- Vanuatu comprises four main islands and 80 smaller islands, about 60 of which are inhabited.
- There is significant volcanic activity, with multiple eruptions in recent years. Yasur, on Tanna Island, is one of the world's most active volcanoes. There are several underwater volcanoes as well.
- The population of Vanuatu is 300.019 (45% of whom are under 14 years old).
- The economy is based on small-scale agriculture, which provides a living for about two-thirds of the population.
- Fishing, offshore financial services and tourism are other mainstays.
- Australia and New Zealand are the main suppliers of tourists and foreign aid.
- Main agricultural products are copra, coconuts, cocoa, coffee, taro, yams, fruits, vegetables, beef and fish.
- The capital city is Port Vila.
- Official languages are Bislama (Pidgin), English and French. There are also more than 100 local languages.
- Vanuatu has a Human Development Index rating of 140 in the latest UN Human Development Report. (Source: CIA Factbook, UN Development Programme International human development indicators)
Language and culture
VSA assignments usually last two years, so local language training is important. We provide basic language training (Bislama) at the start of assignments with follow-ups if necessary, during assignment. Understanding local customs is vital to a successful assignment but be aware these can change from one island to the next. Topics are often not approached directly. Talking about family and local issues is often required before getting down to discussing what you as a volunteer may want.
Housing and living conditions
We ensure volunteers are provided with basic, furnished accommodation with gas facilities for cooking. Some volunteer housing relies on rainwater for water supply so be aware of your water use, especially during dry periods. In Port Vila and Santo, you’ll probably have access to 24-hour power, telephones, town water supply, internet, restaurants, public transport systems, a good variety of shops and a wider community of expatriates. If you are based elsewhere, you may have none of these. The town water supply in both Vila and Santo is treated and safe to drink, although the water is high in calcium, so it is best to boil before drinking.
Vanuatu is a conservative place, and some western-style clothing is not appropriate. Loose-fitting, light, cotton clothing is best for the climate and culturally appropriate. For men, choose long pants, knee-length shorts and short-sleeved shirts. For women, dresses, skirts and t-shirts are commonly worn – sleeveless shirts are also acceptable. Don’t expose skin above the knee though, especially when attending traditional events. Women should wear shorts or a sarong and a t-shirt while swimming in non-resort areas.
Malaria is endemic in most of Vanuatu outside Port Vila and all volunteers must use malarial prophylaxis. Other precautions are still recommended, such as insect repellent and long sleeves / trousers in the evening if outside and a mosquito net if you are staying in malaria areas. Skin infections can develop quickly so have a good supply of plasters, antibiotic cream and antibiotics. There are public hospitals in Port Vila and Luganville as well as private medical facilities with smaller health centres scattered throughout the islands. Health care is basic, and you’ll need to be responsible for managing your own health while on assignment.
We provide all volunteers with a thorough security briefing and specific local issues are covered during in-country orientation. Like many developing countries, you need to be aware of your surroundings in Vanuatu and make sensible decisions as to your personal security. Walking in Port Vila or Santo during the day is quite safe but take care when walking alone and avoid doing this at night. Theft is common in towns, so be careful with your possessions and ensure housing is locked when empty. Bear in mind also that land ownership is complex, and strangers cannot wander freely through private or empty land without first seeking permission.
Banking and finances
There are several banks in Vanuatu although fewer options exist outside Port Vila. We open a local bank account for all volunteers once you arrive in Vanuatu and monthly living allowances are paid into this. Debit cards are available for volunteers with ANZ or Westpac accounts in Port Vila or Luganville. Local currency is the Vatu. Visit XE.com for current exchange rates.
Cell phones and email
Vanuatu has two cellular providers, Telecom Vanuatu Ltd and Digicel. Coverage is generally good within urban areas but fades quickly as you move to rural areas. International connections can be unreliable, especially during the day when sent text messages can fail or take hours to get through. Economy rates for calls and texts (both international and domestic) are available so check these before deciding on a provider.
Internet connection is very limited compared to New Zealand in terms of speed. There are some public internet cafes in Port Vila and in Santo. Some organisations will have internet at work, but don’t assume this for more rural areas. In some cases, it might be possible, at your own cost, to get internet connected at home.