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Summary

  • Exercise normal safety precautions in Vanuatu. 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 4 – 15 December 2017, the Pacific Mini Games will be held in Vanuatu. See Safety and security.
  • Vanuatu experiences natural disasters, including cyclones, flooding, volcanic activity, earthquakes and tsunamis. Cyclone season is November to May but cyclones can happen at any time. Alert levels and accessibility to volcanoes can change quickly. See Additional information.
  • Medical facilities are limited. Costs for treatment can be very high. If you become seriously ill or injured, you'll need to be evacuated.
  • See Travel Smart for general advice for all travellers.

Entry and exit

If you are visiting Vanuatu for thirty days or less and you have a return or onward ticket (which can be proven by showing your e-ticket email confirmation), you'll be able to apply for a visa on arrival.

In other circumstances, you'll need to get a visa before you travel.

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) can change at short notice. Contact an Embassy or Consulate of Vanuatu or the Vanuatu Department of Immigration for up-to-date information.

Other formalities

Customs authorities enforce strict regulations on importing items such as food, weapons and sexually explicit material. More information: Vanuatu Customs and Inland Revenue

Passport

Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months from the date you intend to return to Australia.

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 obtain access to your passport by deception.  If you are forced to hand over your passport, contact the Embassy 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 Vanuatu Vatu (VUV). You'll need Vatu in smaller establishments and local market stalls but Australian dollars are accepted at some shops, restaurants and hotels in Port Vila.

Credit cards are accepted in Port Vila, but less widely accepted elsewhere in Vanuatu. Consult with your bank to find out whether your ATM card will work in Vanuatu.

Safety and security

Crime

The crime rate is low but some visitors have been robbed, assaulted or sexually assaulted in Vanuatu. Risks increase after dark, in isolated locations and if you're alone.

Increasingly, thieves are targeting homes and other accommodation, including when occupants are present. Crime tends to increase in the weeks leading up to holidays such as Christmas and Independence Day (July 30).

  • Don't tempt thieves – avoid wearing or displaying expensive watches, jewellery, cameras or phones.
  • Carry only what you need. Leave other valuables, including your passport, in a secure location.
  • Pay attention to your belongings, especially when taking buses or taxis and at night.
  • Avoid going out alone after dark or to isolated locations, especially on foot.
  • Keep your vehicle locked at all times.
  • Lock your accommodation at all times. If possible, store valuables in a safe.
  • Be alert to suspicious behaviour and use common sense.
  • Keep an eye on the news for events that may affect your safety and security.
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities.

Civil unrest and political tension

Civil disorder is uncommon in Vanuatu.

  • Avoid large crowds, protests and public demonstrations as they could turn violent.
  • Monitor the news and other sources for advice of possible unrest, protest locations or road blocks. Avoid those areas.
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities.

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. 

More information: Terrorist threat worldwide

Local travel

Tours and adventure activities

The safety standards you might expect of tour operators are not always met, especially for adventure sports such as diving and yachting. Sufficient life jackets and adequate safety equipment may not be provided. Recommended maintenance standards and safety precautions may not be observed.

If you plan to participate in adventure activities, first talk to your travel insurer to check if the activity is covered by your insurance policy. Check operators' credentials and safety equipment before booking. Don't be afraid to ask about or insist on minimal safety requirements. Always use available safety equipment, even if others don't. If appropriate safety equipment is not available, use another provider.

Beach and land access

To avoid trespassing, seek permission from local landowners before accessing non-public areas, including beaches. Some landowners may charge a fee for access.

Road travel

Road travel in Vanuatu is hazardous. Roads are poorly maintained. Many roads are unsealed and poorly lit. Pedestrians often walk on roads and can be difficult to see, especially at night.

Public transport vehicles are often in a poor state of repair. Many vehicles may not be insured.

Vehicles in Vanuatu drive on the right-hand side of the road.

  • Check you have adequate insurance cover before driving in Vanuatu.
  • Familiarise yourself with local traffic laws and practices before driving.
  • Drive defensively and legally.
  • Don't drink and drive.
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities.

More information: Road travel

Driver's licence

You can drive in Vanuatu on an Australian driver's licence for up to three months. After that, you'll need a local licence.

Motorcycles

Check with your travel insurer whether your policy covers you when using a motorcycle, quad bike or similar vehicle. Your policy may not cover you for accidents that occur while using these vehicles. Wear, and ensure your passenger wears, a correctly fastened and approved helmet.

Taxis

Only use registered taxis, preferably those arranged through your hotel or resort.

Public transport

There is no formal public transport system in Vanuatu but privately-owned passenger vans, small buses and trucks provide transport services in some areas.

Sea travel

Inter-island boats and ferries are required to have a current seaworthiness certificate, but many do not, and their seaworthiness cannot be relied upon. A number of international cruise lines stopover in Vanuatu.

More information: Cruises

Air travel

Domestic routes to outer islands are serviced by small aircraft and airports have only basic facilities. Airstrips are generally short, runways are mostly not sealed, and operations can be limited by weather conditions.

The Australian Government doesn't provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation safety in Vanuatu.

More information: Air travel

Laws

You're subject to all 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.

Drug laws

Drug offences are punishable by fines, imprisonment or both. 

More information: Drugs

Other laws

It is illegal to import, possess, distribute, display or manufacture obscene publications. The definition of 'obscene publications' is stricter in Vanuatu than in Australia. Penalties include prison sentences.

It is illegal for supermarkets and similar outlets to sell alcohol between midday Saturday and 7 am Monday. However, clubs, bars and hotels may serve alcohol during these times.

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

Vanuatu recognises dual nationality. This could limit the ability of the Australian Government to provide consular assistance to Australian/Ni-Vanuatu dual nationals who are arrested or detained. Travel on your Australian passport at all times.

More information: Dual nationals

Local customs

There are conservative standards of dress and behaviour in Vanuatu. Take care not to offend.

Homosexual acts between adults are not illegal but attitudes towards same-sex relationships can be conservative. Open displays of affection between same-sex partners could attract adverse attention and may offend. 

More information: LGBTI travellers

Health

Travel insurance

Take out comprehensive travel insurance before you depart to cover overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation. Make sure your policy includes adequate coverage for any pre-existing conditions.

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 even 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. 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.

Pharmacies in Vanuatu are located only in urban centres or at local clinics. They normally only operate during business hours. A small number of pharmacies in urban centres may be open on Sunday or public holidays.

More information: Prescription medicines

Health risks

Mosquito-borne diseases

Malaria occurs throughout the year in some areas, particularly the north. Outbreaks of other mosquito-borne diseases, including dengue fever  and filariasis, also occur. Zika virus has previously been identified in Vanuatu but there is no evidence of an ongoing outbreak. 

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
  • consider taking prophylaxis against malaria if you plan to travel to affected areas
  • if you're pregnant, discuss your travel plans and possible health risks with your doctor before you travel
  • seek medical advice if you have a fever, muscle pain, rash or severe headache.

More information

Infectious diseases

Infectious diseases such as rubella, mumps, measles and varicella (chicken pox) have been reported in Vanuatu. Discuss options with your doctor if your vaccinations are not up-to-date, or if you're travelling with children or babies who have not yet completed their recommended childhood vaccinations.

Water-borne, food-borne, parasitic and other infectious diseases (including hepatitis, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections) are prevalent, with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. Tap water in the major urban centres of Port Vila and Luganville is generally safe to drink.

  • Maintain strict hygiene standards.
  • Avoid raw or undercooked food.
  • Outside Port Vila and Luganville, boil all drinking water or drink only bottled water.
  • Avoid ice cubes unless you know they are made from safe drinking water.
  • Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Fish poisoning

Eating reef fish can result in ciguatera poisoning. Ciguatera is a naturally occurring seafood toxin.

More information: Ciguatera poisoning (Queensland Health)

Medical facilities

Hospital and medical facilities in Vanuatu are limited.

Costs for treatment, including for pharmaceuticals, can be very high. Doctors and hospitals often require immediate cash payment for their services.

If you become seriously ill or injured, you'll need to be evacuated to a destination with appropriate facilities. This could be Australia or it could be another country where medical treatment may be much more expensive than in Australia. Medical evacuation can cost tens of thousands of Australian dollars.

There is only one hyperbaric chamber in Vanuatu, located in Port Vila. Many of the popular dive sites are located on other islands. If there is a diving accident, it may take several hours to reach facilities. Rescue and emergency services are much less comprehensive than in Australia.

Where to get help

Depending on what you need, your best option may be to first 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: 113
  • Medical emergencies: dial 000 or go direct to the hospital
  • Criminal issues: dial 111 or contact the nearest police station

Always get a police report when reporting a crime.

Tourism services and products

To complain about tourism services or products, contact the service provider directly.

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 Port Vila.

Australian High Commission, Port Vila

Winston Churchill Avenue
Port Vila, Vanuatu
Telephone +678 22 777
Facsimile +678 23 948
Website vanuatu.highcommission.gov.au

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

If you're 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.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

Vanuatu experiences cyclones, flooding, volcanic activity, earthquakes and tsunamis. If a natural disaster occurs, or a warning is issued:

Stay up-to-date on weather conditions and forecasts, natural disaster watches and warnings throughout your stay and plan accordingly. Monitor local and regional weather and disaster sites:

If you're travelling during cyclone season, or after a natural disaster, contact your tour operator to check whether tourist services at your planned destination have been affected.

Cyclones and severe weather

Cyclone season is November to May but tropical storms and cyclones can occur in other months. Flooding, landslides, damage to infrastructure and disruptions to services can result. The direction and strength of tropical cyclones can change with little warning.

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.

The Vanuatu telephone directory includes detailed advice on the Vanuatu Natural Disaster Management Office (NDMO)'s colour coded cyclone alert system. The directory also includes basic safety procedures to follow in the event of a cyclone threat.

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

  • know and be ready to follow your hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans
  • identify your local shelter
  • closely monitor alerts and advice from the NDMO, including via local media and hotels
  • carry your passport at all times (in a waterproof bag).

More information: Severe weather  

Earthquakes and tsunamis

Vanuatu experiences regular earthquakes and occasional tsunamis. A tsunami can arrive within minutes of a nearby tremor or earthquake occurring.

Real-time information on earthquakes can be found on the US Geological Survey website. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and Vanuatu Meteorological Service provides real-time information on tsunamis in the region.

If there is an earthquake, follow the advice for all natural disasters and:

  • monitor the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre and local sources
  • if you are in a coastal or low-lying area and the earthquake is strong or long, move to higher ground.

More information: Earthquakes

Volcanoes

There are a number of active volcanoes in Vanuatu, located on the islands of Tanna, Ambae, Ambrym, Lopevi, Vanua Lava and Gaua. There are also several under-sea volcanoes. On 28 September 2017, the Government of Vanuatu ordered a complete evacuation of Ambae island because of volcanic activity. The state of emergency was lifted on 27 October 2017.

Visiting an active volcano poses risks to your safety. Vanuatu authorities monitor volcanos visited by tourists and provide advice on the level of risk. Alert levels and accessibility to volcanoes can change quickly.

There are five alert levels for volcanoes; from zero (normal, low-level activity) up to five (very large eruption, island-wide danger). An alert level of three will often be the trigger for warnings to avoid the summit of the volcano and nearby areas. Even at lower levels, explosions and injuries from volcanic debris are possible.

  • Take official warnings seriously.
  • Follow the advice of local authorities. 
  • Contact the Vanuatu Tourism Office for the latest advice prior to travelling to areas where volcanic activity may occur.

More information: Vanuatu Geohazards Observatory

Additional Resources