Guam is a small island that lies in the Western Pacific as part of Micronesia. It is a place where you can find tropical villages, antique latte-stone pillars, and Chamorro villages. Unlike the other islands in the region, Guam continues to be a U.S. island territory. Part of the reason for this policy is the historical significance that this location played during World War II.
Anyone who is born on Guam is automatically an American citizen. As of 2016, there were about 162,000 people living on the island, which has an area of about 210 square miles. It is the largest and the most southern of the Mariana Islands. The highest point on Guam is Mount Lamlam, which stands at 1,300 feet above sea level.
There are two primary economic generators for the island: tourism and the presence of the U.S. military. Americans recaptured the island from the Japanese in July 1944, and the island celebrates Liberation Day each year to celebrate that event. It is also relatively close to the International Date Line.
List of the Pros of Living in Guam
1. Life in Guam tends to be relaxed and pleasant.
If you don’t mind the isolation that you’ll experience when living in Guam, then you will find that it tends to be quiet, relaxed, and pleasant. You’re surrounded by the Pacific Ocean with no one close to you. There are about 1.5 million visitors who make their way to the island each year, so there are always new faces to meet. If you traveled to Hawaii in the 1970s, then you’ll get an idea of what life is like here today. It is a beautiful tropical island where the people are warm and friendly.
2. There are generally no concerns about social oppression on Guam.
You will find that the population on Guam tends to be more Catholic than anything else. It won’t take long to realize that no one will care if you attend mass even if everyone else goes each week. No one is going to look twice at you if you wander around in your swimsuit, a pair of shorts, or a simple cover-up unless they either find you attractive or funny-looking for some reason. You’ll want to be aware of the drinking culture and some micro-aggression that sometimes occurs against some military families. For the most part, the population is still very grateful for the actions taken on Liberation Day and that shows in the daily interactions.
3. The climate in Guam is a definite advantage for many people.
The temperature in Guam tends to be fairly constant throughout the year. It tends to stay in the high 80s°F, but there are days when the high humidity levels can make it feel like a sticky blanket that makes you instantly sweat. The winter season tends to occur between January-March each year when you might see the daytime highs drop into the 70s. If you want to cool down, then you’ve got to find a place with air conditioning.
The wet season starts in July and then runs through December. You’ll experience stronger winds during this time, and it might rain several times per day. Even then, the days tend to be fairly sunny throughout most of the year.
4. Taxation laws on Guam are generally positive for the average household.
If you live on Guam, then you’re going to pay federal income taxes like every other American. The island uses the same 1040 forms as everyone else. The one exception is that the income taxes that you pay go straight to your local government instead of going to Washington to support the national government. Property owners pay taxes on the island, but there isn’t a sales tax that you need to pay. That structure can be beneficial to retirees looking for a way to maximize their retirement income.
5. Guam offers a healthy environment for you to enjoy.
Because Guam is such an isolated place, it tends to be a fairly healthy island that you can call home. There is no rabies here, no malaria, and the usual tropical diseases are gone as well. There is the occasional instance of dengue fever, but sleeping sickness and yellow fever are not problems. If someone does get sick from one of these issues, it is usually because they caught it well off of the island.
The primary challenges that Guam faces are diabetes, tuberculosis, and a high teenage pregnancy rate. Several world-class doctors live and work on the island, so there is always access to care. You’ll need to be strategic about making appointments since most offices run about three months in advance.
6. You can get your entire education on Guam if you want.
There are several advanced educational programs that you can find through the University of Guam. The education is excellent, and the costs are very reasonable compared to other American universities. That won’t change the cost of living issues, but it is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. There are 34-degree programs for undergraduates and 11 graduate-level options to pursue. About 3,500 students attend the institution during any given semester.
If you plan to work at the university, then your children may have the option to pursue a degree without tuition costs after a probationary semester.
7. Fiestas are a way of life in Guam that you will definitely enjoy.
Fiestas are held for almost any reason when you start living in Guam. Graduations, birthdays, a family reunion, a housewarming event – any celebration is suitable. You can’t crash one of these parties either because all the guests are invited. Just make sure that you bring a contribution to the event so that it doesn’t seem like you’re mooching. Unless everything is consumed, you’ll be invited to take a plate of food when you leave too. Barbecue, breadfruit, and maybe even fadang tortillas are popular choices that you’ll encounter here. If you stay long enough, someone is going to bring out a karaoke machine.
8. Get ready to fall in love with Kmart.
The Wall Street Journal published a piece in 2018 that said Guam was the last place on the planet where every still loves Kmart. The island is home to the busiest store in the entire chain, and there is an entire expanse of ocean that keeps the competition away. Even as of June 2020 in the wake of several store closings across its network, Kmart continued to maintain a commanding presence in Guam (as well as Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands). The store is open 24 hours a day, and it feels like you’re taking a step back in time to 1980 when you walk through it. There’s even a Little Caesars pizza there. Because the chain was able to lower the prices of many of the goods needed for survival on the island, you’ll discover that it is a popular place for social media stops too.
Although Kmart doesn’t publish the revenues of individual stores, estimates suggest that the Guam location does about $100 million in annual sales – that’s about three times higher than the second-best store in the chain.
List of the Cons of Living in Guam
1. Finding employment in Guam can be a challenge for civilians.
If you serve in the armed forces of the United States, then you’ve got a job when you get stationed to the island. Civilians can have a different experience if they want to pursue a career there. New jobs are posted every week, but the hiring processes of many companies can be exceptionally slow. There can be problems with nepotism and low pay when pursuing opportunities as well. You might even need to go through a court or law enforcement clearance process to start working. It helps to line up work in advance if you have some time before your move.
2. Your pets may need to go through a complete commercial quarantine.
Because of the isolation of the island, Guam has a stringent animal rabies quarantine program. The disease is not present on the island, so it requires a commercial quarantine process for many animals that you would bring to the island. The only exception to this disadvantage is if you are moving from a location that Guam certifies as being free of rabies. You’ll also need to have your dog or cat have an implanted electronic microchip if you want to avoid the 120-day program to move with your pets.
3. The cost of living in Guam is very high.
Because you are living in such an isolated area, you’ll find that the cost of calling Guam home can be a lot higher than you might expect. The utilities for a month for two people in a standard flat are about $400, and then expect to pay about $1,000 for a studio apartment in a regular area. Your rental prices will double if you move to an expensive area, with a 900 square foot place averaging about $2,500 per month. Your grocery prices are going to be about 30% higher than what it would be if you were living in the continental 48.
4. Internet access on Guam is fairly expensive.
If you want to have high-speed Internet while living in Guam, then you can expect to pay about $100 per month for 8 Mbps service. Cheaper options are available, but that means you’ll be accessing information at a craw. There are recent upgrades to the infrastructure so that the more popular parts of the island have better stability. You can also access 4G LTE services across most of the island these days, with your reliability and pricing similar for every carrier.
5. You will need to watch your skin health in Guam.
Because you are constantly exposed to the sun when living in Guam, you must be conscious about how much care you give it each day. The UV rays tend to be more direct, which means you can get sunburned pretty easily. It is similar to what you’d experience living at a high altitude (above 4,000 feet) during the early days of spring. That means anyone who is at a higher risk of skin cancer development for some reason will want to take proactive health measures to manage this disadvantage right away.
6. The weather might be nice, but the typhoons are not.
You might hear that Guam sits in a place called Typhoon Alley. The island gets hit by them frequently, although the average tends to be having one hit above every eight years. Because of its location in the Pacific, the ones that do hit the island tend to be strong and severe. When Typhoon Omar hit, there were sustained winds of 154 mph in areas that were beneath the western eyewall of the storm. Some can even head the island’s way as soon as February. You’ll want to ensure that your property insurance covers storm damage, whether you decide to rent or buy when moving here.
Most homes have concrete bunkers that will help you to withstand the winds of a storm. That means the architecture you can see isn’t always beautiful, but it is definitely effective. You’ll get about 48 hours’ notice to prepare if one is headed your way.
7. You will be living a long way from the United States.
Guam is geographically south of Japan, east of the Philippines, and north of Indonesia. It takes about 14 hours of flying time to reach the island, and most flights from the United States involve a layover in Hawaii. Any traveling you do will need to be an entire day of effort unless you plan to visit Manila or Tokyo, which are far closer. That means you’ll want to have a passport when moving here even though it isn’t technically necessary with its status as a U.S. territory.
The only exception to this disadvantage is Saipan, which is in the Northern Mariana Islands and part of another U.S. territory. That trip will take you less than an hour by air.
8. The speed limit on Guam is 45 mph across the entire island.
Guam is an island that is about 30 miles long. It’s about eight miles wide at its maximum as well. You can drive from the north end to the south in about two hours if you’re willing to go a little faster than the island-wide speed limit. Watch out for areas of road construction. Getting behind a school bus will add a lot of time to your trips as well. Although the traffic is nowhere near what it would be in a western city like San Francisco to Seattle, it can still be an unpleasant experience.
9. Residents of Guam do not have electoral college representation.
Because Guam is a territory instead of a state, you will not receive electoral representation for a presidential election. That means moving here will make you a disenfranchised citizen. The Constitution still applies as the law of the land, as do all federal laws, but you don’t get a say in the legislative process. Your only representative is a non-voting congressman in the House of Representatives. If you’re used to being involved in American political processes, this adjustment can be a bit of a shock sometimes.
10. The school system in Guam is underfunded.
Guam’s public school system faces numerous challenges. There are currently four high schools, seven middle schools, and about two dozen elementary schools. The military has a separate school for military dependents because the local system is so bad. One of the issues is the cultural perspective where people should stand up for themselves and what they believe in any situation. This attitude can lead to a lot of bullying, which then causes all parties to receive a consequence. Teasing and aggression are normal, and absenteeism in the teaching community tends to be very high. Vandalism is a problem too, which is why Guam ranks last in many learning categories.
If you plan to move to Guam as a civilian with children, then you will want to look at the private or religious schools on the island as an alternative. Homeschooling is an option to think about as well.
The Verdict of the Pros and Cons of Living in Guam
The pros and cons of living in Guam are essential to review because of the challenges that isolation brings. It is a place where money speaks, connections matter, and being in the military will give you some advantages.
Unless you are moving there because of your orders, it is a good idea to secure employment before your move. The official unemployment rate hovers around 5%, but it can be as high as 12% when seasonally unadjusted figures are released. The average hourly wage is close to $18 per hour though because of the higher cost of living.
If you love the idea of living in a tropical climate, being close to Asian culture, and still enjoy some of the perks of being in the United States, then Guam is the perfect place to consider. There are challenges to balance, but most households find that the positives generally outweigh the negatives that they can encounter.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.