11 April 2013

Our life in the UK vs our life in NZ

Mags from Ginger Organizing asked, "Did you ever watch a programme called "Wanted Down Under" when you were in the UK - families who were considering a move to Aus/NZ got to try out the lifestyle before making the decision. They looked at work opportunities, school for the kids, property and then choose whether the UK or Aus/NZ was better.

"I had been thinking it would be nice if you could do a post on those lines, sharing your thoughts on life in NZ and how it compares to the UK and South Africa - what are the pros and cons in terms of work, property, education, family/friends, shopping/entertainment, etc., etc."

Thanks for the question, Mags! Yes, we obsessively watched Wanted Down Under in the years leading up to our emigration! We obviously especially enjoyed the New Zealand episodes, although the Australian ones helped confirm that we had made the right choice for us in choosing NZ.

I'd be happy to let you know my thoughts on life in NZ compared to the UK, but unfortunately can't really compare to South Africa as it's been so long since we left (Nov 1999).


Grant is the one in full time employment. Between college and temporary placements before he was put on section it was a full year between finishing work in the UK and beginning his permanent placement here in NZ. Consequently, he didn't have a direct comparison. For a while he said it was the same but then he watched a reality programme set in Blackpool, featuring people he had worked with (it was a show following people after they had made their emergency calls) and he was reminded of the kind of things he had to deal with, and the abuse from the public, etc.

It reminded him of what it was really like in the UK and he was relieved to report that it's much better here. The public respect the police SO much more and he has more discretion here than he did in the UK. I can't go into a lot of detail but suffice to say it's a lot better here in many ways.

A negative would be that his rate of pay increase isn't as good here. And, of course, they didn't take into account his previous experience and he has had to start right at the bottom as a new recruit.

As you may remember I worked in retail for 4 months. I enjoyed it and even though I hadn't worked retail in the UK I could see how different it would be (NZ being better).

Overall we prefer work here in NZ.


The houses are sure different than they are in the UK. Most are single-storey. Most do not have double-glazing, but that has changed for houses built within the last 4 years - they now have to have double glazing to meet code.

In terms of heating, houses may have open fireplaces, cast-iron woodstoves, a heat pump (wall-mounted heater and air-conditioner) or portable heaters. Yes, winter is kind of miserable. It doesn't get really cold but whatever temperature it is outside, it can be close to that inside. Heating bills can be extortionate because the houses are often not well insulated, and of course single-glazed windows let all the warmth out. It's normal for the windows to be dripping and running with condensation inside in winter.

We haven't had a winter in the house we are currently renting, but I know it's going to be a cold one because there is no insulation beneath the floors (not sure about the roof), and we have single glazing throughout. We do have a woodstove in the dining room and a fireplace in the lounge, as well as heat lamps in the bathroom, but I don't know how much help they'll be overall.

House prices in Auckland particularly are gob-smackingly expensive, and rising due to demand. The demand for housing in Auckland is such that there is a need for 17 new houses to be built every day (which, of course, isn't happening). I'd say rental prices are about the same as in the UK where we live but much higher closer to the city. Purchase prices are much higher even where we live.

We paid about £250k for our house in England a few years ago (5 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 2 reception rooms, cellar) - here in Pukekohe for the same price we'd get a 3-4 bedroom house in a decent area. And we are about 45 minutes from the CBD so prices down here are much cheaper than they are further north in Auckland proper (we are kind of on the outskirts). You're looking at double that on the North Shore.

New houses, and a lot of houses that have been renovated, have an open plan layout. Most have either a separate laundry room or a laundry area in the garage (in the UK a lot of houses have the washer / dryer in the kitchen).

Most houses are fully detached, or else they are described as a unit and there will be 2-4 in a row together. In the UK there are so many semi-detached and terraced (row) houses that the space around each property here feels like a luxury.

Overall we much prefer the heating / insulation of UK houses but everything else about NZ houses.


In the UK kids start full time school the September after they turn 4, even if their birthday was August 31st. Here in NZ the school year runs from January to December and kids start school the term after they turn 5, even if it's the middle of the school year.

Over here many primary schools run from year 1 to year 6, then the kids switch to Intermediate school for years 7 and 8, then they switch to high school from years 8-13. Yes, that's three school uniforms to purchase.

Some primary schools run through to year 8 and some country schools run all the way through from year 1 to 12, all in one place.

Class sizes have seemed to be about the same as in the UK but the teachers have much less behaviour problems to deal with and can spend more time actually teaching.

The work they do seems to be similar, in fact Noah and Daniel were both a little ahead when they first started schooling here so it may be behind the UK in some areas, or that could be because of the overlap of school years (they had just about completed a UK school year when we arrived in NZ in June 2011, and then continued until December so they had an extra 6 months of schooling that year).

Lots of kids of all ages walk to school on their own. Many kids go barefoot to school (year round!) They do have slippers left in their classrooms in case they get chilly - whether students arrive barefoot or not, shoes are always left outside the doors. This isn't necessarily true for all areas of NZ, but we are practically out in the country in Pukekohe ;)

In some ways the schools here remind me of the schools back in South Africa from when I was a kid.

Although bullying occurs everywhere, I it seems there is less of it (and less severe) here in NZ than in the UK.

Overall I prefer the schools here.

Family / friends

We left family behind when we emigrated to England in 1999, so it's normal for us to be away from relatives. I do have some relatives in England, but none who lived near us. I have some relatives here in NZ too, but they live over an hour away.

But I have found it SO much easier to make friends here in NZ! Overall the people are friendlier, more open, less judgemental and more accepting.

I can't express a preference either way as I desperately miss family and friends in the UK and they could never be replaced by those here. But the friend-making situation is better here.

Shopping / entertainment

Grant earns pretty much the same (comparatively) as he did in the UK, but it doesn't go as far. Rent is much higher than we were paying on house loans in England, food is very expensive, goods are very expensive and entertainment - what's that? We can barely afford any.

The few times we have gone out to eat we weren't that impressed, compared to places we used to eat out in England.

We knew NZ was expensive before coming out here so I was prepared for that but man, does it suck. Everything costs so much! Yes, I get that NZ is the back end of beyond on the globe and it costs a lot to freight anything in. It just sucks sometimes.

As far as shopping, even if I had oodles of cash the choice and variety is SO SO much less than in the UK. We have like 10% of the items or shops to choose from. It can get frustrating.

One thing that is free here is public TV. In England you have to pay a TV license fee to be able to watch TV but that's not true of NZ. I'm not saying the TV available is wonderful, just that it's free ;)

But there is SO much to do here in NZ that is free - although most of it is outdoors. You've seen plenty of trips to the botanic gardens, Hamilton Gardens, beaches, waterfalls, forests, the museum, etc here on my blog - all absolutely free. And most of the time we even have the good weather to enjoy it ;)

Overall we much prefer shopping / entertainment in the UK, but the outdoor lifestyle here in NZ.

Overall thoughts

Just like you could make a pros and cons list about having a baby, and see that logically it's maybe not a great idea (expensive, time-consuming, ties you down, etc), in the end it's a heart decision and you have to go with what your heart says. Although it's not logically the best choice, having children will usually end up being the best decision you can make.

It's the same for us. Although on paper we were better off in the UK in a lot of ways, we are SO much happier here in NZ! It just suits us. We relate to the people here so much better, people get my sense of humour, we feel like we fit in, it's a lifestyle that just works for us.

I have been thinking about my health recently and realised that if someone had sat me down before we emigrated and said, "You can move to NZ but you'll have a life-long auto-immune disease, or you can stay here in the UK" I still would have chosen to come. Through all we've been through it was just the right decision for us, no matter how much sense it made (or didn't make) on paper.

I've absolutely no regrets.

That's not to say that it would be the right choice for everyone, but I'm happy to say it was the right one for us. The prospect of spending the rest of my life in England gave me a sense of panic. The thought of spending the rest of my life in NZ feels too good to be true. I feel so blessed to be here.

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