical day in New Zealand but with some ‘added bonuses’. You would probably leave your 33rd story apartment (because landed property is simply too expensive) quite comfortably without the security checks, but you are likely to be on that train or in the car earlier than most other people on the planet. Your work day would actually take most of the day and you would likely be back in the car or on the train/bus nearer to 9pm. Last one out of the office to make sure no one thinks you are shirking your duties. By the time you get home the kids are either already in bed or returning from their multiple after school activities, more tired than you are. You would head to bed, just in time for the alarm to go off on Saturday morning when, for quite a few of you, work would be the first chore for the weekend.

Okay so I might be exaggerating a little bit (but not much). These are the daily grinds that my clients share with me repeatedly and often cited as some of the most common reasons for people wanting to move.

Often people who attend our seminars or meet with us to discuss the potential eligibility are rightly focussed on what life will be like. Will it be the same, will it be different? How will they adjust and what can they expect. To all of them I give a pretty straight-forward answer: “Life in New Zealand, once you are settled and employed, will be pretty much the same in terms of the things you do, it will just be one heck of a lot easier”.

Life won’t be a luxury resort in a tropical paradise and it certainly won’t be an extended holiday but compared to the daily routines of people in other countries, the pace is slower, things are easier to get done, its safe and you can spend more time focussing on you and your family as opposed to working to live. Sure we New Zealander's have our daily grumbles and issues but they are, for the most part, first world problems. They are things that we can live with quite happily. 

In truth, you will never really understand it until you are here and living your own personal routine, doing your normal daily activities in this country, but the key message that we try to give people at seminars is that life in New Zealand compared to life in most other places is a lot more ‘hassle free’. 

If you are interested in finding out more or you are keen to explore what awaits you in our little slice of the globe then our seminars are a good start. We tell it like it is and you can then make up your own mind if it’s right for you. I would hasten to add that we don’t often see people walk away from a seminar disappointed.

Our own Southern Man will be in Johannesburg next week and then in Cape Town and Durban the weeks following. To register for any one of these seminars, click here.

This will be my last blog for a while as the Southern Man will be returning to the blogosphere once more next week.

Enjoy the weekend (even if you have to work for some it) - Paul Janssen

Tags: skills | migrants | lifestyle

For the children...

Posted by Paul on May 16, 2014, 3:26 p.m. in Immigration

The answer to the question “why do people migrate?” is nearly as complicated as working out the meaning to life or the location of a certain missing air-plane. The reasoning can include anything from lifestyle, work/life balance and education all the way through to the weather and people keen to live in a place where hobbits are rumoured to roam.

For most migrants however, their reasons for making the move are almost always a by-product of the desire to seek out a better life for their children. Whether its mum and dad wanting better employment prospects for their three teenage children or the newlywed couple without kids doing their ‘future planning’; the overwhelming response to the question that I ask most of the people I meet is, “we are doing it for the children”. To illustrate the point, only 10 or so years ago our average client from South Africa was married, mortgaged and middle class with a couple of teenage children in tow. Now we are seeing a much wider range of younger migrant hopefuls in their mid-twenties, who have yet to experience the joy of parenting but shudder at the thought of raising children in their own country. No matter where our clients come from though, the thread that ties the majority of them together is seeking out something better for the next generation.

And fair enough to, that’s what we parents are engineered to do.

There are very few places on earth where children can enjoy the relative freedoms that Kiwi kids take for granted. Children here can access a world class (and largely free) education system and top notch healthcare facilities also publicly funded. All of this on top of the fact that they can simply enjoy being children without the stress, fear and anxiety that many societies throughout the world impose on their youth from a very early age.

Of course, New Zealand isn’t perfect and our children face many of the normal social pressures and issues that plague most countries. As parents in New Zealand (and I am one) we still have to exercise common sense and parental responsibility (as far as one can with their children) to ensure that our kids grow up to be decent human beings. The comparison, however, is that most of the issues we have to deal with are within our control. As parents we are faced with the daily challenges of stroppy toddlers and stroppy teenagers, too much TV, associating with the wrong crowd and too much time on Facebook; all relatively minor when you consider what parents in other parts of the world have to contend with.

Let me give you a few examples.

I read an article in Singapore last week discussing a survey, where one in three Singaporean children between nine and twelve years of age, considered that their life was not worth living, owing mainly to their fear of academic failure. These children and I stress that at that age they are very much children, are so afraid of not being able to compete within the education system that they question whether their life has that much meaning. Surely that is a problem. There is no doubt that Singapore has created an outstanding academic system and one that is capable of producing any number of Engineers, Doctors, Software Gurus or Investment Bankers, but if a third of your very young academic population is questioning whether they should continue living before they are barely out of diapers, something is essentially going to give way. Unfortunately, this not just an issue in Singapore but for many South East Asian countries were academic competition has become a national past time.

Some might say that New Zealand could do with a sprinkling of this competition and that our system is perhaps a little too ‘bell curve’ oriented, focussing on making sure everyone feels like a winner rather than drawing a line between those who can and those who cannot. There is probably some truth to that, but the overwhelming difference is that children in New Zealand who want to achieve and are supported by their parents in doing so, can. They are also able to do this without feeling the entire weight of society on top of them from the age of six. We also tend to give children a ‘social education’ and not just book smarts. We teach kids how to tackle the world, which in many cases is just as important as giving the academic tools.

As a parent to an almost three year old, I know that whilst the system might have changed, my daughter will have access to a similarly rounded education that I had. Able to pursue whatever academic interests she may eventually have and be well equipped to apply that learning and grapple with life after school; no different to the education I received when I was a youngster.

For other parents, education might be lower on the priority list and the focus may be more heavily on whether their kids make it home at night. Let me first state that parents will always worry what their kids are up to, or what they are doing; there is, however, a big difference between routinely wondering whether your child is out late at a party or hanging with the wrong crowd and worrying whether they have been the victim of a rape, mugging, abduction or shooting. For many of our clients the latter is something that concerns them daily.

Of course you still have to be vigilant in New Zealand to ensure your children are safe, although most of these factors we can influence or at least try to. We don’t have the same concerns of violent crime on every street corner and the fear that their school may be shot to pieces in a shoot-out. The whole realm of worry and concern for parents in New Zealand is several degrees less in this country. Our most recent statistics show that crime has fallen 4% across New Zealand in the year ending December 2013 and 93% of our population feels safer. There aren’t too many places in the world where crime overall is falling and people have greater confidence in the protection that police can provide for themselves and their children. All of this, without the need to carry a gun on their hip.

Beyond the stresses of education and the desire to live in a safe, peaceful country many parents who migrate have, at the top of their list of concerns, the long term future for their children. Questions like “will my child get a job” are far easier to answer here than they are in say South Africa, where the prospect of securing employment is determined by the colour of your skin. In New Zealand children can grow up to pursue whatever careers they wish and are limited only by their own desire to excel and succeed. We have no racial quotas designed to allocate jobs to certain ethnicities and, in fact, we have one of the most equal employment markets in the world. The sky is most certainly the limit for children in New Zealand and we have a system that enshrines this equality in almost every facet of the legal system.

These are but a few of the reasons that New Zealand is a very attractive proposition for migrants looking to secure a better future for their children (or children to come) and the list extends to many other facets of life. Freedom of religion, a fair and tolerant society, minimal to non-existent corruption and a clean, green healthy environment are a few of the other reasons I give my clients whose focus is squarely set on doing this for their children.

Yes, New Zealand has issues when it comes to kids, and I am not pretending that this is the perfect incubator for children, but in reality when you compare it to almost every other country on earth the statistics, no matter how they are framed, all point to this country being right up there.

So for many people considering this move whose focus is on what they can do for their children, New Zealand represents a great start in life. That isn’t to say that New Zealand isn’t a great place for parents as well, but we all know that the sacrifices we make for our children know no bounds and migration is simply another thing many people do to give their kids a better head start.

If you have ever thought about what your child’s life might be like in ten years and then started to sweat nervously or reach for a cup of something stronger than tea, perhaps it might be worth finding out what New Zealand can offer. 

Until next week
Paul Janssen
Tags: sibling | migrants | lifestyle

NZ Tops in Social Progress for 2014

Posted by Iain on April 4, 2014, 11:40 a.m. in New Zealand Lifestyle

I don’t often get excited by surveys but when one appears that affirms the message we give potential clients, I do get excited. Few have excited me as much as one released this week from the Washington based Social Imperative Forum that ranks countries by social progress. 

It’s not as dull as it sounds as it goes to the heart of what our society is about, how we got here and what challenges remain.

The survey asks three essential questions:

 

  1. Does a country provide for its people’s most essential needs? 
  2. Are the building blocks in place for individuals and communities to enhance and sustain wellbeing?
  3. Is there opportunity for all individuals to reach their full potential?

It ranks New Zealand top out of over 130 countries for social progress. While historically Gross Domestic Product has been the indicator of choice as a measure of the ‘success’ of an economy and a country, what I like about this report is that it looks beyond that purely economic measure and looks at overall wellbeing.

It paints a picture of an egalitarian society that is cohesive, relatively prosperous with real opportunities for all, irrespective of background, but which also confirms what we always advise people – it ain’t paradise and it does have problems. But as a client from South Africa once told me the big difference between countries like mine and his (that he was leaving) is having lived in New Zealand for a while this little country of ours has no problems it cannot solve.

What is interesting is that we have achieved this top ranked status through a mix of open economy, strong and transparent democracy along with the socialising of three sacred pillars of our society – tax payer funded education, healthcare and social security. 

What struck me is that we rank 25th in the world for per capita GDP proving there are 24 countries where people are wealthier but none are better off.

It also fidentified some things which at first glance appear at odds with a county where everyone looks out for everyone else – we have a relatively high rate of death through pregnancy, we come mid-table for suicide and we are getting very fat…

A closer examination of this explains these apparent anomalies.

With 15 deaths of pregnant women per 100,000 we rank 76th yet experts in New Zealand explain that this is because New Zealand captures the deaths of all pregnant women for many reasons other than death during childbirth (a rate which is actually extremely small) and captures those that die of pre-existing conditions and heart failure for example.

On suicides New Zealand is known for examining all ‘suspicious’ deaths through referral to the Coroner and where most countries will not call the death a suicide, New Zealand does. So it is not so much that New Zealanders are jumping off buildings in greater numbers,  so much as we investigate deaths and if the conclusion is suicide we call it as it is. Most countries, including highly developed ones, do not. We are statistics and accuracy freaks.

There is no denying New Zealand has an obesity epidemic and that is very real, dragging us down the ‘progress’ ladder. I have to say given what you put in your mouth is individual choice there is possibly not a whole lot that can be done about it. Except educate and try and change behaviour. 

So why are we doing so well?

I am convinced it is our history. The early settlers in New Zealand were determined to establish a (relatively) classless society where ‘Jack is as good as his Master’. I often speak to this at seminars and how deeply this egalitarian ideology runs in our DNA.

Simply put, we give a damn about one another and look after each other. It serves us all very well.

How did we achieve this?

  • A progressive but fair taxation system.
  • Tax payer funded healthcare, education and pensions for retirees.

The report in many ways explains our success but equally points out fairly where we can do better and where challenges remain (Maori, for example, make up 15% of the population yet represent over 50% of all prison inmates).

New Zealand is not perfect but we seem to be doing an awful lot right.

This helps to explain why I wouldn’t want to raise a family or live anywhere else. I urge you to read it (click here to download the report) if you are thinking of joining us in New Zealand (particularly pages 47-49). I could not sum up the essence of New Zealand better.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man


Auckland Needs To Grow Up

Posted by Iain on March 14, 2014, 4:10 p.m. in Living

It’s time for my home town, Auckland, to grow up. 

Literally.

Debate has begun raging across the isthmus that is home to the fast growing city of Auckland over whether to grow out or up.  The Auckland Council’s proposed Unitary Plan released for discussion several months ago, among other things, plans for rezoning many suburban areas allowing medium density housing and apartments.

Including my own in Mount Eden, a suburb that was settled and built during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Leafy streets and old Victorian villas line these pretty neighbourhoods. And some see their preservation as critical to the character of the city.

I am not sure I agree. Cities change. Cities grow. Who is to say that pressed steel ceilings, bay windows and dark, gloomy often cold in winter and hot in summer Victorian houses represent the peak of urban architecture? Yes they speak of our ancestry and our forebears, but the truth is they are in many ways an architectural oddity and are out of place in a South Pacific setting. Designed by British Architects for a British climate (which Auckland demonstrably is not) they are certainly pretty but having lived in two they are terribly impractical and not suited for the sub tropical climate of Auckland.

Over recent years we have seen, particularly on the fringe of downtown Auckland but also in other more traditionally suburban areas, the rise of apartment blocks. Now the suggestion is to expand the footprint of increased urban density into suburbs like my own and in particular, along major (public) transport arteries.  As might have been expected, the n.i.m.b.ys (not in my back yard) are out in force seeking to ‘preserve’ both historical architectural styles and a lifestyle many view as sacrosanct.

Where I live in Mount Eden our end of the street, which lies close to a major arterial transport route, has been designated for change from single dwelling units on land parcels of at least 350 – 800 square meters to low rise (4-6 floor) mixed use apartments/commercial. 

My neighbours are up in arms and my letterbox is being stuffed full of prepared submissions ready for my signature to forward on to the Auckland Council demanding my street not be touched. All around me I am being exhorted by local groups to sign petitions and demand that our street not be ‘destroyed’ by this proposed intensification.

People are outraged. I am excited.

I want to tell the Auckland Council I am well on board with the changes.  They will be good for the suburb. Good for our part of the city. Good for a greener Auckland through more efficient and regular public transport services with potentially (if we do it right) less use for single occupant cars.

And yes it will see many streets altered visually and part of me believes that bowling a beautiful old house like our own is a form of cultural vandalism but who says something better, warmer, drier and lighter cannot replace it? Architecture does not stand still.

The thing is we have a choice in Auckland – keep growing the city out (it is already among the largest cities by area in the world – 94 kilometres from its northern tip to southern) over highly productive farm lands and forests or do what all modern cities before us have tended to do – build vertically.  As Auckland has grown in recent years public transport is certainly better than it was (buses and trains are now frequent but need greater densities of people that a larger scale brings) but there are all sorts of other benefits to what is in fact very modest intensification that seem to be being missed by the naysayers.

For starters more people living within, say ten minutes easy bus ride from downtown Auckland, is going to bring more vibrancy through concentrating people, shops and other urban amenities in a smaller area. Who does not love the idea of more places to eat, more places to socialise with frequent public transport? I believe it might, as proposed, make communities closer not tear them apart. We are not talking about anything more than 4-5 stories in most parts of the city. People want our train services to be more regular and convenient and not cost the rate payer in subsidies. That will only happen with greater population densities along the feeder routes and station hubs.

No one is talking Hong Kong or Singapore with shoeboxes and people living cheek by jowl high in the sky. We are talking north Manhattan with three to four storied apartment buildings. We are talking a vertical village here, not Gotham.

We are blessed with a lot of green space in Auckland and no one is talking about changing this. Except to expand them.

With an ageing population there is a demand shift already taking place where those of my generation are increasingly looking forward to the day we can move into a reasonable sized apartment of perhaps 120-150 square metres, free up some capital from our houses and land and spend less time maintaining the house and spending more time travelling and enjoying the city, rest of New Zealand and the world. Lock and leave. Those of us who bought into the more central suburbs when we were younger can easily buy an upmarket apartment for NZ$450,000 - $800,000 in the same area, thus freeing up at least as much cash from the sale of our existing freestanding properties owing to the high value of the land upon which our houses stand.

The time surely arrives in most big cities when a portion of single dwellings need to be replaced by apartment living – it not only makes sense in terms of making our city more efficient, vibrant and exciting, it is what a growing percentage of the population is demanding. In Auckland we will have within the next year more than 20,000 apartments and around 3000 are coming on stream each year. There is clearly growing demand. Many migrants would prefer low rise apartment living (bigger than the shoeboxes many live in now high in the sky in Singapore, Hong Kong and Jakarta) to a freestanding house (although it has to be said many of my clients are in love with the thought of a back lawn and garden) and New Zealanders returning home after living overseas are also sold on the concept.

As with all such transitions this will create tensions in neighbourhoods but that is part and parcel of urban living anywhere. I have little doubt, however, that for decades to come there will still be plenty of freestanding houses with a patch of grass and gardens for those that want them. We will preserve, and indeed increase, green spaces for the citizenry to walk the dog and play with the kids. But equally there will be more people living more closely together and that will bring its own rewards and challenges.

I, for one, won’t be signing any petitions to try and prevent it in my neighbourhood

I welcome it.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man

Tags: lifestyle | housing | auckland

Cost of Living in NZ...?

Posted by Iain on March 5, 2014, 3:22 p.m. in Living

Now I am not sure if being named the world’s most expensive city to live in is any reason for Singaporeans to celebrate, but it may be a mantle they’d prefer not to have.

The announcement this week from the Economist Intelligence Unit that Singapore has now leap frogged Osaka, Tokyo, Moscow, New York, London and Sydney as the world’s (alleged) most expensive place to live in is, I suspect, not a whole lot to be proud of and perhaps explains in part the continued popularity of our seminars here in the city state.

Of course it might also be quite misleading.

I certainly don’t find it excessively expensive as a place to visit but then I guess I am not trying to buy a shoebox apartment in the sky, educate my children or get sick and need hospitalisation either……and this information is designed specifically to give companies an idea of what it will cost their Executives and other ex-pats to live in the 140 odd cities surveyed.

The survey doesn’t reflect what it costs the average person to live in Singapore, New York, Sydney or Auckland for that matter. Locals I imagine have a different spending profile to ex-patsand Executives and don’t usually shop in luxury stores, send their kids to international schools and often they live in cheap(ish) public housing, buy their clothes at H & M or Takashimaya, educate the majority of their children at local schools and they use public transport to boot. The ex-pats tend to have cars. Cars in Singapore are the most expensive in the world and international schools don’t come cheap.

It is possible then, as with all these sorts of surveys, a case of lies, damned lies and statistics. Or be very clear who the target audience is. Given you can still eat well for $10 at a local hawker centre on the one hand yet pay a small fortune for a meal at a five star restaurant, where a (modest) beer along Orchard Road can set you back $18 yet you can buy the same one for $4.50 if you head off the main tourist routes, where high end clothes are eye popping in price yet you can get reasonable kit at many local stores, I suspect many Singaporeans would rightly conclude it might be really expensive for ex-pats and high flying execs but for them it isn’t.

Which segways nicely into this week’s planned ‘Letters from New Zealand’ topic. I was stunned to read a report in the New Zealand Herald last week that suggested a family of four only needs to earn a little over $18 an hour or roughly NZ$38,000 a year in order to live. The article did not make clear whether it was before or after tax. I got the feeling it was before tax. That translates into roughly $600 a week to provide shelter, food, transport, clothes and so on for four people. It is a little over $700 a week if it did not include tax.

When we are asked by potential clients what a family of four needs to live a dignified life in Auckland out in the suburbs in a three bedroom house we tell them in our opinion the true figure lies between $4000 and $5000 a month or roughly $60,000 a year. That’s almost double what this survey suggests.

So which is right?

I have over the past week been researching as many different statistical sources as I can and my conclusion is that a family of four may be able to live in small town New Zealand for $600 a week principally because the cost of housing (mortgages or rent) is significantly lower than in the major cities like Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Anywhere else I simply don’t believe a family of four could do much more than survive on such a meagre amount without state support and supplements (which are freely tossed about).

People who rent property in New Zealand tend to spend about 20% of their income on shelter, around 25% on food, around 11% on transport, 12% on restaurants and eating out(!), utilities 10% and roughly 25% on everything else.

Of course one factor that does push down the cost of living in New Zealand is the fact that my forebears (wisely in my view) decided to socialise risk – education in order to provide an equal opportunity for all, health through massive economies of scale and of course social security/pensions and the like. So whereas in countries like Singapore taxes are lower than New Zealand the cost of living ends up at least as high if not higher for most families as they are largely on their own in terms of the things New Zealand tax payers take for granted – education, health and social security.

If you consider then that most people have those costs largely covered by their taxes perhaps $38,000 a year does cover everything else.

But I still doubt it.

I should also add that our clients tend not to be average – they tend to be more educated, more skilled and have greater savings than many New Zealanders so perhaps our estimate of what they need to continue enjoying that upper middle socio-economic existence is accurate for them and simply reflects the fact they live in more expensive areas, eat at more expensive restaurants, prefer iPhone 5S to the cheaper Nokia and they make sure their kids all have the latest gadgets. That certainly applies to some but not all.

I have analysed what it might cost a single person who arrives in Auckland, say, to find employment in order to progress their skilled migrant aspirations. The number I came up with? Around $2000 a month being $1000 a month for shorter term and modest accommodation, around $500 a month on food (if they cook) and around $500 on cellphone, transport (public) and other expenses. Add a partner and you probably add about $500 a month. Add two children and you’d add a further $1000. 

So once these people have secured employment if they were to rent a two bedroom apartment in downtown Auckland or on the city fringe they possible can live on that $600-$700 a week but there won’t be a lot of luxuries.

My experience tells me that once people are in well paying jobs they start to add those luxuries and pushing up those expenses to the $4000-$5000 a month.

So while I would not dismiss the report in last week’s newspaper I’d hope that people appreciate that in New Zealand, just as in most countries, there are wide disparities in the incomes people need to live, what they would describe as a ‘comfortable’ and dignified existence. There is a big difference in how we choose to spend our income, where we want to live, whether we use public or private transport, public or private schools, public or private health providers, wear LV jandals or Haviannas and so on. Generalisations can be difficult.

My advice is to base your planning on the $4000 - $5000 a month for a family of four for migrants especially given most of you will end up (or have ended up) in Auckland where property values are somewhat over the top and therefore cost of living is higher. While you will earn more in Auckland (the average salary is $75,000 a year against $53,000 across the whole country) you will also spend more.

Speaking of expensive cities I am in Hong Kong for the next few days giving our first seminar there on Saturday 8 March. I am quite excited to be returning there after an absence of 15 years. If you know anyone that might wish to attend they’ll need to register on our website without delay.

Until next week.

Tags: lifestyle | housing | auckland

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