Moving back to New Zealand: An Entrepreneurs Guide

I had the pleasure of speaking to  Mark about his journey of moving back to New Zealand. He’s done it a couple of times so he knows a thing or two about it. He has some great advice for returning Kiwis, here’s his story..

Hi Mark, tell us how long you’ve been living outside New Zealand for?

Bit of a recidivist repat. Left NZ in 89, lived in Japan for 10 years, back to NZ for 6 (which was when I started A2ZTranslate), back to Japan in 2007 to start a branch of A2Z; exited Japan again in 2010 for Thailand. Lived there for 3 years running the NZ office remotely before returning to NZ.

What were you doing for a job?

Worked in Japan in a range of jobs. Worked in tertiary education, for a magazine as journalist and then editor, as a dive instructor, started an English science paper proofreading business for Japanese scientists submitting their papers for publication offshore, and before returning to NZ in 2000 was working marketing a large education conglomerate trying to attract tertiary students to come to study in Japan.

Was it your intention to be away for so long?

Nope, everything was very much off the cuff. Pure chance. Left NZ in 89 with my partner at the time, mucked around SE Asia for a year, headed to Japan to visit one of her friends with the intention of going to Europe but ran out of money, so got a job, got an apartment, got a better job…

What was the motivation for returning back to NZ?

Space, the ability to be alone on a beach, awesome coffee, to be able to see the horizon every day, burgers with beetroot and the buns toasted, the rule of law and the (almost) absence of corruption, the acknowledgement in civil society and in law that racism is a bad thing, fresh kina! Oh, and whanau, especially toku teina (my brother), a better man has not yet been made.

From a business perspective I had the office and staff here, and the simplicity and ease of running a business in NZ was a real motivator, as well as the lack of corruption, even if the opportunity to scale up was not anything like where I had been.
We often like to complain about “compliance costs” here, but really NZ has to be one of the simplest jurisdictions from a business perspective. Even though we were in the middle of the GFC, the Japan business was doing really well, but compliance just wore me down.
The straw that broke the camel’s back for me with the Japan business was when I went to move offices. Myself and one staff member spent an entire day, traipsing from city office to prefectural office to to bank etc. etc. registering the change of address, every time requiring these incredible multi-page forms filled out by hand; it was such a feeling of being controlled and such an enormous waste of time.
Things we take for granted here like filing out GST returns and PAYE online etc. are just not available in many places. In NZ we have one tax body to deal with (IRD), not separate bodies for city taxes, national taxes, pension funds, health insurance, insurance for the time the employee travels to and from work etc. In short I just couldn’t deal with the inane compliance time/costs. 

What was the family’s reaction when you told them?

Pretty happy, bringing grandkids helps!

What services did you use for the move? Shipping company, Finance, Pension etc.

Just the normal shipping company, everything else self managed. 

What was it like in the first 3 months of being back?

To tell the truth we just buggered off to the beach; as long as I had a phone and internet connection I could still run the business. Being a repeat returner I was used to the fact that some people would have moved on with their lives, and that the old commonality of shared experience would have expired, and that is cool.In business, the weight off my back of the onerous compliance was immense, such a feeling of release. But required the NZ business to rejig to focus on the domestic market more, so was pretty busy in the tent! We moved to Auckland, but we had given ourselves 3 years to get out of Auckland, within 2 years we did.

More Kiwis are returning to New Zealand, many of them in similar situations to you age/profession etc. What 3 things would you tell them to help with the transition home?

It will differ a lot depending on where you have been before returning home, but my thoughts are:

1. Treat it like you are moving somewhere for the first time. You will have expectations, but try to get rid of them. A lot will be the same as before, but a lot also not. Especially people, as you will have changed and so will your old friends. Don’t expect to just pick up where you left off, it’s not going to happen in some cases.
2. Ditch your preconceptions/memories; see things with fresh eyes. Even if you are moving back to the same neighbourhood, try to treat it like a new place. When I first went offshore, I saw lots of niche opportunities; started a scientific paper proofreading business in Japan when we saw that no-one was offering that. NZ is a lot smaller, but there are plenty of new offerings you could bring with a set of fresh eyes.
3. Appreciate what NZ has to offer in real life; yes the great outdoors etc. is fantastic, but for most of us we still need to work and squeeze in a holiday at Whangapoua/weekend on the Tongariro crossing when we can.
Look at the ability to be involved; get on the Board of Trustees at your kids daycare/school, support the Women’s Refuge, join Big Brother etc. and make a difference. In many places that is not an option. There are a huge amount of opportunities for involvement in NZ. 

What are some of things you enjoy here that is harder to do back in Japan? 
Aside from the great outdoors…
Dealing with government departments such as NZIS, IRD, MBIE etc. is so much easier here than anywhere I have lived and done business.
Small is beautiful: Compared to many places, we don’t have the massive institutional inertia brought on by those multiple layers of responsibility-avoiding bureaucracy.
You as the consumer/client/applicant are never more than than 3 or 4 steps away from the CEO/HOD/Minister. You can effect change with the right approach.
Enjoy debate: where I lived overseas any disagreement on an opinion was taken as an attack on the person. The fact that we can have an argument about transgender use of toilets and go for a beer the next night is a good thing.
Multiculturalism: in NZ you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in so many different cultural experiences, you can literally travel the globe without leaving home.
Education: Where I lived in Japan and Thailand education is all about filling the empty glass. The teacher pours in copious amounts of information for the child to hold until they need to regurgitate it for a test (and then they dump it). Here you can expect 100% support in raising questioning, skeptical and inquisitive little people. Huge, even if it is a pain in the arse when your kids are always asking you “Why?”.
And of course fresh kina, great coffee and those Whitehorse burgers with beetroot and toasted buns; no more McCrap ever again!

What do you think NZ needs to improve on to be truly attractive to talent and investment?

Not so much improve the systems, improve the pitch. Come out with some good strong stats on what a SME business spends (time/money) on compliance in some economies compared to ours.How long does it take to do your monthly PAYE return, your GST return, how long to change your office address?These are all things that people who run SME businesses absolutely hate doing, but the fact is NZ facilitates these really well.So NZ should be going out and pitching for all those SME service/IT/Gaming/Technology related businesses with this simple set of facts.

Make sure everyone knows how bloody easy NZ is to run a business in, pay your bills and just get on with the fun parts of life.

Mark is owner of A2ZTranslate established 2002, Specialising in multilingual translation, localisation and foreign language online marketing (SEO, PPC etc.). They offer a scholarship in conjunction with Auckland University of Technology for translation and interpreting studies in Pacifica languages.

Marks contact:


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Nicholas Manarangi

After 10 years away Nick and his family are returning to New Zealand. Leaving their busy London lives behind and exchanging it for new challenges in Auckland. Motivated by family and a change in lifestyle.

Nick's Dutch wife is mostly concerned about the quality of NZ chocolate and cheese.Hope we don't disappoint.
connect here

Nicholas Manarangi

After 10 years away Nick and his family are returning to New Zealand. Leaving their busy London lives behind and exchanging it for new challenges in Auckland. Motivated by family and a change in lifestyle. Nick's Dutch wife is mostly concerned about the quality of NZ chocolate and cheese. Hope we don't disappoint.