- Samoa was governed by New Zealand until its people voted for independence in 1961.
- It is made up of nine volcanic islands, two of which (Savai'i and Upolu) make up more than 99% of the land. Savai'I Island is an active volcano; it last erupted in 1911.
- Samoa’s main exports are coconut oil and cream, copra, fish and beer.
- Samoa is a deeply conservative and devoutly Christian society. The church is a focus of recreational and social life. Many Samoan villages hold up to 20 minutes of prayer curfews in the evenings.
- The currency is the tala (dollar), which is divided into 100 sene (cents).
- Samoa is vulnerable to natural hazards, suffering the effects of tsunamis and cyclones.
- Samoa was the last country in the world to see the sun set. On December 29, 2011 Samoa jumped the International Dateline and became the first country in the world to see the sun rise.
- Samoa has a Human Development Index rating of 106, according to the 2014 UN Human Development Report. (Source: UN Development Programme International human development indicators)
Language and culture
VSA has a mix of short and longer term assignments in Samoa. While English is widely spoken, gaining knowledge of the local language is important. We provide basic language training at the start of assignments with follow-ups if necessary during the assignment.
Understanding local customs (fa’asamoa) is vital to a successful assignment. Samoa is a deeply religious country. Most meetings, even in a professional setting, will have an element of religion to them depending on who is leading the organisation. The matai system, or Samoan chiefly system that governs the aiga potopoto (extended family) is an important part of Samoan culture. Most Samoans live communally with fanua (land) as an integral part of the extended family. Samoans are generally very generous as the people hold reciprocity highly as it confirms that they will never ‘lack’ anything.
Housing and living conditions
We provide volunteers with basic, furnished accommodation. Volunteers will have access to telephones, internet, restaurants, public transport system and 24-hour power although power outages are a regular occurrence. Volunteer housing will likely have gas facilities for cooking. Samoa has the same electrical plug socket and voltage as New Zealand. Mains water supply may be fine for drinking but volunteers will often boil water, use a purifier or drink bottled water to be safer from contaminants.
Samoa has a big expatriate community and most are used to seeing western ways of dressing, with many locals dressing very similarly. However, it is important to remember that you are a volunteer with a different motivation for living and working in Samoa than most expatriates. We encourage our volunteers to dress conservatively. Loose fitting, light, cotton clothing is best. Dresses, skirts and t-shirts are commonly worn – sleeveless is acceptable.
The traditional clothing for Samoan women is the puletasi (matching top and ankle length lavalava). Volunteers can purchase these outfits from the markets or most clothing or fabric shops in town. The puletasi can also be made very cheaply by local tailors. It is advisable not to expose skin above the knee, especially when attending traditional events. For men, choose long pants, knee-length shorts and short-sleeved shirts. Traditional wear for men is the ie faitaga or ie sulu (a wrap-around lavalava) and island shirt. The ie faitaga and island shirts can be purchased at the market or most shops in town or made to measure at clothing shops in town.
Precautionary measures are recommended, such as insect repellent and long sleeves/ trousers in the evening if outside and a mosquito net if you are staying in villages. Skin infections can develop quickly so have a good supply of plasters, antibiotic cream and antibiotics. There are public hospitals in both Upolu and Savaii complete with a qualified dentist. Although you should have adequate health care in-country you will need to be responsible for managing your own health while on assignment.
We provide all selected volunteers with a thorough security briefing and specific local issues are covered prior to your departure. In general, there are no problems moving around. Land ownership is complex in Samoa and strangers cannot wander freely through private or empty land without first seeking permission. Take care when walking alone and avoid this at night
Banking and finances
Banks are found in Apia - Westpac, ANZ, and the Bank of the South Pacific. You can open a local bank account once you arrive in Samoa where monthly living allowances are paid into. You will find ATMs in town with an increasing number of shops also having EFTPOS machines. Some hotels/guest houses accept foreign credit cards. Local currency is the tala. Visit oanda.com for current exchange rates.
Cell phones and email
Samoa has two cellular providers, Blue Sky and Digicel. Coverage is generally good within urban areas but fades quickly as you move to rural locations.
Internet connections are widely available at reasonable speeds. Internet cafes are available in town with wireless ‘hotspots’ around businesses and hospitality complexes.