So why do Singaporeans want to go to New Zealand?

May 3 — Who remembers the Malaysia cup? The excitement, the edge of your seats thrill of watching our boys against the Malaysians. It was a blood, sweat and grit enactment of that defining national rivalry - Singapore vs Malaysia.

Through the 90s I recall our two nations pitting themselves against each other — recently though it seems the umbilical-cord-connected neighbours have gotten besting each other, or used to each other, or maybe we just have better things to do? 
But then everyone needs a nemesis, how can we thump our chests, and revel in our national greatness without a bogeyman. So if not Malaysia who now is our national bete noir?

I nominate New Zealand.

Yes, that’s right. Middle-Earth. Because more and more people seem to be asking themselves: Singapore or New Zealand?

Both are developed countries, both have four to five million people, neither started off as any great shakes but have come a long way.

New Zealand, of course, offers a lot more space (268,000km2 vs 700km2) and we have a bit more money (total GDP SG US$300 billion or RM1,078 billion, NZ US$230 billion, per capita SG $55,000 NZ $45,000).

This is why I was unsurprised when yet another friend came out to announce last weekend that she and her husband were seriously exploring the possibility of migrating to NZ because as puts it, “I want a house and garden.”

One thing New Zealand has, it is space: a general view of the mountain range near Queenstown in South Island. – Picture by AFP
One thing New Zealand has, it is space: a general view of the mountain range near Queenstown in South Island. – Picture by AFP

It is these sort of trade-offs that increasingly defines (more serious) conversations among my peers — Singaporeans in their early 30s looking to start families, plan futures, even thinking about retirement.

So, I thought it might be interesting to run an (unscientific) head to head comparison. This is particularly easy as the New Zealand dollar and Singapore dollar are basically 1:1.

Wages

While GDP capita looks like a win for Singapore, our inequality means the figure is skewed by a tiny number of super-rich. We have at least 15 billionaires, NZ just three but in this case that might not be a good thing as it means the median income is actually lower in Singapore than New Zealand. Both countries’ median wages seem to hover around the S$3,000-4,000 (RM8,098-10,797) range.

Housing

In Singapore, expect to pay $800,000 for a starter two-bedroom condo on leasehold and half of that for a three-bedroom HDB flat also on leasehold. While on the other side, $600,000 for a two- to three-bedroom condo in Auckland, or a four-bed suburban house with garden in Wellington, or a 10-acre vineyard somewhere scenic like Marlborough (all freehold) with starter homes from $300,000.

Transport

Cost of a new car in Singapore is about $100,000 if you’re looking at a Toyota Yaris – about $100,000, while in NZ this is $20,000.

Healthcare

Singapore offers a very effective but complex system, involving subsidies, top ups, government saving schemes – with no provision for free services and the annual government spending on healthcare is $2,000 per citizen. New Zealand has free healthcare for citizens and permanent residents with their government spending on healthcare per citizen $4,000.

Cost of living

Singapore

Bottle of wine:  $22

Whole chicken: $8

New Zealand

Bottle of wine: $10

Whole chicken: $8

World’s most expensive cities rankings often list Singapore at top spot with Auckland in the top 20 (Wellington and other suburbs are cheaper.) The UN’s world happiness report ranks Singapore at 30 and New Zealand as the world’s 12th happiest country.  

Not forgetting, New Zealand ranks as having the world’s 6th freest press while we are at 153 (just above Iraq). On the democracy index, New Zealand comes in 4th and Singapore is at 75th (just below Papua New Guinea)

Needless to say, this is not an exhaustive survey but the bottom line is that it seems cheaper to live in New Zealand, somewhat cheaper to own a house and a lot cheaper to own a car plus a little cheaper to shop or have a drink at a bar.

However, wages at median level are about the same if not higher in NZ and there they have an extensive welfare system along with all that Middle Earth space.

Of course there are more to life choices than indexes (personally I think a good $3.50 chicken rice makes up for all sorts of deficiencies but the bottom line is that for a medium/low wage earner, New Zealand looks like a better deal — more spending power, better housing, more personal freedom.)

And this is a real dilemma, Singaporeans my age have been told all our lives that we live in a developed nation but our living standards aren’t meeting developed expectations (remember I’m comparing New Zealand here not some hyper developed state like Switzerland or Norway).

Politically and economically — is Singapore living up to its billing? How can the end game for so many on this island state be to set off to Kiwi-land? Long-term is that something we can really afford? Can we really afford to lose swathes of middle class, middle income Singaporeans to places like New Zealand?

Surely this is the challenge facing our nation today; if the last generation saw us emerge from Third World to relative prosperity, in this generation we must make work to accommodate the aspirations of our people within the Little Red Dot.

What we lack in size, we make up for in national wealth, education technology, great geographic positioning.

So what’s holding us back?

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.