Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, USA

Last updated 28 September, 2008

Please note that I retired on March 31, 2005 and no longer live on Saipan. I relocated to Thailand. Photos of my new house are here: House Construction, Part 1

For you nostalgia freaks, here's a flash out of the past: Rudolpho's Virtual Bar.

This document attempts to answer some of those questions I commonly receive about Saipan and to provide links to a few more sources of information about Saipan. If you have specific questions, I suggest you check Uncle Phil's Saipan Info A-Z first! Another good place to look is the CNMI Guide. Another great link to government and business sites is CNMI.NET. For infromation about Micronesia, check out The Infography about Travel -- Micronesia. For telephone numbers check out Verizon Pacifica's Web Site. [Spinning MAC]

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Where the Heck is Saipan?

Saipan, the administrative center of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), is about a hundred miles north of Guam in the Western Pacific. On your world map, imagine a line drawn due East from the Philippines and another drawn due South of Japan. The lines intersect in the vicinity of Saipan. has a map of Saipan showing its location.

Here is a map showing Saipan's street names. You need to set the magnification at 400% or more to see the names clearly.

Saipan in Google Earth Format (kmz):

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How did you get to Saipan?

I was in the Peace Corps in Micronesia (Truk, AKA Chuuk) in the early 70's. After a few years in the States I moved back to Micronesia when my employer (the Social Security Administration) offered me a job on Saipan. It was intended to be a 120 day detail. I've lived on Saipan from January of 1979 to April of 2005. I retired as manager of the Social Security Office.

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Did you like living on Saipan?

Yes and No. I missed some aspects of Stateside living and I dislike many aspects of life on Saipan. Saipan is a Third World place in some ways -- poor infrastructure, tough to get things you need or want, contentious politics. But then again, it is the tropics, the people are nice, the beaches are lovely and there are plenty of things to do here that would be difficult or impossible in the States. I lived in a home I built mostly by myself that is close to the beach and situated on a hectare of good land that is now full of coconuts, mangoes, papayas, pineapples, etc.

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What's it like on Saipan?

Saipan is a small (25 Kilometer by 10 Kilometer) island with about 65,000 inhabitants. The major 'industries' are government (!), tourism and garment manufacturing. Government is big because private sector jobs pay so little; most private sector workers are alien contract workers who are paid the minimum wage (about US$3.05 per hour) and who sometimes live in poor conditions. Most tourists are Japanese, although more and more are coming from other Asian countries, including Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan and even Russia. However, with the advent of the Asian economic crisis in late 1997, Korean visitors dropped to nearly zero. As of late-2003 tourism seems to be recovering and the Koreans are back. Most businesses lament that tourists are spending much less than they did before the crisis. [Newman FAMILY]
I should note that the events of September 11, 2001, the war in Iraq and, most recently, SARS have had a dramatic effect on Saipan. Tourism is way down as are government revenues. Drastic measures to reduce government expenditures have been made and more will come. Here we are at Jeffrey's Beach

To see what a very small corner of Saipan (Afetna and San Antonio Villages) looks like, click here: Afetna, Saipan Walking Tour. And, here's a Garapan, Saipan Walking Tour

Click for Saipan, Mariana Islands Forecast The climate is tropical, with a rainy season from about May through November. The rest of the year is mostly dry, with strong trade winds. For current conditions check out the Weather Service's Marianas weather summary. Yahoo! also has the Saipan Forecast. Or Click the image at the left.

The island is quite lush throughout most of the year and some areas, including some dense rain forest, are very beautiful. It's still possible to find isolated, unoccupied beaches in the more remote areas. Sadly, commercial centers tend to be garish and ugly. Traffic is becoming a problem, as are drugs and drug-related crime.

[Chicha AT THE BEACH] There are two groups of indigenous people on the island. The Chamorros probably came a thousand or more years ago from islands to the West. They speak a language that is linguistically similar to Tagalog. The Carolinians came more recently (early 1800's) from islands in the Central Carolines (between Chuuk (Truk) and Yap), and speak a language similar to Trukese. As the islanders have suffered through repeated foreign occupation, much of their original culture is lost. In spite of that they maintain strong traditions, including daily use of the vernacular, great respect for elders and a love of traditional food, as modified by successive waves of 'visitors'. The local people are friendly and hospitable and enjoy interest in their culture shown by outsiders.
Chicha at LaoLao Bay

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Who lives on Saipan?

As of the 2000 census, 69,221 people lived in the Northern Mariana Islands. The Census Bureau has yet to release demographic data from the 2000 census. However, I guessed based on the 1995 estimate that there were about 17,000 indigenous Chamorros and about 3,000 indigenous Carolinians. There were also nearly 20,000 Filipinos, over 7,000 Chinese, 5,000 Miconesians, 2,000 Koreans and just over 2,000 'Americans' (US Citizens from North America). Many of the Filipinos and most of the other Asians are contract workers in the hospitality, construction and garment industries. There are also contract workers from other Asian nations including Thailand, Bangladesh, Japan, and Sri Lanka.

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Is it expensive to live on Saipan?

Food and housing are expensive, although with the growing population, things are getting better. There are two Macdonalds, Pizza Hut, Price/Costco, and plenty of other exciting shopping possibilities. Tourist oriented shopping and other activities are often expensive. US Federal employees who work here get a 25% cost of living allowance. However, because of the favorable tax situation and because of the casual life style, you can enjoy yourself on a limited income.

Here are some sample prices (US Dollars) as of December 2004:

For information on which on-line retailers will ship to Saipan, check here: - Sites that DO SHIP to the CNMI

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What did you do for a living on Saipan?

I managed the US Social Security Administration (SSA) office. I originally came to Saipan to work on the Northern Mariana Islands Social Security System (NMISSS) which was administered by SSA. I wrote the software for that System (which now runs at an SSA facility in Richmond, California) and continued to work on aspects of the merger of the NMISSS at the Saipan Social Security Office.

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What about jobs on Saipan?

The local government frequently hires off-island teachers and health care professionals. They recruit in all the usual places. A few jobs are also available for college students and recent graduates as 'sports assistants' (?) at some of the local hotels. Otherwise, many professional and technical jobs are taken by alien contract workers who are willing to be paid wages that are much lower than US scale. The government has some recruitment pages you can get to from the CNMI.Net Home page. Also, the Saipan International School is often in need of teachers.

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How about Internet Access on Saipan?

Saipan has several Internet Service Providers. I use Saipan Data Com. Check out their Web page for further information on pricing, etc. There are three other providers, ITE, PCI and MTC.

For those just visiting Saipan, free PC use and Web access are available at the Joeten-Kiyu Public Library and at a few restaurants around the island. DFS (Duty Free) also has free access at its Garapan Galleria.

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How do you get to Saipan?

There are plenty of flights, daily. Both Northwest and Continental Micronesia have flights from all over the US West Coast. Saipan is also served by JAL (Page in Japanese), Asiana and others. For more information, see the Marianas Visitor's Authority (MVA) page.

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Do I need a visa to visit Saipan?

Tourists from US visa waiver countries who intend to stay 30 days or less do not need a visa, no matter what the country of origin. You may be asked to show an onward ticket and sufficient resources to stay your intended duration. 30 day tourist visas can be extended for another 30 days.

Visitors from non-visa wiaver countries must obtain an "Visitor's Entry Permit" from the CNMI Department of Immigration. Your airline or travel agent should be able to arrange this for you.

More information is available on the Marianas Visitor's Authority web site in the "Trip Essentials" section under "Entry Requirements".

Warning to potential tourists:

If you are required to get a Visistor's Entry Permit to travel to Saipan you should know that the Immigration office is very slow about issuing permits. Even if you apply months in advance, your permit may not be issued until a few days before your scheduled arrival. If this makes you uncomfortable, and it should, then you might consider vacationing elsewhere.

US Citizens can come and go as they please.

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Are there cheap places to stay on Saipan?

Although most of the 'resort' hotels are still expensive, it is possible to find places in the under-US$40.00 range. It is also possible to get tour packages from Japan and other Asian countries that include air fare and hotel at reasonable rates. (60,000 Yen for air fare plus three or four nights room from Japan during low season.)

A nice, moderately priced hotel is the Pacific Gardenia. It is right on the beach and has a good restaurant and great bar.

The MVB page has information on a wide variety of hotels, including a hotel search function.

If you'd like to learn or improve your English, have a look at Homestay Saipan.

If you're looking for a house to rent or an apartment see Tim Goodwin's Pacific Rim International web page or Del Benson's Marianas Living web page.

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Do I need a car on Saipan?

Although Saipan is not that big, you really need a car. Although some people manage without by using bicycles, this is not very practical during the rainy season, at night time or for long journeys. As a result of the Asian economic crisis, used cars are fairly cheap.

As of November 2003, Budget Car Rental at Saipan Airport was charging $45 per day (for a manual-transmission Toyota Tercel) if the car is booked directly with that office. [Budget Car Rental's e-mail address is, and its telephone number is (670) 234-8232.]

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What can you do on Saipan?

SCUBA diving is good. ABRACADABRA! AquaVentures, run by Alec and Teresita Hoffman, is a nice shop frequented by local divers. Stingray Divers, run by Brady Barrineau, is another dive operation that caters to local divers.

Click to subscribe to Saipan Divers

And, if diving on Saipan turns you on and you're looking for some place different, have a look at PJ Scuba, Thailand.

Windsurfing and sailing can be great. Contact Tomi for more information.

Sadly, Saipan doesn't have much in the way of surf. Several breaks are rideable when storms bring Westerly swells.

There are many good beaches, including some very nice, uncrowded, isolated ones. There are a number of golf courses and tennis courts. The jungles are great for boonie-stomping, with plenty of World War Two relics still around. For the sharp-eyed, there are also a number of cultural artifacts (including potsherds, stone implements, cave art and 'latte stones' -- large monoliths that were probably used for building foundations) left by the ancient Chamorro people.

The island has an active night life, both for locals and visitors, with some melding between the two. There are fine restaurants, both in and out of the resort hotels. My favorites include:

Coffee Care Saipan, is located part way up Capitol Hill road (now "Isa Road"), near Vestcor and Micronesian Brewers, is a great place to eat or enjoy some fine coffee. Need a ride? Call 323-5282. Or, send e-mail

Thai House, next to the Cabrera Center in Garapan. Call them at 235-8424 for a ride.

The Hyatt has the best Sunday Brunch in the Asia/Pacific region. My wife and I have been regular customers every Sunday for over ten years. Don't miss it.

The Spicy Thai Noodle Place (Tel : 235-8603) in San Antonio next to the Thailand Food Store has excellent Thai food.

Oleai Beach Club is a great 'sunset' bar and lunch spot on the beach in San Jose Village. Giovanni's at the Hyatt Hotel in Garapan offers the best Sunday Brunch in the Pacific for $27.00. Reservations are a must. The Hyatt also has a daily buffet lunch for $20.00

Saipan finally has a multiplex theater run by Wallace Theaters. We now get first run movies with Dolby Digital sound.

[Saipan HASH LOGO] If you like to run, drink beer or both, there is an active chapter of the Hash House Harriers (a drinking club with a running problem) on Saipan. The Saipan Hash House Harriers meet every Saturday at the Bank of Guam building in Garapan at 3:30 PM in 'Winter', and 4:00 PM in 'Summer'. Join the Hash if you'd like to meet some folks from Saipan, see some of the lesser known areas of the island, and enjoy a bit of outrageous partying. The cost is US$6.00 per person for the run, all the beer, soda and junk food you can consume, and all the fun you can handle. The Guam Hash also has a home page.

For those with a different idea of 'fun', there are plenty of night clubs, strip joints, karaoke bars and massage parlors.

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How "Americanized" is Saipan?

The extent to which North American culture has influenced life on Saipan is quite amazing to some people. I suspect that this is largely a marketing triumph and reflects the fact that American media reaches Saipan in a big way: 50-channel cable TV, movies, American style radio, popular magazines, etc. Of course, the fact that people themselves move freely and frequently back and forth from Saipan to the States also results in a great amount of cultural transfer, on the surface anyway. American products fill the shops (SPAM and Budweiser are big sellers) and American styles are the rule.

However, when my wife was 'collectively naturalized' along with her fellow countrymen in November of 1986 I said to her, "Congratulations, Hon, you're an American now." She paused a moment, looked at me and said, "I may have a US Passport, but I'll never be an American."

Is Saipan part of the United States?

Good question, with many answers. Here are a few:

Federal Income Taxes No
Social Security Taxes Yes
Federal Labor Law Yes
Federal Minimum Wage No
US Postal Service Yes
FedEx, Airborne, Etc. No
Telephone Yes (effective 1 July 97)
Currency Yes

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What about crime on Saipan?

Sadly, crime is becoming an increasing problem on Saipan. My own home was burglarized three times in a three year period. In a six month period in the mid 90's, three drug-related murders were committed within a mile of where I live. Most of this crime is caused by an epidemic of the drug "ice" (crystal methamphetamine). Crime statistics are available at the Government's Criminal Justice Planning Agency site. Fortunately, crime against persons is rare and Saipan is a pretty comfortable place to live. My own home has been trouble-free for five or six years now.

As a tourist or a resident, you will be safe if you follow ordinary, common-sense precautions.

How are the schools on Saipan?

Sadly, the Commonwealth government doesn't spend much on Education. As a result, schools are poorly maintained and needed construction projects have fallen way behind. There is reported to be a shortage of good materials as well. However, there are a large number of talented and dedicated people working for the Public School System. As a result, the quality of education is highly variable.

There are a number of private schools, some parochial. Space is limited and the cost ranges from $200 to $350 a month. My own daughter attends Saipan International School.

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How is the health care system on Saipan?

The primary health care facility on Saipan is the Commonwealth Health Center (CHC). I recently (January 2002) visited CHC to obtain a needed vaccination. I was pleasantly surprised by the friendly, courteous and professional treatment I received from each and every staff member. The hospital is equipped and staffed to perform most medical treatment making off-island referral much less necessary than in the past. Visitors and residents alike can have confidence in the treatment they receive at CHC.

In addtion, there are a number of private outpatient clinics operating on Saipan, including a branch of the HMO PacifiCare.

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Can I bring my pet?

Pets are OK, with some caveats. Most yards are not fenced. There are packs of "boonie dogs" roaming all over the entire island. Other cultures sometimes don't look at pets with the same fondness as folks from North America. You will have to put your pet in quarantine for four months. Personally, I have not had great luck with dogs. All have either suddenly disappeared or died. There is a vet on Saipan.

So, what's the bottom line?

[A PIC OF MIKE IN PHNOM PENH] As a tourist destination for North Americans Saipan doesn't offer much because other places in Asia (Bali, Thailand) are cheaper and somewhat more exotic. For residents of Asia seeking a visa-free tropical vacation, Saipan hits the spot. As a place to live Saipan can be enormously satisfying and incredibly frustrating. When I need to get away I usually head somewhere in Southeast Asia. Here's me enjoying a beer in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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Click the thumbnail at the left to see a larger version of this family portrait taken in the late 1930's. The gentleman on the left is my wife's grandfather, Jose Fujihira, an Okinawan who came to Saipan in the early part of the 20th Century to manage a sugar plantation located at the southern tip of Saipan. The woman standing at the far right is my wife's late mother, Ignacia Fujihira. The young boy, who was born blind, was the only child to return to Japan after WWII. He lived in Japan, as a Japanese citizen, until his death in the mid-1990's. The woman seated was Jose's second wife, Maria Atalig. Her sister, Ana, was his first wife. For more historical photos, see the National Park Service Virtual Museum page.

Your Comments and Questions

For more information, to make suggestions, or let me know about dead links, drop me a line.

Mike Newman [Free SPEECH RIBBON]
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The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

Saipan is one of the Northern Mariana Islands (NMI); part of what was once known as the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI). The Trust Territory was created by the United Nations after the end of World War II out of that part of Micronesia that was mandated to the Japanese by the League of Nations. The United States was given 'strategic' trustee rights over the TTPI meaning that it was obligated to develop the islands with self-determination as the goal, but with a recognition that the US had the right to make strategic use of the islands. This ranged from missile testing in the Marshall Islands, to using Saipan as a CIA training ground.

By the mid 70's the people of the NMI decided that they wanted a close political association with the United States. They voted to separate from the rest of the Trust Territory and negotiated an agreement, called a 'Covenant' with the United States. The Covenant sets for the terms of the political relationship between the NMI and the US. The CNMI is a self-governing US Territory. Most US Federal laws and programs apply. The CNMI is served by the US Postal Service and uses US currency. The Commonwealth is in charge of its own Customs and Immigration. US Minimum Wage laws do not apply. The Commonwealth is in charge of its own taxation. US Federal taxes are collected and used by the local government, but substantial portions (90% of the tax on income sourced within the CNMI) are rebated to taxpayers.

Other inhabited islands in the Commonwealth include Rota and Tinian. The Enola Gay took off from Tinian on its missio to drop the first Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.

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Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands

The Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands encompassed most of what is known to Geographers and Anthropologists as Micronesia. It included the following island groups: The Marshalls, Pohnpei (Ponape), Kosrae (Kusai), Chuuk (Truk), Yap, Palau (Belau) and the Northern Marianas. The Marshalls are now known as the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Yap make up the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau is now the Republic of Belau. (Palau has kept the Westernized spelling of its name for publicity purposes as it tries to develop its tourism industry. The official name, Belau, more closely reflects the traditional pronunciation when said by speakers of English.)

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The absolute best place for more information on saipan is Saipan DataCom's home page. It contain a huge amount of information, including links to other pages, on Saipan. The local government also has a page.

Also see Pete's Hafa Adai Saipan blog. Aside from the blog there are a number of interesting Saipan and Chamorro culture links.

Another Saipan blog which has a list of more Saipan blogs is this one by the Saipan Blogger: The Saipan Blog

For current news check out The Saipan Tribune or the Marianas Variety.

As noted above, the Marianas Visitor's Authority (MVA) page has a wealth of information on visiting Saipan.

Yahoo! now has a separate category for the Northern Mariana Islands, including links to Saipan pages.

For some nice pictures taken all around Saipan, check out the "Virtual Tour" by Uncle Phil.

Del Benson is a professional photographer whose web site, Del Benson, contains many beautiful photos of Saipan and elsewhere.

For a completely different point of view on Saipan, check out the Saipan Sucks page. This page, by an anonymous author, contains some pointed and often valid criticism of Saipan and the local culture. I don't agree with everything he says and don't endorse the page, but anyone considering coming to Saipan to live or to visit ought to at least read it.

For some interesting historical information, see the National Park Service's page on American Memorial Park or this page of photos by WWII Vet Donald Bonvallet.

Digital's AltaVista search engine has over a hundred thousand Saipan links.

Here's the Micronesia Handbook.

Finally, if you're planning to relocate to Saipan or make an extended visit, I highly recommend two books by P.F. kluge: A fiction work entitled "Biggest Elvis" and a non-fiction book called "The Edge of Paradise". Kluge is a long-time resident of and visitor to the Western Pacific and has a unique and entertaining way of explaining what life is like in this part of the world.

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