Doing Business on Saipan

An overview of business on Saipan, Tinian and Rota. Fuller explanations and overviews are available in Doing Business on Saipan
For many years, the two dominant industries on Saipan were (1) tourism and (2) the garment industry--at one time there were as many as 36 garment factories on the island generating close to one billion dollars in revenue. With the closure of the last garment factory in January 2009, only tourism remains.
The face of tourism in the CNMI is changing. The majority of visitors to Saipan now come from China. This is important to know if one is looking to start a business here.
What's Needed on Saipan?
On a large scale, what's needed are entrepreneurs who can bring ideas and an economic boost to the islands. Be careful, however, Saipan is a unique island and business ideas you think might be popular, may not work here. (We go into more detail in Doing Business on Saipan).
As an example, even though the population of Saipan is about 48,000, it is important for the new business owner to understand the demographics of that population as well as cultural norms that will affect how much of that 48,000 can be expected to be customers. With Chamorros, Carolinians, Filipinos, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Bangladeshis and a small percentage of US mainlanders here--each with disparate tastes, traditions and tendencies, the wise business owner (particularly from the US) should not make the mistake of thinking this is a homogenous population that can be marketed to in the same ways they may be accustomed to.
The Top 3 Fatal Mistakes Most Newcomers Make When Doing Business on Saipan
Even seasoned global business professionals never get it quite right.
by Walt F.J. Goodridge, author of Doing Business on Saipan

How to get things done the right way the 1st time on Saipan

In his ground-breaking classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie essentially says, "People will do just about anything for you, if they like you." Well, here on Saipan, people will do just about anything for you if they know you, trust you, know you're not just here to make a quick buck and leave, and if they like you as well! Building up that sort of reputation takes a little time, and time is precisely what you may not have when starting out.
Business is not done by companies, but by individuals. Relationships are a key component of how business is done. This is true just about everywhere in the world, but even more so on a little 13 by 5 mile island in the middle of the Pacific. That's why, given the same task and objectives on Saipan, some people will succeed with ease while others--try as they might--will always fail. 

The #1 mistake most Americans make when doing business on Saipan: is thinking that Saipan is America.

On paper, Saipan may be part of the US, but in reality on the ground, Saipan is in a class by itself with its unique mix of American, Japanese, German and Spanish cultural legacies and influences, world views, practices and expectations all subsumed under indigenous Chamorro and Carolinian governance.
New business owners assume that doing business here--this is America, after all—should be the same as doing business in Hawaii, Guam, or the US mainland. It is not. Consequently, they say the wrong things, fail to say the right things, maintain unreasonable expectations, and commit every conceivable business faux pas in an irreversible process that condemns them to failure.
If you wish to get things done on Saipan, you need someone who knows the lay of the land, who knows how to speak the "language" and who knows where the loyalties exist. You need a person who can (and knows when to) respond quickly to changes in land, language & loyalties.  You really do need a guy on the ground.

The Ever-Changing Landscape

Are the planes still flying to Tinian like it says on the website?
Is there enough inventory of this widget on island to meet my needs?
Will the recent changes to the immigration and labor policies affect our turnaround time?
Read more from...The Top 3 FATAL Mistakes American Businesses Make While Doing Business on Saipan
A new Zoning law is now in effect for Saipan. It may be downloaded free of charge at Zoning Board's website
Saipanpreneur Success Stories

Overview of Chapters:

Chapter 1: The Case for Saipan
Tax benefits, import/export advantages, minimum wage, historical background, geography all make a compelling case for doing business on Saipan. But, here's what you DON'T know that may be the best reasons of all!

Chapter 2: Elements of Opportunity
This chapter paints the big picture of all the factors affecting the island at the moment, and how to understand the "perfect storm" that many feel is threatening the island's future, but which may be opportunities in disguise! Plus an EXTREMELY valuable list of business ideas, what's needed on the island (from interviews with long time residents and business owners), what's been tried before and why it failed, and much more!
Features an exclusive interview with serial entrepreneur Anthony Pellegrino in which he reveals his secret to growing million-dollar companies on Saipan, and the unique opportunities hiding within federalization!

Chapter 3: Saipan Secrets
You can't make money here unless you understand the people, the lifestyle, the habits, the subtleties of worldviews, culture, and language that make up the Saipan population. These are the ways of thinking and acting that no one ever tells you until you get here! You need to know this stuff!

Chapter 4: Starting a Saipan Business
Step-by-step processes for getting your business license, getting zoning approval, incorporating, hiring employees, getting government agency approval, certification and much more!

Chapter 5: Business and Marketing Plan
How to set yourself apart. How to reach your customers. Generating off-island income, and more!

Appendix: Forms, Resource Guides, Further Reading, Organizations, Associations, Agents and more...
Business idea charts
Zoning requirements
Forms and applications


Joe Race icon
"Author Goodridge has done a fine job in introducing readers to Saipan, CNMI, USA, everything from some of the cultural aspects to the political climate. He carefully takes you through the various steps to follow in setting up a business, and what to expect along the way. He also lets you know how some of the business fields are already overflowing with shops such markets, massage parlors, and beauty salons. He suggests that you check out the location with a guide and on your own talking to dozens of people, and offers various web sites and blogs to follow. He offers the various forms needed, where the offices are, minmum wages and who your workers might be, immigration considerations, zoning laws, and the fees to be collected. His information is right on and thoughtful, and by reviewing this book, the investor might avoid pitfalls that not obvious in the beginning of the business project. Saipan is suffering an economic downturn in 2010, and the Legislature is trying to find ways of developing revenue, so beware of the various fees and regulations increasing before you make a move. A sincere evaluation of moving to Saipan, would include "rock fever," which basically means you are lonely and in isolation way out in the Pacific on a tiny (and beautiful) island. It's relaxing and peaceful but very remote. A perspective would include: Saipan is about the size of San Francisco; and is slightly larger than Hong Kong but smaller than the District of Columbia. Saipan has 46.5 square miles, while Jamaica has 4,411 square miles. "--Joseph Race, author of Moon Over Manila and many more...
SPECIAL: Order the paperback paperback icon or ebook ebook icon directly from us and you may email up to five questions about living or doing business on Saipan that we'll answer usually within 72 hours.
Doing Business on Saipan
A step-by-step guide for finding opportunity, launching a business and profiting in the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
by Walt F.J. Goodridge
Doing Business on Saipan book cover
There's an economic transition happening in the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The future is uncertain, but that means opportunity for the savvy entrepreneur. Easy to follow checklists help you start a business; incorporate, get your business license & zoning permit. hire employees; file taxes, and more! Plus: An insiders' view: Opinions of veteran entrepreneur business owners on the island: What's needed on these islands; How federalization of Saipan's immigration and labor will affect the island, and more! (166 pages; 7" x 10"; ISBN: 978-0974531359)
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Breaking News from Walt:

A few weeks ago, a former workshop attendee and coaching client revealed that she nominated me to be considered for this year’s Governor’s Humanities Award here on Saipan. I thanked her, but I didn’t really believe I qualified because...(read why at
Check out the FREE Preview of the Saipan Tour App! Can't make it to Saipan during the pandemic? No worries! Check out this FREE preview of the Discover Saipan Tour App and experience the island's SECOND best tour experience! This special online version of the self-guided, GPS-assisted app, is available for a limited times! Please allow a few moments for all the graphics to load! The mobile app (only $1) is available on the Google Play Store (See "About the App" for the link)