Living in New Zealand vs USA: Which Is Better?

Are you thinking of moving from the US to New Zealand? Or maybe you are considering one of these places as your new home? Firstly, congratulation, you probably worked hard if you have these life choices. New Zealand and the US are similar in some ways, but they are also two totally different countries with their way of living, thinking, and doing things. Not to mention, they are located in other parts of the world. Once you land in New Zealand, the world isn’t your oyster anymore.

In this article, we present all the details about living in New Zealand and the US, including the pros and cons, differences, and other facts you must know before making a decision of your life.

Pros of living in the US

  1. Abundance of jobs
  2. High salaries
  3. Reasonable proximity to other countries
  4. Large, diverse country with various climate zones and landscapes
  5. High-quality education
  6. Variable costs of living, from moderate to high
  7. Excellent career opportunities for internationals
  8. Large, strong, and stable economy
  9. Home to many world’s largest corporations like Google, Apple

Cons of living in the US

  1. Large gap between poor and rich
  2. High crime rates
  3. Gun violence
  4. Large distances between cities & states
  5. Cost of living in some cities is exceptionally high
  6. Bad work-life balance
  7. Extremely expensive healthcare
  8. Political division
  9. Poor social security benefits for residents
  10. Racism
  11. Consumerism culture

Pros of living in New Zealand

  1. Easier immigration policies
  2. Nice, easy-going and friendly people
  3. High living standards
  4. Small proximity between cities
  5. Stable, warm weather across the country
  6. High tolerance to other cultures and nationalities
  7. Political stability
  8. Quiet life
  9. Low levels of air and water pollution
  10. High minimum wage
  11. High-quality education
  12. Cultural diversity
  13. Free or low cost healthcare
  14. Less focus on money and career
  15. Less of the consumerism culture

Cons of living in New Zealand

  1. Low wages
  2. Constant changes in weather
  3. Limited career opportunities – only in major cities
  4. High cost of living across the country
  5. Large distance to other countries
  6. Can feel isolated
  7. Prices on some items are particularly high
  8. Food and groceries are expensive
  9. Less of the city life
  10. Travel opportunities – everything is far, no borders with other countries 
  11. High prices on travel within the country and internationally
  12. High house prices
  13. Expensive dental care
  14. Undeveloped public transportation
  15. Limited choice of products & items – country relies on import and export

Related: Why you shouldn’t move to New Zealand.

Main differences between New Zealand and the US

First and by far the largest difference between these countries is that everything about the US is bigger, land size, population, military, economy, resources, cars, houses, cities, and mentality. Americans also think big, dream big, and achieve big things. It is inevitable. The USA is 37 times the size of NZ.

New Zealand is a small country with just about 5 million people. Unlike the US, it does not take days to get anywhere. New Zealand is less densely populated, with only 19 people on km2, while it’s 33,8 in the US.

Economy

The US economy is the largest in the world. It’s home to many largest global corporations. In fact, America’s GDP is 425 times the size of NZs.

New Zealand can’t stand a chance to compete. Besides, it doesn’t have the population to have a large domestic economy, so it relies heavily on export and import.

The primary industry in New Zealand is farming based on free-ranging animals. The second largest industry is tourism. It receives about 4 million visitors come to New Zealand each year. Leisure activities are based around the outdoors and being outside.

People

New Zealanders are some of the most relaxed, open-minded, and friendly people on earth. They are also much more pragmatic about things than Americans.

Nonetheless, Americans are also known to be outgoing and friendly, yet, they have a different mentality from New Zealanders. Both can learn something from each other.

Besides, New Zealand has 14.9% fewer obese people. New Zealanders are generally more healthy and spend a lot of time outside.

In addition, racism is more common in the US. People in New Zealand are very tolerant and acceptation of other cultures and races.

Consumer prices

Due to the location of New Zealand, everything that is not produced there is imported, and taxes are high. Hence, the prices of items are significantly higher than in the US.

Guns

People don’t own guns in New Zealand. Even New Zealand’s police officers don’t carry guns with them. The US is known for high gun ownership among civilians and, unfortunately, high gun violence.

Generally, New Zealand has lower crime, imprisonment, murder, and unemployment rates. It’s the second world’s safest country after Iceland.

The contrast between rich and poor

Poverty and the contrast between rich and poor in the US can be shocking. Social inequality is commonly seen in the US. New Zealand also has poverty, but nothing similar to the scale and extremes of the US.

No tipping

Yes, you heard it right, you don’t tip in New Zealand! The tipping culture is drastically different between these two countries. In New Zealand, you don’t tip anywhere, including restaurants, taxis, hairdressers, hotels, and other services. In the US, you are expected to tip everywhere.

1. Quality of life

Here is some statistical data about the quality of life in both places:

Values from 0 (bad) to 100 (very good) New ZealandUnited States
Political stability9065
Civil rights10082
Health8171
Climate3666
Cost of living2637
Popularity3771
Source: www.worlddata.info

As you can see, New Zealand wins in almost every category. Furthermore, in 2020, New Zealand was voted as the number one place in the world for mindset (cultural values, personal development, and personal achievements), number 2 for living, and number 3 overall (HSBC Expat Explorer survey).

Work-life balance

If you are considering working in one of these countries, the situation is much, much, much better in New Zealand. Not only do Kiwi employees not overwork themselves, but they also get at least four weeks of paid leave per year, plus a total of 11 public holidays.

In contrast, US jobs in large corporations require long hours. If you’re lucky, you’ll work 40 hours a week, but many employees are expected to go over that (without overtime) to keep their job.

The country doesn’t even have a mandatory legal entitlement for annual leave; each employer decides on their own whether you get paid vacation or not. On average, US employees receive about 10 days of paid leave annually.

Plus, there are also seven public holidays throughout the year. Besides, US employees aren’t encouraged to take leave; it’s sometimes even frowned upon. Work-life culture is just completely different in these countries.

A recent report by Unicef found that of all the wealthiest countries, the US had the worst annual leave policy and the worst maternity leave. On average, Americans get approximately 12 weeks of parental leave. Worse off, that time is typically unpaid.

Sick leave

In New Zealand, employees are entitled to paid sick leave after they have been working for an employer for at least six months. In the US, employers aren’t required to give you sick leave, but many do.

10 out of the 50 states have laws requiring companies to offer paid sick leave for workers. Nonetheless, it’s not a guarantee you will get one. Attitude to calling in sick is also different. In America, people often feel the need that they need to prove how sick they are.

In New Zealand, employers are more understanding and trusting; they would prefer an employee to stay home and prevent others from getting sick. Health and family play more important roles in the lives of New Zealanders.

Maternity leave

Unfortunately, the policy on maternity leave in the US is the worst on the list of the world’s richest countries. Officially, there is no mandatory paid maternity leave.

In fact, the US is the only OECD country without a national statutory paid maternity, paternity, or parental leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) enables some employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave, but only 60% of workers are eligible (for companies with over 50 employees).

In New Zealand, an employee can take up to 26 weeks of paid leave by law. Mothers (or fathers if they’re the primary carer) can take time off work for up to a year; they can return to their job in a period of up to 12 months.

The not primary caregiver can also take up to two weeks of unpaid leave, and sometimes it’s possible to negotiate for part of that time to be paid.

Healthcare

Public healthcare in New Zealand is subsided; it’s free or low cost for you if you are a citizen, resident, or hold a work visa valid for 2 years or more.

The New Zealand government pays for some healthcare fees, meaning residents only need to pay a part of the cost. Moreover, accidents and emergency treatments at hospitals are free. It’s covered by the Accident Compensation scheme (ACC). This makes healthcare much more affordable than in the US.

It’s no secret that the American healthcare system is one of the most expensive. For instance, the average American spent about $12,530 on healthcare in 2020.

The US healthcare sector is primarily privatized and unregulated. This means that medical practitioners can charge as much as they want.

New Zealand’s healthcare is funded by the state, and you will get at least emergency services for free. Besides that, everyone has access to private medicine when willing to pay out of pocket. Many people buy additional health insurance to cover services offered in private medical healthcare.

For all expats out there, we recommend insurance from Cigna Global. They provide the best price & value packages.

In addition, life expectancy is significantly higher in New Zealand than in the US, with 80 years for males and 84 years for women. In the US, these numbers are 75 years for men and 80 years for women. New Zealand’s death rate is 6.41%; in the US, it’s 10.30%.

Cost of living

The after-tax average monthly disposable salary in New Zealand is lower than in the US ($2,693 vs $3,258), but the cost of living is very comparable. In many cases, your total cost of living will be lower in New Zealand.

Weather

Weather in the US is diverse, ranging from tropics to ice-cold temperatures. At the same time, New Zealand’s climate is pretty must the same throughout the country. It’s known for strong wind and rainfall during the winter.

New Zealand has a temperate climate, which means we have relatively warm, dry summers (December to February) and mild, wet winters (June to August). New Zealand doesn’t get the extreme weather that some parts of the US do. You will enjoy the weather over there with a lot of outdoor options all year round.

Nonetheless, New Zealand is a relatively long country; the weather slightly differs depending on where you live; it’s warmer in the north and cooler in the south. For example, Queenstown, near the bottom of the South Island, gets snow in winter, but you will unlikely see it in a North Island, in cities like Wellington.

Lifestyle

You might not be surprised that New Zealanders are very outdoorsy people. They love to have adventures outside in nature, but they also keep calm and don’t rush in their day-to-day life.

Compared to the US, where time is money, New Zealanders care less about money and prefer to enjoy their life. Thus, don’t expect everything on time, and don’t rush people to make things happen.

Besides, in New Zealand, you’re less judged; no one cares what you wear or how much money you make. In fact, people rarely will ask what you do for a living, as it does not define the individual in contrast to what many Americans think.

Work isn’t the life goal of New Zealanders but merely a way to make a living to enjoy another day on the beach. People down there see more value in their lifestyle, family, and health but not in their careers, things, and money.

2. Salaries

Arguably, it’s hard to beat American salaries, so they are higher than New Zealanders. In fact, the US beats most countries in the world when it comes to wages and career growth.

A typical decent salary in most US states is between $70,000 – $90,000 before tax. In New Zealand, it’s about NZ$60,000 ($33,628). Nonetheless, in both countries, you can afford a decent home, a car, shopping, eating out, and do some leisure activities with that level of income.

That said, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the national average salary in the US in 2020 was $56,310. In 2022 average salary in the US is $53,490 per year. 

The median income in New Zealand is just under NZ$27 ($15,11) per hour as of mid-2021 (NZ$56,160 or $31,476 per annum based on a 40-hour week). New Zealand’s average salary in 2022 is NZ$58,836 ($32,975) per year.

The shocking difference between the salaries in both countries is almost $20,000.

On the other hand, you are less likely to be poor in New Zealand than in the US due to the high minimum wage. New Zealand’s minimum wage for 2022 is NZ$21.20 ($11,88) per hour nationwide.

The US minimum wage varies between the states; each US state has its own rate. The highest is in California – $15.00, Washington – $14.49 and Massachusetts – $14.25. But you might be less lucky if you live in states like Georgia ($5.15) or Wyoming ($5.15), where the minimum wage is $5.15 and $5.15, respectively.

Here are some stats about salaries in the US:

  • 11.6% of Americans earn between $35,000 to $49,999
  • 16.5% of US households have an income between $50,000 and $74,999
  • 15.3% – $100,000 to $149,999 (Source: Zippia.com)

That said, more than 11% of the US population currently lives at or below poverty thresholds. In New Zealand, one in seven households has an income under 50% of the national median, which falls into poverty.

Here is an example of average salaries in New York in 2021 for some jobs:

Software Engineer$107,530
Project Manager$81,221
Executive Assistant$68,962
Operations Manager$72,635
Marketing Manager$78,031
Senior Software Engineer$142,396
Account Manager$66,941
Source: www.payscale.com

Keep in mind that New York has some of the highest salaries in the country. In New Zealand, Auckland’s employees enjoy the highest wages, but they are about half of what you get in New York.

That said, New Zealanders also get paid well. For instance, the salary of the software engineer in Auckland ranks 86th for salaries among 265 cities.

Banking, IT, and engineering are some of the most lucrative careers in New Zealand. For example, you will get paid about NZ$84,653 ($47,445) in Banking, Finance & Insurance and NZ$92,049 ($51,590) in Engineering, compared to NZ$59,940 ($33,594) in Hospitality & Travel.

Here are the average salaries for some common jobs in New Zealand (to figure out how much it’s in USD, just divide the number by 2):

JobAverage annual salary
Project ManagerNZ$97,524
Civil EngineerNZ$91,800
Business AnalystNZ$81,300
Registered NurseNZ$75,670
AccountantNZ$71,833
TeacherNZ$55,000 – NZ$95,000
Environmental ScientistNZ $55,000 – NZ$95,000
CarpenterNZ$56,900
Helpdesk Operator NZ$38,000 – NZ$60,000
Office ManagerNZ$55,833
Pharmacy TechnicianNZ$47,280
Dental AssistantNZ$45,300
Veterinary NurseNZ$43,200
Senior Hospital NurseNZ$80,000
Source: jobted.co.nz

Consequently, if earning and saving money is your goal, New Zealand isn’t the right place.

3. Cost of living

Depending on where in the US you come from, you may actually find the cost of living in New Zealand cheaper than you are used to.

Compared to the US, in New Zealand, you will pay:

  • 7.0% more for eating out
  • 20.6% more for transport
  • 34.1% less for housing
  • 35.0% less for childcare
  • 21.8% more for clothing

Each US region has a different cost of living, and so does each city in New Zealand. These numbers are the national average. Life is more expensive in major cities like Auckland and Wellington, so it’s higher in New York, California, Los Angeles, and Washington DC.

In New Zealand, expect to spend about $4,290 as a family of four and $2,341 as a single. In the US, a family of four needs about $5,106, and $2,931 will be enough for a single.

The cost of living in the US is higher than in 80% of countries in the world (15 out of 71), while New Zealand’s cost of living is similar to other western OECD countries.

Moreover, New York City (NY) was the world’s 7th most expensive city in Mercer’s 2022 Cost of Living Ranking. Los Angeles (CA) was 17th, and San Francisco (CA) was 19th.

New Zealand’s largest and most expensive city Auckland ranked 95th. Wellington, the capital, was 120th.

Both Auckland and Wellington were ranked less expensive cities to live in than Honolulu (HI), Washington (DC), Boston (MA), Miami (FL), Chicago (IL), Atlanta (GA), Seattle (WA), Philadelphia (PA), Dallas (TX), Pittsburgh (PA), Minneapolis (MN), Houston (TX) or Portland (OR).

Smaller New Zealand’s towns will be even less expensive.

Consequently, the cost of living in New Zealand is generally lower than in the US.

That said, average living expenses differ in every US state, so a single person needs about $29,118 a year ($2,426 monthly) to live in Brownsville, Texas, and $69,072 ($5,756 monthly) in San Francisco, California. You won’t see these contracts in New Zealand. The cost of living is spread pretty evenly.

Here is an example of housing prices in the most expensive cities in both countries:

Type of the housingNew YorkSan FranciscoAuckland
One-bedroom apartment (city center)$3,941$3,294$1,226
One-bedroom apartment (outside of the city center)$2,386$2,646$1,004
Three-bedroom family home (city center)$7,615$5,736$2,041
Three-bedroom family home (outside of the city center)$4,521$4,518$1,672
Utilities for one person in a 45m2 apartment$125$105$108
Internet$69$66$48
Source: numbeo.com

Grocery prices in San Francisco vs Auckland:

San FranciscoAuckland
Meal, Inexpensive Restaurant$20.00 $13.98
Meal for 2 People, Mid-range Restaurant, Three-course$100.00$68.51
McMeal at McDonalds$12.00$8.39
Domestic Beer (bar)$7.00$5.59
Imported Beer (bar)$8.00$5.87
Cappuccino$5.15$3.15
Coke/Pepsi$2.90$2.12
Water (0.33 liter bottle)$2.36$1.79
Milk (regular), (1 liter)$1.51$1.74
Loaf of Fresh White Bread (500g)$4.58$1.92
Rice (white), (1kg)$5.03$1.87
Eggs (regular) (12)$5,16$4.18
Local Cheese (1kg)$17.66$8.72
Chicken Fillets (1kg)$16.24$8.45
Beef Round (1kg)$18.65$13.42
Apples (1kg)$6.46$2.58
Banana (1kg)$3.38$1.89
Oranges (1kg)$5.36$3.03
Tomato (1kg)$6.79$5.18
Potato (1kg)$4.20$1.89
Onion (1kg)$3.50$1.61
Lettuce$2.63$2.40
Bottle of Wine$15.00$10.07
Domestic Beer (supermarket)$2.95$2.93
Imported Beer (supermarket)$3.88 $$3.00
Source: numbeo.com

4. Job opportunities

To put it simply, America is the place where you go to pursue a career, while New Zealand is a destination for living, experiencing, and enjoying.

That said, you won’t be jobless down under. New Zealand’s job market has been strong over recent years, with many people from the US finding good jobs and careers there. 

Some sectors are even experiencing shortages of qualified workers, such as:

  • Healthcare and social services
  • Construction, trades, and infrastructure
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • ICT, electronics and telecommunications
  • Agriculture and forestry

Your career chances in these areas are excellent.

Speaking about the US, any job is possible over there. The US labor market is hundreds times larger than in New Zealand. You won’t snuggle to find a job, whether it’s a highly paid managerial position or a barista in the coffee shop. Depending on your qualifications and skills, all doors are opened.

Anna

Anna is an experienced expat and writer. She has been living abroad for over 6 years.

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