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As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine January/February 2003
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Work in Sunny Saipan

A Tropical Paradise with All Mod Cons

By Arin Greenwood

My first day on Saipan the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court told me to enjoy my time here but to watch out for falling coconuts. “More people die from coconuts to the head than shark attacks,” he warned, adding that his own mother had been hit but not fatally.

At a recent barbecue a former Supreme Court Chief Justice gave me not a warning but a solution to another common problem on the island: it seems that the way to stop your eyes from burning if you’ve accidentally gotten hot pepper oil in them it to douse yourself in breast milk. He went so far as to discuss the nitty-gritty of how one procures breast milk when one is not herself lactating (out of respect for the judiciary’s secrets I will not share that information here).

This is all by way of illustration that sunny Saipan, the small island near Guam with the big green lagoon and the most equable temperature in the world, is more than a mere warm-weather getaway.

The Northern Mariana Islands became a Trust Territory of the U.S. at the end of the war, a relationship that changed to a commonwealth association in 1978. Because of this relationship, U.S. citizens can work on Saipan without any restrictions. Of the 80-some thousand people living on Saipan, around 1,500 are U.S. mainlanders working as teachers, lawyers, doctors, SCUBA instructors, biologists, radio station managers, bartenders, tennis pros, and pretty much every other conceivable professional or public-oriented job found in the tropics. The other 65,000 Saipan residents are an incredibly diverse mix of Chamorros and Carolinians (Saipan’s native residents), Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos, Thai, Canadians, Russians, Bangladeshi, Micronesians, and others.

Which all makes Saipan something of an ideal place to combine overseas living with the convenience of earning U.S. dollars. Especially if you’d like to do all that from a palm-treed jungle island with gorgeous, gorgeous beaches as well as bowling alleys and a 6-screen movie theater.

There are downsides: the ethnic segregation is astonishing and the island is very isolated and very, very small. Incredibly small. Saipan is a perfect place to work on a novel or build a boat or learn SCUBA diving, underwater photography, ukulele playing or anything else a person can do on a 12.5-mile-long island in the middle of the Pacific—all while earning a decent living. Life in Saipan is, in other words, a good mix of tropical vacation and real life.

Jobs in Saipan

The Attorney General’s Office, which often recruits attorneys, can be reached at 670-234-2341.

If you’re looking for a particular kind of job on Saipan, you’ll want to go a Google search using the words “Saipan” and “job” and then the title of the job you’re after (say “divemaster” or “judicial clerk”).

Most expats live in apartments and single-family houses, which are easy to come by and range in price from around $250 to $1,500 per month.

Flights from the mainland U.S. to Saipan leave daily. Because of its commonwealth statue, U.S. passport holders are free to work in Saipan without restrictions and U.S. dollars are the official currency.

ARIN GREENWOOD is a writer and lawyer living on Saipan, a small island near Guam.

 
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