In a few days, we’ll be celebrating our first year here in Saipan.
Just a background, we moved here from the Bay Area May 11, last year (obviously), for Larry’s work. A tiny bit of thinking after he got the offer, I left my job, we packed all our stuff, and traveled thousands of miles away to start our new island life. We have another year more to stay, unless Larry’s contract gets extended.
So your question probably is… how’s it like living here? Honestly, it is how you want it to be. Our life here is significantly way more relaxed than living in California, and more simple, probably because there aren’t really lots of options in terms of where to go. There’s only one mall, one movie house, very limited number of restaurants. There is something Saipan has a lot of, though, which is the best… beautiful beaches.
Anyway, I’ll lay down some info that I think would be important for people who would want to move here to know…
We moved here without securing a place, but thankfully, we were able to stay at a hotel. We contacted all the agents we could find, and saw eight houses, before settling into the place we have now. It took us two months to find the house we want, based on our budget. Rentals vary, you can get an apartment for as cheap as $500 to up to a high $2200 a month! There are also apartment and house rental groups on Facebook. It’s their version of Craigslist.
You can’t really buy a house here, only locals can. I believe it is their birth right. Non-locals can only lease from locals, but you can lease a place for many years. When looking for a house, you should also consider the typhoon-readiness of the place. Does the house have window-shutters, does it have concrete roofing, will there be flood? These are some things you have to consider.
We settled for a house on the mountain, and with a yard which we love.
We had all our stuff shipped from the mainland which took almost three months to get here. Thankfully, apartments here (and the house we are renting) have the basics, all you need is buy food and groceries. Outside rent, cost of living here is kind of expensive, and I guess it has a lot to do with Saipan being very remote, and a lot of the goods are shipped.
Oh, and fun fact… there are currently no addresses in Saipan homes, but the Mayor’s Office started working on it last year. You have to get a PO Box at the USPS. If you wanna tell people where you live, either send people a pin to your house, or, just give them the best description that you could (up in the mountain, green roof) and hope that they find it!
Looking for a Job
This is an island, so most of the jobs here are tourism-related. There are about seven major hotels here – Hyatt, Fiesta (soon to be Crowne Plaza), Kanoa, Kensington, Aqua, Grandvrio, and Pacific Island Club – and a few small ones, so jobs are usually more into hotel and restaurant management, housekeeping, entertainment, and then being a chef or a host/server. But, there are other jobs too, like the usual — government, hospital work… and then there are small businesses like retail shops and supermarkets.
Larry had to work the first Monday we got here, and I got a job less than three months in, that’s after having unpacked and arranged all our stuff, to make sure our house is all set and ready for us.
As for me, I only “technically” applied once, as a graphic artist in Saipan Tribune. I sent my resume once before that, hoping to land a government job. At that time, I was told austerity’s in place and there was freeze hiring. Anyway, I found the Saipan Tribune job via marianaslabor.net. I got hired, but as a reporter lol. To be fair, I took journalism (writing, even editing and layouting) in college, and had written countless press releases and speeches for government officials for over a decade in a previous job, so that’s probably why they felt I would be more fit as a reporter than as an artist.
That’s my experience so far, so if you want to find a job here, I would say marianaslabor is your best bet, or if you want a job in the government, check out http://cnmiopm.net/jobs.asp. I also feel like if you live here long enough and people start to know you, they could help you get work. It’s a very small island, every one seems to know each other almost, people are all very kind, so you’d be sure to find help, in one way or the other.
Fun things to do (food and activities)
I would say, depending on your idea of fun, there’s at least one of everything. If you’re like a super city person, and you want things super fast, you love super advanced technology, you might find this island a little too slow for you. This is a place to unwind and get in touch with the basics, and to learn how to do with less. This is also a great place for nature lovers. There are a lot of water-related adventure – diving, snorkeling, wind surfing, you name it. We even have sky diving here. You can island hop. Saipan is one of the Northern Mariana Islands, and there are always flights to Rota and Tinian, the two other main islands (not right now though, cause of COVID, but I’m sure they will reopen once things get better!).
There’s also Managaha, which Larry and I call “our island getaway from our island getaway”. If you get tired of the beaches in Saipan (why oh why!?!), you can always get on a boat to Managaha, which is about ten minutes away. You can even camp there overnight.
As for us, when we don’t have work, we would go swimming or snorkeling. We also go birding every weekend.
If you like food, there are restaurants. They commonly serve local food, also Japanese, Filipino, Korean, and Western. There’s not a lot of fast food. There’s a Hard Rock Cafe at the mall. There are also bars. We’re really not bar goers but we’ve been to Godfathers and Chambre, which are both in Fiesta. We’ve also been to the bars at the Hyatt cause that’s where we stayed in our first month here.
As far as places to eat, we like Himawari, The Shack, Everest, Hyatt, Teppanyaki. Just want to note that we cook a lot at home so we still have a lot of places we have not tried yet.
If you are sporty (which I’m not), there are options for you too. There’s football, basketball, there are a lot of runners and cyclists. We also have some marathons every now and then. Larry plays frisbee with this group of players by the beach too, sometimes. Overall, life in Saipan is fun.
What to expect
Expect friendly faces, and a lot of food and dancing, and music.
Also, honestly, for me, it’s like a step back in time. Coming here from the Bay Area where things are so fast-paced, it’s an absolutely welcome breather… plus, being originally from the Philippines, I would say our move is probably an easier adjustment for me than Larry just because there are a lot of Filipinos here… everywhere we go, there will sure be a Filipino.
The locals are also very kind and welcoming. They’re always smiling and also willing to go out of their way to help. I remember one time, smoke was getting out of my car while I was driving, and I did not know what to do, I stopped. Then, this car stopped to help me. The lady was so nice, she helped me figure out what’s wrong and said I should not worry and that things are okay. I will never forget that kindness.
They also like keeping us fed! They invite us to parties, we get full. Then, we get to take home food too (and a lot of food at that!). It’s not like we would ask if we can take food home, it’s almost like a “must” to take home food. So cute! Our landlord gives us food too lol. Every now and then, we would get fresh coconuts and bananas, or even chocolates and snacks!
The locals are also very musically-inclined. A lot of them can play the ukulele, and they can sing! They love to dance, and love to invite people to dance. Larry’s office had a music/dance Christmas party at True North last year, and it was fun!
But what I love most is their culture being so about families. Family is very much valued here, and the elderly are highly respected. We’re away from our families, and we only have each other here, so we find it comforting to be at a place where love for family is placed on a pedestal. There is no greater love.
As for us, we don’t know what to expect. We’re basically just living our lives one step at a time. While this island is small, there are still a lot for us to see, a lot of places to go to, and a lot of people to meet.
But, so far, so good. We are on a beautiful adventure.