Kolonia, Federated States Of Micronesia Report of what it's like to live there - 02/07/13
Personal Experiences from Kolonia, Federated States Of Micronesia
1. Your reason for living this city (e.g. corporate, government, military, student, educator, retiree, etc.):
2. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
3. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
It takes at least 30 hours to get to DC and sometimes upwards of 40 to 50 hours, depending on connections. From Pohnpei, the only way to get out is west to Chuuk and then north to Guam, or east through Kosrae, Kwajelein, Majuro and Honolulu. Flying times in the Pacific should be measured in days rather than hours.
4. How long have you lived here?
(The contributor is affiliated with eht US Government and is still living in Kolonia, a third expat experience.)
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
U.S. Embassy housing is okay on a global standard, but the cream of the crop vis-a-vis living standards is to be found here on Pohnpei. Most people in Pohnpei don't have electricty and running water, so our houses are extremely nice. No dishwashers though.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Very hit or miss. We buy almost everything on Amazon. The cost of some groceries is very high ($15 for a bag of chips), while other things are remarkably cheap ($2.50 per pound for lobster). The bottom line is that availability is the problem - one day there may be eggs and the next not. There may not be any butter for a month. Better stock up when you can.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are no real fast food restaurants on any of the four main islands of the FSM. Pohnpei has a few good-to-very-good restaurants. Lots of fish, sushi, crustaceans, some decent steaks, burgers, pizza. Cost can vary wildly from a few dollars for a sushi meal to $70 for lamb.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Almost non-existent. A few flies, very few mosquitos, if any.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Unavailable. The Micronesians are not known for their domestic attentiveness or work ethic. A few people have found Philippinas to help at home, but I wouldn't bother here. There have been reports of thefts and break-ins blamed on the hired help.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are no gyms in the country.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
There are only a handful of ATMs in the country. Only two or three on Pohnpei, one each (maybe) on the other three islands. Almost no one accepts credit cards in the FSM.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Not sure. There are lots of missionaries and religious organizations in the FSM vying for the hearts and minds of the natives.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Pohnpei has one newspaper that comes out twice a month. The other islands have no media whatsoever.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Nothing at all really. Almost everyone speaks English natively or as second-language.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Extreme difficulty. Even able-bodied people struggle to get around in Micronesia. There is no consideration for people with disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There is no public transportation in the FSM. Taxis are not safe, and they do not take customers directly to their destination but, rather, pick up additional passengers during the fare.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Bring something that you don't mind pushing off a cliff when you leave. Your car will get ruined here. 4-wheel drive and good clearance would be beneficial if you plan on exploring much.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is expensive and bad to mediocre here, though it is much less expensive than it was in years past. A bad connection runs about US$70 a month. The good package is US$200.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Buy a card from FSM Telecom. Calling here is not very expensive.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
Yes. For up to 6 months.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
A roving Pacific vet comes here once every 4-6 months.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Basically nothing if you don't work for an embassy. The average per capita income in the FSM is about the same as Mauritania.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Island casual - short-sleeved shirts and jeans passes here.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
The FSM is safe from major crime; though there have been occasional assaults, home invasions, rapes, these mostly have occurred on Chuuk. Home thefts are about as serious as it gets on Pohnpei.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
There is basically no medical care here. The local populace is riddled with health problems, mostly non-communicable, but occasionally there is a dengue outbreak.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Generally pristine, though the junky vehicles on Pohnpei are doing their best to destroy that.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The weather literally never changes here. It's about 82 degrees F and pretty humid every day throughout the year. There are no seasons and no variations in the weather. Lows are in the high 70s and highs are in the mid-80s. It is the rainiest inhabited place in the world, so be prepared for 200 to 400 inches of rain a year.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are none.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I don't have kids but I am sure there are no accommodations at the local schools. There are no international schools here.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Perhaps 100 on Pohnpei.
2. Morale among expats:
It varies wildly. If you like adventures and you recognize (but don't mind) the electricity going out all the time (we have backup generators at home), the water going out all the time (we have backup water catchment systems), and terrible roads, the very unsophisticated cultural atmosphere, total remoteness, lack of good restaurants, stores, and media, then it's alright. If you are a high- (or middle, or even low-middle) maintenance person look elsewhere.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Very little unless you make your own fun.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's okay for couples and very bad for singles - there is little to do on the island, and unless a single person is either extremely outgoing or extremely comfortable in solitude, this would be difficult. For families with school-aged kids, forget it. The schools here are horrendously bad.are horrendously bad.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It's probably terrible.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
The islands are not very used to diversity. I would think it might be hard for some types of people here.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The underwater world is incredible - snorkeling, diving, fishing, surfing is all world class in the FSM.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Hiking, snorkeling, diving, fishing, surfing, watching the sunset, boating, etc.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Generally uninspired wooden crafts. Grass hats. Skirts. Sakau (Kava).
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The remote islands of the Pacific are like nowhere else in the world. It's an adventure.
11. Can you save money?
Absolutely. Despite what you read in other people's posts here, Micronesia is very inexpensive if you aren't travelling on your own dime all the time or eating imported lamb several times a week. There's nothing to spend your money on here, so one could save as much as one wanted. Now, if you have pouch access you can shop online, and then... well, that's not related to living in Micronesia. Life here is cheap - the Micronesians live on a few thousand dollars a year.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. It's not a paradise and it has a plethora of problems, but Micronesia was meant to be an adventure. Don't come with unreasonable expectations.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
idea that all Pacific islands as paradises. The FSM is naturally beautiful and can be interesting, but you should not expect Bora Bora.
3. But don't forget your:
Snorkel and fins and reef fish and creature ID books. The best thing about Micronesia is the nature.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
A Guide to Pohnpei: An Island Argosy
(Gene Ashby), The Island of the Colorblind
(Sacks), Ethnobotany of Pohnpei: Plants, People, and Island Culture, Reef Creature Identification Tropical Pacific, Micronesian Reef Fishes: A Practical Guide to the Identification of the Coral Reef Fishes of the Tropical Central and Western Pacific, The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific
(Theroux - though not about Micronesia, the book will set you in the mode of expectations for the Pacific)