Firsthand: S'pore school dropout moves to NZ, now a truck driver earning over NZ$70k a year

"In New Zealand, it's all about experience, it's about knowledge. It's not about like, oh, you got a diploma."

Ilyda Chua | January 20, 2024, 11:12 AM

At 41, Nazib Saptu is living the less-spoken-of Singaporean dream.

Not the one with the car and the condo; the other one, where he escapes the pressure cooker, packs his things, and moves 8,000km away to Auckland, New Zealand.

Four years on, he has bought his first home: a three-bedroom house that he shares with his wife and two step-kids. He works four days a week, around 40-45 hours, and rests for the other three.

While he declines to share his exact income, he earns "above NZ$70k" a year. (That's around S$58,000, or roughly S$4,800 a month. In case you were wondering.)

It's a respectable, comfortable life. But the truth is that most of this would've been unthinkable in Singapore.

After all, he was just 10 years old when he dropped out of school.

Photo courtesy of Nazib Saptu

A hard upbringing

One of seven children raised by a single mum, Nazib was in primary school when he "felt that [he] needed to drop out of school and earn money".

By 11, he'd started doing odd jobs. He delivered newspapers, cleaned swimming pools, and worked in F&B.

"I didn't look back by going back to school again."

While he worked, he trained in hopes of becoming a professional footballer.

But his soccer career eventually ended due to a ligament tear.

Photo courtesy of Nazib Saptu

With his limited education and money, Nazib once again found himself cycling through a series of jobs: a pump attendant at Shell, a mailroom specialist at Singapore Press Holdings, a baggage handler at Changi Airport.

But in 2020, he made the decision to whisk his wife and three kids off to a fresh start: over 8,000km away in Auckland, New Zealand.

Driving trucks

Starting over in a new country proved more difficult than he imagined.

Finding work wasn't easy. He spent months searching and sent out "hundreds of emails" in search of a new job.

"I waited maybe three to six months," he recalls.

He eventually found a job as a tow truck driver, following in the footsteps of his brother, who taught him how to drive back in Singapore.

Photo courtesy of Nazib Saptu

But it was a mentally and physically draining job, made worse by the racism he'd face.

"Sometime my life would get threatened by the gang members here. I would get bullied as well because of being know, we're not big-sized," he explains.

"But luckily I am strong mentally due to my hardship growing up since I was 10 years old."

Furthermore, his then-wife was a homemaker. Nazib struggled to feed the family of five on one person's income.

They eventually got divorced. And Nazib found himself alone in a foreign country, far from home.

Settling down

Fortunately, he has since settled down.

He now works for a major transportation company, Northchill, driving "the nicest truck in Auckland".

Photo courtesy of Nazib Saptu

He also has benefits: union protections, a car, free petrol.

"My boss, he loves me so much and whatever I want, he gives it to me," Nazib quips.

All this he attributes to the different work culture in New Zealand, which he says is more flexible and respectful as compared to Singapore.

"[In Singapore] they don't give you opportunities. They like to judge you.

But in New Zealand, it's all about experience, it's about knowledge. It's not about like, oh, you got a diploma.

If you got paper and no knowledge, they're gonna kick you out of the door."

Photo courtesy of Nazib Saptu

Apart from his success at work, he has also gotten remarried to a half-Singaporean local.

"She fully supported me on my career as a truck driver even though I got no education...she believes in me," he said.

"I myself couldn’t believe that without education, [she] agreed to marry me...she's my dream girl."

Between Singapore and New Zealand

While he is content with his life in New Zealand, Nazib is not blind to the difficulties of living here.

Rent isn't cheap — around NZ$640 a week for a three-bedroom house — and eating out is expensive.

"Nasi lemak here costs around NZ$18, chicken rice NZ$20," he elaborates.

Furthermore, while the country has a laid-back culture, the crime rate is decidedly higher. "I'll be honest, you walk alone at night, sometimes you can get robbed," he says.

And though New Zealand has become home, Nazib admits that he does miss Singapore.

"We Singapore lah. So we miss the food, the friends...the football." (He added he still supports Singapore in football.)

Neither has he ruled out the possibility of relocating back to Singapore.

"I still keep my Singapore passport," he admits.

"I'll be honest, my mum's still alive, and I have family there. So it's quite hard."