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Tonga

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Summary

  • Exercise normal safety precautions in Tonga. Use common sense. Look out for suspicious behaviour as you would in Australia. Monitor the media and other sources for changes to local conditions.
  • On 12 February 2018, Cyclone Gita caused widespread damage to the main island of Tongatapu. The island has generally returned to normal, but some infrastructure remains damaged and services may be affected. Contact your tour operator or seek local authorities’ advice for the latest information. See Safety and security.
  • There is a current dengue fever outbreak in Tonga. Protect yourself from mosquitoes, day and night. Chikungunya and Zika virus also occur. See Health.  
  • Violent assaults occur, including sexual assaults and robberies. Avoid going out alone at night or to isolated locations, including beaches. See Safety and security.
  • Driving in Tonga can be hazardous, particularly at night. See Local travel.
  • See Travel smart for general advice for all travellers.

Entry and exit

Visas

You can get a tourist visa on arrival for stays of up to one month, provided you have an onward ticket. Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) can change at short notice. Contact a High Commission of Tonga for up-to-date information.

Passport

Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after the date you intend to return to Australia. If you want to stay longer or work you will need to apply for a visa. If you arrive in Tonga with less than six months remaining on your passport, you may be fined on arrival, and have your passport impounded by Tongan border control officers until the fine is paid.

Your passport is a valuable document and attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. Always keep it in a safe place.

Be aware of attempts to get access to your passport by deception.  If you are forced to hand over your passport, contact the Australian High Commission for advice.

If your passport is lost or stolen, you must notify the Australian Government as soon as possible. You can either:

Money

The local currency is the Tongan pa'anga (TOP). Australian dollars can be exchanged for TOP at local banks, which include ANZ and Bank South Pacific.

ATMs are easily accessible on the main island of Tongatapu but the more remote island groups have limited services. ATMs accept many but not all Australian cards. Ask your bank whether your ATM card will work overseas before you travel.

Credit card fraud and the use of card skimming devices has occurred in Tonga. Take care not to expose your PIN when using ATMs. Monitor your transaction statements.

Safety and security

Crime

There have been a number of violent assaults and robberies, including sexual assaults against foreigners. House break-ins and property theft also occur. Electronic equipment such as iPads, mobile phones and other portable devices are particularly attractive to thieves. Security risks increase at night.

  • Secure your accommodation. Keep doors, windows and gates locked.
  • Keep your vehicle locked at all times, including when moving. 
  • Don't tempt thieves – avoid wearing or displaying expensive watches, jewellery, cameras or mobile devices.
  • Carry only what you need. Leave other valuables, including your passport, in a secure location.
  • Avoid carrying bags that are easy to snatch.
  • Avoid going out alone at night.
  • Avoid going alone to isolated locations, including beaches.

Civil unrest and political tension

Civil unrest is rare but any large public gathering could turn violent. Bystanders could be impacted.

  • Avoid protests, demonstrations and other large public gatherings.
  • Keep an eye on the news and other sources for advice of possible unrest. Avoid affected areas.

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world.

More information: Terrorist threat worldwide

Local travel

Inter-island ferries, cruises, boat tours and adventure activities

Inter-island ferries can be overloaded, poorly maintained or lack necessary life-saving equipment. Sufficient life jackets for boats, rafts and kayaks are not always provided.

Dive companies and tour operators, including for adventure tours, fishing and offshore surfing charters, often don't meet Australian safety standards. 

  • Make sure your travel insurance policy covers your planned activities.
  • Check operators' credentials and safety equipment before you book.
  • Don't travel on any overloaded vessel.
  • Always use available safety equipment, such as lifejackets or seatbelts, even if others don't.
  • If appropriate safety equipment is not available, use another provider. 

A number of cruise vessels stop over in Tonga.

More information: Cruises

Swimming and beach safety

Take care when swimming on beaches, particularly those with outlying coral reefs. Strong rips can occur at breaks in the reef and pose a significant risk to swimmers and surfers. Tourists have drowned in these conditions. Seek advice from locals on danger spots before swimming.

Road travel

Driving in Tonga can be hazardous, particularly at night. Street lighting and road quality are often poor and there are many pedestrians and free-roaming animals on the roads. Speeding, alcohol and drug driving account for many road fatalities.

Some Tongan road rules differ from those in Australia, including a requirement to give way to right turning vehicles. The speed limit in most locations is 40 km per hour. The blood/alcohol limit for driving in Tonga is 0.015%. If you have any alcohol on your breath when you are driving, you'll need to go to a police station for further testing of your blood alcohol level. See Laws.

You're not legally required to wear a seatbelt in Tonga but if you have an accident while not wearing a seatbelt, your travel insurance may not cover you.

  • Familiarise yourself with Tongan traffic laws and practices before driving.
  • Drive defensively.
  • Don't drink and drive.
  • Wear your seatbelt.
  • Avoid driving at night, where possible.

Driver's licence 

You will need to get a temporary Tongan driver's licence in order to hire a scooter or car.

More information: Ministry of Infrastructure

Motorcycles

By law, you must wear a helmet when riding motorbikes and motor scooters hired in Tonga but helmets are not always provided by hire companies. If you plan to hire a motorcycle, first check that your travel insurance will cover you.

Taxis

Only use registered taxis and authorised limousines, which can be arranged through your hotel.

Public transport

Limited bus services operate on Tongatapu. Bus services cease operating at 5 pm and do not run on Sundays. Take care of your belongings as petty crime occurs.

Air travel

Certification standards for domestic aircraft safety and maintenance practices may not align with international civil aviation standards. Travellers should take certification issues into account when booking.

Tonga's domestic airline, Real Tonga, operates scheduled flights to all island groups. Limited domestic services can result in overbooking, overloading and late changes to scheduling.

The Australian Government does not provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation safety in Tonga.

More information: Air travel

Laws

You're subject to local laws and penalties, including those that appear harsh by Australian standards. Research local laws before travelling, especially for an extended stay.

If you're arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you under our Consular services charter. But we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Other laws

Sabbath observance laws strictly limit Sunday activities. Business transactions are prohibited. Participation in activities, such as general exercise, running, swimming, snorkelling and fishing are illegal on Sundays, unless at a resort.  

The blood/alcohol limit for driving in Tonga is 0.015. There are two breath tests for blood/alcohol readings in Tonga. The first is a road-side test to determine whether you have alcohol in your system. If you test positive for alcohol you will be taken to a police station for a second test. If your reading is between 0.015% and 0.025% you will be given an on-the-spot fine. If your reading is above 0.025%, you will be charged and will have to appear in court. If the offence occurs outside of normal business hours, you'll likely be held in police cells until the charge can be laid.

Homosexuality is illegal in Tonga. More information: LGBTI travellers

Sodomy is a criminal offence and punishable with a maximum of 10 years imprisonment.

Australian laws

Some Australian criminal laws apply overseas. If you commit these offences, you may be prosecuted in Australia. Laws include those relating to:

  • bribery of foreign public officials
  • child pornography
  • child sex tourism
  • female genital mutilation
  • forced marriage
  • money laundering
  • terrorism.

More information: Staying within the law

Dual nationals

Tonga recognises dual nationality.

More information: Dual nationals

Local customs

There are strict standards of dress and behaviour in Tonga. Take care not to offend. Women should wear clothing that covers the shoulders and knees. Bikinis can be worn at resorts but swimwear should be more modest if you're swimming at public beaches away from resorts. Topless bathing is not accepted. Men are not permitted to go shirtless in public areas, unless at a resort.

Tonga is officially a Christian country with a high level of religious observance. Sabbath observance laws strictly limit Sunday activities. See Laws.

Information for dual nationals

See our Dual nationals page.

Health

Take out comprehensive travel insurance before you depart to cover overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation.

Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for your medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs. This can be very expensive and cost you many thousands of dollars upfront.

Confirm:

  • what circumstances and activities are and are not covered under your policy
  • that you are covered for the whole time you will be away.

More information: Travel insurance

Physical and mental health

Consider your physical and mental health before travelling, especially if you have an existing medical condition.

  • At least eight weeks before you depart, see your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and implications for your health.
  • Get vaccinated before you travel.

More information:

Medication

Not all medications available over the counter or by prescription in Australia are available in other countries. Some may be considered illegal or a controlled substance, even if prescribed by an Australian doctor.

Before you leave Australia, check if your medication is legal in each country you're travelling to and find out if any quantity restrictions or certification requirements apply. Consult your doctor about alternatives well in advance of travel.

Take legal prescription medicine with you so you remain in good health. Keep your medicines in their original packaging. Always carry a copy of your prescription and a letter from your doctor stating what the medicine is, how much you'll take and that it's for personal use only.

More information: Prescription medicines

Health risks

Mosquito-borne illnesses

On 31 January 2018, the Tongan Ministry of Health declared a dengue outbreak in the country. Outbreaks of chikungunya and Zika virus occur, particularly during the wet season. The mosquitos responsible for these diseases are particularly active during the day.

The Australian Department of Health advises pregnant women to discuss any travel plans with their doctor and defer non-essential travel to areas affected by Zika virus. The Department of Health's Zika virus bulletin includes other advice for male and female travellers on how to minimise Zika virus risks. There is no vaccination available for Zika virus.

Protect yourself against mosquito-borne illnesses.

  • Ensure your accommodation is mosquito proof.
  • Take measures to avoid insect bites, including always using insect repellent and wearing long, loose fitting, light coloured clothing.
  • Seek medical advice if you have a fever, muscle pain, rash or severe headache.
  • If you're pregnant, discuss your travel plans and possible health risks with your doctor before you travel; defer non-essential travel to Zika-affected areas.

More information:

Other infectious diseases

Water-borne, food-borne, and other infectious diseases (including tuberculosis, typhoid and filariasis) are common, with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time.

  • Practise good personal hygiene.
  • Boil drinking water or drink bottled water with intact seals.
  • Avoid ice cubes.
  • Avoid uncooked and undercooked food.

Seek medical attention if you suspect poisoning, if you have a fever or suffer from diarrhoea.

Fish poisoning

Eating reef fish can result in ciguatera poisoning. Ciguatera is a naturally occurring seafood toxin. Scombroid (histamine fish poisoning) and toxins in shellfish are also hazards. Seek urgent medical attention if you suspect poisoning.

More information: Ciguatera poisoning (Queensland Health)

Medical facilities

Hospital and medical facilities in Tonga are very limited.

If you become ill or injured, you may need to be evacuated to Australia or New Zealand, even for minor medical issues. Medical evacuations from Tonga are very expensive. Airports in Tonga do not operate on Sundays. A medical evacuation on a Sunday is very difficult to arrange.

There are no decompression chambers in Tonga. Serious cases of decompression sickness are evacuated to the nearest treatment centre in New Zealand. Registered dive companies carry basic treatment equipment to meet PADI standards.

Where to get help

Depending on what you need, your best option may be to contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour operator, employer or travel insurance provider. Your travel insurer should have a 24-hour emergency number.

Emergencies

  • Fire: 911
  • Medical emergencies: 911 or go direct to the hospital
  • Criminal issues: 911 or contact police at the nearest police station

Always get a police report when reporting a crime.

Australian Government

Read the Consular services charter for what the Australian Government can and can't do to help you overseas. For consular assistance, contact the Australian High Commission in Nuku'alofa.

Australian High Commission, Nuku'alofa

Salote Road
Nuku'alofa, Tonga
Telephone (+676) 23 244
Facsimile (+676) 23 243
Email: ahctonga@dfat.gov.au
Website: tonga.highcommission.gov.au

If you are unable to contact the High Commission in a consular emergency, contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Check the Australian High Commission website for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

Tonga experiences severe weather, cyclones, earthquakes and tsunamis.

During an emergency, the Tongan National Emergency Management Office transmits updates on radio station Radio 1 at frequency 1017 AM and to all island groups.

If a natural disaster occurs:

If you're due to arrive in Tonga after a natural disaster or during cyclone season, contact your tour operator to check whether services at your planned destination are affected.

Tropical storms and cyclones

Tonga experiences tropical storms and cyclones throughout the year but most occur during cyclone season, from November to April. Storms and cyclones can cause flooding, gale force winds and disruptions to services. The direction and strength of tropical cyclones can change with little warning.

On 12 February 2018, Cyclone Gita caused widespread damage to the main island of Tongatapu. The island has generally returned to normal, but some infrastructure remains damaged and services may be affected. Contact your tour operator or seek local authorities’ advice for the latest information.

If there is a cyclone or severe tropical storm, you may not be able to leave the area: flights in and out of affected areas could be delayed or suspended and available flights may fill quickly. Access to sea ports could also be affected. In some areas, adequate shelter from a severe cyclone may not be available for all those who stay.

Stay up-to-date on weather conditions and forecasts, cyclone watches and warnings throughout your stay in Tonga. Monitor the:

If a cyclone or severe storm is approaching, follow the advice for all natural disasters above and:

  • make sure you know your hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans
  • identify your local shelter
  • carry your passport at all times (in a waterproof bag) or secure it in a safe, waterproof location.

More information: Severe weather

Earthquakes

Tonga experiences earthquakes. What you need to do to protect yourself in an earthquake depends on where you are at the time. Read Earthquakes and ask your accommodation provider about local procedures and advice for if there is an earthquake.

If there is an earthquake:

After an earthquake:

  • expect aftershocks
  • anticipate travel delays in some areas and plan accordingly
  • reconfirm travel arrangements and availability of accommodation with travel agents and tour operators.

More information: Earthquakes

Tsunamis

Tonga is susceptible to tsunamis. Be alert to warnings as a tsunami can arrive within minutes of a nearby tremor or earthquake occurring.

The Tonga Meteorological Service has advised that due to Tonga's proximity to the Tonga Trench, strong earthquakes in the region could trigger a destructive tsunami which could reach Tonga in about 10 minutes. To receive tsunami alerts, register with the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and the Global Disaster Alert and Co-ordination System.

Move immediately to high ground or your nearest tsunami evacuation point if advised by local or regional authorities or if you experience any of the following:

  • feel a strong earthquake that makes it hard to stand up, or a weak rolling earthquake that lasts a minute or more
  • see a sudden rise or fall in sea level
  • hear loud and unusual noises from the sea

Do not wait for official warnings. Once on high ground, monitor Radio 1 at frequency 1017 AM, other local media, and the Tonga Meteorological Service website.

Additional resources