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The Ultimate Kwajalein Moving Guide


Kwajalein dome housing

There is no question that moving to Kwajalein is a daunting task, especially if you're not used to government contractor style pack outs. We originally moved into two individual bachelor quarters (BQ) rooms before transferring to a connected, couples BQ, and then finally to a cinder block home after three years. We will do our best to help you prepare for moves into a house or a BQ. With specific weight restrictions to consider, here is our breakdown of things to think about when moving to Kwajalein. We hope it helps!


The economy on Kwajalein is essentially closed. AAFES provides the bare basics and everything else must be acquire second hand on island or online (hooray Prime shipping!). The only exceptions are the few shops run by residents which include the bike shop, dive shop, and assorted souvenir style shops.


The first step is to join the Kwaj Atoll Swap and Shop Facebook Group. This is the main place to buy and sell goods on the island, but you must act fast to secure your purchase because things go fast - like really fast. Hot items are big pieces of furniture like sofas, dining tables, and bedroom pieces. If you want a specific big piece in your home, send them in your pack out. While large furniture is provided by the government, some is very nice but some is not so much. These are handed out first come - first served via the furniture warehouse, but people have been known to be on the waiting list for months. The furniture is also typically left in each house between occupants. Your sponsor should be able to take a photo of the furniture so you know what you're getting. You will be provided a PO box prior to arriving (in theory) which will allow you to ship out anything else that doesn't fit in your pack out. Keep in mind that sites like Amazon Prime, Bed Bath & Beyond and Walmart usually have free shipping. The PO box is through the United States Postal Service, so larger items such as rugs won't usually ship easily. There are also third party senders like Ship It APO, APO Box and Ship To My APO.

*Other Facebook groups to join: Kwaj Net, The Kwaj Connect, U.S. Army Garrison - Kwajalein Atoll, Kwaj Sitter Finder Child/Pet/House. You can take a look around the island here.


Sponsor:

You should be given a sponsor who will help you before arrival and the first few days on island. I'll be honest and tell you that some sponsors are less than desirable. With a recent contract change (2018), the on boarding process is not fluid for new contractors. I've recently heard some pretty unfortunate stories of how new hires are arriving. I brought on a ton of new staff while I was there, so if you want tips on how to be a good one, check out this blog here. In case your sponsor isn’t so helpful of you aren’t given one, here are a few things to know. Upon arrival you will be given a hospitality kit which will include basic sheets, shower curtain, pillows, towels. If you're in a house, you will also receive a kitchen set of pans, plates, cups, silverware and utensils. You may also get an alarm clock, coffee pot and TV. You should expect a very full day when you arrive. There is a lot of paperwork to take care of. You won’t get a few days to adjust, you will start working immediately (that is why you are there).


Transportation:

Bikes are the primary form of transport on Kwajalein with no personal vehicles allowed. This makes your bike VERY important. It is HIGHLY recommended to purchase an all aluminum bike as everything else rusts through (yes, through) within a year. It is like nothing you've ever seen. Even with protective coatings, paints, and greases, your bike will be in a constant state of disrepair. Do not think that you'll somehow keep your daily use bike in good condition if it is not aluminum...and even then. While AAFES no longer sells Sun bikes, the middle of the road aluminum bike ($350ish), the bike shop still does. You'll want a basket ($30-60) mounted to the rear to carry groceries, water gear, or most anything else. Similarly, coat it with protective spray in hopes of making it last more than two years. You may also want a burley or trailer to carry larger items or children.


Dining

All BQ dwellers will receive a meal plan good for three meals a day at the Zamperini Dining Facility. Those in a home have paid access to the ZDF on weekends, but need to find meals on their own. There is a small food court with a Subway, Pizza, and Burger King (not true BK burgers). Behind the ZDF is a small bakery/coffee shop and there is also a fried chicken walk up counter at the pier. That is a complete list of your prepared food options (as of early 2018). Everything else must be purchased from the Surfway grocery store or AAFES. If you were to compare the selection to a place in the US I would say the grocery store is similar to an ALDI’s.


Zamperini Dining Plan

The Zamperini Dining Facility (your paid meal plan) consistently has a nice salad bar, but vegetarians may have a hard time. You can cook in your BQ, although, technically, you're not supposed to have ovens and hot plates. It is well known that a huge majority of people do and fix their own meals to offset the cafeteria food. We didn't mind the meal plan, but you will find that there is a lot of sodium (and butter) in the food. It's easy to pack on a few pounds if you're not careful! If you get burnt out on the meals, here are a few creative ways we found to spice it up.

· Ask for a tortilla from the deli section and make a quesadilla using the meat of the day

· Grab some veggies and rice to throw on the grill for a stir fry!

· Make a hot sandwich on the grill

· Take lettuce from the sandwich bar to make lettuce wraps

· On taco day switch it up and make nachos or a rice bowl

· Bring in your own spices or toppings


Food you won't find in the store:

· Nothing pre-prepared

· Protein powder

· Consistent selection of spices

· Curry paste (they do have red and green box mix)

· Tahini

· Hummus (learn to make it yourself!)

· Guacamole (learn to make it yourself!)

· Specialty oils like sesame seed oil, safflower

· Almond butters or specialty butters

· Cheese: they have cheddar, Mexican blend, laughing cow, baby bell, feta, blue cheese, Swiss, Munster, mozzarella….usually.

· Organic Sugar replacements like agave

· Organic selection is very small

· Gluten free is very small

· Limited baby stuff like formulas and baby food items are limited

· Fresh breads are found at the bakery (learn to make them yourself!)


BQ or House?

When you are given a BQ or a house, you probably won’t have many choices. There are some BQs and houses that are nicer and larger than others. Often it is your employer that determines where you will live. If you work for USAG-KA, you likely given a house in the “Golden Circle” and a very large pack out weight limit. Each contractor is a little different with pack out restrictions and whether you will get a BQ or a house. We were allowed 750lbs for a BQ and 2000lbs for a house. There has been a shortage of houses and BQs for a long time now, so there is always drama around this topic. As a sponsor, I worked really hard to put my people in the best BQs, but it’s not always easy. The best BQs are Coral, Reef and Ocean (in my opinion). We lived in Coral and one of the limited number of couples BQs in Surf (a doorway between two single rooms). The best homes are probably considered the waterfront ones. Usually houses go to families and employees with higher level jobs and all government employees regardless of position.


Key things to bring with you for BOTH a BQ & Housing:

These are items that are either more difficult to ship or things you'll really need to when you arrive.

· Lamps (all homes/BQs have fluorescent lighting)

· Home decor things that make it feel homie

· Mattress topper

· Specific food/allergy conscious foods

· Large cooking gadgets

· Cordless phone (as of now – ask your sponsor about the phone situation)

· Bike tool kit (socket wrench/Hex wrench/bike pump/actual grease)

· Holiday decor

· Hangers...for whatever reason these are hard to come by

· Sheets

· Pillows of all kinds

· Rugs (You can buy some at AAFES. Most online stores don’t ship rugs)

· Bed risers (storage is at a premium)

· Bungie cords (to hold things on to your bike)

· Bunk beds for children sharing rooms or a loft bed

· Sunglasses...polarized are the best!

· Big furniture...it's a lottery system so you may not know what kind of furniture will be in the house.


If there is something you really like or want, you should pack it out. Furniture will resell easily.


Items that are easy to resell on island for a good price:

· TVs

· Dishwasher

· Paddle boards

· Beds

· Bikes

· Dishes

· Furniture sets

· Plastic containers

· Dive gear

· Bike trailer

· Large Rugs

· Kitchen items

· Lamps


Clothes:

· A sweater or 2 for your office or indoors

· High quality rain gear (with pants!). Frog Tog, Columbia, North Face are decent options. You want something that is light and breathable, but truly water proof (not just water resistant). You stop caring about how stylish your rain gear is the first time you show up to work/school with a soaking wet butt.

· Lightweight clothing that breathes (DriFit style shirts are great)

· Closed toed shoes are required for most jobs

· A few nice dress clothes for special events

· Sandals, SO many sandals

· If you are in to sports, be sure to bring out soccer/baseball cleats without metal spikes and a glove, shin guards, yoga mat etc.

· Swimsuits and rash guards, duh


Special events to dress up for:

· Swashbucklers ball: pirate garb

· A nice dress or suit for the dinner dances, basket auctions, balls

· Halloween costumes

· Island shirts/tacky Hawaiian

· 80s/90s/Decade themed apparel


BQ specific notes:

· You will receive chair and perhaps a recliner, if you're lucky.

· You won't get a sofa, nor is there much room for one (a loveseat is a good option). You will want a comfy place to sit...your bedroom is also your living room. We brought lots of comfy pillows.

· You will probably have a full size bed. It's rare to get a queen size.

· Kitchen ware: Be sure to at least bring out a microwave - smaller sized one so it fits in the shelf. If you are a coffee drinker, you will want a coffee pot.

· You will have a mini fridge. Most don’t make ice. Some people buy small deep freezers if they cook a lot.

A few items we had while living in the BQ were:

· Toaster Oven

· Hot Plate

· Convection Oven

· Microwave

· Coffee machine

· A couple of pans

· Cooking utensils

· Hand Mixer

· Plastic tote organizers

· Crockpot (with lockable lid for transporting)

· Containers or kitchen things that you can transport on a bike. Plastic is best.

· The basics: plates, silverware, cups, mugs

· Soft sided coolers are great!


HOUSE specific notes:

· Ask in advance what kind of home you are going to be living in. Some are cinderblock and require a special drill bit available at self-help to hang things. The 'new housing' and ‘A-Frame’ homes are the most like stateside living with dry wall inside. The dome homes are the hardest to hang pictures with no outside 'walls' that you can put holes into and odd round windows.

· Backyard shade options typically have to be constructed on island. Get wood or plastics, something that doesn't rust.

· Lawn mowers and weed wackers are also available through self-help, so don't worry about those.

· The homes have a normal sized refrigerator with a larger standing deep freeze, washer, and dryer. You won't find many homes with dishwashers or disposals. Few homes have carpet, so you may want to bring rugs.

· Many of the homes have mold in the air ducts and walls. If you have serious allergies to mold, you may want to reconsider living on Kwaj.

A list of items we had in our house:

Most of these can be ordered online and shipped for free (note that we do not have kids).

· Microwave

· Dishwasher

· Pot Rack (hanging from ceiling)

· Coffee machine

· Water purifier pitcher

· Blender

· Food processor

· Pans

· Cooking utensils

· Cups, mugs, glasses, etc.

· Kitchenaid Mixer

· Plastic tote organizers

· Crockpot (with lockable lid for transporting)

· Containers or kitchen things that you can transport on a bike. Plastic is best.

· Soft sided coolers are great!

· Silverware

· Correlle plate set

· Lamps (table and floor lamps)

· Wall hangings

· Curtains

· Pillows

· Throw blankets

· Comforter sets

· Over the toilet storage

· Rugs

· Outdoor Rubbermaid storage

· Outdoor chairs and table

· Paddleboards

· Holiday décor

· Shoe racks

· Bed risers

· Stair rugs (our stairs were cement)


Remember that Kwajalein has limited resources. If you are expecting fancy lattes, organic everything, manicures, shopping, restaurants and options, you may not find this to be island paradise. If you are looking for an adventure, long lasting friendships, and unforgettable experiences, you will probably LOVE this island home.



2 Comments


Alexis Bradley
Alexis Bradley
Jun 05, 2023

Very informative and thorough. Thank you!

Like

Sherri Moo
Sherri Moo
Aug 07, 2021

Thank you for sharing your experience.

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