Samoa

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Wednesday, 13 August 2014.   This advice contains new information in the Summary and under Health (on 9 August 2014, the Samoan Ministry of Health confirmed an outbreak of Chikungunya virus in Samoa). We continue to advise Australians to exercise normal safety precautions in Samoa.

Samoa overall

Summary

  • We advise you to exercise normal safety precautions in Samoa.
  • Exercise common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in Australia.
  • The UN Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) Conference, estimated to attract 3,000 international delegates, will be held in the capital Apia, from 30 August to 4 September 2014. During this time, Australian visitors may be inconvenienced by road and airport congestion, and access to some services may be limited. Australians should take care to avoid any potential demonstrations and follow the advice of local authorities.
  • Violent assaults and robberies do occur in Samoa. Sexual assaults against foreigners, including Australians, have occurred.
  • Cyclone season in Samoa is from November to April. However, tropical storms and cyclones may occur in other months. Cyclone Evan hit Samoa in December 2012, causing damage to local services and infrastructure. Damaged tourist infrastructure is now mostly rebuilt or repaired.
  • For information on cyclones, including links to local meteorological services and advice on what to do in the event of a cyclone, see the Additional information section.
  • Travellers should exercise caution when driving and choosing local transport providers. Driving in Samoa can be dangerous, particularly at night, due to insufficient street lighting and poor road conditions. Many motor vehicles are not well maintained and the general standard of driving is poor. Visitors must obtain a temporary driver's license before driving in Samoa.
  • On 9 August 2014, the Samoan Ministry of Health confirmed an outbreak of Chikungunya virus in Samoa.
  • Outbreaks of the mosquito-borne illness, dengue fever, occur in Samoa. See the Health Issues section below for further details.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
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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 of Samoa for the most up-to-date information.

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.

Safety and security

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. You can find more information about this threat in our General advice to Australian travellers.

Crime

We advise you to exercise normal safety precautions. You should pay close attention to your personal security and monitor the media for information about possible new safety and security risks.

There have been a number of violent assaults and robberies in Samoa, including sexual assaults against foreigners. Australians should avoid going out alone at night or alone to isolated locations, including beaches.

Petty crime, particularly theft from motor vehicles and accommodation, is prevalent. Burglaries are common and are sometimes accompanied by violence.

Particular care should be taken near Apia’s downtown bars and restaurants where a number of violent incidents involving foreigners and Samoans have occurred. A number of assaults have taken place in the sea wall area along the harbour front at night.

Australians should be careful if they visit bars and nightclubs, and when in quiet and remote areas. They should exercise caution in response to unsolicited advances from strangers at all times.

Money and valuables

Before you go, organise a variety of ways to access your money overseas, such as credit cards, travellers' cheques, cash, debit cards or cash cards. Australian currency and travellers' cheques are not accepted in many countries. Consult with your bank to find out the most appropriate currency to carry is and whether your ATM card will work overseas.

Make two photocopies of valuable documents such as your passport, tickets, visas and travellers' cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.

While travelling, don't carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves.

As a sensible precaution against luggage tampering, including theft, lock your luggage. Information on luggage safety is available from Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

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 overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.

You are required to pay an additional fee to have a lost or stolen passport replaced. In some cases, the Government may also restrict the length of validity or type of replacement passports.

Local travel

Demonstrations and protests do occur in Samoa. Australians are urged to avoid demonstrations and large public gatherings as they can become violent. Monitor the media for developments and follow the advice of local authorities.

Visitors must obtain a temporary driver's licence before driving in Samoa. These are available from the Apia Post Office, the Ministry of Transport, Works and Infrastructure office in Vaitele, the Polynesian Explorer Office at Faleolo airport and from some car hire agencies in Apia. Visitors must present their current Australian driver's licence.

Travellers should exercise caution when driving and when choosing local transport providers. Driving in Samoa can be dangerous, particularly at night, due to insufficient street lighting, and poor road conditions. The general standard of driving is poor and many motor vehicles are not well maintained. For further advice, see our road travel page.

In September 2009 Samoa switched from driving on the right-hand side of the road to the left-hand side. As many vehicles in Samoa are still left-hand drive, you should take care when driving.

Levels of motor vehicle insurance can vary from rental car company to company. You should ensure you understand the insurance portion of any rental contract. Before you depart Australia, you should discuss hire car insurance cover in Samoa with your travel insurance provider.

The safety standards Australians might expect of tour/ferry operators are not always met, especially for adventure sports and for inter-islands trips. Check operators’ credentials and safety equipment beforehand and ensure your travel insurance policy covers your planned activities. Inter-island ferries may be overcrowded, which could impede access to life jackets or life rafts and proper implementation of safety procedures during an emergency.

Fatal swimming accidents have occurred due to tidal changes and powerful currents in the many coastal lagoons that surround the islands, particularly at the ebb tide or when seas are heavy. Consult local residents and tour operators for advice on possible hazardous swimming and water sports areas.

Stray and poorly controlled dogs are common in Samoa and it is advisable not to approach them. Dog attacks have occurred in suburban areas and on beaches.

Levels of services in Samoa for travellers with disabilities are extremely limited. The lack of footpaths or adequately paved walkways makes it difficult for individuals in wheelchairs or the walking impaired to travel around Samoa. There are few, if any, motor vehicles capable of transporting wheelchairs and the lack of disabled ramps and access points at major hotels makes finding suitable accommodation difficult. None of the tour operators cater specifically for the disabled.

Airline safety

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

Laws

When you are in Samoa, 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. Court processes in Samoa can be lengthy.

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

Penalties for the possession and use of illegal drugs, including cannabis, may include a prison sentence. Possession of drug paraphernalia is illegal. Suspected drug offenders should expect to be held in custody while the police investigation is underway.

Homosexual acts are illegal in Samoa and penalties include imprisonment. See our LGBTI travellers page.

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 Samoa and you should take care not to offend.

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 Samoa are limited and medical evacuation may be required in serious cases. To receive medical services you may be required to pay in advance and provide a deposit if hospitalised. Medical evacuation by air ambulance to Australia or New Zealand is extremely expensive. Evacuations using commercial airlines may be delayed during June and November to January when flights are often heavily booked.

There are no hyperbaric chambers on any of the islands for treatment of scuba diving related injuries. Serious cases of decompression sickness are evacuated to the nearest treatment centre in Suva, Fiji, or Auckland, New Zealand. All registered dive companies carry basic treatment equipment to meet PADI standards.

Outbreaks of the mosquito-borne illness dengue fever occur in Samoa. On 9 August 2014, the Samoan Ministry of Health confirmed an outbreak of Chikungunya virus in Samoa. It is strongly recommended you take precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes, including using insect repellent, wearing long, loose fitting, light-coloured clothing and ensuring your accommodation is mosquito proof. For further information see the World Health Organization's factsheets on dengue fever and Chikungunya virus

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including typhoid, hepatitis, filariasis and tuberculosis) occur, with more serious outbreaks from time to time. We advise you to boil all drinking water or drink bottled water, and avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Where to get help

In Samoa, Australians and Canadians can obtain consular assistance from the:

Australian High Commission, Apia

Beach Road
Apia, Samoa
Telephone: (685) 23 411
Facsimile: (685) 23 159
Website: http://www.samoa.highcommission.gov.au

If you are travelling to Samoa, 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.

If you require after-hours advice regarding a consular emergency, please call the Australian High Commission on the above number. By following the prompts you will be put through to the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre. If you are unable to contact the above High Commission you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre directly 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

Samoa is subject to earthquakes. All oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis, but in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, there is a more frequent occurrence of large, destructive tsunamis because of the many large earthquakes along major tectonic plate boundaries and ocean trenches. See the Tsunami Awareness brochure.

In September 2009 an earthquake near Samoa caused a tsunami to strike the southern coast of Upolu island, Samoa. A number of areas popular with tourists were affected and 143 people were killed.

Cyclones: Cyclone Evan hit Samoa on 13 December 2012, causing damage to local services and infrastructure, including communications, water and electricity services.

Cyclone season is between November to April when flooding, landslides and disruptions to services can occur. However, tropical storms and cyclones may occur in other months. The direction and strength of tropical cyclones can change with little warning. Australians should monitor the typhoon and storm information available from the World Meteorological Organisation Severe Weather Information Centre, the USA National Weather Service Forecast Office (American Samoa), the Humanitarian Early Warning Service, the Fiji Meteorological Service and the Samoa Meteorology Division.

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

In the event of an approaching cyclone, you should identify your local shelter. We encourage Australians in affected areas to follow the instructions of local authorities and monitor the media for the latest developments. Flights in and out of affected areas could be delayed or suspended. Available flights may fill quickly. The cyclone could 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 may 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 also our Severe weather page.

If a natural disaster occurs, follow the advice of local authorities.



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.