Three years in New Zealand: some reflections

As of this week, we’ve been living in Auckland for three years.

The particular date we arrived — 5 November — is hard to miss because of two very interrelated factors:

  1. It’s Guy Fawkes Day, a truly bizarre holiday wherein people in New Zealand (and other Commonwealth countries) celebrate, in various explosive ways, the anniversary of a guy trying to blow up Parliament with a bunch of dynamite; and
  2. It’s completely legal for anyone to light fireworks from private property in Auckland, and oh do they ever, despite the inevitable fiery mayhem that ensues.

And so I’ve been joking since the day we arrived that the country sets off fireworks in celebration of our coming here.

Last year, on the two-year anniversary of our arrival, I wrote up some thoughts on pestestrianism, public health care, and paying income taxes… and forgot to share them. These days I have absolutely no idea what life is like back in the U.S. (and I doubt my experiences in the Bay Area Bubble were ever representative of what the entire country goes through!), so the intro feels even more relevant than ever.


The longer we live here, the harder it is to know whether the things I notice are really reflections of differences between the U.S. or New Zealand, or whether they are simply reflections of how the world has changed in the last two years. More likely, the things I notice are reflections of how I have changed since moving here?

I prefer it when pedestrians have the right of way

I once got a ticket in San Francisco for parking in an “implied crosswalk,” which is what apparently exists at every extension of a sidewalk into an intersection, whether it’s marked or not, in that city. There is no such thing as an implied crosswalk here. In fact, there are very few crosswalks at all, which is a shame as those are the only places where cars give way to pedestrians.

There ARE these things called “refuges” on certain busy roads, which are bits of raised curbs in the center lane where you can, if you’ve managed to successfully cross one direction of traffic, catch your breath while psyching yourself up to sprint across the remaining lane(s). Technically, pedestrians DO have the right of way on the footpaths (=crosswalks), but don’t assume that drivers know that! They might still run you over if you’re not careful. I really feel for the elderly, people who use crutches or wheelchairs, people pushing strollers, and everyone else whose movement is impaired. It can be scary even as an able-bodied person.

Public health care is awesome

This is almost always the first thing that comes to mind when people ask me about the biggest difference is between the U.S. and New Zealand: we’re covered by not one but TWO public health care systems here. One is for general health care, and it covers New Zealand citizens and people who hold certain visas that allow them to be here for more than 24 months (that was us, though now we have permanent residency status). You can opt to pay for private health insurance on top of that if you’d prefer to be seen faster for certain types of care, but not everyone does, as the public system is considered pretty good. We do have private cover, primarily because of a few health-related issues I like to keep a close eye on. But we only pay the equivalent of $120 USD a month for that privilege. For BOTH of us.

(I already wrote about the other public health care system, ACC, which covers anyone, including visitors, for injuries related to accidents.)

It wasn’t until moving here that I realized just how much collective energy we waste in the U.S. trying to decide things like whether to keep a toxic job or whether to work more hours than we want to or even whether to get married… just for the health insurance perk, or to be able to afford health insurance. I had some nightmares trying to get insurance before the Affordable Care Act kicked in thanks to pre-existing conditions. I honestly believe public health care is one of the reasons why so many people start their own businesses here.

I’m voting with my values by paying income tax in New Zealand

When we first got here (the week of the 2016  presidential election), everyone told us we had great timing. “But we didn’t know… we didn’t move because of that!”

Still, in much the same way that you can vote with your values by choosing to purchase products made by companies whose politics or production methods you prefer, there’s something I really like about “voting” with my tax dollars. Thanks to the foreign tax credit (or is it the foreign earned income exclusion?), I pay the majority of my income taxes to the government of New Zealand, not Trump’s administration.

Don’t get me wrong — I fully support everyone paying their fair share of taxes. If anything, I have felt a stronger obligation to support my fellow Americans, particularly those who have suffered disproportionately under the new administration, since moving here. I just do it through increased philanthropic giving.

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