Why I Left New Zealand

And Why It Remains an Expatriation Destination to Consider

To write this article breaks my heart a little. The reality is that, after returning from Boston University, I did not want to leave New Zealand — at least not on a long-term basis. Despite the consistent trend towards negative net-migration to New Zealand, I suspect many fellow expats share my sentiment.

I reminisce days at Raglan Beach, the Bay of Islands, and the Coromandel Peninsula with my family. When I return to visit, I still love to run the hills that surround Te Akatea Station, the farm where I grew up near Ngaruawahia. The Waikato River also gave me many enjoyable summers of rowing training, and I loved to race on Lake Karapiro (pictured, 2007).

New Zealand is home to so many great memories, and I miss being able to play and watch rugby. Back in 1993, for example, my father, my two brothers, and I drove about two hours north to the “Big Smoke” to watch Waikato play Auckland. Waikato returned home triumphant, ending Auckland’s eight-year reign with the Ranfurly Shield — a title that dates back more than a century.

Waikato players return to show off the Ranfurly Shield in Hamilton, New Zealand. This group included future international coaches: Ian Foster (New Zealand, second from left), Warren Gatland (Wales, third from left), and John Mitchell (New Zealand, second from right).

These days, my family have season tickets at the new Waikato stadium, and I hear that the now-professional team, the Chiefs, have won the revised Super Rugby championship for the first time.

I could go on, but in spite of these memories, I’ve been living abroad since 2008, in Canada, the United States, and Ecuador. As I work and travel, many people tell me they would like to go to New Zealand, both to travel and live — not that many get there. They also wonder how I could have chosen to leave.

Recently, a Stateless Man listener emailed me in a more serious manner. After living in Australia and visiting New Zealand, he and his wife are considering a move there with their five children. He was curious as to why I chose to come back to the United States, what my reception had been in North Carolina, and whether I might suffer from a short-sighted or faulty perception of New Zealand that many people have towards the land of their birth.

Given that I receive these questions so often, the first one in particular, I’ve decided to share abridged segments of my response here.

Leaving New Zealand

I returned to New Zealand after BU graduation at the end of 2006, and my desire was to make the national rowing team. Although I stayed down under for two years and raced two seasons, that effort was unsuccessful.

At that point I was sick of university and decided to finish up with rowing as well, but I struggled to find employment, and people were turning me down for jobs that paid very little. That was despite the fact that I had degrees in economics and political science, was published at a very young age, and had taught at the university level. The New Zealand Treasury and a top consulting firm rejected me at the final interview stage of recruitment, but even those jobs would only have paid about $US 25,000 to 30,000 — perhaps not even that.

Frustrated and broke, I went on the road, first to Canada, looking for any kind of prospect I could find. I would have stayed in New Zealand, but I was desperate for an opportunity to earn some money.

In not too long I received an excellent offer, and I was back in the United States writing for an economic research group out in Massachusetts (AIER). That’s where I got my first big break as a writer, which eventually enabled my relocation to North Carolina. (I was far from alone in my move abroad, as I’ve noted in an earlier newsletter. At this point, most of my old friends have left for Australia or the United Kingdom.)

Te Akatea Station, New Zealand.

While I grew up on the family’s organic sheep and cattle farm — a pristine life — so much has changed since those days. As a child I had no concept of the deeper problems in New Zealand, particularly the struggling economy and the anti-success, “tall poppy” culture. I did not see these things until I came to the United States and found myself surrounded by extremely successful and motivated people. The contrast from my school and university years in New Zealand was stark.

Reception in North Carolina

People in North Carolina have treated me very well, and I am reluctant to leave my many great friends here. The same can be said for my extended stays in Massachusetts and Louisiana. (The border and TSA people are another matter altogether.) Given my line of work and strong pro-liberty positions, people tend to forget that I am not from the United States.

If it were not for draconian and confused immigration laws, I would probably stay. Instead, most likely I’ll be moving to Chile in a few months.

Misperceptions of One’s Home Country

There appears to be a lot of truth to the grass-is-greener saying. The experience of a tourist is vastly different to the experience of someone living and working in a country on a long-term basis. Once the honeymoon period is over, the realities set in, and one soon sees the uglier side of a nation.

More specifically, I always tell people that New Zealand is an incredible location for tourists, with so many beautiful, peaceful locations. I would even go there for that purpose. However, amid booming tourism, the trend of New Zealanders leaving is extremely indicative of the broader situation.

For living, one thing that concerns me greatly is disposable income, and New Zealand is relatively poor for that. People there face both high living costs and high taxation — although I guess if you are an accounting whiz you can get around a lot of that. Consider, for example, that the cost of housing in New Zealand is approximately double what you’d find in the United States — and New Zealanders tend to have smaller houses. The minimum wage of $US11.30, combined with a national sales tax of 15 percent, also guarantees a high cost for most retail items.

While New Zealand scores very high in measures of economic freedom, it is not a haven for limited government. Importantly, it is 95th in the world for government spending, transfers, and tax rates. That is one component of the Fraser Institute rankings, which place New Zealand third for economic freedom and first for human freedom. The Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal also place New Zealand very well at fourth in the world — as outlined in the diagram below.

From these very complementary placings, except for size of government, my main conclusion is that there are no pro-liberty havens to escape to. So, despite the shortcomings of New Zealand, it would still be high on my list. If you are seeking a lack of corruption, peacefulness, and impeccable countryside — particularly if you are already well-established financially — New Zealand is definitely a place to consider.

I know many immigrants who are glad to have made the move, and that includes my old political science professor, Daniel Zirker. Originally from Montana, he appeared on a December episode of The Stateless Man. However, his cell phone connection was very scratchy, and the audio is not so suitable for sharing. If you are still eager, you can download that hour of the show (50 minutes).

That episode included an interview with Peter Cresswell, an architect, blogger at Not PC, and founding member of the Libertarianz political party. I also gave a brief response to the perception of New Zealand as a free market haven (8 minutes).

If you are 30 or under, an easy way to get there is through the relaxed work-holiday visa, which is open to citizens of 39 countries. It grants a full year to travel and work in New Zealand and would be an ideal way to get to know the country.

Fergus Hodgson About Fergus Hodgson

Fergus Hodgson is an economic consultant, media executive, athlete, and traveler. He holds degrees in economics and political science from the United States and New Zealand, and he has lived in eight countries. Follow @FergHodgson.


  1. As you demonstrate quite well, we all have our reasons for seeking life and liberty abroad.
    Reading your personal story in the context of it all, however, reveals just how difficult it is to give up the land you once thought to be your home. But despite that, you’ve shown that you can succeed and prosper if you vote with your feet.
    Thanks for sharing, Stateless Man. 
    Viva la libertad!

  2. Susan Hogarth says:

    Bill Knighton, read.

  3. David Rollins says:

    I think a lot of this perception comes from the Mont Pelerin Society being founded in NZ. I once considered it, but agree with your sentiment about it being better for the well off. Rather like Singapore in that respect.
    Oh and Chile is amazing. There is much money to be made there in the Argentina arbitrage trade. Good luck!

  4. David Rollins says:

    I don’t know why I had it in my head that the MPS had been founded in NZ (or had moved there)…I think it was the rampant “Ruthanasia” of the late 80s/early 90s, when the classical liberal types at IHS were holding up NZ as a libertarian paradise. The cold war was in its last throes, and the National Party was surging, along with Reagan and Thatcher.

  5. simon eldrige says:

    Interesting experience. 
    I was born in the UK but grew up in Cape Town South Africa and at the age of 21 I moved back to London for very similar reasons that caused you to emigrate. I am now considering where I want to move in 5-10 years. Definitely some where with a better climate, my thoughts are on central america.

  6. simon eldrige says:

    Interesting to hear your experience. I was born in the UK but grew up
    in Cape Town, South Africa and at the age of 21 I moved back to London
    for very similar reasons that caused you to emigrate. I am now
    considering where I want to move in 5-10 years. Definitely some where
    with a better climate, my thoughts are some where in Central America, but at this point I am undecided.

    • simon eldrige Hey Simon, thanks for the note. I hope you stay in touch with this site, show, and the Overseas Radio Network. (You can sign-up for the weekly emails above.) In fact, the network is based in Costa Rica, and we have many hosts in Latin America. Cheers.

  7. It some respects it sounds as though you are bitter about not making the national rowing team. To be honest an economics degree and a political major has no major demand in NZ, hence your estimated remuneration – simply NZ is too small of a country. Perhaps you were a victim of poor major choices if you wanted to ultimately settle in NZ. Mind you if your starting salary was US$30k which would have been about Nz$45k at the time that wouldn’t have been such a bad starting wage. Totally agree that there is a bit of a “tall poppy” syndrome which unfortunate and definately agree that if you are already financially established NZ is a good choice.

    • @Jack P Hey Jack. Thanks for reading and commenting. I was never bitter, since it was simply my performances that were not at a high enough level. There was nothing political about my failure, and New Zealand has one of the best national rowing programs in the world.

  8. I might be reading it wrong, but it sounds like when you were looking for a job in New Zealand, you were fresh out of university and didn’t have any work experience.   As Jack P suggested, a political science degree isn’t something that’s in hot demand – the same could probably be said for any social science degree.  You may have been better off to do something in the hard sciences, or a commerce degree.

    • @BeaHey Bea, I appreciate you engaging. At that time, I’d been tutoring and teaching economics for years, and I’d written for Nexus Magazine and been published in the Waikato Times—along with an academic journal in the U.S. However, I guess that might not count as experience in some realms. (During the summers I worked for a moving company in Boston.)
      Regarding economics and political science, I encourage you to read my article, “Demystifying the Cult of Higher Education”: http://thestatelessman.com/2013/01/14/higher-ed/. Cheers.

  9. Bill Knighton says:

    It’s in a box. Enjoy when you get home.

  10. Susan Hogarth says:

    Lol. Wrong place, but since it’s David Rollins’ gift, that works 🙂

  11. David Rollins says:

    LOL. Please note that you will have to put the baby in the cake yourself; the best method is to turn the cake upside down, then make a small incision for insertion, then spin the cake around so you forget where you put it. http://www.kingcake.com/t-history.aspx

  12. Gloria Okereke says:

    Nice article. It was interesting to read more about your native country.

  13. Sounds like Sweden!

  14. AndrewSheldon says:

    Agreed with much of what you say. I don’t find NZ a peaceful place though; I’m an Australian, been living here for 5 years…Wanganui and Queenstown. The South Island is better, but winter days too short. North Island too violent, and as you say weak economy. There is also a high degree of local tax here $1800 rates compared to $300 in Japan, $800 in Australia, though more in US I believe. $3500? depending on the state. I find corporations highly predatory in NZ in terms of service and culture, i.e. misrepresentation in advertising. I’m leaving…staying on the road…Japan, Philippines, Australia, maybe NZ….because I can. The problem of course is finding a way to live in these countries. 
    “tall poppy” syndrome = lack of mental efficacy – you were right to leave…not doing so would have stunted your growth.

  15. Charlotte says:

    I lived there almost 10 years, not by choice, and don’t miss it in the least. I suggest that people consult E2NZ wordpress and expatexposed for some experiences posted by people who did not like it there and would moreover disagree with your assertions about “no corruption”,”peacefulness”, “impeccable” countryside, yadda. We live in America now, and found everything that small-town New Zealand lacked.

  16. sealedesign says:

    The Stateless Man
    You graduated not long before the crash.  Likely not a good time to be out there looking for a job with an economics degree, especially if you are not so pro-capitalism.

    If you were a salesman of mortgages, being from a country known for beer and bungie jumping wouldn’t help either. Sorry, I can see you don’t fit into that stereotype.
    I’m glad you found a place to use your education and talents. 

    I’ll be in New Zealand and Australia in one month. Any suggestions on what might interest me from a macro-economics standpoint?  I grew up in northern New Hampshire where we live economically closer to reality. I think I understand finance better because of it. A small town can appear to be it’s own small world. Maybe this is similar to growing up in New Zealand.

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