Majuro, The Republic of Marshall Islands Report of what it's like to live there - 04/16/14
Personal Experiences from Majuro, The Republic of Marshall Islands
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
California. It takes about 48h to 72 hours to reach Majuro from anywhere in the world. All flights go through Hawaii or Guam from the U.S., three times a week in both directions. It is far far away...
3. How long have you lived here?
Almost a year.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Spouse of a Government employee.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Houses are in a secured compound. 3 minute walk to the Chancery. 30 minute drive downtown. 15 minute drive to the airport.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Very expensive as everything is imported from U.S. mainland, Hawaii or the Philippines. Almost no local vegetable or fruit production. Quality is low as transit time is long. Fresh produce often deteriorates quickly and you find expired food goods on the shelves (but they are usually tagged as such).
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
There is a long list. They are a lot of power outage so you'll want to bring UPS and surge protection. Sport equipment. Art supply. School supply. If privacy is a concern, bring your own Wi-Fi router for privacy as NTA manages routers' passwords.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
No fast food and only a handful of restaurants. Among them, only three are decent.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitos (Dengue and Chikungunya). Lots of ants in the houses and fire-ants outside.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Pouch: very, very slow. Or local USPS office, a bit faster, but not always secured. Plan ahead.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Help of any kind is cheap. Average wage is US$2.5/hour. Reliable, reasonabely hard working help is very hard to find; A good help is prized and you will not want to let him/her go. I pay my helper $5.5/hour, happily so.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
MIR and Long island hotels have a small gym, Long Island has two tennis courts. Another gym is located above Lokjar apartment. Prices are cheap but the equipment is rusted. The Chancery has a small gym with new equipment and a tennis court. Basketball and volleyball park are located in different locations around the island.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Credit cards are accepted in supermarkets and hotels, cash everywhere else. Be aware that there have been a few credit card frauds.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Several are available.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is wildly spoken in Majuro atoll. Knowing a few words of Marshallese will endear you to the people you meet. In the outer islands, it is useful to know a bit of the local langage.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
There is no adapted infrastructure and no elevators but most buildings have only one or two levels; no sidewalks either.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are shared and very affordable.
2. 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?
Any car will do but a high clearance is nice during rain and flooding. Bring all maintenance parts with you. Expect to see rust within the first few months of your arrival. Service that can be provided locally; it is very basic.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
DSL internet is available and expensive - see ntamar.net website for the prices.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked phone and buy a pre-paid sim card. There is no 3G service here but you can subscribe a Wi-Fi hot spot access for a monthly fee. Voice is a bit expensive but text messages are very cheap.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
Importing pets is complicated as they have to transit through Hawaii or Guam. There is no veterinary service on island. Knowing pet first aid and bringing your own kit is a must. Lots of stray dogs don't make it easy for your pet's health either.
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?
Some. It's a small market and the pay is low but if you are a teacher or not too picky, there are jobs. It's all word of mouth.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
A lot, and everyone can have an impact. Skilled labor is on demand in the NGOs. There are plenty of opportunities.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
It is quite conservative; no knee showing…
Island formal at work, during ceremonies and for church (polo/short sleeve shirt and slacks), island casual elsewhere. Marshallese women wear below the knee dresses called muumuu end even go to swim with it. Swimwear should cover much, both for men and women. No bathing suit outside of the water.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
It is very safe here. There are occasional house break-ins in the neighborhood but the residence compound has guards. Most of the violence is domestic violence. There have been a couple of incidents involving violence toward Chinese individuals. Stray (and not so stray) dogs are a real issue and reports of people being bitten are frequent. Dogs are usually free to roam around and most gardens are not fenced.
Flooding occurs on a regular basis with high tides and/or high waves. Roads and in some area houses are inundated, displacing the population. Our residence is not always spared. Water availability and quality is a big issue. All islands of the Marshall Islands are 100% dependent on rain water. We do have water catchment for each house, a distiller for purification and a reverse osmosis system at the Chancery for emergency.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Protect yourself from mosquitoes (dengue, chikungunya). Clean any small cut very thoroughly as the sea water contributes to infections. Any medical emergency will get you med-evac'ed. There is a local hospital but it lacks doctors and the equipment is scarce. One private clinic where we go for our medical needs. One dentist. Most people go to the Philippines or Hawaii for medical check-up. They are regular medical missions organized by the local NGOs.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Extremely good as long as you don't mind the humidity.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Tropical. Hot and humid year round, and light marine breeze, with more rain between May and October, and small chance (rare) of tropical storm occasionally.
The salty environment makes everything rust very quickly.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Two schools are WASC certified: Co-operative and Adventist. Most expat children go to co-op.
2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Some at co-op.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Tiny, and morale is usualy good.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Home entertainment and the different associations make 100% of the social life. There is no cinema, no theater, only a few restaurants and bars. A tiny museum.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It is good for all as long as you know how to entertain yourself. It is a very small post and community and there is not much going on. It can be lonely at times.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
As long as you keep a low profile because the local culture is very shy but also very judgmental.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
It is a very strong Christian community and it's not very open to other religions; Lots of churches everywhere - it is the main activity for most on Sundays. There is one mosque. There is prejudice against Chinese people and by extension Asian-looking people; a couple of muggings have been reported.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
No matter what you decide to get involve in, you will have an impact in the community as it is so small.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Water sports are a must: diving, sailing, kayak, fishing, wind surf, kite surf, wake surf, tennis, basketball, volley ball... If you don't like any of that, you probably should not come here. Join the yacht club, learn diving. Bring your equipment with you as you won't find much available locally.
It can be worth considering buying a small motor boat and there are some for sale regularly to go around the lagoon and give you some freedom.
Plan trips to the outer islands if you can: they are the hidden gems.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Some local handicraft, artwork of some local artist. Not much really.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The feel of island living. It is a very tiny island with a laid-back attitude.
10. Can you save money?
Not really. Travelling in and around the Marshall Islands is very expensive, food is expensive and if your job is not paying for it, lodging is expensive.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
There was so little information out there that is was a bit hard to know what we would need before we arrived. It is getting better, though.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes, need for speed.
4. But don't forget your:
Watersports equipment, art supply, and any food supply you can't live without. Bring as much as you can of anything you might need. Even if you don't use it yourself, you'll certainly meet someone who is looking for it. If you know you'll have a garden area, bring garden tools or negotiate to buy them off the previous occupant. Same for kayak or (wind, kite, wake..) boards, as they can be tricky to import. If you know how to play an instrument, bring it too: Lots of people play ukulele.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Dance of the Caterpillars Bilingual Marshallese English (Marshallese Edition),
Bravo for the Marshallese: Regaining Control in a Post-Nuclear, Post-Colonial World (Case Studies on Contemporary Social Issues),
Island of the Invisible Being: Benjua's Story: A Legend from the Marshall Islands,
Children of the Atomic Bomb: An American Physician’s Memoir of Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and the Marshall Islands (Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society),
Tattooing in the Marshall Islands,
Traditional Medicine of the Marshall Islands: The Women, the Plants, the Treatments
6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Ainikien Jidjid ilo Boñ - The Sound of Crickets at Night, Zori - On an island a flip flop is a terrible thing to lose, LaÃ±inbwil's Gift, Yokwe Bartow, Ã‘a Noniep
7. Do you have any other comments?
Don't forget your subscription to your favorite public library to borrow books on your tablet, and video subscription.
You should not expect to be entertained or have access to a lot of cultural opportunities when you live here though you should take advantage of the few that are organized throughout the year. If you want to get involved in the local community, you will always be welcome and there are many needs.
Also, know that after each tide, you'll find trashes on the shores, your garden, the street. This is not the prestine "white beach, blue waters" picture of the magazine but the harsh reality of a developing country with still little education about the environment.
Overall, keep your expectations low and you can be happy here.