Kolonia, Federated States Of Micronesia Report of what it's like to live there - 03/10/20
Personal Experiences from Kolonia, Federated States Of Micronesia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Not a first experience, I have also lived in Europe, Dubai, India, Pakistan, Suriname, Chile, and Malta.
2. 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?
Washington, DC. It's a very long trip to get to Pohnpei. Travel takes about two days, maybe longer. Flights and connections are sporadic and expensive.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing varies. The locals live fairly simply, expats a bit more high-end, but the infrastructure is so spotty that no housing is free of problems--electricity, plumbing, vermin (rats), rust, termites.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Most groceries that are not locally grown or procured, like the local tuna, are shipped in and are expensive. Availability of fresh fruit and vegetables is sporadic.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Staples like olive oil that are available but are incredibly expensive.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are about six decent restaurants that serve sushi, fish, burgers, pasta. Arnold's has take-out. Stick to local specialties. Pizza is not very good.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Biting ants, rats, mosquitoes, termites
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
The FSM utilizes the American postal system. Shipments from Amazon take a few weeks, sometimes longer.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
I had good household help, but she came with a recommendation and is known among the Embassy community. The availability of quality household help is limited.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are some gyms, and regular zumba classes. Gyms are not air conditioned. Outdoor swimming pool is nice enough, but not always open when it says it is, and it's next to a piggery, so sometimes it smells bad.
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?
Credit cards can be used at the Ace stores (Ace Office is likely where you'll go to buy groceries), restaurants, hotels.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are lots of churches with English-language services: Catholic, 7th Day Adventist, etc.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You don't need any. English is widely spoken. It would be difficult to find tutors.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Very much. Even able-bodied people have trouble. There are few curbs and buildings do not have accommodations for people with disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No. My understanding is that taxis are connected to local prostitution rings.
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?
SUV is handy, especially when it rains. Don't bring anything you value highly. Your car will get dinged, or bottom out on bad roads, or rust away with the constant rain.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Installation can happen within a week but the service is spotty, not consistent.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Use a SIM card from FSM Telecom.
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?
No. Don't bring pets. You can't get them certified rabies-free unless you pay the vet in Guam to come. (He comes every six months, I think.) There are packs of stray dogs who have a lot of skin ailments, coughs, wounds. There are wild chickens. Sometimes pigs. Not a healthy environment for animals.
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?
There are few jobs available for spouses, if any. Local salaries are astonishingly low.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
That would depend upon your interest. You would have to make your own opportunities.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Island casual. Leave behind jackets, dress shotes.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
It's a fairly safe environment, although I have heard among locals there are high rates of alcohol-related violence and accidents, and domestic abuse.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
There is very little quality medical care. There is a state hospital where someone I know had a gall bladder removed. And there is Dr. Isaac, who has the Pohnpei Family Clinic. He is very good (went to med school in Hawaii), but he's not always on the island.
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?
Pristine air, really beautiful.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
I think people feel isolated, since the closest get-away point (Guam) is an expensive, albeit not-too-far, flight.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Every day hot (high 80s) and humid. Same all year. It rains a lot. This is supposedly the 3rd wettest locale on the planet.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
No international schools.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
Nothing. Everything is family-based, if at all. Education system is poor.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Swimming, martial arts, school plays.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Maybe about 100 people, working at the Tuna Commission, embassies, NGOs. Families seem to do better than singles, for whom there are few opportunities.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
People really need to create their own fun.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Families seem to do okay, but singles seem to get depressed.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No. Very little acceptance.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Locals are very bound to their family and tribal constellations. There are lots of obligations within those units, and even if they befriend you, you're not really part of that society.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Some of the islands are matriarchal, in terms of land ownership, but the society overall, especially in Chuuk, is very patriarchal.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Snorkeling, diving, going out in boats, having sushi at Mangrove.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Nan Madol (UNESCO World Heritage Site) is worth a visit. It's not a tourist-friendly place. The town of Kolonia is really basically a slum.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There are some wood items, hand-carved, and some lovely trinkets made with shells and weaving. And they sell homegrown pepper, which is good. And their kava, called sacau, which is not to everyone's taste.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The commute to anywhere is short. Life is simple.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Travel to and from is quite arduous.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Dressy clothing, any furniture or clothing you value (mold is a problem, due to humidity).
4. But don't forget your:
Diving or snorkeling gear, swimsuit, bug spray.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Edge of Paradise gives a good, well researched, and sweeping view of the area and its political and cultural history. The Sex Lives of Cannibals, which is about Kribati, will give you a taste of life on a Pacific island.