Living in Guam – Is the Island Life Right for You?
Packing up your whole life and moving to a 210-square-mile island in the middle of the Pacific sounds like an adventure of a lifetime. It will bring you some big lifestyle changes, and while preparing, you might wonder, is living in Guam the right thing for you?
Don’t worry, this unincorporated territory of the United States is one of the most diverse, friendly, and breathtakingly beautiful locations in all of Oceania. After being fed up with the big city lifestyle, I relocated to pursue a slower-paced and relaxed vibe. The island is peaceful, but at the same time can offer you unforgettable adventures. On top of that, the mix of ethnicities and cultures makes it really accepting for expats, meaning that you won’t need a lot of time to pick up the customs and start feeling like one of the locals.
Start the Journey by Figuring Out How to Move to Guam
Long before you find the answer to the question – what is it like to live in Guam, you have to gather all the necessary documents to actually move there. If you are lucky enough to have US citizenship, the process is pretty straightforward. Just bring your passport or your ID.
However, if you, just like me, are an expat from another country, the process might get a bit complicated. Mainly you’ll be asked to show your passport and valid US visa. However, make sure to check if there are some special requirements for your country.
Non-American Citizens Can Also Relocate to the Island
Yes, people that are not American citizens can also relocate to Guam. I, as an expat, am living proof of that. Although, be prepared to gather a bit more paperwork than the average American. Let’s get right into it – there are a few ways you can get the visa. I relocated to the US with a student visa because I studied in NYC. However, later I applied for a work one.
Go to the nearest US embassy, and they will tell you what kind of visa you are eligible for. Besides a student one, you can apply for two types of work visas. The first one is for those workers that seek permanent resident status, and to get it, you have to be sponsored by your employer. The second one is for more seasonal work, and the visa will last for as long as your job does.
There Are Things You Cannot Bring With You
Don’t make the same mistake I did and pack up everything you own without actually checking if the Custom and Quarantine Agency (CQA) will let you bring all the belongings to Guam. Yes, you can bring the household items, but they have to be in your possession for at least three months before the move. Also, you can bring the meds (just don’t forget the doctor’s note), duty-free alcohol, and tobacco in specific limits.
However, things like live plants, flowers, and other vegetables are prohibited. Imagine my surprise when a customs agent told me to get rid of the cactus I kept alive during my NYC days. Also, you won’t be able to bring dangerous toys, knives, or fireworks.
There are a few pretty strict custom rules, and if you want to avoid problems, check out with CQA if you packed anything illegal. Trust me, it will save you a few hours while crossing the border.
You Should Be Aware of the Cost of Living in Guam Before the Move
Those who often relocate know how prices can drastically vary from one place to another even though you are still (technically) in the same country. One of the first things that I wondered about when considering ditching NYC for an Island lifestyle was – is it expensive to live in Guam?
Of course, something being cheap or expensive is really a relative thing. Depending on the place you are moving from, Guam can be either. Overall, you won’t save up too much money as a renter since the prices of one-bedroom apartments are almost the same as in the US. However, becoming a homeowner will be much more affordable.
What I found interesting is that the utility bills are way higher than in the rest of the country. This can also be said for the internet. And even though there are different internet providers to choose from, you can expect to pay around $100 a month for unlimited data.
Also, when I moved here, cooking at home became a rare activity. This is due to the fact that the groceries are a bit pricier than I am used to, and the meals at the restaurants are quite affordable. So, if you don’t like cooking, you don’t have to wonder is Guam a good place to live – because the answer is yes!
There Are Many Villages You Can Settle In When Moving to Guam
Even though there are only around 168k residents on the island, there is not only one city here. Besides the capital Agana, there are other nineteen smaller or bigger villages you can settle in. Population in these villages ranges from 1,000 to 40,000.
When I was choosing where to move, my main goal was to find a welcoming community with the right employment opportunities as well as entertainment ones. If you want to enjoy island life, but at the same time be in bigger, more urban communities, check out villages like Dededo, Yigo, and Tamuning. They all have more than a few thousand residents and can provide you with plenty of different activities and opportunities.
Tourism and Military Are Not the Only Options for People Working in Guam
When you relocate to an island with a gorgeous environment, you can expect that tourism is the main industry. Guam is not an exception. There are more than a million tourists from all over the world flocking to this island each year. This way, those looking for work in tourism are in luck because they will find employment easily.
However, tourism is not the only one that impacts the economy. The US military plays a major role in it as well. There are several military installations around the island. Nevertheless, if you are not up to working in the military or in tourism, there are still some options available.
Due to the development of the island, there are jobs available in construction and transportation. And also, you can find work in one of many smaller, local businesses.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Living in Guam When It Comes to Employment
What nobody tells you when you are looking for work is that the whole process can be long, tiring, and overwhelming. I moved to Guam while its unemployment rates were skyrocketing, so finding work was tricky. However, one of the biggest pros here is the effort of the government to make the island a better, more prosperous location for all of its residents. This means that the unemployment rates are constantly lowering, and new jobs positions are opening. From tourism to construction, there is something for everybody.
Get a High-Quality Education in One of Many Schools in Guam
Imagine going to school in the morning and then hitting the beach in the afternoon. That’s what it’s like living in Guam and being a student. And even though you will be living on the island, it doesn’t mean that you’ll be deprived of a good education.
I got my master’s degree here, so you can too. Depending on what your interests are, you can opt for one of five universities and colleges. From CariPac to the University of Guam, there is something for everyone. You can study everything from liberal arts to humanistic studies.
What I loved the most about studying in Guam is the fact that there are not too many expats around. So, I was surrounded by islanders. They helped me understand the culture and customs better. I made some really significant friendships that will last me a lifetime.
You’ll Need the Vehicle to Get Around the Island
Living without a car is possible in places with good transportation networks, where public transit covers every location within the city. I lived in bigger, more urban areas most of my life before moving to Guam, so I never actually needed a car to get by. However, that changed the moment I settled in my new home.
Living in Guam comes with many perks. Nevertheless, the island lacks some basic amenities, and public transportation is one of them. If you want to commute around, you’ll need a vehicle. If you don’t have a driver’s license, you will have to use and rely on taxi services that are not exactly cheap.
And even though there are no freeways, highways and local roads connect villages to one another. Since there are not too many residents, the commute time is shorter than in the cities like NYC and Los Angeles. Although, I should let you know that the speed limit on most of the island is around 35mph because the roads can get slippery and dangerous.
Overall, if considering living in Guam, my advice would be to ship your vehicle along with all of your stuff and enjoy a smooth ride without huge traffic jams.
When Relocating to Guam Get Ready for Some Typhoons
When thinking about island life, the first thing that pops into your mind is probably the weather. It is something that attracts the newcomers the most to Guam. Here the temperatures tend to be constant throughout the whole year, and they tend to be around 86°F. However, there are some days when the high humidity levels can make you feel like you are constantly sweating. If you are not used to high temperatures, I suggest investing money in quality AC or a bunch of fans.
Even the winters here that happen between January and March are not that much different from the rest of the year when it comes to temperatures. It might get a “bit colder,” and the daytime temperature can drop to 70°F, but that’s about it. Also, there is something known as a wet season, and it starts in July and lasts all through December. During this period, it rains several times a day, and strong winds may appear. However, days still tend to be mostly sunny.
Besides enjoying the beautiful, sunny weather all through the year, you’ll have to get ready for some typhoons. The island is located in something called a Typhoon Alley, and it gets hit by them occasionally. Because Guam is in the Pacific, typhoons that hit it can be strong and severe.
With this in mind, many homes are designed to withstand winds and storms. That’s why the architecture is not always as attractive as you want it to be. However, it is pretty effective. On the other hand, because you can’t defeat nature, the simple solution is to get property insurance that covers all the storm damage. No matter if you decide to rent or buy a place, insurance will save you a lot of money.
And don’t worry, typhoons are not something that pops up in the sky in a minute. You won’t get sidetracked by a storm while you are in the middle of your daily routine. Most storms are forecasted, and you will get at least 48-hour notice to prepare for one.
Different Ethnicities Make Living Conditions in Guam Perfect for Expats
Living in a place that is a melting pot of ethnicities makes it easier to fit in, no matter who you are and where you are coming from. Luckily, when relocating to Guam, you’ll be settling in a very diverse environment where the largest (but not the only) ethnic group are the native Chamorro. Because they make up around 40% of all the population, one of the official languages here is Chamoru (the second one being English).
Besides native Chamorus people, there are also Asians like Filipinos, Japanese, and Koreans. Then there are other ethnic groups such as Palauan and Pohnpeians. With all of this diversity, people are used to newcomers. That’s why, when I moved to Guam, most of my neighbors and coworkers were very friendly, accepting, and helpful.
They walked me through social customs, different religions, cultures, and cuisines. I never had the opportunity to learn folk religions, other languages, and cultures before. Doing so naturally helped me fit in faster into the local crowd.
Living in Guam Might Be a Culture Shock at First
Life on Guam island is a bit different than what I thought it would be. Even though I did my fair share of research before relocating, I was certainly not fully prepared for the culture shock. Luckily, with friendly locals by my side, I managed to overcome the cultural differences.
However, when you are relocating here, be prepared to spend a few weeks getting used to a mix of different cultures. From traditional Chamorro customs to American, Mexican, and Spanish traditions. Residents here picked up something from everybody, creating their unique blend of traditions and customs. For example, the main influences can be seen in the local language, music, dance, and games.
Guam is famous for its island parties because music is an integral part of the lifestyle. When you attend one of these fiestas, you’ll get to enjoy traditional instruments and an entertaining Kantan Chamorro style of singing.
It all might seem a bit overwhelming at the beginning, but don’t worry, locals will gladly explain all the right dancing moves to you and teach you a few of the popular songs.
You’ll Get To Embrace the Fusions of Different Cuisines
If you are used to Big Macs and In-n-Out, the cuisine of Guam will bring you a change of pace. Here, the native cuisine consists mostly of fish, rice, and different fruits such as bananas and coconuts. I learned that traditional dishes are cooked in heated stones that are buried in a pit.
There are also many dishes based on corn, which means you’ll get to eat tamales, tortillas, and chilaquiles for days. The fusion of different tastes creates a unique dining experience. That’s why when you go out you should be open to new dishes.
Pro tip – Don’t miss out on Kadon pika and traditional Chamorro cookies.
You’ll Never Get Bored While Living on the Island
The island might be known for its postcard-perfect beaches; however, Guam is more than just that (even though beaches can make you speechless – we’ll get to them later). No matter your hobbies and interests, you won’t be deprived of them when you move to Guam.
If you are a history buff, then getting to know the past of Guam will be one of the entertaining activities you can enjoy. The island has been one of the prime positions of interest in WWII, and a glimpse into that time period can be found at several locations.
Also, you can get a feel of the local lifestyle by visiting the Wednesday Night Market at Chamorro Village. This is where you can enjoy shows and grab a bite of local food. I got addicted to some barbecue, and you might as well. Furthermore, this is where you can get crafts and artwork at reasonable prices and decorate your home.
There are also more than a few publicly accessible golf courses. Most of them take advantage of amazing coastal views. So if you want to golf, bask in the sun and enjoy the view of sandy beaches, make sure to check Onward Mangilao Golf Club.
There are Different Beaches for Every Day of The Week
I don’t know about you, but I love trying new things, exploring new locations, and meeting new people. That’s why I made a plan when I moved to Guam – every day I’ll get to visit a new beach until I find the one that I like the best.
If you are a fan of water, surfing, fishing, or just chilling at the beach, make sure you have a car, and then you can hit every secluded location around the island until you find your favorite. I love visiting Tanguisson Beach when I need to get away from the hustle and bustle of my busy workdays. It takes a bit of hiking to get to it, but when you do, you’ll get to enjoy sky blue water and white sand. If you are into photography, you can snap a few photos of unique rock formations and put them online, making everybody jealous.
When you don’t have the time to hike up to the beach, check out Ypao Beach Park. It is right in the middle of downtown Tumon, and this is where you can bask in the sun but also sip cocktails and grab some excellent local snacks. Plus, if you work remotely, the beach can quickly become your office.
And if you like surfing, don’t miss out on Talofofo Beach. This is not your typical Guam white sand location. However, the water is perfect for those that enjoy catching a wave. There are also other beaches where you can snorkel, swim, or just bask in the sun.
Life on Guam Island Is Worth All the Trouble of Relocating
Yes, I spent a lot of time planning my move. I did a lot of research, but in the end, relocating to Guam was one of the smartest decisions I ever made. Not only that the island lifestyle suits my adventurous nature, but it also helped me learn so much about different cultures.
With employment opportunities that are improving by the day, there will be plenty of newcomers flocking to this small paradise in Oceania. That’s why you shouldn’t hesitate too much to relocate and grab the best job opportunities as well as housing options. If you are lucky, there will be some properties by the sandy shores you can settle in.
On top of that, living in Guam will put you in the vicinity of some gorgeous beaches, so whenever you feel stressed, you can just grab your flip-flops and head to the shore.
As an expat and now a long-term resident of Guam, I can tell you that the island life grows on you, it becomes a part of your identity, and it is totally worth all the trouble of relocating.