Cost of Living on Saipan
Your perspective as to whether or not the cost of living here is high or low, will depend on where you are moving from, and what you are used to. Because of the cost of shipping, many items are more expensive than you would find in the US, such as food, gasoline, clothing and electronic items. However overall, I have found it much cheaper living here than in the U.S. Because of the lower minimum wage ($5.55/hour), many services are much less expensive here than in North America. Also, the tax structure here is significantly lower than in the US, with the highest effective tax bracket around 15%. There is no sales tax or other city, state, or county property taxes. In general, because of the simpler lifestyle and lower taxes, people find that they save a significantly higher portion of their income than they would have saved in North America.
Housing on Saipan
One of your first priorities will be to locate suitable housing. You will find a broad range of options available on Saipan. Overall, you will find the real estate market much cheaper than in the U.S. One can find furnished studio apartments, generally starting around $200 per month, to one and two bedroom furnished apartments in the $400-$600 range, to luxury condominiums in the $800 and above range. Most are beachfront or within walking distance to beautiful white sand beaches. Additionally, there are single family homes available that typically run about $500 per month and higher. Most of these apartments and homes are usually furnished with air-conditioning…..because the year-round temperatures stay in the 80s most of the time, I never use my air-conditioner, just a fan keeps me comfortable. Many rentals are within walking distance to shopping, but if you can’t walk, taxis are cheap, charging only $3! Two of the commonly used real-estate companies, who can help you get an idea of some of the housing, even before your arrival, are Remax Realty, and Saipan Real Estate.
Many of the long term expatriate families on the island eventually end up “buying” a house. The CNMI constitution limits ownership of land to people of CNMI descent, i.e. Chamorros and Carolinians. Other individuals can lease land for up to 55 years. So, buying a house is a bit different, in that you are actually leasing the house for a maximum of 55 years. It takes a while for most people to become comfortable with this type of ownership. But, because of the cheap real estate prices, most expatriates are very happy with their decision to lease land and build a house, or to lease a home for 55 years. This law is currently being debated, so there is a chance it will soon be altered or eliminated entirely.
Cost of Your Utilities
To obtain water and electrical service you must apply to the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation (CUC) and pay a refundable deposit of $150 for electricity and $30 for water. Many apartment buildings will apply on your behalf. Monthly bills will be sent to your mailing address….you can expect your montly electric bill to average about $50.
Voltage is 110, the same as the US. Electricity service is almost as reliable as in the U.S, but there can be voltage fluctuations, and occasional power outages. It is advisable to have surge protectors and line conditioners for your major electronic items such as computers and television sets.
Because Saipan is so small, the tap water is not up to US standards. Depending on the area of the island you live, the water can be quite salty. The water is fine for washing and bathing, but you can’t drink the water from the tap. This is no problem though, because you can have drinking water delivered to your home by one of several water companies on the island….promptly delivered in 5 gallon jugs for only $2!
Telephone and Internet Service
Once you have found a place to live, you will want to make a visit to one of the island’s 2 telephone companies, ITE or Docomo….it only takes a few days for the phone lines to get connected. The cost of activating a phone line is typically around $120. Monthly charges for basic phone service are around $30. The CNMI became part of the North American Number Plan on July 1, 1997. This means that the islands no longer have a separate telephone country code and expensive international charges. Instead, the CNMI now has a regular area code, (670), just like every other part of the United States, Alaska, Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Long distance rates through local carriers are around 11 cents per minute to the US, though rates as low as 3.5 cents per minute are available through various calling cards. Toll free numbers can also be dialed from the CNMI, which makes mail order shopping and customer service convenient.
There are several Internet Service Providers on the island. The usual connection rate is around 42,000 bps. There is now DSL and cable modem available. The typical rate for unlimited high speed access is $30-$60 per month. The public library has a very nice technology center available, with 20 or so computers, and free internet access.
Transportation on Saipan
Since there is no public transportation, you might want to purchase car or other vehicle fairly soon after your arrival. The roads are paved and in good condition, so bicycles can be a transportation option. Most car dealers sell Japanese vehicles although American and European makes are also available. The Japanese cars and trucks include Mazda, Toyota, Nissan, Subaru, Suzuki and Honda. The more adventurous may prefer a 4-wheel drive for off-road exploring. These vehicles are readily available and generally not expensive.
Reasonable used cars and jeeps are also available at prices ranging from $2500 (entry level) to $12,000. Late model automobiles are available at stateside prices. Shipping a vehicle from the west coast will likely cost between $1,500 and $2,000. Rust can be a severe problem here and all cars prior to 1988 must be inspected. Saipan has many reliable auto repair and service shops with reasonable prices. As many of the back roads are in poor condition it pays to keep your car in good repair.
Automobile registration costs $25/year. Insurance is mandatory. Gasoline runs about 20% higher than in the US mainland. It is the opinion of many who are already on island just to buy a car in the states and have it shipped over since the selection is greater and the prices are more competitive. Since the island is so small(12 miles long) I have avoided the expense of owninig a car by just relying on taxis….great service at only $3 for most trips!
Drivers License and Saipan ID
You will need a Saipan driver’s license or ID. It is imperative to get the license or ID as soon as you are on island, as you cannot open a bank account without a local form of ID. It costs $17.00. You need a valid driver’s license from elsewhere and must pass a vision screening test. No written test or road test are required if you have a valid driver’s license from the U.S. However, non-US citizens are required to take the written test and a road test. The license and ID are valid for 3 years and expires on your birthday. Take your passport with you when applying for your driver’s license or ID.
Saipan Banking and Currency
Another of your first activities will be to open a bank account. The U.S. dollar is the currency in Saipan. Stateside-style banks include the Bank of Guam, Bank of Hawaii and First Hawaiian Bank. On your arrival in Saipan, it is easier and more convenient to bring credit cards or traveler’s checks in US funds for immediate use. Cash is best. Some banks will not cash cashier’s checks or money orders; if they do, there is likely to be at least a two week “hold” on the amount even if the draft is of U.S. origin. A purchase receipt may be needed to cash traveler’s checks. To open a bank account you will need a U.S. Social Security number and you will need a local form of identification, such as a driver’s license or Saipan ID.
You are advised to obtain a major credit card that gives Northwest or Continental frequent flyer bonus miles before you arrive in the CNMI. Bank of Hawaii offers an American Express card that accumulates Continental miles.
It is possible to bring your pet to Saipan, but it is expensive and requires a 4 – 8 week quarantine in a facility is not air-conditioned, and that does not allow you to spend much time with your pet during the quarantine period. It will cost several hundred dollars and require extensive paperwork. The reason behind the expense and strict requirements is easily understood. The CNMI is a rabies free area and the intent is to keep it that way. Details can be obtained by writing to: Natural Resources Department, Animal and Health Industry, Caller Box 10007, Saipan, MP96950, USA. (670) 234-6169; Fax (670) 235-9001.
One option is adopting a “boonie” dog or cat. Many are wandering on the island. P.A.W.S. is a non-profit organization to turn to if you need information and assistance in adopting cats or dogs. There is one veterinarian on the island with an office that is centrally located.
Incidentally, there are few mosquitos and no poisonous land creatures of any kind on Saipan, including snakes and scorpions….this was great news to me, since I was eaten alive by mosquitos and bitten 5 times by scorpions while living in Costa Rica!
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