Tonga

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Thursday, 17 April 2014.   It has been reissued with new information in the Summary and under Health (cases of the mosquito-borne illness chikungunya virus have been reported in Tonga). We continue to advise Australians to exercise normal safety precautions in Tonga.

Tonga overall

Summary

  • We advise you to exercise normal safety precautions in Tonga.
  • Exercise common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in Australia.
  • Cyclone season is November to April, however, severe weather can occur at any time of the year. Australians in Tonga should monitor the media for changing conditions. See Additional Information: Natural disasters, severe weather and climate for more detailed advice.
  • Outbreaks of Dengue Fever occur in Tonga, particularly during the wet season. Recently, chikungunya virus has also been reported. It is strongly recommended you take precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes. See Health for more detailed advice.
  • 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 or Consulate of Tonga for the most up to date information.

Tongan border control regulations require that your passport has at least six months’ validity from your planned date of departure from Tonga. It is possible that if you attempt to travel with less than six months’ validity, the airline will not allow you to board. In the unlikely event that the airline overlooks this requirement you may be fined on arrival, and your passport impounded by Tongan border control officers until the fine is paid. 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. 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

We advise you to exercise normal safety precautions in Tonga. Exercise common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in Australia. Monitor the media for information about possible safety or security risks.

Crime

Crime levels in Tonga are moderate. House break-ins and property theft occur. Electronic equipment such as iPads, mobile phones and other portable devices are particularly attractive to thieves. Security risks increase after dark.

Sexual assaults against foreigners have occurred, including on public beaches. Females in particular should avoid going out alone at night or alone to isolated locations, including beaches.

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. Both Westpac and ANZ are represented in Tonga. ATMs will accept a variety of Australian cards, but you should ask your bank whether your ATM card will work overseas. While ATMs are easily accessible on the main island of Tongatapu, the more remote island groups have limited services. Australian dollars can be cashed at local banks. You should check with your accommodation provider prior to travel and check which payment method is acceptable.

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 electronic devices, such as laptops, 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

In January 2014, Cyclone Ian caused extensive damage to buildings and infrastructure on some of the northern islands in the Ha’apai group. Australians travelling to this area should confirm their plans with their travel agent.

Domestic aviation: Tonga’s domestic airline, Real Tonga, operates scheduled flights to all island groups. Limited domestic services may result in overbooking, overloading and late changes to scheduling.

For further information on aviation safety and security, please refer to our air travel page.

Inter-island ferries: Inter-island ferries can be overloaded, poorly maintained or lack necessary life-saving equipment. Care should be taken to check safety equipment and passenger numbers before embarking on inter-island ferries. You should make enquiries of the master prior to boarding to ensure that the vessel is operating within its licensed passenger loading. Do not travel on any overloaded vessel.

Passenger ferries travel between Tongatapu and the island groups of Ha’apai, Vav’au, and ‘Eua. The Ministry of Transport recently found that some of these ferries were not complying with a number of safety requirements, including the MV Pulepaki, which has a history of safety concerns, and is currently operating between Tongatapu and Ha’apai.

The largest inter-island ferry, MV ‘Otuanga ‘ofa, was commissioned in December 2010. At the time it met internationally recognised safety standards and has been surveyed from time to time.

The safety standards Australians might expect of small boat operators for tour purposes are not always met. Sufficient life jackets for boats, rafts and kayaks are not always provided. You are advised to check the operators' credentials and safety equipment in advance and ensure your travel insurance policy covers your planned activities.

Road transport: Driving in Tonga can be hazardous, particularly at night, due to poor visibility, the quality of roads and the significant volume of pedestrian and animal traffic. The speed limit in most locations is 50kph. For further advice, see our road travel page.

Although it is not yet a legal requirement to wear seatbelts in vehicles, you should consider both your safety and whether your insurance would cover you in the event of an accident were you found not to be wearing one.

It is a legal requirement when riding motor scooters hired in Tonga that helmets be worn. Helmets may not be provided when hiring scooters. When hiring motor scooters be sure to check your travel insurance to see if you are covered for this activity.

It may be necessary to obtain a temporary Tongan driver’s licence in order to hire a scooter or car. Contact the Ministry of Transport (tel. 28415 or www.transport.gov.to) for more information.

Swimming and beach safety: Care should be taken when swimming on beaches with outlying coral reefs. Strong rips can occur at breaks in the reef and pose a significant risk to swimmers and surfers. A number of tourists have drowned recently in these conditions. Advice should be sought from locals on danger spots before going swimming.

Airline safety

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

Laws

When you are in Tonga, 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.

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

Sodomy is illegal in Tonga. The maximum penalty for a consensual act of sodomy is ten years imprisonment. See our LGBTI travellers page.

Child pornography is illegal. Other forms of pornography may attract criminal penalties.

Random breath testing for alcohol has been introduced in Tonga with a blood/alcohol limit of .03. If your test reading is between .03 and .05 there is an on the spot fine of TOP200 and for readings of greater than .05 you will be charged and will have to appear in court. If the offence occurs outside normal business hours it is likely that you will be held in police cells overnight until a charge can be laid.

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 strict standards of dress and behaviour in Tonga and you should take care not to offend. Women in particular should dress modestly and wear clothing that covers the shoulders and knees. Bikinis can be worn on island resorts, however swimwear should be more modest if swimming on the public beaches on the main islands. Topless bathing is not accepted. Men are not permitted to go shirtless in public areas, unless on island resorts.

Tonga is officially a Christian country with a high level of religious observance and a very conservative culture. Sabbath observance laws strictly limit Sunday activities, including business transactions, most restaurants, cafes and bars, and sporting events. Participation in activities, such as general exercise, running, swimming and snorkelling are regarded as inappropriate on Sundays, unless on island resorts.

Information for dual nationals

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 Tonga are very limited and evacuation may be required even in cases of minor illness or accident. Medical evacuation, at considerable expense, would normally be to Australia or New Zealand.

If you intend to go scuba diving, you should be aware that there are no decompression chambers in Tonga. Serious cases of decompression sickness are evacuated to the nearest treatment centre in Townsville, Queensland. Registered dive companies carry basic treatment equipment to meet PADI standards.

Outbreaks of the mosquito-borne illness dengue fever occur, particularly during the wet season. Recently, chikungunya virus has also been reported in Tonga. 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. Seek medical advice if you have a fever. For further information see the World Health Organization's factsheet on dengue fever.

Water-borne, food-borne, and other infectious diseases (including tuberculosis and filariasis) are prevalent with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. You should also be aware that illness caused by naturally occurring seafood toxins such as ciguatera, as well as scombroid (histamine fish poisoning) and toxins in shellfish can be a hazard (for more information see Queensland Health’s fact sheet). Seek urgent medical attention if you suspect poisoning.

There have been several reported occurrences of typhoid in villages outside of Nuku’alofa. Practicing good personal hygiene should help avoid contracting this and other gastro-intestinal diseases. You are advised to boil all drinking water or drink bottled water, and avoid ice cubes and raw or undercooked food. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Where to get help

Australians and Canadians in Tonga who require consular assistance should contact the Australian High Commission.

Australian High Commission, Nuku'alofa

Salote Road
Nuku'alofa, Tonga
Telephone (676) 23 244
Facsimile (676) 23 243
Email: ahctonga@dfat.gov.au
Website: www.tonga.embassy.gov.au

If you are travelling to Tonga, 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

Cyclone season is between November and April when flooding, gale force winds and disruptions to services may occur. However, severe tropical storms and cyclones may occur in other months. Monitor local media reports and weather services and follow the instructions of local emergency officials.

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

The direction and strength of tropical cyclones can change with little warning. Cyclone and storm information for the Pacific Ocean region is available from the Tonga Meteorological Service, Joint Typhoon Warning Center, US Navy , USA National Weather Service Forecast Office, the Fiji Meteorological Service, the World Meteorological Organisation Severe Weather Information Centre and the Humanitarian Early Warning Service. We recommend that Australians in Tonga monitor these websites during cyclone season for the most up-to-date information.

In the event of an approaching cyclone, you should identify your closest safe location. 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 accommodation 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.

Tonga is located in an active earthquake zone and minor quakes are common. 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. In September 2009, an earthquake near Samoa caused a tsunami to strike parts of Tonga. Nine people were killed on the island of Niuatoputapu, in the far north of the island group. See the Tsunami Awareness brochure.

If a natural disaster occurs, follow the advice of local authorities. Emergency updates from the Tongan National Emergency Management Office will be transmitted on radio station Radio 1 at frequency 1017 AM which is transmitted to all island groups.

For parents

For general information and tips on travelling with children see our Travelling with Children page.



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.