Emigrating to Guam may seem unheard of, with it being America’s most isolated territory. Guam’s capital is Hagåtña and its largest city, Dededo. The island’s area is 210 square miles (544 square km), three times the size of Washington, DC. Despite this, expats relocating to Guam will find an island rich in culture and tradition.
The island presents a peculiar cultural mix. The indigenous people of Guam are called Chamorros and the official languages are English and Chamorro. With inhabitants originally from Micronesia and the Philippines, expats will encounter unique traditions. Lifestyle and culture have a Latin flair due to its history as a Spanish colony for around three centuries. Today, Guam’s population diversely includes people from Japan, China, America, and other Pacific Islands.
Expats who live in Guam may find that its people are as warm as its tropical climate, with equally beautiful environmental aesthetics. Guam’s unique terrain provides Guamanians with steep coastal cliffs, waterfalls, long stretches of sandy beaches and coral reefs. Nature and water sports are among the main tourist attractions of Guam, along with its culture, history and, of course, shopping.
Since the end of the 19th century, Guam has been a part of the United States and remains an overseas US territory. As such Guam must abide by all federal laws, although its people are not entitled to vote on these federal laws nor in presidential elections.
That said, it has close ties with the US and those born in Guam are considered US citizens. To those relocating from mainland America, no visas are necessary. Many aspects of life are made easier by this connection. For example, banking through banks such as Bank of Hawaii and the fact that the currency used is US dollars.
Micronesia, a sub-region of Oceania, is a relatively poor region. However, Guam stands out as being well developed. It has a relatively strong GDP with most of its economy is tied to the military. About a quarter of the island is covered by US military bases, including the navy and air force.
Most island residents have at least one family member connected to or working for the military. Many who relocate to Guam are not technically expats as they are from the mainland United States, often connected to the military or tourism.
Tourism in Guam plays another major role in the economy. Guam is a picturesque, tropical island and caters for tourists with luxury hotels and resorts – though there is a hefty price tag attached. Growth in tourism has slowed in recent years, however, the presence of the military absorbs any losses in the tourist industry. So, Guam’s economy has remained stable despite a slow growth.
Guam’s economy benefits from its central position in Oceania, relatively well connected and close to Australia, Asia and the Americas. There is a range of US stores in Guam which are popular amongst Asian tourists who can buy American products for a fraction of the price they'd pay back at home.
However, the cost of living in Guam is high. Expats must be aware that most goods are imported, and foreign-owned ships are restricted from carrying cargo between US ports, limiting shipping to US ships. This makes shipping to and purchasing products on the island expensive. Prices in Guam are estimated to be about 50 percent higher than on mainland America. Expats are advised to have a job secured and to carefully consider the cost of relocating, finding accommodation and living in Guam.
Accommodation in Guam typically includes condo apartments, townhouses, houses and several new gated complexes. On-site military housing is an option for families of military personnel. Expats will find that housing design on the island is typically focussed on hardiness and withstanding tropical storms rather than on aesthetics. However, more luxurious accommodation and ocean-view options are available, as well as housing to suit families.
For families relocating to Guam, they may be pleased to know that the public school system follows and is based on the general US curriculum. There are many schools in Guam covering a range of family wants and needs. There are public and private options, including international schools, Montessori, Catholic and Christian schools, Chamorro language schools and a Japanese school.
In terms of healthcare, medical expenses in Guam are high, so expats are strongly encouraged to have medical insurance. There is one public civilian hospital, Guam Memorial Hospital, several private clinics and a US military hospital. A general medical check-up is encouraged before relocating.
Although there is a range of challenges and adventures expats may face and should be aware of, relocating to Guam can fulfil dreams of a tropical paradise.
Population: About 168,000
Major religion: Roman Catholic
Capital city: Hagåtña
Legal system: US federal system
Main languages: Chamorro and English
Electricity: 110V, 60Hz. Typical plugs have two flat parallel pins, or with two flat parallel pins and a third grounding prong.
Currency: The US dollar (USD), divided into 100 cents.
Tipping: 10-15% for taxis, restaurants and bars
International dialling code: +1-671
Emergency numbers: 911
Internet domain: .gu
Drives on the: Right
"The opportunity to experience new cultures with a little bit of American familiarity is what we have enjoyed most. The year-round summer with ocean views is pretty nice too!" Read more about island life on Guam from Kara's experiences.
Are you an expat living in Guam?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Guam. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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