Asia and Oceania

Vanuatu Flag of Vanuatu

Still current at: 10 June 2008
Updated: 23 April 2008

This advice has been reviewed and reissued with amendments to the Summary and Natural Disasters (Earthquakes) section (on 19 April and earthquake measuring 6.94 on the Richter scale was recorded about 105 kms south-west of the island of Tanna).  The overall level of the advice has not changed.

(see travel advice legal disclaimer)


Travel advice for this country


Travel Summary

  • There is no longer any British consular representation in Vanuatu.  Routine consular services for British nationals are provided by the New Zealand High Commission in Port Vila. The British High Commission in Fiji is responsible for non-routine consular matters.  See the General (Representation) section of this advice for more details.

  • Vanuatu lies on the Pacific 'Ring of Fire' and regularly experiences seismic and volcanic activity, with over 2,000 seismic events reported each year. On 19 April 2008 an earthquake measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale was recorded about 105kms south-west of the island of Tanna. There have been no reports of casualties or damage. See the Natural Disasters (Earthquakes) section of this advice for more details.

  • We advise caution when considering visiting active volcanoes on any of the islands in the Vanuatu archipelago. You should check with the Vanuatu Tourist Office for latest reports on volcanic activity before travelling. See the Natural Disasters (Volcanoes) section of this advice for more details.

  • Most visits to Vanuatu are trouble-free.  The main types of incidents for which British nationals required consular assistance in Vanuatu in 2007 were for replacing lost or stolen passports and petty crime.  However, violent crime is increasing and you should avoid visiting isolated locations alone.

  • There is a low threat from terrorism.  But you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be in public areas, including those frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.

  • The tropical cyclone season in Vanuatu normally runs from November to April. In February 2008 Tropical Cyclone Gene affected the southern most islands of Vanuatu. There was some damage, but no casualties were reported.

  • We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.  

Safety and security

Terrorism
 
There is a low threat from terrorism.  But you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be in public areas, including those frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers. 
 
Crime
 
Crime rates, particularly incidences of burglary of houses occupied by members of the expatriate community, remain low but are increasing.  Break-ins are often accompanied by violence.  Street crime is also increasing and you should take sensible security precautions and avoid making yourself an easy target, especially at night.  There have been a number of attacks on tourists at nightclubs and bars in Port Vila and you should check with the Vanuatu Tourist Office or your hotel on establishments where additional caution is required.
 
There have also been several serious attacks on foreigners, particularly lone women, in isolated locations.  You should avoid travelling to, or visiting remote tourist sites or beaches by yourself.  Where possible, travel as part of a larger group.
 
 
Political Situation
 
Vanuatu Country Profile.
 
LOCAL TRAVEL
 
Road Travel

You can drive in Vanuatu on your UK driving licence.
 
Main roads in Port Vila and Luganville are sealed.  Elsewhere roads are either compacted coral or dirt tracks.  Extra care should be taken when driving on them, particularly in heavy rain or after a prolonged dry period.  General driving standards are below those of the UK and many vehicles, including public transport, are in a poor state of repair and may not be insured.  Traffic drives on the right.
 
 
Air Travel
 
Inter-island travel by the domestic airline (Air Vanuatu) is very expensive and subject to delays.
 
Sea Travel
 
Boat services between the islands are infrequent and should not be relied on.
 
Inter island boats are required to have a current sea-worthiness certificate, however many do not and their sea worthiness cannot be relied upon.
 
 
Swimming
 
You should seek advice from the Provincial Council Office and from local people before swimming in the waters off Vanuatu, particularly around the islands of Malekula and Espiritu Santo.  Sharks are known to be present in these waters and deaths have occurred.

Local laws and customs

You should respect local customs, which are strictly observed, and religious sensitivities.  Wear appropriate dress (i.e.  not beachwear) when away from the beaches and hotels.
 
Homosexuality is legal in Vanuatu but open displays of affection between same-sex partners will attract adverse attention and may offend some in Vanuatu.
 
Drinking kava is an ancient tradition in Vanuatu.  Kava is widely available at traditional ceremonies, at nakamals (kava bars) and at some hotels.  You should be aware of the British Medicine Controls Agency (www.mca.gov.uk) advice on kava consumption.
 
Most ni-Vanuatu will allow you to take their photograph but you should always seek their permission first.  Similarly, you should be aware that land ownership in Vanuatu is an important and often sensitive issue.  If you are travelling off the beaten track, be aware that you may be trespassing and required to pay a "visiting fee" charged by the landowner.
 

Entry requirements

Visas
 
British passport holders visiting Vanuatu do not require a visa and are normally given permission to enter and remain in the country for up to 30 days on arrival, provided that they are in possession of an onward or return ticket.  Airlines will refuse to carry a passenger to Vanuatu who does not hold such a ticket. 
 
Passport validity
 
Passports must be valid for six months beyond your intended stay.

Travelling with children

Single parents and other adults travelling alone with children should be aware that some countries require documentary evidence of parental responsibility before allowing lone parents to enter the country, or in some cases, before permitting the children to leave the country.

For further information on exactly what will be required at immigration please contact the Immigration Department at:

Principal Immigration Officer
Immigration Department
Private Mail Bag 092
Port Vila
Republic of Vanuatu
Tel:  00 678 22354 or 26570; Fax:  00 678 25492

Health

Medical facilities in Vanuatu are basic but adequate for routine treatment.  More serious cases will require evacuation to Australia or New Zealand.
 
If you intend taking part in water sports and scuba diving in Vanuatu you should be aware that rescue services are not as comprehensive as they might be in the UK.  There is only one decompression chamber in Vanuatu, located in Port Vila.
 
Malaria is common in Vanuatu and Dengue fever, for which there is no vaccination or immunisation, also occurs.
 
You should seek medical advice before travelling and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up-to-date.  For further information on Health whilst travelling overseas please visit the Department of Health's website at:  www.dh.gov.uk.
 
NATURAL DISASTERS

Vanuatu sits along a volatile seismic strip called the ‘Ring of Fire’ in the Pacific.  Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis are possible.  The ‘Ring of Fire’ is a horse-shoe-shaped zone of frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that surrounds the basin of the Pacific Ocean.  It is 40,000kms long and is associated with a nearly continuous series of oceanic trenches, island arcs and volcanic mountain ranges and/or plate movements.

It is understood that 90% of the world’s earthquakes and 81% of the world’s largest earthquakes occur along the ‘Ring of Fire’, which is a direct consequence of plate tectonics and the movement of collisions of crustal plates.
 
Earthquakes

Vanuatu is prone to significant year round seismic and volcanic activity, with over 2,000 seismic events reported each year.  Most events are small scale, although larger tremors and quakes of over 5 on the Richter Scale do occur on a regular basis.  The most recent earthquake, measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale was recorded 105kms south-west of the island of Tanna  on 19 April 2008. There have been no reports of casualties or damage. These events can be disorientating and disturbing.  For more information on earthquakes and their effects, please visit:  www.earthquake.usgs.gov.
 
Volcanoes
 
We advise caution when considering visiting active volcanoes on any of the islands in the Vanuatu archipelago.  You must be aware that there is no such thing as “zero hazard” when viewing an active volcano close up.  You should check with the Vanuatu Tourist Office for latest reports on volcanic activity before travelling.
 
Volcanic activity is closely monitored by the Vanuatu Government’s Mines and Geology Department, responsible for the issue of warnings in the event of dangerous activity.  The Department issues notices to the Vanuatu Tourism Office and provincial councils using an activity alert scale with five levels from 0 – 4.  Levels 3 and 4 indicate more dangerous activity.
 
Over the past year volcanic activity at major tourist attractions of Mount Marum (Ambrym) and Mount Yasur (Tanna) has resulted in warnings being issued as eruptions led to explosions and ash deposits.
 
Tropical Cyclones
 
The tropical cyclone season in Vanuatu normally runs from November to April. Flooding and landslides can occur. On 1 and 2 February Tropical Cyclone Gene, with windspeeds of approximately 100mph, affected the southernmost islands of Vanuatu.  The worst affected was Futuna islandwhere many homes and crops were destroyed. The island currently faces shortages. Tanna, Erromango, Aniwa, Anatom and Aneityum were also affected, but suffered less damage and have returned to normal.
 
There were no reports of any casualties.
 
You should monitor local and international weather updates from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).  You can also access http://www.nhc.noaa.gov for updates.  Please also see Hurricanes for more detailed information about what to do if you are caught up in a tropical cyclone.

General

Insurance
 
We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake, particularly if you plan to engage in adventure sports.   You should ensure that your policy includes cover for medical evacuation by air ambulance. 


Representation

The British High Commission in Port Vila closed to the public in 2005.  There is no British consular representation in Vanuatu.  Routine consular services for British nationals are provided by the New Zealand High Commission in Port Vila.  The British High Commission in Fiji is responsible for non-routine consular matters.  Please see Travel Advice: Fiji for contact details.
 
We advise all British nationals residing in, or visiting, countries overseas to register so that they can be contacted easily in an emergency. If you do not have access to the Internet please contact the New Zealand High Commission in Port Vila on arrival.
 
If you require a new passport, application forms can be downloaded from the Internet or obtained from the New Zealand High Commission in Port Vila.  You should send your completed passport application by courier to the British High Commission in Wellington, New Zealand (please see contact details below).  You should ensure that payment is made by either a bankers draft (made payable in NZ$ to the British High Commission) or by credit card by completing a payment slip.  You will also need to enclose a return international courier pack.  Where possible, you are advised to apply at least one month before your passport is due to expire.  Follow the British High Commission Wellington weblink below for more information.
British High Commission, 44 Hill Street, Wellington 1, New Zealand.  Mailing Address: PO Box 1812, Wellington, New Zealand.  Telephone: (64) (4) 924 2810 (Passports).  Facsimile: (64) (4) 473 4982. E-mail: passportmail.wellington@fco.gov.uk.  Website: http://www.britain.org.nz
 
In the event of a lost or stolen passport the Vanuatu authorities will allow your departure on the strength of a “to whom it may concern” letter.  You will also need to present a report confirming that you have informed the local police of the loss of your passport.  A “to whom it may concern” letter can only be issued once enquiries have been completed to verify the passport holder’s identity, a process that may take several days.  Such a letter would only allow you to travel as far as New Zealand/Australia, where you will then need to apply for a replacement passport.
 
Once in New Zealand/Australia, the British High Commission will be able to issue a replacement passport within two to three weeks.  If you need to travel more urgently, a limited validity passport can be issued to enable you to continue your journey.  There will be an additional fee for any passport service performed outside normal consular office opening hours.

We strongly advise you to keep a photocopy of the relevant pages of your passport, to avoid any complications.
 
Mobile phone services
 
There is a GSM mobile phone service in Vanuatu and you are advised to contact your service provider to establish whether your phone will work in Vanuatu.  Alternatively, SIM cards may be purchased from the local telephone company (TVL).
 
Money
 
There are three "High Street" banks in Vanuatu – The National Bank of Vanuatu, ANZ and Westpac.  Both ANZ and Westpac offer ATM facilities covering most UK bankcards.  The use of credit cards is commonplace in Port Vila and Luganville but less so in the rest of Vanuatu, particularly away from tourist resorts. 

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