3 Aug 2011
Lately I’ve noticed people have found L13 by searching “What’s it like to live in Guam” so I thought it might be helpful to write about my 25 years of experience in living here. There is a lot of ground to cover so this will be written in parts. If there is something specific you’d like to know about, please post in comments and I’ll get to it. I’m sure there will be holes to fill since I’m writing this off the top of my head.
You can get all the statistics and logistics here and here but to sum up, Guam, a United States territory, is a very small island in the pacific ocean. If you live in the United States and are used to long weekend road trips across America, better prepare yourself because there will be none of that here. You can drive around the entire island in under 2 hours if you don’t stop at any of the scenic spots. But while 212 square miles sounds really tiny, I think you’ll be surprised at how much bigger it seems when you’re here and driving around. (And yes, you are most definitely going to need a car to get around.)
Aesthetically, I think Guam is beautiful but she does have her ugly bits (scattered graffiti, litter, abandoned buildings). The southern half of the island is green and mountainous (very pretty drive), the northern half is flatter and where most of the development is. I live in Tumon, the center of Guam’s tourism industry and home to many hotels, restaurants and bars. Tumon is one of the few villages on island where you can walk around and not feel weird about walking because everyone drives here. Guam is just not laid out in a way that makes it easy to walk from one place to another. There is a public transit system (bus) but to be honest, I’ve lived here for 25 years and I have no idea how the system works. In Tumon, for $3 you can hop onto a trolley/shopping bus that will take you to major shopping sites (utilized mostly by tourists and my boyfriend).
If you’re wondering about the weather, this is pretty much it all year round.
We have three seasons: dry, rainy and mango. Prepare yourself for the heat and humidity. After all, Guam is a mere 13 degrees north of the equator.
What To Expect
First things first: Guam is a United States territory but please do not expect it to be anything like the states because that is an unrealistic expectation. On Guam we use American currency, we speak English, we have American franchises and stores like McDonald’s, Friday’s, KMart, Chuck E. Cheese’s, Ross, Macy’s, etc. DSL and cable broadband service is available to most of the island. There are several cellular (mobile) providers here but there is no AT&T, Sprint or other national based carrier so you will have to sign up with a local carrier unless your stateside plan includes Guam. Check and make sure! Don’t assume that because you turned on your Verizon phone and you’re getting a signal here, the fees are the same. Data roaming charges are extremely high. Guam carriers support iPhone, BlackBerry and Android phones. [Television, Internet & Mobile service providers: GTA TeleGuam, MCV, IT&E, iCONNECT, DOCOMO Pacific]
Like most places in the world, traffic is at its ugliest during the morning and evening commutes. I work from 9AM to 6PM and by the time I’m on the road heading to/from work, traffic seems to have cleared up. When school is in session, Guam’s roads might be congested as early as 3PM. For the most part, the conditions of Guam’s roads are acceptable with the occasional pothole and signs of wear. Some of the older roads are coral based and are super slick when wet so please be careful. There are no bicycle paths. Wearing a seatbelt is required by law, wearing a helmet on a motorcycle or scooter is not.
Shopping can sometimes seem limited here so online ordering is going to be your best friend. Amazon, Wal-Mart, Old Navy, BH Photo & Video are some online stores that ship to Guam via USPS. I’ve bought tons of stuff from eBay. Unfortunately, not all online retailers recognize Guam as a U.S. territory but there are a lot more now than, say, 5 years ago. If you are military you probably will not shop at the local grocery stores. If you aren’t military, expect higher prices than what you are accustomed to and a more limited selection on items. However, if there are things you absolutely must have, by all means suggest or request from the local grocers. I know people who have done this and were able to get what they needed/wanted.
Things To Do
I think one’s level of satisfaction and contentment on Guam correlates with what one does with one’s time here. If you only like ice skating and fox hunting you are going to be miserable here. However, if you are open minded, here you have an opportunity to try things that you might not otherwise experience if you were landlocked…like SCUBA diving and other ocean activities. Guam has a number of beautiful golf courses and there is a Boonie Stomping group that offers guided hikes every Saturday morning. If fitness is your thing, it seems like there is a 5K every weekend and a triathlon every couple of months. If dining out is your thing, man have we got tons of restaurants here in nearly every cuisine. All restaurants here are non-smoking.
You won’t miss any major movies because there are several theaters here that feature all the latest releases. Major film releases often premiere with a midnight show which means you see it before the rest of the world (however, most smaller independent films don’t make it into Guam’s theaters).
As far as the nightlife goes, there are a few clubs for dancing, a few pool halls and a plethora of karaoke bars. There are places that feature great live music (most Guam bands are cover bands). A cover charge at a bar is rare. Smoking policy is left up to bar owners but there are plenty of non-smoking places. A pack of cigarettes cost about $7 here. The legal drinking age on Guam is 21.
I really hope you make friends with people who live here because I think that is key. Your new Guam friends will invite you to events and gatherings where you will meet other people who might invite you to other things and on and on. I think the more people you befriend will increase your opportunities for fun experiences.
Which brings us to Part 2: The People (coming soon)