As World Cup 2010 is just around the corner, countries from around the world will go head to head on the soccer field to see who comes out on top. But what if we were to evaluate some country match-ups in terms of which is the better overall country for expats? For example, is Italy a better choice, or is New Zealand? Let’s assess each country for cost of living, job opportunities, health care, education, ease of buying real estate, and climate to see who comes out the winner.
Cost of Living
Italy is a relatively expensive country by American standards, and it also happens to be one of the more expensive countries to live in the EU. For example, food can cost twice as much as it would in the US, although vegetables can be a bargain in the countryside. Italy is also one of the countries with the highest taxes, not just in the EU, but in the world. Anyone planning to live in Italy, particularly retirees, should take care not to underestimate the cost of living, which has increased considerably in the last decade. A studio apartment in not-the-most-desirable neighborhood in Rome could easily set you back $90,000, and a small apartment with a balcony or view could go for as much as $200,000. There is a huge disparity between the cost of living in the prosperous north and central regions, and the relatively poor south, but even living off of the land in the south can be more expensive than living in the US. The countryside is cheaper, but still not to be considered a steal. Overall, Italy is not a country to go to in order to pinch pennies, especially because of the strength of the euro against the dollar, which at the time of writing this article was 1 euro to 1.3472 dollars.
Overall, the cost of living in New Zealand is fairly low, especially if you are planning to stay outside of the large cities. You can buy a house in the countryside for around what you could buy a small condo in the US. Food is fresh, abundant, and cheap, as New Zealand produces some of the world’s most delicious natural bounties like oranges, apples, grapes, lettuce, corn and beans. They are also known for their inexpensive, yet high quality lamb, beef, milk, poultry, and seafood. For anyone attracted to New Zealand, much of their entertainment or leisure time activities will revolve around nature activities, which are free or inexpensive. The dollar is still strong against the New Zealand Dollar, coming in at 1 NZD to 0.7092 U.S. dollars.
Score: NZ 1, Italy 0
As it is all over the EU, Americans wishing to work need to apply for a work permit. This is taken very seriously. Europeans seem to like to hire other Europeans. If you have a job offer in Italy or wish to work in Italy, you must have your prospective employer obtain a work visa for you before you come. A written job offer or employment contract is not enough…your employer must prove that there is a specific need to grant a foreigner the position as opposed to someone available in the local labor market. If clearance is granted, the prospective employer is further required to obtain a work permit with the approval of the regional and central authorities. The permit is then sent to the worker so that he or she may finally apply for the entry visa. This is not the easiest country in the world to get off the plane and wing it for income…although nothing is impossible. On the flip side, if you do land a job, all workers are entitled to a minimum of four weeks leave, in addition to the numerous holidays that they will get time off for.
In New Zealand, they are definitely more relaxed on handing out the work visas. You are eligible for a work visa if you have a job offer, there is a specific purpose or event for which you need to come to New Zealand to work , you are a student or trainee who wants to work there, or you want to join your partner in New Zealand and work there. There are only a few major cities in New Zealand, and the rest can be quite rural, which limits your job options. Skills in demand are health care, computer technology, management, and agriculture.
Score: NZ 2, Italy 0
As far as health care is concerned, Italy ranks No. 2 on the World Health Organization’s list of top countries for quality health care services (by contrast, the U.S. only holds 37th place, despite being the highest spender). Italy has a national health plan ( servizio sanitario nazionale), which provides for hospital and medical benefits. U.S. and Canadian citizens who are legally resident in Italy can apply to join the plan. For legal residents covered by the national health plan, hospital services will be provided to you and your dependents free of charge. Visitors, or persons not enrolled under such a plan, are expected to pay full hospital charges and then claim a reimbursement from their insurance provider.
Health services are heavily subsidized for New Zealand residents. People who are not permanent residents can be charged full price for their healthcare. Nobody can be refused emergency care because they cannot pay, although they certainly may be sent a bill later.
Treatment after an accident is free or heavily subsidised for all people whether or not they are New Zealand residents. The care provided by family doctors or general practitioners is partially subsidised by the Government, but in most cases you will still need to pay a copayment, even if you are a resident. Copayments are also required for prescriptions.
Basic dental care for eligible school children is free up to 18 years of age. The quality of health care is decent…but it is no Italy.
Score: NZ 2, Italy 1
Education in Italy is free and compulsory from 6-15 or 16 years of age, and is divided into five stages: kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, and university. The Program for International Student Assessment currently ranks the Italian secondary education as the 36th in the world, being significantly below the OECD average. Another factor if you have school age children and do not want to send them to a private school is that classes will be taught in Italian. Some see this as a positive and some as a negative.
Education in New Zealand is free and compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16; though typically, children start school on their 5th birthday. Education follows the three-tier model which includes primary schools, followed by secondary schools (high schools) and tertiary education at universities and/or polytechs. The Program for International Student Assessment ranks New Zealand’s education as the 7th best in the world. The Education Index, published with the UN’s Human Development Index in 2008, based on data from 2006, lists New Zealand as 0.993, amongst the highest in the world, tied for first with Denmark, Finland and Australia.
Score: NZ 3, Italy 1
Ease of Buying Real Estate
Italy is well-known for its red tape, and property transactions certainly are included in this. It is a definite seller’s market, and price’s are less reflective of actual value than they are of how much the seller thinks the buyer is willing or able to pay. If you find the house of your dreams, be prepared to fork over some cash immediately. It is common practice, especially in the areas popular with overseas buyers, to pay an immediate holding fee, despite not having time to make all the checks you would like to make on the property. Once you are happy with the terms of the first contract, you will be instructed to pay a preliminary deposit, typically about 3000 euros. This should be followed by signing the main contract, two to three weeks later, after checks on the property have been carried out. Financing may be difficult to secure as an expat, and you may have to come up with a serious chunk for a down payment. The process from start to finish can be lengthy and frustrating, but of course if you end up with your dream villa in Italy, who cares how you got there!
Buying a house in New Zealand is a similar process to buying a house in the US. Mortgages are common and fairly straightforward to obtain. To find a house, you can go through classified listings, Realtors, open houses, or auctions. Most houses come with a fixed asking price…none of this, “well, what can you pay?”. And unless the deal is red-hot, it is common for the seller to accept less than the asking price. It is easy in New Zealand to secure reliable information about a particular house, and is straightforward to check on zoning, boundaries, title, actual value, etc. After your offer is accepted, it is not uncommon for you to be able to finalize everything and have ownership of the house within days or a few weeks.
Score: NZ 4, Italy 1
From the Alps to the ocean, and just about everything in between, Italy has something to offer everyone. Italy, for being a relatively small country, has seven distinct climate zones, including Mediterranean, Mediterranean Mild, Oceanic, Tundra, and Humid Subtropical., Humid Continental , and Cold Continental. Basically, if you are looking for a particular climate, you can find a spot somewhere in Italy that has that for you.
New Zealand has mild temperatures and many hours of sunshine throughout most of the country. New Zealand’s climate is dominated by two main geographical features: the mountains and the sea. New Zealand’s average rainfall is high—between 640 millimeters and 1500 millimeters—and evenly spread throughout the year. It does not have a huge temperature range, lacking the extremes found in most continental climates. However, New Zealand weather can change unexpectedly—as cold fronts or tropical cyclones quickly blow in.
Score: NZ 4, Italy 2
So, this is not to say that New Zealand is automatically the better choice for everyone. Some aspiring expats may put more weight on a certain category than another. If you do not need to secure a job, who cares that Italy is a difficult place to get a work visa? If you do not have children, will it really matter to you how good the educational system is in New Zealand? You should factor all of the criteria that is relevant and important to you, and make your decision from there. And never underestimate gut feeling. If you have dreamed all of your life about living in a certain country, you should do whatever it takes to make that dream a reality no matter the difficulties that present themselves.
Do you agree with the findings in this article? Do you have experience in either country that differs? Let us know your opinions and comments. We love to hear from you and get the inside scoop!
About the author: Cathy Brown is a mother, writer, artist, teacher, traveller and explorer originally from Michigan. She has a serious case of wanderlust and currently lives in Argentina with her three amazing children, ages nine, seven, and five. She writes for and maintains Expat Daily News – South America