9 Misconceptions About Guam & What to Know Before You Move There

Once we received orders to Guam, I quickly became anxious and unenthused about our upcoming duty station.  Mostly due to the negative things I was hearing from other spouses.  When I would mention we were moving to Guam I would hear “oh no, I’m so sorry”, or “there’s no way I would go to Guam.”  Luckily, I became friends with a spouse who had lived there prior and her positive outlook on the tiny island gave me hope. 

I truly believe that preparing for Guam is a mindset.  Yes, there will be hurdles and things that are not as appealing as they are at other duty stations (like the lack of Target and Starbucks) but if you have an open mind and come prepared, I think overall, you will leave Guam with an appreciation of your experiences there.

I crowd-sourced from other spouses to hear what their misconceptions of Guam were. Here is what they said:

There’s nothing to do there.

Yes, compared to the mainland there are far fewer options, but one spouse described, “the island itself has a ton to do, especially outdoors.  I have never seen such beautiful water or sea life—literally swimming with Nemo.  And there is so much history to this island, from the ancestors whom you need to ask permission and thank when walking on their trails, to WWII sites everywhere.”

Another spouse Corissa put it best by saying there may not be a lot there, “but you can embrace that nothing and make a lot out of it.”

” If you move to Guam and have kids, buy bikes and ride!  It was our favorite thing.  We rode to school, the beach and even to the gas station for Subway.  They always had push up pops which are my son’s favorite.” – Megan

Empty shelves at the commissary.

This one might be true right now, due to the pandemic. “Yes, you definitely have unexpected random shortages of items and some spoilage issues, but it was much better than I thought coming into it.  Also, embracing the local produce that was in season was always awesome.” – Hanna. 

But when you see something… buy it.. “Even if it’s a can of cranberry in July!  Butter freezes, buy those frozen pie crusts, and never say ‘I’ll pick that up next time I am here’.  Trust me, a can of pumpkin puree or fried onions are gold around the holidays!” – Stephanie

Or if they don’t have it at the commissary, make or grow your own.  “Fresh herbs are hard to come by so grow basil, oregano, and dill in beds (it will grow like weeds) grow your mint, cilantro, and parsley in pots in interior windows or on your screened patio.” – Katie

It does seem that due to COVID there is an abundance of “foreign and domestic ships because they can’t do port calls anywhere else in Asia so the shortages at the commissary and exchange are a running joke.” – Natasha

And sometimes going to the local grocery storey Payless out in town is worth the extra expense to find what you need.  I remember when the Payless in Maite first opened and I felt like I was in a grocery store on the mainland.  It was funny (and a bit sad) how excited I got over all of the beautiful produce. 

Another way to get great fresh produce is to order from Guahan Sustainable Culture.  When I purchased from them a few years ago you could choose a small, medium or large bag of random local produce and I made it a fun cooking experiment to try to incorporate new vegetables into our meals. 

You should live on base and not venture off because it is unsafe.

Huge misconception! “Don’t be afraid to go to the other side of the island from where you live.  An hour may seem long, but it’s a small island. Get out and explore.  Take a day and drive the whole island.  Stop and get out whenever you want.” – Marjorie

And the locals are amazing.  Go to Chamorro Village, visit the coconut Christmas tree in Merizo at Christmas time, attend the festivities of Liberation Day, which is usually a month-long celebration in Guam.  Immerse yourself in the culture and meet as many locals as possible.   

Brown tree snakes are everywhere!

“I only saw three in my four total years there… and one was at Underwater World!” – Megan.  They are definitely on island, but not near as bad as what I heard prior to moving to Guam. 

The real animals you should be cautious of are the black Drongos birds.  During their mating season, which is usually April to June, they become aggressive and will “attack” you when running by.  I lived in Apra View and they liked to perch on the light posts.  When you ran by, they would swoop down and scare you to death!  Once you get used to it, it’s not terrible.  I’ve never heard of anyone actually getting hurt from them, but they will definitely scare you, and maybe even make you run a little bit faster!

Another animal that is more prevalent than the brown tree snake is the chickens and roosters.  They are everywhere and they are loud! And you can’t forget about the wild boar, huntsman spiders, and many many geckos you will see.  Although during my two years there I never saw a huntsman spider and I only saw one or two wild boar.  I probably hiked over 40-50 times during my two years there as well, so that should tell you something.  But I did encounter a few carabao on my hikes.  They may be large, but they aren’t scary.  I even provided a few pets to the carabao always tied up at the end of the Cetti 7 hike. 

The cost of living is WAY more than anywhere else.

Although this is fairly true, I didn’t spend as much money in Guam because we didn’t go out as much as we would if we lived in other duty stations, like Hawaii or Charleston or anywhere else for that matter.  Date nights out can be pricey, but again, I don’t feel that they are much more costly than many restaurants on the mainland.     

I cooked a lot more and the pace of life was much slower.  We went on hikes and went to the beach and enjoyed the free things that Guam offered.  I feel like I hardly ever had to get gas because the island is so small and most of the things that I needed were on base and super close by.   

Unfortunately, inflation has been a very real thing over the past few years all across the country.  Everything is more expensive than it used to be.  But you can definitely get by in Guam without spending a ton of money.  Just know that if you want strawberries, it will be a splurge!!! 

It’s humid and hot all year and there is no AC.  

One spouse was even told not to bring any of her photographs because the humidity would ruin them.  Yes, it is very humid in Guam.  Similar to the southeast in the summertime.  But houses on base, and most homes off base as well, have AC and therefore your photographs in your home will not be affected.  Although it’s hot and humid, most people get used to it and even find themselves getting a bit cold when the temperatures drop into the mid to low 70’s during the rainy season.  Just be sure to have LOTS of water on hand anytime you go for a hike or do any strenuous activity outdoors.    

You must prepare for the typhoons that come every year.

Yes, you definitely should be prepared for typhoons.  Not only physically, mentally.  I remember the first time I saw a weather map of a typhoon headed to Guam and I truly was a bit scared.  Coming from the south, you’re used to hurricanes, but you feel mightier than the hurricane living on a continent as large as North America.  You feel a bit helpless when you are on an island that’s barely shown on the map. 

“My best advice is to buy a generator, give her a name, and use it grumpily when your husband is deployed again, Guam is typhooning, and you’re holding a flashlight in your mouth soaked to the bone pulling on the starter string for dear life.” -Katie

Along with a generator I would recommend bottled water, canned goods, flashlights, and anything else you would need if a typhoon were to come.  I lived in Guam for two years and never had a terrible experience with one.  We got the outskirts of a typhoon in the first few months of being there, but we only lost power for about 12 hours.  Other than that, we had very few issues.  And most of our power issues weren’t even related to weather. 

The power would go out randomly for no reason at all, or for random reasons such as an electrified cat.  It happens, and you start to get used to it.  It was never a big deal for us and it usually came back on within an hour or so.  It’s definitely annoying, especially if you work from home, but it’s one of the things you just accept. 

Expect shorter deployments and better coms.

Both were categorically false compared to what Katie and her husband were used to.  “We’ve always ‘lucked out’ with heavily deployed boats, but Guam took the cake with frequency, extensions, surges, and coms blackouts.  I really don’t feel like my husband lived on Guam itself because he was forever at sea.”

The OpTempo and work expectations is quite ridiculous.  With this being my first experience of a sea tour as a spouse, I had nothing to compare it to, but even without a comparison I knew that this was a bit much.  I felt like I never saw my sailor.  But luckily, the spouses of our boat were a tight-knit group that became more like family.  I hear this from so many others that lived in Guam as well.  The sense of community there is unlike any other.  It truly helped get through the many months without our sailors.

It’s such a beautiful island.

Hear me out… the natural beauty of this island is unlike any other.  The crystal-clear water, the beautiful views from the top of a mountain, and the sunsets are out of this world.  But that’s where it stops. 

“I always joke that Guam tries hard to be a third world country.  I was definitely pretty shocked about the trash issue and would try to pick up trash on my free time. People will really just litter there which is wild to me.” – Taylor

A lot of restaurants are in a strip mall and nothing from the outside makes it look appealing AT ALL, but give it a chance because some of the best food I’ve had is from a dingy, hole-in-the-wall spot.  When you first get to the island you may wonder where in the world you are… but after you figure out the island and the different places to go, you quickly forget about the rough exteriors and see more of the beauty of the island.

What to Know Before You Move There:

  1. Pet care. Getting pets on and off the island is very expensive and difficult, and pet care while in Guam can be expensive as well.  There are no vets available after hours or on weekends, and emergency vet care is extremely rare.  So be aware of the poisonous toads and don’t let your dogs lick them.  Speaking of dogs, the number of strays on Guam is truly heartbreaking.  It’s not something you can be prepared for.  I know of multiple people who would carry dog food around in their car and provide it to the strays when they would see them. 

  2. Finding a job as a spouse is very difficult situation. This is especially true for people with specific degrees.  Many jobs are hard to come by, and you’ll often be underpaid compared to what you are used to on the mainland. 

  3. It can be expensive moving to the island. Some say anywhere from $10,000-$15,000, but it truly depends on family-size, whether or not you have pets, and whether you are staying in a hotel with no kitchen during your TLA.  My husband and I don’t have any kids or pets.  We were offered a two-bedroom townhouse on base for our TLA that had a kitchen along with pots, pans, and other kitchen items.  (I recommend booking this far in advance to your arrival as it is probably the most cost-effective place to stay during TLA).  We stayed there for about two weeks before we moved into our home on base.  We then got loaner furniture and lots of kitchen items from the loaner locker provided through the Fleet & Family Support Center on the Navy Base.  This is also where shipping Unaccompanied Baggage prior to your HHG can be helpful.  With all of this being said, we probably spent out of pocket around $3,000 (including lodging) and we were reimbursed for the TLA.  This does not include the purchasing of a car and since we didn’t live out in town, we didn’t need the usual security deposit and first-month rent that you would pay for a rental (which is common no matter the duty station).  Whether you ship a car, choose to only have one car, or buy a car when you arrive on island, that is something you also need to budget for.  Ship one car early (if possible) so you don’t have to worry about a rental when you get to the island.   Can it be expensive to move to Guam?  ABSOLUTELY!  Does it have to be?  No.  Utilize the resources given to you as best you can to help offset as much of that cost as possible.  

  4. Shopping is a bit (okay A LOT) underwhelming. There’s no Walmart, no Target, no TJ Maxx or HomeGoods.  The stores on island that many people use besides the NEX are Macy’s, Kmart and Ross. The Ross on Guam is pretty amazing though and highly recommended.  Need something shipped from Amazon?  You’ll be waiting weeks for it to arrive and paying high shipping costs.  When you need something, it is definitely frustrating, but I feel that Guam opened my eyes to the fact that there are so many materialistic things in life that I want, but don’t really need.  I survived two whole years without a Target or Amazon Prime.  I promise you will too.   

  5. It’s not just shipping of personal shopping items that takes forever.  Shipments of ANY kind can get delayed and backed up, just as we have seen on the mainland since the beginning of COVID.  Pre-covid shipping times and delays were already an issue on Guam, but now it tends to be much worse. 

  6. The healthcare on Guam doesn’t compare to the options you have on the mainland either.  When you get an appointment, the staff can be very wonderful and helpful, but being understaffed causes long delays in scheduling.  If you or your child are already in need of routine medical attention, coming to Guam may not be the best for you or your family.  If it’s serious enough, you won’t pass the overseas screening, but if it’s something you are worried about, discuss it with your primary care doctor.

Final Thoughts From Spouses

  • “Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone on Guam is incredibly necessary and usually rewarding when it comes to making friends, new adventures, etc.” – Emily

  • “Guam is like, the best.  Yes, it’s hotter and more humid than hell.  The typhoons are extra spicy.  The roads are garbage and flood at a mere mention of a raindrop.  But it’s also stunningly beautiful.  It’s like a blast from the past and feels like living in your own childhood all over.  Kids playing in streets.  Waving to neighbors.  Tight knit community.  People want to help each other.” – Katie

  • “So many of my best memories are from our time on Guam.  I would go back in a heartbeat!  7 years wasn’t long enough!” – Stephanie

  • “Guam was on our list, but not high on it, and I was a little worried when we got the word we were heading there.  But I am SO glad we went and would go back in a hot minute!!” – Lori

  • “The friendships and memories you make during the time there are solid, true friendships… ones you will hold onto for a lifetime.” – Hannah

  • “Not everyone is going to fall in love with Guam.  I know many people who loved it, and many people who really struggled there.  Either way, it’s okay.  It’s okay not to love your duty station.  There are many ways to make the most of it and some amazing things to do to help you really enjoy your time, but not all of us fell in love with it.” – Emily

  • “The food, family environment if you meet locals, and the experiences you have make the crazy worth dealing with at times.” – Vannat

  • “Guam is a challenging tour, but I wouldn’t trade it.  If you get stationed here just bring your humor, leave your standards, embrace your adventure, remember it’s not forever, and find your joy.  It’s here too, I promise.” – Katie

  • “There’s plenty to do, plenty to see.  It might be tiny, but you never get bored of it.” – Monique

  • “It’s the small things about Guam.  Take it all in.  There are bad days and good days but I’m glad we got to experience it.” – Megan

If you have orders to Guam and are anxious, I want you to know that there will be struggles and obstacles along the way.  There will be times where you probably won’t care for living there (some more than others) but at the end of the day, I think everyone who lives there finds something they can appreciate about this beautiful place they were once able to call home.  If you have the opportunity to live there, I hope you, too, can overlook the difficulties and come to love one of my most favorite places in the world. 

For more Guam resources, click here.

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