Dangers & Annoyances
It’s difficult to get the balance right about the dangers of travelling in PNG. As with any destination, if you read about violent crimes, you may exaggerate the danger and not visit and so never understand that Melanesians are by nature among the most gentle, hospitable and generous people in the world. While urban drift has undoubtedly caused ‘law and order’ issues, it’s not like the Wild West where gun-law rules and stepping outside is to put your life in danger.
If you use your common sense, especially in larger towns, the chance of encountering the notorious raskols is small. Violent crime is not unusual, but the victims are rarely tourists.
So what does this mean for the traveller? Most importantly, don’t be paranoid. Those who have travelled to developing countries probably won’t be overly concerned, but inexperienced travellers may find the lack of obvious civil structure in the cities intimidating.
Bear in mind that everything is much more relaxed outside Port Moresby, Lae and Mt Hagen. Tribal fighting is still common deep in the Highlands, and while this can make things unpredictable it rarely embroils outsiders. Expats may tell you not to ride the buses and PMVs, but that’s an over-reaction as long as sensible precautions are taken. It would be silly to flaunt the obvious discrepancy in wealth, for example.
It would be highly unusual to encounter any trouble in the areas that travellers are likely to frequent in the daytime with people around. The mantra is common sense. Here are some tips:
- Don’t flaunt your wealth – wear unremarkable clothes and keep your camera hidden.
- Always keep at least K50 ‘raskol money’ in your pocket to appease any would-be thief. Hide the rest of your money in a money belt or your shoe.
- Speak to people rather than being aloof.
- Be especially careful on the fortnightly Friday pay nights when things can get pretty wild.
- If you get held up, as in this situation anywhere, stay calm. Most robberies are fairly unsophisticated affairs.
Government Travel Advice
For the latest travel warnings and advice log onto the following (overly cautious) websites:
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
- Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca)
- Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.anzen. mofa.go.jp)
- New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
- UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad)
- USA Department of State/Bureau of Consular Affairs (www.travel.state.gov)
Embassies & Consulates
All embassies are in Port Moresby.
Emergency & Important Numbers
Papua New Guinea has different emergency numbers for each city.
|Papua New Guinea country code||675|
|International access code||05|
|Directory Assistance local/international||013/0178|
Entry & Exit Formalities
The vast majority of visitors to Papua New Guinea arrive by air at Port Moresby’s Jacksons Airport with nothing more than a passport with six months’ validity, an onward ticket and enough money to support themselves for the length of their stay. Visas are currently free of charge, but this could change, so check www.immigration.gov.pg before you leave. Another option is to cross PNG’s only land border from Jayapura (Papua Province, Indonesia) to Vanimo in the Sandaun Province.
Flights and tours can be booked online at lonely planet.com/bookings.
Visitors to PNG are permitted the following:
- 200 cigarettes (or 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco)
- 2L of alcohol
- 1L or 500g of perfume
- New goods to the value of K1000. Exceed this K1000 threshold and things get ugly. One way to get around this is to ditch the packaging before you board the PNG-bound plane.
Since most people fly into and out of PNG from Australia, the customs and quarantine restrictions that apply in Australia are particularly pertinent. If anything you are carrying is deemed a quarantine risk, you’ll have to pay to have it fumigated, a process that can take several days, and if you have a same-day onward connecting flight, you can kiss your artefacts goodbye. Post can be a good alternative.
Items that will see you starring in an Aussie border-security reality TV show include the following:
- Animal parts, such as skin (often used on Kundu drums), teeth or feathers. Clean feathers are okay, but cassowary feathers are illegal.
- Polished wood won’t cause much alarm, but anything with bark is deemed risky.
- Woodcarvings must not have the telltale holes of burrowing insects, or else they will be fumigated at the owner's expense.
- No grass or seeds, but shells are fine.
- Bukaware (basketry) itself is fine, but small bugs love to hide in the weaving, so this sometimes raises alarms.
- Betel nuts, fruit and other plant material.
Finally, anything created before 1960, including traditional stone tools, WWII relics, certain shell valuables, and any item incorporating human remains or bird of paradise plumes, cannot be exported. If you are uncertain of what your purchases are made of, get them checked at the National Museum in Port Moresby.
All nationalities require a visa to visit PNG and must have a valid passport or internationally recognised travel document valid for at least six months beyond the date of entry. There are heavy penalties for overstaying any visa.
For the latest on regulations pertaining to tourist, working and business visas visit the Immigration & Citizenship Service Authority (www.immigration.gov.pg).
There are two ways to get a tourist visa.
On arrival Western Europeans, Americans, New Zealanders and citizens of most Pacific countries (except Australia) can obtain a 60-day tourist visa on arrival for free. The diplomatic stoush that resulted in Australia being dropped from the visa-on-arrival list may well be resolved by the time you read this. At the time of research there were plans to allow visa on arrival for Australians arriving at Alotau (Gurney airport), Mt Hagen, Kokopo and Madang on yet-to-be-scheduled direct flights. The process is simple enough: once inside the terminal, fill out a form, and take one passport photo to the immigration desk. This process can be fraught, however, if you have a same-day connecting flight out of Port Moresby into the provinces – the queues can be very long and the process can take hours.
In advance Australians are among those who must get a visa in advance. A 60-day tourist visa can also be obtained (again no fee) at any PNG diplomatic mission.
Applying for a business visa requires all manner of letters from home (including letters of invitations from businesses) and PNG, as well as details of your business. Approval can take months, so start early. A Business Short-Term Multiple-Entry visa is valid for 12 months and allows stays of up to 60 days each time and costs A$220. If you are seeking an employment visa, you must provide certain medical results, details for a police clearance, a copy of your employment contract and a copy of a Work Permit issued by the PNG Department of Labour & Employment.
Church and aid volunteers can enter on a special A$25 visa (plus A$50 ‘transmission fee’) but the issuing authorities are required to wait for special immigration department approval. Researchers, filmmakers and journalists must submit their visa applications with a special application form from the National Research Institute. They cost A$25 (visas for journalists cost A$220).
Tourist visas can be extended once only, for one month, for a K400 fee. To do it yourself, go to the Department of Foreign Affairs’ immigration section, where you’ll battle hordes of agents who are on first-name terms with the staff. Extending a visa takes one to two weeks, though occasionally travellers do it faster.
If money is not too tight, using an agent will save you a lot of grief. Agents can be found in the Yellow Pages under ‘Visa Services’.
Cruise ship passengers do not need a visa provided they have a seaman pass. If you do not have this pass, you will be required to pay for a K100 tourist visa.
It’s quite noticeable that recently gay men are more prepared to express themselves. These days you do see effeminate Melanesian men, and while they may not be strident or provocative about it, there’s nothing ambiguous about their sexual orientation. And that’s pretty gutsy – homosexuality is illegal and homophobia is quite palpable (unlike in Polynesia where there are strong traditions of transgenderism and homosexuality). Local women, on the other hand, don’t seem so prepared to ‘fly the flag’ in public.
- Any local ‘gay scene’ that exists is closeted and underground. This is not surprising given that the churches have been reinforcing the idea that homosexuality is morally reprehensible for years.
- Because of the legal status LGBT travellers should be cautious.
- You’ll see many local people hold hands as they walk down the street – women with women and men with men. But don’t misunderstand – this is simply an expression of friendliness and affection that’s common in Melanesian societies.
In a country where help is often a helicopter ride away, a travel insurance policy to cover theft, loss and an emergency flight (medivac) home is essential. Read the small print to check it covers 'potentially dangerous' activities such as diving and trekking.
Checking insurance quotes…
- There is usually at least one (and often only one) internet cafe in major towns.
- Rates are often laughably high, anything from K15 to K30 per hour.
- If you need to stay in regular contact with the online world or plan to spend a lot of time in small villages, it is worth buying a local SIM card for your smartphone or modem data stick for your laptop from either of the countries’ mobile phone providers, Digicel (www.digicelpng.com) or B-Mobile (www.bmobile.com.pg).
Most police are courteous enough (even friendly!) but don’t expect them to do much about any crime perpetrated against you. For years police have been outnumbered, out-gunned and out-motivated by gangs of raskols (bandits), and the number of crimes solved is piteously low. Police frustration is common, and don’t be surprised to hear of swift justice being applied when a raskol is caught.
For the most up-to-date maps of PNG towns you need look no further than the nearest telephone book. It features a colour map section that covers all the major centres and it’s free.
Country maps There are two country maps of PNG that should be available to purchase online, if not necessarily at your local bookshop. Hema Maps’ Papua New Guinea (1:2,167,000) 3rd Edition (2004) is the most common, and is readily available in PNG as well. More recent is ITMB’s New Guinea (1:2,000,000), published in 2010, which has Indonesia's Papua Province on the reverse side. This is probably the pick of the two.
Trekking maps If you’re planning on trekking, or just want more detailed maps, you’re advised to contact the National Mapping Bureau, order the maps you want and then collect them from the office in Port Moresby when you arrive. The topographic maps range in scale from 1:2000 through 1:50,000, 1:100,000 and 1:250,000. They have the whole country covered, though they’re often out of stock, out of paper or out of date.
Kokoda maps If you’re planning to walk the Kokoda Track, the NMB’s Longitudinal Cross Section of the Kokoda Trail (1998) is very useful, though not to scale. It’s available at the Kokoda Track Authority.
- Newspapers PNG has two daily English-language newspapers: the Post-Courier (www.postcourier.com.pg) and the National (www.thenational.com.pg) . The weekly Wantok Niuspepa is written entirely in Tok Pisin, while the weekend Sunday Chronicle (www.thenational.com.pg) is PNG’s only locally owned newspaper.
- Radio PNG has two government-funded national radio stations: Karai on the AM band and Kalang on FM. National commercial stations include NauFM (96.5FM) broadcasting in English and YumiFM (93FM) broadcasting in Tok Pisin. BBC World Service can be heard in Port Moresby on 106.7FM. There are numerous regional radio stations mostly devoted to local pop music. For a full list of stations and frequencies see radiostationworld.com.
- TV EMTV and Kundu 2 are the only free-to-air stations in PNG. There are seven ‘cable’ (actually satellite) channels plus a range of stations from rural Australia that can also be picked up by those with the capabilities.
The kina has risen in value against major currencies thanks to the massive investment pouring in to the country for oil and LNG projects.
ATMs are fairly common in cities, and those at the following banks allow you to withdraw cash against your Visa or MasterCard on the Cirrus, Maestro and Plus networks. If the machines are broken, head inside and you should be able to get a cash advance against your credit card over the counter.
Bank South Pacific (www.bsp.com.pg)
- PNG’s currency is the kina (kee-nah), which is divided into 100 toea (toy-ah). Both are the names of traditional shell money and this connection to traditional forms of wealth is emphasised on the notes – the K20 note features an illustration of that most valuable of village animals, the pig.
- You don’t need to go too far off the track before you’re fully reliant on cash. In remote areas, having enough small bills is important. People are cash poor and won’t have change for K50.
- Traditional currencies, such as shell money and leaf money, are still occasionally used. You’ll see women in the Trobriand Islands carrying doba (leaf money), which is dried banana leaves with patterns incised on them.
Credit cards are only accepted in top-end hotels and by a few restaurants and shops in the larger cities and towns. Visa and MasterCard are the favourites, with Amex, JCB and Diners Club not so widely accepted. Credit card payments often incur an additional charge.
Travellers cheques are accepted at banks throughout PNG, though commission rates vary from bank to bank and also from branch to branch. The biggest drawback with using travellers cheques is that you’ll most likely be forced to join insanely long queues that snake through the bank and, on occasion, clean out the door.
Opening and closing times can be erratic, but you can rely on most businesses closing at noon on Saturday and remaining closed all day Sunday.
Banks 8.45am to 3pm Monday to Thursday, to 4pm on Friday
Government offices 7.45am to 12.30pm and 1.45pm to 4pm weekdays
Post offices 8am to 4pm Monday to Friday, 1am to 11.30am Saturday
Restaurants 11.30am to 2.30pm and 6pm or 7pm to 10pm, or whenever the last diner leaves
Shops 9am to 5pm or 6pm Monday to Friday, 9am to noon Saturday
PNG is pretty close to a photographer’s nirvana. The stunning natural colours and locations are just the start, and shooting a cultural show could be the holiday highlight. A few points to consider when shooting in PNG:
- Bring plenty of memory cards or a storage device – you’re going to shoot many more shots than you're expecting.
- Bring spare (charged) batteries – many places in PNG are off the grid and charging batteries may be difficult.
- You’ll find people are generally happy to be photographed, even going out of their way to pose for you, particularly at singsings (celebratory festivals/dances). But ask permission before shoving a camera in someone’s face, especially around the markets of the bigger cities – Port Moresby, Lae and Mt Hagen – as people can get a little testy about this.
- Some people, usually men dressed in traditional style, might request payment if they are photographed – K10 is a popular price. If you’ve gone ahead and taken a photo without getting permission and establishing a price, you may well find yourself facing an angry, heavily armed Highlander demanding K20 or more in payment. It would take some nerve to argue.
- Never take a photograph of, or even point a camera in or at, a haus tambaran (spirit house) without asking permission from a male elder.
For more tips see Lonely Planet’s Travel Photography.
PNG has an efficient postal service and you can usually rely on your mail or parcels getting home, even if it takes quite a while. Note that there is no postal delivery in PNG, so everyone and every business has a PO Box.
International aerograms cost K2.50.
Letters or postcards up to 50g cost K6 to Australia and the Pacific, K8 everywhere else.
Package (5kg) costs K170 to Australia and K308 to the USA or Europe. You might’ve been feeling impetuous when you bought that 20kg skull rack, but you’ll be thinking long and hard about the cost of posting it home – K318 to Australia, K570 to either the UK or USA. All parcels are shipped via airmail.
In addition to the following national holidays, each province has its own provincial government day (usually a Friday or Monday) and there is usually a singsing to mark the occasion.
New Year’s Day 1 January
Good Friday March/April, variable dates.
Easter Monday March/April
National Remembrance Day 23 April
Queen’s Birthday Second Friday of June
PNG Independence Day 16 September
Christmas Day 25 December
Boxing Day 26 December
Telecommunications can be very unreliable and in the more remote parts of the country a working telephone line is pretty rare. Dialling out of PNG can also be problematic as the limited number of international lines fill quickly.
PNG has different police emergency numbers for each city. They’re all listed on the inside cover of the phone book.
There are no area codes in PNG.
Some useful numbers:
Country code 675
Dialling outside PNG 00
International directory assistance 345 6789
PNG directory assistance 345 6789
Kwik piksa leta (fax) remains pretty big in PNG, where email is still in its infancy. You can send faxes from post offices for a few kina and they can be a useful way of making accommodation bookings. The cost of sending a fax from a post office within PNG is K6 for one page, with each additional page costing a further K1.
- Almost everyone in PNG has a mobile phone, often two; one from each of the two mobile phone companies Digicel (www.digicelpng.com) and B-Mobile-Vodaphone (www.bmobile.com.pg). SIM cards (K7 to K25) and prepay top-up cards (from K2) are readily available and basic handsets start at K49.
- Off-peak calls cost K0.25 per minute and peak time (6am to 7pm) calls cost K0.50 per minute.
- Considering the mountainous terrain, mobile phone coverage is fairly good and continuously improving.
Phonecards & Telikad
Most PNG cities have phonecard public phones, but people rarely buy a phonecard that needs to be inserted into a phone. More useful is the Telikad, which is available in K5, K10, K20 and K50 denominations.
Telikads are widely available and easy to use. Just dial 123 from any fixed-line phone, including any public phone, then ‘1’ for English, and follow the voice prompts to enter your 12-digit code and the number you’re calling.
There are two functioning networks: Iridium (www.iridium.com), which is worldwide and uses a Motorola phone; and Aces (www.acesinternational.com), which only covers parts of Asia and uses Ericsson phones. Aces is a fair bit cheaper, but less reliable.
- The time in PNG (excluding the Autonomous Region of Bougainville) is 10 hours ahead of UTC (GMT).
- When it’s noon in PNG it will be noon in Sydney, 9am in Jakarta, 2am in London, 9pm the previous day in New York and 6pm the previous day in Los Angeles.
- There is no daylight saving (summer time) in PNG.
- The Autonomous Region of Bougainville is on Solomon Islands time, 11 hours ahead of UTC (GMT).
In villages you might find a long-drop consisting of a pit with a hollow palm trunk on top, and a toilet seat on top of that. And that’s relatively extravagant. If you’re in a village and can’t spy the loo, be sure to ask someone where to go.
There is little in the way of organised tourist offices that hand out maps and brochures, and a lack of funding has seen some of the best offices closed in recent years. Your first stop should be the web page for the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority (www.papuanewguinea.travel), which has boatloads of links.
There are three remaining regional tourism offices.
Unfortunately there is little infrastructure that caters for the needs of disabled travellers. Access ramps are virtually nonexistent and only the most upmarket hotels are likely to have lifts (elevators).
Travel with Children
People who bring their pikininis (children) to PNG are often overwhelmed by the response of local people, who will spoil them mercilessly given half a chance. Child-rearing in Melanesian culture is a communal activity and just when you’re starting to fret about your missing two year old he/she will turn up being carried on the hip of a six-year-old girl.
There are few really child-friendly sights – no theme parks or carousels – but the practicalities of travelling with children aren’t too bad.
- Top-end and midrange hotels should have cots, and most restaurants have high chairs. You’ll be lucky, however, to find dedicated nappy-changing facilities anywhere, and forget about safety seats in taxis – working safety belts are a novelty.
- As you’d expect in a country where bare breasts are everywhere, breastfeeding in public is no problem.
- A limited range of nappies and baby formula is available in larger towns.
- There are no daycare centres catering to travellers, though top-end hotels may recommend a babysitter.
There are several organisations operating volunteer projects. These are often in remote communities, so this sort of work is not for those who will faint at the sight of a spider.
Activities range from teaching and medical assistance to advisory roles with local area councils. Most are either associated with the churches or with international volunteer organisations.
Most of the following organisations have projects in PNG:
Australian Business Volunteers (www.abv.org.au)
Australian Volunteers International (AVA; www.australianvolunteers.com)
Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO; www.cusointernational.org)
Japan International Co-Operation Agency (JICA; www.jica.go.jp/png)
Voluntary Service Overseas (British VSO; www.vso.org.uk)
Volunteer Service Abroad (NZ VSA; www.vsa.org.nz)
Two other useful websites that have details for those interested in volunteering:
Global Volunteers (www.globalvolunteers.org)
Volunteer Abroad (www.volunteerabroad.com)
Weights & Measures
- Weights and measures PNG uses the metric system.
Plenty of women travel to PNG with a travel companion of either gender. It is possibly safer in a pair or group, than doing so alone, but quite a few solo women have written to us with glowing reports of their trips. As is the case in many parts of the world, women need to be aware of where they go, what they wear, and how they act to avoid unwanted attention.
- Be culturally aware.
- It is recommended that women remain aware of where they go, what they wear and how they act to avoid unwanted attention.
- You won’t see local women in Western-style swimwear. Unless you’re at a resort it’s best to wear a laplap (sarong) while swimming.
- At night, it's better to take a taxi (in Moresby, Alotau, Wewak…) and this is the case even if you have a male companion.
- Avoid secluded spots at all times. Rapes and muggings are not uncommon, especially in urban centres. Avoid any situation where you’re alone with someone you don’t know well.
- In some parts of PNG tribal beliefs about women and their menstrual cycles persist. If you’re menstruating – it’s better not to mention it. In the Sepik, for example, women are thought to have powerful energies that can be harmful to men. It is tambu in many places for a woman to pass over a man – to step over a seated man’s outstretched legs or even over his possessions, and a man mustn’t swim under a woman in a canoe.