Dangers & Annoyances
Vanuatu is situated on the Pacific Ring of Fire and experiences relatively frequent earthquakes (some 2000 seismic events are recorded each year) and less frequent tsunamis. The country also has active volcanoes. The alert level on volcanoes can change rapidly, so check with local authorities prior to travelling to volcanic areas. Always be alert and check the Vanuatu Geohazards Observatory website (www.geohazards.gov.vu) for information about earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes.
Cyclone season in Vanuatu lasts from November until April. There’s a high risk of strong winds, heavy rains and associated flooding, landslides and road closures. See the Vanuatu Meteorological Services website (www.meteo.gov.vu) for current information.
There are sharks in the waters off Santo and Malekula in particular, so always check with locals before diving in.
In terms of theft and personal crime, Vanuatu is very safe, but it pays to take precautions, especially in Port Vila. Keep those wads of vatu well hidden; take taxis at night in main towns; and lock your bungalow with a padlock.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information:
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smarttraveller.gov.au)
British Foreign Office (www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/travel-advice-by-country)
Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca)
US State Department (http://travel.state.gov)
- Electricity Mains power is provided in Port Vila, Luganville, Lenakel and Lakatoro. Rural bungalows use generators in the evenings until 9pm, or solar power.
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
Entry & Exit Formalities
People over 15 years may bring the following into the country:
- 250 cigarettes
- 2.25L of wine and 1.5L of other alcohol
- 250mL of eau de toilette
- 100mL of perfume
- Other items up to a value of 50,000VT
Declare the following on arrival:
- Plants, fruit and seeds
- Meat, poultry and dairy products
- Fish and shellfish
Failure to declare these items can lead to prosecution and fines.
No firearms or ammunition may be brought into the country.
If taking home carved statues made of tree fern or palm, be sure they're fumigated and have a CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) exemption form.
Every visitor must have a passport valid for a further six months and be able to show an onward ticket. Entry visas are not required for nationals of the British Commonwealth and EU. On entry, you’re allowed an initial stay of up to 30 days, extended for up to four months once you’re there (or you can apply beforehand).
Nonexempt visitors should contact the Principal Immigration Officer to organise their visa application (3600VT). This must be finalised before you arrive.
Visa extensions for up to four months (6000VT) can be done quickly without the need to leave your passport and onward ticket with the immigration department. You’ll need your passport and copies of your passport, onward ticket and current passport photos for the application, which can be made at the immigration office in Port Vila.
Do Accept that landowners will want payment (from around 500VT to 2000VT) if you use their land, for instance to visit a blue hole, a snorkelling spot or a beach.
Do Check with locals to find out if the local nakamal (meeting house and kava bar) is female-friendly. It’s rude to walk through a nakamal and they can be quite difficult to spot in rural villages when they’re outdoors and there’s no lighting.
Don't Bargain: prices are fixed, even at markets. Tipping is not expected either.
Gay and lesbian travellers will probably have to be discreet in Vanuatu. While homosexuality is legal, public displays of affection are not the done thing, regardless of your sexual persuasion. There are no specifically gay bars on the islands.
A travel insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is vital; note some policies specifically exclude ‘dangerous activities’, which can include parasailing, scuba diving, motorcycling and even trekking. Check that the policy covers ambulances and an emergency flight home.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime, even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Numerous cafes and bars in Port Vila and Luganville have free wi-fi. There’s a TVL internet cafe in Lenakel (Tanna) and Lakatoro (Malekula). Many hotels and resorts also offer wi-fi.
If you have a TVL or Digicel phone SIM with a 3G data plan you should be able to use the internet on your phone at main villages on all but the most remote islands.
It’s difficult to get good maps in Vanuatu; you're best to buy one before you leave home. The Hema Vanuatu Country Map (www.hemamaps.com) 1:1,000,000 is a good start. Tourism booklets have very basic tourist maps of Santo and Efate.
- Newspapers & Magazines Daily Post (100VT; www.dailypost.vu) is available Monday to Saturday; The Independent (200VT; www.independent.vu) is available Saturdays; Island Life (300VT; www.islandlifemag.com) is a glossy Vanuatu-focused travel and lifestyle magazine published every two months.
- Radio Radio Vanuatu offers trilingual FM, AM and SW services from 6am to 10pm, and international and local news bulletins (98FM; 1125AM); Capital FM107 has music news and talkback in English, Bislama and French.
Vanuatu’s currency is the vatu (VT), which floats against a basket of currencies including the US dollar, so it is reasonably stable. It’s easy to exchange Australian dollars and most major currencies in main banks.
Commercial banks in Vanuatu are ANZ (http://anz.com/vanuatu), Westpac (http://westpac.vu), the local National Bank of Vanuatu (NBV) and the French bank Bred (www.bred.vu).
Banks have offices in central Port Vila and branches in Luganville on Santo. ANZ and Westpac have plenty of ATMs in Port Vila, and a couple each in Luganville. There are ATMs at the international airports in Santo and Port Vila.
Exchange rates between vary and you'll invariably be slugged with a fee at both ends, so it pays to use ATMs sparingly. The maximum you can withdraw is 44,000VT per day. At Port Vila's Sportsmen's Hotel there's an ATM that dispenses Australian dollars, which you can then change at the bar (or a bank) at a (supposedly) favourable rate.
Take plenty of vatu everywhere outside Port Vila and Luganville as there are only a handful of NBV banks that change foreign currencies; additionally, hours are limited, queues are long and banks may run low on cash. There are plenty of tales of travellers running out of cash on Vanuatu’s islands. In remote areas it's useful to have coins and smaller-denomination notes.
The major credit cards are accepted by hotels, car-rental agencies, airline offices, most of the tourist-friendly shops and restaurants in Port Vila and, to a lesser extent, in Luganville. You can’t use credit cards outside these two towns and Tanna’s main resorts. The standard surcharge is 4% to 5% but this can still work out cheaper than ATM fees.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
ANZ, Westpac and NBV all exchange major foreign currencies, including Australian and New Zealand dollars. Main offices are in Port Vila; branches are in Luganville on Santo. The NBV also has branches on major islands, including Lakatoro (Malekula), Lenakel (Tanna) and Pango (Pentecost), but these shouldn't be relied upon.
There are branches of Goodies Money Exchange in Port Vila, which offer good rates.
In kastom terms, tipping is an obligation that the receiver must return so, to avoid embarrassment, keep your ‘tip’ to a smile of thanks. Restaurant staff in Port Vila are happy to accept a tip, though.
Don't bother. Travellers cheques can only be changed in Port Vila and Luganville.
Government offices Monday to Friday from 7.30am to 11.30am, and 1.30pm to 4.30pm; sometimes open on Saturday mornings.
Shops Monday to Friday from 7.30am to 5pm or 6pm; some close for midday siesta. Saturday shopping finishes at 11.30am, although Chinese-owned stores remain open all weekend.
It’s polite to ask people before taking photos of them. Often the fee for taking photos of special performances (such as land diving or traditional dances) is included in the entrance fee, but there is usually an extra cost for recording footage.
Memory cards and other photographic equipment can be found in Port Vila and Luganville.
Vanuatu Post (www.vanuatu post.vu) has the world’s only underwater post office and volcano-side postbox; waterproof and volcano postcards cost 400VT, and can be posted anywhere in the world. Buy the volcano cards from Tanna’s resorts or in Port Vila and bring them with you up the volcano.
There’s no street postal-delivery service in the country; addresses are PO Box or Private Mail Bag (PMB). There’s a poste restante service in Port Vila. All major centres have post offices. Outer-island mail is delivered to the main islands by plane; add the relevant airport to the address.
When a national holiday falls on a weekend, there’s usually a public holiday on the following Monday. Vanuatu’s official national holidays include the following:
New Year’s Day 1 January
Father Walter Lini Day (Remembrance Day) 21 February
Kastom Chiefs’ Day 5 March
Good Friday & Easter Monday March/April
Labour Day 1 May
Ascension Day 24 May
Children’s Day 24 July
Independence Day 30 July
Assumption Day 15 August
Constitution Day 5 October
National Unity Day 29 November
Christmas Day 25 December
Family Day 26 December
A stream of students return to their home islands during local school holidays (May, August and Christmas). They mainly travel by cargo or passenger boat, but it’s a good idea to book domestic flights as early as possible at these times. Flights are also busier during Australian and New Zealand school holidays, but the tourist facilities will almost always have vacancies.
There are no local area codes in Vanuatu.
- International area code: 678
- International code for calls out of Vanuatu: 00
Using the national carrier TVL, calls to Australia, NZ, New Caledonia and Fiji cost 50/60VT per minute from fixed lines/mobile phones; calls further afield cost up to 150VT per minute. Calls to satellite phones are 500VT per minute. SMS to anywhere costs 12VT.
Landlines that have been accidentally dug up or have melted away into nothing do not usually get replaced, meaning that many landline numbers are now no longer in use, especially on outer islands. Vanuatu has had an exceptionally high take-up of mobile phones. Although new phone towers are regularly being erected (they were among the first things replaced on Tanna after Cyclone Pam in 2015), reception can be patchy on outer islands.
Public telephones are sometimes located at airports and in a public area in villages, but are rarely used.
Local SIMs can be used in unlocked European and Australian phones.
Vanuatu is on GSM digital. Much of the populated archipelago is covered by two mobile phone networks: the red Digicel (www.digicelvanuatu.com) or orange TVL (www.tvl.vu) signs are the most ubiquitous form of advertising you’ll see around the islands. A Smile SIM-card package is 3000VT, including 2500VT of calls, or you can get a Digicel SIM card for 2000VT. Coverage, service and pricing are similar but most islanders don’t take any chances and have both SIM cards. If you intend to use 3G data (for email or web browsing), make sure you get a sensible mobile internet plan; topping up and paying for data as you go is ridiculously expensive.
Vanuatu time is GMT/UMT plus 11 hours, one hour ahead of Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST). Noon in Port Vila is 1am in London, 8pm in New York and 11am in Sydney. There's no daylight savings time (DST) in Vanuatu.
Time seems to move slowly in the South Pacific; after a while you get used to the unhurried pace of life. If you’re travelling in rural Vanuatu you might spend hours waiting for planes, taxis, speedboats, guides…
There are public toilets in Port Vila and Luganville, and at several airstrips, but that’s about it. If you’re travelling to the outer islands, take your own toilet paper, a torch and mosquito repellent, though the better bungalows now have attached bathrooms. Don’t expect to find flush toilets on the outer islands.
There are walk-in tourist offices in Port Vila (Efate), Luganville (Santo) and Lakatoro (Malekula), and a number of regions also maintain useful websites, including www.espiritusantotourism.com.
The Malampa Travel office, near the police station in the upper part of Lakatoro, can book accommodation or organise treks and tours on Malekula, as well as to Ambrym.
Sanma Information & Call Centre Part tourist office, part private travel agency, Sanma (Santo and Malo) has helpful staff who can make local bookings.
Vanuatu Tourism Office Helpful staff; free maps and information about accommodation, activities, tours and the outer islands.
Volunteer organisations that can provide information include Go Abroad (www.goabroad.com) and Lattitude Global Volunteering (www.lattitude.org.au). The following organisations have projects in Vanuatu:
Australian Business Volunteers (www.abv.org.au) Projects from one to six months for volunteers with business skills.
Australian Volunteers International (www.australianvolunteers.com) Can arrange volunteer placements through the Australian Volunteers for International Development program funded by the Australian government.
Midwives For Vanuatu (www.midwivesforvanuatu.org) Experienced midwives can fill staff shortages by volunteering at Port Vila hospital.
Oceans Watch (www.oceanswatch.org) Yachties and others can volunteer on marine conservation projects.
Scope Global (www.volunteering.scopeglobal.com) Provides skilled volunteer placements with the Australian Volunteers for International Development scheme.
Voice Australia (http://voiceaustralia.org.au) Australian youth development and volunteer program with projects in Vanuatu.
Volunteer Service Abroad (www.vsa.org.nz) This well-established New Zealand organisation offers volunteer placements for skilled workers.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Vanuatu uses the metric system.
Vanuatu is considered a safe place for female visitors, but there are plenty of horror stories, so exercise caution. Take taxis and stick to busy areas at night. Try not to swim or sunbathe alone at isolated beaches.
Women staying overnight alone in villages may risk being harassed by men known as ‘creepers’, who hang around making kissing and ‘pssst’ noises. They are unlikely to take matters further, but for peace of mind ask them very strongly to not look at you or your door anymore (an open door is an invitation) and to go away. The villagers will always ‘lend’ you a young woman to sleep in your bungalow if you are nervous.
Vanuatu is a bastion of male chauvinism and, although the locals are bemused and tolerant of Western women’s behaviour and dress, it’s considered disrespectful to wear skimpy clothing, especially on the outer islands which see few tourists.
In village women are not always welcome at nakamals. Ask locally.