Kolonia, Federated States Of Micronesia Report of what it's like to live there - 04/01/08
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?
This is my tenth expat experience. Previous assignments were in Europe and the Pacific region.
2. How long have you lived here?
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I work for the U.S. Government.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
You have only two choices - Continental Micronesia from Guam (via Chuuk) or Continental Micronesia from Honolulu (via Majuro, Kwajelein, Kosrae). PNI is the code for Pohnpei Airport [Kolonia is located on Pohnpei].
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
The longest commute is 15 minutes. Traffic only backs up along the main road during brief rush hours and holiday shopping periods. Usually, it's easy to drive around Kolonia and the island, if you mind the pigs, chickens, dogs, people in the road and the other vehicles traveling at 5 miles/hour up a winding road (can't pass them!).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Availability is the main problem. Fresh fruits and vegetables are in limited, inconsistent supply. What is available, besides local root crops and bananas, is often rotting, yet still overpriced. If you get a consumables shipment, use it!! Cleaning products and paper products are available, but they are 2 to 3 times the price of what you'd pay at home. Markups on canned goods are lower. In general, the selection is really limited here. There's plenty of canned food however. And UHT milk has been consistently available during my year here. Checks dates on cereals carefully before buying, especially at Palm Terrace - what's on the shelf is often well past its sell-by date. Ace Commercial has better prices, though Palm Terrace is the biggest supermarket. Neime's imports items in bulk from Hawaii (Costco items), but you really pay for it!! Still, I pay the US$9.95 for that bottle of Tropicana OJ just to get it.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
More spices and sauces to flavor my food.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are no fast food chains here. There are no American or other international restaurants here. The local restaurants mainly serve local seafood and white rice.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Embassy U.S. direct-hires receive incoming diplomatic pouch once a week and have outgoing pouch once a month.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
It's very hard to find someone who wants to work, will show up and won't steal from you. Really, none of my colleagues have domestic staff here now based on previous bad experiences.
3. 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 is one ATM machine on the island - Bank of Guam. It's safe to use. Credit cards are only accepted at a few hotels and hotel restaurants and a handful of stores.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes. SDA, LDS, Catholic, other evangelical.
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
If you live in Kolonia, you can subscribe to Island Cable. If you live out of town, you need a DVD player - there is no broadcast television in the FSM. Embassy homes have AFN (3 channels). There are no daily newspapers in the FSM. At best, there is the Kaselehlie Press once every two weeks.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None. English is the official language of the FSM as each state has its own language (as do some of the outer islands within the four states).
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Many. There are few sidewalks, and the roads are not well-maintained. There is no public transportation system.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There are no trains or buses. Taxis are cheap but not recommended if alone or at night (for a foreigner).
3. 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?
I'd recommend a small SUV. Gas is now US$5.07/gallon. You won't drive much here (the drive around the island takes just under 2 hours), but the roads are in bad condition. A sedan with low clearance will take a beating here.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
It is available, but so expensive (US$1000/month) that only large organizations can afford it.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Again, FSM Telecom has a monopoly. You need to buy a SIM card from them, which won't work when you leave the FSM (no roaming).
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
FSM Telecom has a monopoly and is at capacity. Call quality is low, and on average my calls to the U.S. or Asia get cut off 2-3 times per call. Some people who live in town say they have used Skype successfully. Do not direct dial - using prepaid scratch-off phone cards from FSM Telecom will save you up to 60% off direct dial rates. These same phone cards can be used for dialup and wireless (where available) Internet access.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
None. A private vet does visit the island periodically.
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?
If you are a lawyer, there must be, given the number of American lawyers here.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Island casual. No shorts though at work in an office. And local women wear long dresses/skirts.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Good. There is no industry here. The air is incredibly clean.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Petty theft from your yard or unlocked car. Assaults against expats seem rare here (or maybe are rarely reported). Be careful after dark however, especially in Kolonia. You are most likely to encounter trouble if you run into a group of drunken local teens.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is available but of low quality. Make sure you have sufficient medevac insurance.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Mixed. Kolonia gets about 200 inches of rain per year; the mountainous interior of the island gets up to 400 inches/year. You learn to not let the rain dictate your outdoor plans. It is sunnier here than I was told previously, though November 2007 was non-stop downpours!
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are no international schools. Embassy families currently send their children to the Seventh Day Adventist School, which tries its best given very limited resources and teaching staff credentials. The religious overtones of the instruction is not for everyone.
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?
Yes. UCCP offers a decent pre-chool run by a German woman with local staff support.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
For a town of 5,000 people, large. There are many American missionaries, American lawyers working for the FSM government, Filipino clerical staff, medical personnel,laborers and small business owners.
2. Morale among expats:
It really depends on what you were expecting. Fair overall.
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?
Make your own fun! There is one movie theater with 3 screens.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is hard to answer. Singles will be lonely here unless they drink a lot and fall into the exapt bar crowd (proceed with caution!) or are very religious and belong to a church. If you like diving, snorkeling, kayaking, boating, fishing, hiking, you'll have a better time (and if you don't mind the rain). Families seem unhappy here due to the limited employment opportunities for spouses and poor schooling options for children. There is no cultural life here, and entertainment options are few. You need to make your own fun here, yes, just like your mom told you! If you can do that, you'll be moderately happy here. It's a rather safe place in this day and age, just much less developed and poorer and economically depressed than I had expected.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Probably not. No one here seems to talk about gays and lesbians. It's a very small, incestuous, overtly religious place - there are no secrets here. So I've not noticed any hostility, nor have I noticed acceptance.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes. Women are treated as second-class citizens and expected to serve the men.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Hike up Sokehs Ridge (moderate). Climb Sokehs Rock (tough). Visit Nan Madol ruins. Dive, snorkel, fish, kayak. Visit Ant Atoll (where there are beaches).
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
9. Can you save money?
Yes, if you do not travel at your own expense off the island and have brought most of what you need in with a consumables shipment. Otherwise, it is expensive here to try to maintain the lifestyle you may want. Food in local restaurants is rather cheap compared to the U.S., though the quality is not great (edible fare, but bland).
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No. It's not a bad place, but once was enough. The feeling of isolation and lack of diversity (from people to food to everything!) is severe.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Need for a cultural life and tasty cuisine. Need for perfection.
3. But don't forget your:
Patience, self-reliance, ability to entertain yourself. Books to read!
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
7. Do you have any other comments?
This is a country without any broadcast television, any book stores, and any daily media.