Bargaining is not part of Maldivian culture and should not be attempted in most situations. However, it's perfectly acceptable to haggle somewhat at a shop selling tourist souvenirs on an inhabited island.
Dangers & Annoyances
Maldives is an exceptionally safe destination, where you will barely even have to think about danger.
- If you do have important valuables in your room, it's a good idea to use the safe that is supplied in most places. If there's not one in your room, you can leave items at reception.
- Be careful of mopeds in Male.
- Take care when diving or snorkelling and follow all rules.
Electricity supply is 220V to 240V, 50Hz AC. The standard socket is the UK-style three-pin, although there are some variations, so an international adaptor can be useful; most resorts supply adaptors for non-UK travellers.
Embassies & Consulates
The few existing foreign representatives in Male are mostly honorary consuls with limited powers; most countries have no diplomats in Maldives at all. In an emergency, contact your country’s embassy or high commission in Colombo, Sri Lanka. If you lose your passport in Maldives, you'll generally need to be deported to Sri Lanka or India in order to receive a replacement.
Emergency & Important Numbers
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Entry & Exit Formalities
Entering Maldives is simple and hassle-free. However, you must know the name of your resort, hotel or guesthouse, so if you haven’t got accommodation pre-arranged for your first night, pick a place at random to write on the immigration form.
The immigration cards issued to you on your flight to Male include a great list of items that are banned from the republic. Alcohol, pornography, pork, narcotics, dogs, firearms, spear guns and ‘idols of worship’ cannot be brought into the country and you’re advised to comply. Baggage is usually X-rayed and may be searched carefully, and if you have any liquor it will be taken and held for you till you’re about to leave the country. This service will not extend to other prohibited items, and the importation of multiple bibles (one for personal use is fine), pornography and, in particular, drugs, will be treated very seriously. The export of turtle shell, or any turtle-shell products, is forbidden.
Nobody coming to Maldives requires a visa for a stay of 30 days or less.
Maldives issues a 30-day stamp on arrival to holders of all passports. Citizens of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Nepal are given a 90-day stamp. If you want to stay longer you’ll either need to apply for an extension to the 30-day stamp or leave the country when your 30 days is up, then return. You should know the name of your resort or hotel and be able to show a return air ticket out of the country if asked by immigration officials.
To apply for an extension, go to the Department of Immigration & Emigration, near Jumhooree Maidan in Male. Fill in the Application for Permit Extension form, which will need to be co-signed by a local sponsor. The main requirement is evidence that you have accommodation, so it’s best to have your resort, travel agent or guesthouse manager act as a sponsor and apply on your behalf. Have your sponsor sign the form, and bring it back to the office, along with your passport, a passport photo and your air ticket out of the country. You have to have a confirmed booking for the new departure date before you can get the extension – fortunately, the airlines don’t ask to see a visa extension before they’ll change the date of your flight. You’ll be asked to leave the documents at the office and return in a couple of days to pick up the passport with its extended visa (get a receipt for your passport). Extensions are for a maximum of 30 days.
There are no restrictions on foreign nationals entering the country. Visas are not needed for visits of 30 days or less.
Maldivians are very polite people and can often be quite shy if you meet them outside resorts. While used to foreigners and their behaviour, there are a few things that they'll appreciate.
- Greetings Shake hands with men when you meet them. Local women do not generally shake hands.
- Eating Eat with your right hand only when dining on an inhabited island. The left hand is considered unclean, and while it can be used to cut food, it should not be used to move food to the mouth.
- Dress Remember how conservative the islands are outside resorts. Men should not walk around bare chested and women should wear long skirts and avoid low-cut tops.
- Religion Non-Muslims are generally not allowed to enter mosques anywhere in Maldives, except by specific invite.
By Maldivian law all extramarital sex is illegal, but there is no specific mention of homosexuality in the country's legal index. This grey area means that while gay life does certainly exist in Maldives, it's all generally conducted with great discretion, often online.
Of course in the country's resorts, things are very different. Same-sex couples will be able to book a double room without issues (from budget to luxury, Maldivian hotel staff are the model of discretion), and it’s common to see same sex-couples enjoying Maldivian holidays together. Public displays of affection may embarrass Maldivian resort staff, but won’t result in anything but blushes on their part. In Male and on inhabited islands discretion is key and public displays of affection should not be indulged in by anyone, gay or straight – Maldives remains an extremely conservative place.
A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is highly recommended. Some policies offer lower and higher medical-expense options; the higher ones are chiefly for countries that have high medical costs, and this would be a good idea for a Maldives trip.
Some policies specifically exclude ‘dangerous activities’, which can include diving, so check your policy carefully if you plan to dive; though anyone diving in Maldives is automatically obliged to buy Maldivian diving insurance as part of the package.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/bookings. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
All resorts, hotels and guesthouses have free wi-fi for guests. While a few resorts limit data per user, it's otherwise entirely free across the board and generally a decent speed. Do be aware, however, that on some resort islands you won't have total coverage by the resort wi-fi, and on inhabited islands you won't be able to use it outside the guesthouse itself. Most independent travellers purchase a SIM card at the airport on arrival. These are valid for a maximum of two weeks and come pre-loaded with data, depending on the plan you buy. This is a far cheaper option than roaming on your home number.
- Alcohol is illegal outside resorts – you’re theoretically not even allowed to take a can of beer out on a boat trip. Some foreign residents in the capital have a liquor permit, which entitles them to a limited amount per month, strictly for personal consumption at home.
- Illicit drugs are around, but are not widespread. Penalties are heavy. ‘Brown sugar’, a semirefined form of heroin, has become a problem among some young people in the capital and even in some outer islands.
- Apart from the police and the military, there is a chief on every atoll and island who must keep an eye on what is happening, report to the central government and be responsible for the actions of local people.
- Resorts are responsible for their guests and for what happens on their island. If a guest sunbathes or goes swimming in the nude, the resort can be fined, as well as the visitor.
Put simply, Maldives is a nightmare to map. The islands are so small and scattered that you’re forever trying to distinguish between the tiny islands and the reefs that surround them. Another problem is scale – the country is over 800km from north to south, but the largest island is only about 8km long, and most are just a few hundred metres across.
For anyone doing a serious amount of travel, especially diving, Maps of Maldives (Water Solutions Ltd, 2016) is indispensable and in a very practical book form, alleviating the need to fold out a vast map. It includes everything from shipwreck sites to protected marine areas. It can be found at some bookshops in Male, or ordered online.
Newspapers & Magazines
The best source of news in Maldives is the excellent Maldives Independent (www.maldivesindependent.com), an online English-language newspaper with sharp and well-researched local reporting. Of the main Maldivian dailies, Miadhu (www.miadhu.mv) has an English edition online.
Television Maldives, the national TV station, is broadcast from Male during the day, with regular breaks for prayer. The rest of the schedule is made up of political programs, variety shows and Al Jazeera re-broadcasts in English. There’s news in English at 9pm. Other local TV channels include DhiTV and VillaTV.
Nearly all resorts and most Male hotels have satellite TV, including BBC World News, CNN, Al Jazeera, Star Movies and HBO alongside Sri Lankan, Indian and European channels.
Credit cards can be used in resorts and most guesthouses. ATMs can be found in Male and the bigger inhabited islands.
The currency of Maldives is the rufiyaa (Rf), which is divided into 100 larees. Notes come in denominations of 500, 100, 50, 20, 10, five and two rufiyaa, but the last two are uncommon. Coins are in denominations of two and one rufiyaa, and 50, 25 and 10 larees. Most resort and travel expenses will be billed in dollars, and most visitors never even see rufiyaa, as resort bills are settled by credit card and you'll never need to pay for things in cash. If you’re staying in a resort, all extras (including diving costs) will be billed to your room, and you pay the day before departure. For people staying in guesthouses it's another situation entirely, and while you'll be able to pay for most things by credit card, you'll need cash for meals outside the guesthouse, souvenirs and any other sundry expenses.
ATMs can be found easily in Male and at the airport, and nearly all allow you to withdraw funds from international accounts. They're also now commonly found on inhabited islands, particularly the bigger ones. That said, in many cases there is only one ATM on each island, so it's never ideal to be reliant on them.
It’s perfectly possible to have a holiday in Maldives without ever touching cash of any sort, as in resorts everything will be chalked up to your room number and paid by credit card on departure. You won’t need Maldivian rufiyaa unless you’re using local shops and services on inhabited islands. In Male, it's possible to pay for everything using US dollars, though you'll be given change in rufiyaa and you'll need to pay for things with small notes.
Be aware that there are restrictions on changing rufiyaa into foreign currency. If you take out cash in rufiyaa from an ATM, you won’t be able to change the remainder back into US dollars or any other foreign currency. Therefore if you need lots of local currency, exchange foreign cash for rufiyaa at a bank and keep the receipt to be allowed to change the remainder back at the airport.
Every resort takes major credit cards including Visa, Amex and MasterCard. A week of diving and drinking could easily run up a tab of over US$2000, so ensure your credit limit can stand it. Guesthouses also accept major credit cards, but do double-check this with yours before you travel.
Banks in Male will change travellers cheques and cash in US dollars, but other currencies are trickier. Most will change US-dollar travellers cheques into US dollars cash with a commission of US$5. Changing travellers cheques to Maldivian rufiyaa should not attract a commission. Some of the authorised moneychangers around town will exchange US-dollar or euro travellers cheques at times when the banks are closed.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
- General Tipping is something of a grey area in Maldives, where a 10% to 12.5% service tax is added to nearly everything.
- Hotels It's good form to leave a tip for your room staff and in smarter resorts your thakuru (butler). Give any tips to the staff personally, not to the hotel cashier – US dollars, euros and local currency are equally acceptable.
- Restaurants Tipping is not customary at independent restaurants or on local islands.
The Maldivian working week runs from Sunday to Thursday; Friday and Saturday are the weekend. Friday sees many businesses closed. Most shops close for between 15 and 30 minutes at prayer time, which can be unusual to Western shoppers. Typical business hours outside resorts are as follows:
Banks 8am–1.30pm Sunday to Thursday
Businesses 8am–6pm Sunday to Thursday
Government offices 7.30am–2pm Sunday to Thursday
Restaurants noon–10pm Saturday to Thursday, 4–11pm Friday
- On inhabited islands in the atolls, exercise caution about photographing locals. Always ask for permission before you take a picture, and remember that the islands are conservative places, so be polite and not too intrusive.
- Do be aware that photographing the National Security Services Headquarters in Male is not allowed and that you could be quickly arrested for breaking this rule.
- There are no restrictions on photography in the resorts or much of the rest of the country, so snap away – photography is very popular among visitors.
Postal services are quite efficient, with mail to overseas destinations delivered promptly. A high-speed Express Mail Service (EMS) is available to many countries from Male's main post office. Parcel rates can be quite expensive and will have to clear customs at the main post office. At the resorts you can buy stamps and postcards at the shop or the reception desk. Generally there is a mailbox near reception, and there's a full post office at Male Airport too.
If you’re in a resort, Maldivian holidays will not affect you – service will be as normal. Christmas, New Year, Easter and European school holidays will affect you more – they’re the busiest times for tourists and bring the highest resort prices.
Elsewhere, holidays are mainly religious. If a holiday falls on a Friday or Saturday, the next working day will be declared a holiday. Most Maldivian holidays are based on the Islamic lunar calendar and thus dates vary greatly from year to year.
Ramazan Known as Ramazan or roarda mas in Maldives, the Islamic month of fasting is an important religious occasion that starts on a new moon and continues for 28 days. Expected starting dates for the next few years are: 15 May 2018, 5 May 2019, and 23 April 2020. The exact date depends on the sighting of the new moon in Mecca and can vary by a day or so either way.
Kuda Eid Also called Id-ul-Fitr or Fith’r Eid, this occurs at the end of Ramazan, with the sighting of the new moon, and is celebrated with a feast.
Bodu Eid Also called Eid-ul Al’h’aa (Festival of the Sacrifice), 66 days after the end of Ramazan, this is the time when many Muslims begin the pilgrimage (haj) to Mecca.
National Day A commemoration of the day Mohammed Thakurufaanu and his men overthrew the Portuguese on Male in 1578. It’s on the first day of the third month of the lunar calendar.
Prophet’s Birthday The birthday of the Prophet Mohammed is celebrated with three days of eating and merriment. The approximate start dates for the next few years are 21 November 2018, 9 November 2019 and 28 October 2020.
Huravee Day The day the Malabars of India were kicked out by Sultan Hassan Izzuddeen after their brief occupation in 1752.
Martyr’s Day Commemorates the death of Sultan Ali VI at the hands of the Portuguese in 1558.
The following are fixed holiday dates:
New Year’s Day 1 January
Independence Day Celebrates the ending of the British protectorate (in 1965) on 26 and 27 July.
Victory Day Celebrates the victory over the Sri Lankan mercenaries who tried to overthrow the Maldivian government in 1988. A military march is followed by lots of schoolchildren doing drills and traditional dances, and more entertaining floats and costumed processions on 3 November.
Republic Day Commemorates the second (current) republic, founded in 1968 on 11 November. Celebrated in Male with lots of pomp, brass bands and parades. Sometimes the following day is also a holiday.
- Smoking A smoking ban prohibits smoking from most public buildings and from the inside of restaurants and cafes. Resorts are a lot more permissive, but will generally only allow smoking in designated areas outside.
Taxes & Refunds
- Visitors are not able to reclaim Maldives GST, which is added to most items at 12%.
- All visitors are also subject to a green tax, charged at US$6 per person per night in resorts, or US$3 per person per night in guesthouses.
- Service charges between 10% and 12.5% are added to all resort, guesthouse and restaurant bills automatically.
- There are two telephone providers operating in Maldives: Dhiraagu and Ooredoo.
- Both providers offer good coverage, although given the unique geography of the country there are still lots of areas without coverage in the atolls.
- You can buy a local SIM card for around US$10 and use it in your own phone if it’s unlocked (check with your provider before you leave) – this becomes worth the price almost immediately if you’re using your phone locally. There are offices of both providers at the airport, so it's easy to pick up a local SIM on your way to your resort.
- All resorts have telephones, either in the rooms or available at reception. Charges vary from high to astronomical, starting around US$15 for three minutes; avoid them totally and use web-based phone services.
- The international country code for Maldives is 960. All Maldives numbers have seven digits and there are no area codes.
- To make an international call, dial 00.
Local SIM cards can be bought in Male or other inhabited islands, but not at resorts. Most phones will automatically roam in Maldives.
Maldives is five hours ahead of GMT, in the same time zone as Pakistan. When it’s noon in Maldives, it’s 7am in London, 8am in Berlin and Rome, 12.30pm in India and Sri Lanka, 3pm in Singapore and 4pm in Tokyo.
Around half of Maldivian resorts operate one hour ahead of Male time to give their guests the illusion of extra daylight in the evening and a longer sleep in the morning. This can make it tricky when arranging pick-up times and transfers, so always check whether you’re being quoted Male time or so-called resort time.
In Male, public toilets charge Rf2. On local islands, you may have to ask where the fahana is. In general you’re better off using toilets in cafes and restaurants in Male – they’re usually cleaner and free.
The official tourist office is the Maldives Tourism Promotion Board, which has a somewhat informative website and a desk at the airport in Male. However, most tourism promotion is done by private travel agents, tour operators and resorts.
Travel with Children
Part of the appeal of staying on a desert island is the fact that there isn't much to do apart from relax, which can be limiting for children. Younger kids will enjoy playing in the water and on the beach, but older children and teenagers may find resort life a little confining after a few days, and they may get bored.
- Families should look for resorts that offer lots of activities.
- Kayaking and fishing trips are always popular, and many places also offer courses in sailing, windsurfing and other water sports.
- The minimum age for scuba diving is 10 years, but most resorts offer a ‘bubble blowers’ introduction for younger kids, which is very popular, and supervised snorkelling is always possible.
- Kids clubs – for those aged 12 and under – and clubs for teenagers are very common in bigger, smarter resorts. These are free and the kids clubs run activities all day long, while teenagers are generally able to do what they want – even if it means playing computer games in a darkened air-conditioned room. Where resorts have good kids clubs or a generally welcoming child-friendly policy, we’ve included the child-friendly icon.
- Although exotic cuisine is sometimes on the menu, you'll always find some standard Western-style dishes that kids will find appealing.
- Young children are more susceptible to sunburn than adults, so bring sun hats and plenty of sunblock. Lycra swim shirts are an excellent idea – they can be worn on the beach and in the water and block out most UV radiation.
Note that some resorts do not encourage young children – check with the resort before you book. Children under five are often banned from honeymoon resorts and there is normally a minimum age requirement of 10 or 12 for water villas, given the obvious safety issues. Where kids are welcome, it’s no problem booking cots and organising high chairs in restaurants, and there’s often a kids club and babysitting services as well.
Baby supplies are available in Male, but usually not in resorts, so bring all the nappies and formula you’ll need for the duration of the holiday. Outside resorts, breast-feeding should only be done in private given the conservative nature of Maldivian society.
At Male's Velana International Airport, passengers must use steps to get on and off planes, but it should be no problem to get assistance for mobility-challenged passengers.
Transfers to nearby resorts are by dhoni, speedboat or seaplane and a person in a wheelchair or with limited mobility will need assistance, which the crews will always be happy to provide.
All resorts have ground-level rooms, few steps, and reasonably smooth paths to beaches, boat jetties and all public areas, but some of the more rustic and ‘ecofriendly’ resorts have a lot of sand floors. Staff – something there’s never a shortage of in Maldives – will be on hand to assist disabled guests. When you decide on a resort, call them directly and ask about the layout.
Many resort activities are potentially suitable for disabled guests. Fishing trips and excursions to inhabited islands should be easy, but uninhabited islands may be more difficult to disembark on. Catamaran sailing and canoeing are possibilities, especially if you’ve had experience in these activities. Anyone who can swim will be able to enjoy snorkelling. The International Association for Handicapped Divers provides advice and assistance for anyone with a physical disability who wishes to scuba dive.
As no dogs are permitted in Maldives, it’s not a destination for anyone dependent on a guide dog.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
There are few volunteering opportunities in Maldives, but those that do exist tend to be worthwhile projects involving sustainable development, wildlife protection and teaching. Bear in mind that for the most part, volunteers will be living on small, remote islands without many creature comforts, and will also be expected to raise money to fund their trip. The Maldivian High Commission can help with some placements and its webpage is useful for those considering volunteer work. Some excellent organisations that offer volunteering opportunities include the following:
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Maldives uses the metric system.
Culturally, resorts are European enclaves and visiting women will not have to make too many adjustments. Topless bathing and nudity are strictly forbidden, but bikinis are perfectly acceptable on resort beaches, and Maldivian staff are quite used to seeing women in states of undress and will never react badly.
In Male, reasonably modest dress is appropriate – shorts should cover the thighs and shirts should cover the shoulders and not be very low cut. Local women don’t go into teashops in Male, but a foreign woman with a male companion will not cause any excitement.
Feminine hygiene products are widely available in resorts, on local islands and in Male.
In more out-of-the-way parts of the country, quite conservative dress is in order. It is very unlikely that a foreign woman would be harassed or feel threatened on a local island, as Maldivian men are conservative and extremely respectful.
There is an enormous work market for foreigners in Maldives, as almost 50% of resort staff generally come from abroad (a Maldivian law stipulates that 50% of all resort staff must be Maldivian). Resorts are keen to hire people with a background in the hospitality industry, including managers, administrators, divemasters, masseurs, biologists, chefs, sommeliers and yoga instructors, and the positions tend to be well compensated and provide for plenty of ‘off-island’ time. Contact resorts directly for opportunities or take a look at any international employment website to find out what's available.