Vanuatu

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Saturday, 15 November 2014.   This advice has been updated with new information in the Summary and under Local travel (removal of reference to a major police operation in the south of Malekula Island). We continue to advise Australians to exercise normal safety precautions in Vanuatu.

Vanuatu overall

Summary

  • We advise you to exercise normal safety precautions in Vanuatu.
  • Exercise common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in Australia.
  • Vanuatu is subject to a range of natural disasters. Cyclone season in Vanuatu is from November to April, but severe tropical storms may occur in other months.
  • In September 2014, local authorities advised that measles had been reported in Vanuatu. If your vaccinations are not up to date, or if you are travelling with children or babies who have not yet completed their recommended childhood vaccinations, you should discuss options with your doctor.
  • In February 2014, local authorities declared an outbreak of dengue fever in Vanuatu, including in the Port Vila and Luganville areas. We recommend that you take precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes, including using insect repellent at all times, wearing long, loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing and ensuring your accommodation is mosquito proof.
  • Earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions also occur. Vanuatu authorities monitor the activity of the volcanos visited by tourists and provide advice on the level of risk. Alert levels and accessibility to the volcanos can change quickly so you should always check with local authorities for the latest advice prior to travelling to volcanic areas. See the Additional information: Natural disasters, severe weather and climate section for more information.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
    • organise comprehensive travel insurance and check what circumstances and activities are not covered by your policy
    • register your travel and contact details, so we can contact you in an emergency
    • subscribe to this travel advice to receive free email updates each time it's reissued.
    • follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
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Entry and exit

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Vanuatu or the Vanuatu Department of Immigration on (678) 22 354 for the most up-to-date information.

Visitor visas for stays of up to thirty days are issued on arrival subject to physical evidence of an onward or return ticket. For visitors to Vanuatu holding E-tickets, provision of the confirmation advice email will satisfy this requirement.

Make sure your passport has at least six months' validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Customs authorities enforce strict regulations on importing items such as food, weapons and sexually explicit material. For more information on customs requirements see the Vanuatu Customs and Inland Revenue website.

Safety and security

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. See our Terrorist Threat Overseas bulletin for more information on terrorism and our General advice to Australian travellers for tips on staying safe overseas.

Civil unrest/political tension

Civil disorder is rare in Vanuatu. We advise you to avoid protests and public demonstrations as there is always the possibility they may turn violent.

Crime

The rate of crime in Vanuatu is generally low. However, robberies, assaults and sexual assaults against foreigners, when alone or in the company of others, have occurred. Due to the risk of crime, you should exercise caution when taking buses or taxis, particularly at night, and avoid going out after dark alone or to isolated locations, especially on foot.

Theft, unlawful entry and trespassing are increasing problems. Thieves have struck when the occupants are present. You should lock your accommodation at all times and, if possible, store valuables in a safe. The incidence of crime may increase in the weeks leading up to holidays such as Christmas and Independence Day (July 30).

Prison breakouts have occurred. Crime rates may increase in the period following a breakout.

We advise you to pay close attention to your own security, monitor the media for events that may affect your safety and security and follow the instructions of local authorities.

Money and valuables

Before you go, organise a variety of ways to access your money in Vanuatu, such as credit cards, travellers' cheques, cash, debit cards or cash cards. Australian dollars are accepted at many shops, restaurants and hotels in Port Vila. Local currency (vatu) is recommended for use in smaller establishments and local market stalls. 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.

Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen in Vanuatu, you should inform the local police and contact the Australian High Commission, Port Vila, on (+678) 22 777, or report it online as soon as possible.

Review the general advice to Australian travellers for further information on being safe and prepared abroad.

Local travel

Vehicles in Vanuatu drive on the right-hand side of the road. Local law permits visitors to drive in Vanuatu on an Australian driving licence for up to three months. Drivers are advised to take extra care when driving in Vanuatu. Roads are not well maintained, many roads are unsealed and often poorly lit. The presence of pedestrians on the roads can make driving difficult, especially at night. Public transport vehicles are often in a poor state of repair. Many vehicles may not be insured. For further advice, see our road travel page.

Inter-island boats are required to have a current seaworthiness certificate, but many do not, and their seaworthiness cannot be relied upon.

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. Check operators' credentials and safety equipment beforehand and ensure your travel insurance policy covers your planned activities.

If appropriate safety equipment is not available, you should use another provider. Always use available safety equipment, such as lifejackets or seatbelts, even if the locals do not.

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

Individuals with disabilities may find accessibility a problem in Vanuatu. Footpaths are often uneven or absent, and many buildings do not make provision for wheelchair access.

Airline safety

Travellers should note that the outer island routes are serviced by small aircraft, and airports and airstrips have quite basic facilities. Airstrips are generally short, runways are mostly not sealed, and operations can be limited by weather conditions.

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

Please also refer to our general air travel page for information on aviation safety and security.

Laws

When you are in Vanuatu, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail. Research local laws before travelling.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

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

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.

Drug offences are punishable by fines, imprisonment or both. While there are no mandatory sentences for drug offences in Vanuatu, it is rare for a convicted person not to be fined or receive a jail sentence, even for 'soft' drug offences.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Local customs

There are conservative standards of dress and behaviour in Vanuatu and you should take care not to offend.

Homosexual acts between adults are not illegal in Vanuatu, however, you should be aware of local sensitivities. Open displays of affection between same-sex partners could attract adverse attention and may offend. See our LGBTI travellers page.

Information for dual nationals

Vanuatu does not recognise dual nationality. This may limit the ability of the Australian Government to provide consular assistance to Australian/Ni-Vanuatu dual nationals who are arrested or detained. We recommend you travel on your Australian passport at all times.

Our Dual nationals page provides further information for dual nationals.

Health

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. 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 a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our health page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy.

Hospital and medical facilities in Vanuatu are limited. Costs for treatment, including for pharmaceuticals, can be very expensive. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for their services. In the event of a serious illness or accident (including diving-related injuries), medical evacuation to a destination with appropriate facilities would be necessary. A medical evacuation can cost tens of thousands of Australian dollars.

Pharmacies are not usually open outside of normal business hours and are located only in urban centres or at missionary clinics.

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

In September 2014, local authorities advised that measles had been reported in Vanuatu. Other infectious diseases such as rubella and varicella (chicken pox) have also been reported. If your vaccinations are not up to date, or if you are travelling with children or babies who have not yet completed their recommended childhood vaccinations, you should discuss options with your doctor.

In February 2014,local authorities declared an outbreak of dengue fever in Vanuatu, including in the Port Vila and Luganville areas. Authorities have implemented mitigation measures. For further information on dengue fever see the World Health Organization's factsheet.

Malaria occurs throughout the year in most areas, particularly the north. Outbreaks of other mosquito-borne diseases, including filariasis, also occur. We recommend that you talk to your doctor about taking a prophylaxis against malaria, and also take precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes, including using insect repellent at all times, wearing long loose-fitting light-coloured clothing and ensuring your accommodation is mosquito proof.

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. While tap water in the major urban centres of Port Vila and Luganville is safe to drink, outside of these centres we recommend you boil all drinking water or drink bottled water, and avoid ice cubes. You should also avoid raw and undercooked food. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhea.

Ciguatera poisoning from eating reef fish can be a hazard. For more information on ciguatera poisoning see Queensland Health's fact sheet.

Where to get help

Depending on the nature of your enquiry, your best option may be to contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour operator, employer or travel insurance provider in the first instance.

If the matter relates to criminal issues, contact the local police at the nearest police station.

The Consular Services Charter explains what the Australian Government can and can’t do to assist Australians overseas. For consular assistance, see contact details below:

Australian High Commission, Port Vila

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

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

If you are travelling to Vanuatu, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency - whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.

In a consular emergency if you are unable to contact the above mission, you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

Vanuatu is subject to a range of natural disasters. Information on natural disasters can be obtained from the Humanitarian Early Warning Service. If a natural disaster occurs, or a warning is issued, follow the advice of local authorities and monitor local radio stations for updates.

Cyclones and severe weather

Cyclone season in Vanuatu is from November to April, when flooding, landslides and disruptions to services may occur. Tropical storms and cyclones may also occur in other months, and the direction and strength of tropical cyclones can change with little warning.

In the event of an approaching cyclone, you should identify your local shelter. The Vanuatu telephone directory includes detailed advice on the Vanuatu Natural Disaster Management Organisation’s colour coded cyclone alert system. The directory also provides details on the basic safety procedures people should follow in the event of a cyclone threat. Local media and hotels will convey cyclone alerts issued by local authorities.

Detailed weather information is published by the Vanuatu Meteorological Service, the Meteo-France in New Caledonia, the Fiji Meteorological Service, and the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, US Navy. We recommend that Australians in Vanuatu monitor these websites during cyclone season for the most up-to-date information.

If you are travelling during the cyclone season, you should contact your tour operator to check whether tourist services at your planned destination have been affected.

Flights in and out of affected areas could be delayed or suspended. Available flights may fill quickly.

Cyclones may also affect access to sea ports in the region. In some areas, adequate shelter from a severe cyclone may not be available to all who choose to stay. You should familiarise yourself with your hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans. You should carry your travel documents at all times (i.e. passport, photo identification) or secure them in a safe, waterproof location. We also suggest that you contact friends and family in Australia with updates about your welfare and whereabouts. For further information, see our Severe weather page.

Earthquakes

Vanuatu is situated in an active seismic zone and as a result is regularly subject to earthquakes, volcanic activity, tsunamis and landslides. Information about earthquakes is available from the National Earthquake Information Centre of the United States Geological Survey. Comprehensive information on how to prepare yourself and what to do in an earthquake or other natural disaster is available from the New Zealand Government’s Get ready, Get thru websites.

Tsunami

All oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis, but there is a more frequent occurrence of large, destructive tsunamis in the Indian and Pacific Oceans because of the many large earthquakes along major tectonic plate boundaries and ocean trenches. Tsunamis could occur in Vanuatu, and you should be alert to warnings as a tsunami can arrive within minutes of a nearby tremor or earthquake occurring. The following websites issue information on tsunami warnings, Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre or the Vanuatu Meteorological Services. You should also consult your accommodation provider about evacuation plans in the event of a tsunami warning.

For more information on tsunamis see Emergency Management Australia Tsunami Awareness brochure.

Volcanos

There are a number of active volcanoes in Vanuatu located on the islands of Tanna, Ambae, Ambrym, Lopevi, Vanua Lava and Gaua, as well as several under-sea volcanoes. You should be aware of the risks when visiting an active volcano and follow the advice of authorities.

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 four (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, people need to be aware of the risk of explosions and volcanic debris.

You should always contact the Vanuatu Tourism Office for the latest advice prior to travelling to areas where volcanic activity may occur. Information on volcanic activity can also be found at Vanuatu Geohazards Observatory.

Additional Resources

For additional general and economic information to assist travelling in Vanuatu, see the following links:



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.