It’s human nature to leer over the fence and marvel at how much better the neighbours have it.
This also plays out on a much bigger level, as Kiwis consider whether it is worthwhile to pack their bags and head abroad in search of an improved lifestyle.
But would it be worth it?
As the world has become more globalised, it has become easier to compare nations and gauge which offer the best opportunities for workers.
Some differences can be stark. Take, for instance, the fact that the highest income earners among OECD countries – those in the United States – earn eight times that of their Brazilian counterparts.
Behind Ireland, Kiwis boast the second-largest expatriate diaspora in the developed world: more than 14 per cent of us live abroad. For context, that’s twice as much as Britain.
Meanwhile, the United States offers a meagre 0.5 per cent of its population to the globalisation effort.
Here’s a first-hand rundown of Kiwis living in countries around the world:
Overall OECD rank: #3
Job availability: #21
Housing affordability: #25
Victoria Constantine works in a Vintage Clothing Store in Melbourne’s hip Collingwood district six days a week, as well as performing DJ sets on two evenings.
She likens her surroundings to “old Grey Lynn”, beaming about Melbourne’s evolution into a 24-hour city offering through-the-night public transport, and the government-funded Medicare system that makes GP visits free, alongside free mental health counselling sessions and myriad other healthcare benefits for locals.
Australia remains the biggest drawcard for Kiwis moving abroad – 20,440 have made the permanent move to “the lucky country” last year alone.
Despite successive government’s efforts, economically speaking Australia outstrips its younger cousin to the southeast on virtually all economic metrics that benefit the workforce.
According to the OECD, Australians earn on average 32 per cent more than Kiwis, a gap that has progressively widened since 2001.
The story is similar when it comes to leave: low-wage Australian employees get an extra week of leave over the customary Kiwi four weeks.
The Labour-led Government’s maternity leave reforms have put Aotearoa ahead of Australia in the maternity leave stakes, but only by about $200 a child.
Kiwis work on average an extra 100 hours a year, and Sydneysiders enjoy an extra 584 hours in the sun, over their Auckland-based contemporaries.
Kiwis, like Brisbane-based musician Reuben Bradley, originally from Wellington, also say where Australia really shines is the land of opportunity. “I’m busier than I have ever been, I’m making probably more money than I ever have, and there’s some great people. I’m working with a lot of great musicians,” he says.
“I miss Wellington, and New Zealand is a great scene for getting things up and running, but as far as reaching a bigger market, Australia is much better.”
OECD rank: #16
Job availability: #12
Housing affordability: #20
The default destination for young Kiwis embarking on their overseas experience, the UK is a stone’s throw from continental Europe. Discount flights to the likes of France, Italy, Spain and Germany start as low as £1.
Our common grasp of the English language means Kiwis are in demand in the UK and Aotearoa’s colonial roots grant Kiwis under the age of 30 a two-year working visa, convertible into permanent residency, through sponsorship by a local employer.
London boasts more foreign exchange transfers every day than any other financial hub, meaning it is often branded “The Financial Capital of the World” and its foundation of the common-law standard means it’s a favourite for Kiwi law and finance graduates.
Travelling virtually halfway round the world also pays dividends as the country rates 11 in the OECD’s wages index, nine spots ahead of New Zealand at 20.
But it’s no wonder so many Kiwis spend their time in the country trying to get out of it.
The UK’s nickname of “Old Blighty” isn’t without reason. Not only does the UK winter regularly welcome snow to street level, which can wreak havoc with everything from public transport to commerce, it also features 1 hour and 50 minutes less daylight on average each day in the thick of winter.
The overcast weather combined with everything from housing affordability sees the UK trail the land of the long white cloud on the OECD’s Better life index by five points at 16.
But advertising executive Ben Ovington, who has held jobs everywhere from Harvard University to Apple Computer, says it can be a rat race that’s hard to quit.
“Living in London is a very fast-paced environment, it’s a global city, it’s a lot more hours than I was used to in New Zealand or Australia and even if you earn a decent wage here, London can take a lot in terms of living costs,” he says.
“I haven’t been home in the past five years. Once you get into it – the career progression, the opportunities – it’s hard to leave and I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.”
Overall OECD rank: #5
Job availability: #10
Housing affordability: #4
Maple syrup and ice hockey aren’t the only things the second-largest country in the world has on offer for Kiwi migrants. More than 1200 New Zealanders made the permanent move to Canada last year – a number that increased from about 900 when musician Matt Paul shifted four-and-a-half years ago.
“I came here for the opportunity, it’s sort of an economy of scale thing, what with it being a similar culture, it’s definitely an improvement in the possibilities within music, the festivals and the travel round, it really does make things a lot easier,” says Paul.
The similarities between New Zealand and Canada go beyond culture. Wages sit just $10,000 a year higher than the average Kiwi wage, but Canadians pay for the boost to their bank balance with just two weeks of government-mandated annual leave a year.
As in New Zealand, healthcare is also looked after by the state.
Canadians boast the highest percentage of university graduates in the world: more than half the population have tertiary qualifications.
Connie Boston, a film production assistant from New Zealand says that can make things competitive for new migrants.
“I make CA$259.33 a day, which is pretty great but that is for 15 hours, and I do not get paid overtime until I work 15 hours, so that can equal a 70-hour work week most weeks,” she says.
“I’ve worked days where I have shot for 22 hours, which is brutal.”
Paul agrees: “It lacks the home feel and the supportiveness that we have in New Zealand.”
And although brutal, it’s not insurmountable.
Kiwis work on average 58 hours a year more than Canadians and when you do eventually get that well-earned time off, just like at home, there’s plenty of places to explore.
Canada tops New Zealand in population density with just 3.4 people a square kilometre, in contrast to New Zealand’s 16.6 per square km. It also boasts the largest coastline in the world.
Overall OECD rank: #8
#1 for wages
#4 for job availability
#1 for housing affordability
The US has no public healthcare or unemployment benefits for the 1179 Kiwis who migrated permanently to the US last year, so it’s perhaps no surprise that almost 111 more Kiwis moved back to the homeland than left for the US.
America can be hard work, but there are notable Kiwi success stories, like Donald Trump’s deputy chief of staff, Kiwi Chris Liddell.
Before putting roots down in DC, he made his home in the upper echelons of General Motors in Detroit and as the chief financial officer of Microsoft in Seattle.
In the entertainment space, consider <i>Flight of The Conchords</i>. After failing to woo either of the main broadcast TV channels in New Zealand with their unique brand of off-beat comedy Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie took their act to the States. The pair met a TV production contract that made them the most internationally renowned comedy act in New Zealand’s history.
The benefits of a New York state of mind could also reap financial gains for Kiwis willing to bet on the American dream. Its high average annual salary of $70,000 means the United States sits at number one for wages on the OECD’s better life index.
And although migrating to the US might not be easy, the new Knowledge Innovators and Worthy Investors Act (Kiwi), largely attributed to Liddell’s influence in the White House, means the door is more open than before for New Zealand’s best and brightest.
Off the beaten track
The fifth most popular country for Kiwis to migrate to according to Statistics New Zealand has been listed as “Not Stated”.
These are Kiwis who have departed New Zealand and to a certain extent, dropped off the map.
However, Kiwis are increasingly flocking to a large number of other regions in big numbers.
Continental Europe accepted 1762 Kiwis: 338 makde their way to Germany, 281 to France, 248 to the Netherlands and 207 to Ireland.
Norway, with its paid maternity leave in excess of a year and annual work hours at 150 less than the average Kiwi, netted 188 New Zealanders.
Africa and the Middle East accepted more than 441 Kiwis last year, including 149 to the UAE, and another 74 to South Africa. But 908 Kiwis also returned home.
More than 2159 Kiwis permanently relocated to Asia, but that was offset by the more than 3100 that returned to our shores.
Back to New Zealand
NZ’s OECD rank: #11
#15 for job availability
#20 for wages
#21 for housing affordability
Successive governments have tried to attract New Zealand talent back home.
However, of the more than 10 Kiwis living overseas that contributed to this project, the overwhelming inspiration for their migration was not wages, superior annual or maternity leave, healthcare, or even weather.
It was the opportunity provided by large-scale, mature economies. Market maturity, combined with our geographic isolation is hard for any government to tackle with immediate action.
That said, Kiwis living abroad are still proud of where they’re from.
None of the Kiwis interviewed were considering a move home just yet, but only one would consider trading their silver fern embossed Kiwi passport for one from their assumed home.
Meaning “God’s Own” may not be “God’s Only”, but there still is No Place Like Home.
Or as Matt Hall put it, from his garden in Vancouver: ‘It’s definitely not a grass is greener situation, it’s more that it’s just a different type of grass.”