Kolonia, Federated States Of Micronesia Report of what it's like to live there - 07/04/21
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?
We have also lived in Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe.
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?
USA. It takes at least two days from mainland USA. It is best to stop for a couple of days in Hawaii in order to rest before the long leg of the flight. From Hawaii, you will stop twice in the Marshall Islands and then fly into Pohnpei.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
5. 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?
Our house was nice. A one-story with an attached garage. Three beds, two baths, and a small backyard. Houses in the pool are all over the place. There are problems with termites and rats. The climate here is very rough (constant rain) on the houses.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Amazingly, you can get just about anything you would find in the US at the ex-pat grocery store (Ace Office Supplies). There is a sticker shock though as everything is imported. Meat and US branded products are widely available but very expensive. If you eat the same diet as the locals- fish, ramen, spam, and rice then you can actually save money.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
The wine, beer, and liquor selections are limited. I would have brought more liquor.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are only five acceptable restaurants for expats and only one delivers.
Arnold's- Pizza place that delivers. They also have adequate steak.
Hideaway- Sushi, and chicken. Great dining experience.
Mangrove- The only place with a decent bar. You will spend most of your time here as this is where all the expats socialize. They have sushi and chicken wings.
A1- Breakfast and lunch. Diner food.
Fusion- Decent curries, and seafood options.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Termites. Lots of termites. There are rats everywhere. You will see them running on the street and in the restaurants. You just have to pretend that they are not there.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Shockingly, there is a US Post Office here, but it is poorly run. We receive everything through the pouch. It takes about two weeks.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We have $40 a day for a housekeeper and I pay $40 for someone to mow the lawn. Housekeepers are very rare and they will not show up every day. You will have a hard time hiring someone. It seems to be culturally acceptable to not come to work for long periods of time with no communication.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a small embassy gym, but no one uses it. There is a gym at Genesis hospital that has a couple of ellipticals and some weight machines. It is not air-conditioned and you will have to bring your own WD-40 to get some of the machines working. There is a boxing/jiu-jitsu/Zumba gym. It is not air-conditioned and it looks like it could fall down at any moment. Bring your own toilet paper and soap.
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?
They only work at Ace Office Supplies and Ace Hardware every time. A few other places accept cards, but the machines often don't work. This is a cash society. There are only two ATMs on the island and they often don't work. Bring the maximum $10k in cash with you on the plane. The banks' ATMs run out of money on a pretty regular basis. Also, the ATMs break and they have to fly someone in from Guam in order to fix them. The ATMs can be out of order for days at a time. It is a good idea to get an account at the Bank of Guam or the Bank of the FSM in order to access cash.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There is one Catholic service per week in English. Otherwise, it is in Pohnpeian.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None. Everyone speaks English.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
You will not survive here if you have a physical disability. It is impossible. No sidewalks, no ramps, no automatic doors, no accessible bathrooms.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
The only form of transit is taxis. In my opinion, they are unsafe and unreliable.
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?
Listen to me. Do not bring a car here. I repeat, do not ship a car here. You can order a car from japaneseautos.com for a very reasonable price and it will be here when you arrive. If you bring a car, it will rust, and it will break down, and it will be worthless when your tour is over. The elements here destroy vehicles. Even if your car does make it, you will not be able to sell it for anything when you leave. The Japanese import used cars and they are incredibly cheap.
You can buy anything you want. If you want to go into the jungle, then you will need an SUV. There are no carjackings.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. It should be set up when you arrive. It costs about $75 per month. Is it fast? No. Is it reliable? Mostly.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked phone. There is only one provider in the country. FSM telecom. You will have to get a SIM card and buy load cards.
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?
Do not bring a pet here. There are wild dogs everywhere. You can just get a puppy or a kitten when you arrive. There are zero vets on the island. Once or twice a year a vet from Guam might fly in. There are no kennels and no quarantine requirements.
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 two jobs at the embassy for spouses. One is in the Community Liaison Office (CLO) and the other is the Management Assistant. There are no jobs in the local market.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
This is a make-your-own-way type of post. If you want to get behind a cause here, you will have to start it yourself.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Formal dress is never required. Very casual. Khakis and a polo for men. Casual skirts and shirts for women. You will literally meet with government officials and traditional leaders who won't be wearing shoes or a shirt. Leave your suits and ties at home.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Not really. We had one car break-in, but no violence or home break-ins.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Ok, this is crucial. If you are not the picture of perfect health, DO NOT COME HERE. I have found the hospitals to be disgusting and dirty. The emergency rooms are not always staffed with doctors. You will be shipped to Guam for anything other than a headache. Dental care is abhorrent and dirty, in my opinion. There are no specialists on the island. There are no mental health providers on the island. This is a medical disaster waiting to happen. We have two children here and we went to the emergency room for a skin infection. No doctor. They had to call one in. Got a prescription. No pharmacist. They had to call one in. Thank God it wasn't a major broken bone or worse.
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?
The best part about living here is the air quality. It is pristine.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
If you are allergic to bananas or fish then you will want to avoid the restaurants here.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Expats have a hard time with mental health here. A lot of folks curtail. The isolation is crushing to some people. Boredom is also crushing.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
75-85 everyday 365. It rains every day. Sometimes, it doesn't stop raining for several days at a time.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are two schools that expats send their kids to: Calvert Christian and Pohnpei Catholic. If you are not religious, you may not love the curriculum. There are dedicated religion classes every day. Calvert Christian is better academically, but I understand that they have very strong teachings against homosexuality. I've heard that the American children who attended these schools were way behind in reading and math when they got back to the US. I feel it is best to homeschool your children here.
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?
No, they are not available in any way that would be acceptable to an expat.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There is a pool that has swimming classes. It has been closed for over a year, but it is supposed to open again in the fall. This is a post where you have to create your own activities. My wife started a Girl Scout troop here.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It is currently tiny as everyone left during the pandemic. Currently, the morale is low because no one can leave the island for fear that they cannot get back. FSM is only now starting to reopen its borders. There are Australian and Japanese diplomats. A few NGO types and people from the Tuna Commission. There are also missionaries and people who landed here and never left. You will meet everyone in the expat community within 60 days of arrival.
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?
Drinking and fishing. The main form of entertainment is fishing tournaments. So, join the fishing club as soon as you arrive and make friends with someone who owns a boat. Everyone meets at Mangrove restaurant to drink. If you don't drink or fish, you will not like it here.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Married couples without children should do well here. Singles have a really hard time as the dating pool is tiny.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
No. It is not easy to make friends with locals. You will make friends in the expat community though. The locals are very, very laid back. If they say anything bad about you it won't be to your face.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
There was a Gay Pride parade this year. There is no violence against LGBT people, but this is a very religious society. I have found they are pretty adamant that it is a sin.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
They don't love Chinese people, but I have never seen anything out of the ordinary.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Deep-sea fishing. Visiting the outer islands. Nan Madol.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are no hidden gems. If you like drinking, telling stories, and hanging out, then you will survive.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
There is no traffic and no pollution. It is one of the only places on the planet that had ZERO Covid cases. That was pretty amazing. I have never had to wear a mask or isolate myself in any way.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
There are so many stray dogs. It is really crazy.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No. The medical care is so poor, I would not take that risk with my children again. We were very fortunate to avoid a medical emergency.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Anything cold weather-related.
4. But don't forget your:
Hats, sunscreen, fishing rod.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Sex Lives of Cannibals. It is based in Kiribati, but the themes are familiar.