The Solomon Islands consist of 992 islands spread across the South Pacific. Many of these tropical islands are accessible only by boat. The climate in the Solomon Islands is very hot and humid. The terrain is hilly and rugged.
Over 100 different language groups live on these beautiful, remote islands—most without a single verse of Scripture in their mother tongue.
DO NOT bring traveler’s checks as the exchange rate is very poor! It is best to use your ATM debit card.
If you decide to get some Solomon dollars at the airport you can go through either an ATM with a debit card or cash exchange. You will be charged a service fee to exchange cash. You can get more money in town at a later time, so you might start with $50-$100. There are five, ten, twenty, fifty, and one hundred bills and two dollar, one dollar, fifty, twenty, and ten cent coins. We recommend you don’t worry about bringing cash into the country. You can get all you need once you get to the Solomon Islands.
You will want to bring an international debit card and a charge card (be sure to notify your bank that you will be using your card from the Solomon Islands). A few of the larger places take credit cards, but most of your purchases will need to be in cash. There are ATMs close to where the shopping is.
A valid US passport is also required—not only for the Solomon Islands, but for reentry into the US, and also for possible transit through other countries. Make sure that your passport expiration date is at least six months after you return from your trip!
You will need to have a round trip ticket or a work & residence permit when you board the plane in LAX. Short-term volunteers will get a free tourist visa upon arrival at the airport for the amount of days in country. This visa can be for a maximum of a total 90 days, cumulative within a one year period. To get this visa upon arrival, just come with a valid passport that has room on the visa page for a stamp.
If you will be staying over three months, you will need to apply for a work and residence permit.
A Letter of Invitation is needed only for the work and residence permits, not for the tourist visa.
For the most up-to-date information, check the CDC website.
- You can purchase many medications in the local pharmacy. However, if you are on any regular medications, please bring an adequate supply. Bring an extra pair of glasses, contact lenses, hearing aids and batteries, and other such commodities as replacements will be difficult to obtain in a timely manner.
- There is a prevalence of Malaria. Please seek the advice of the CDC in regards to immunizations and malaria prophylaxes. Bring prescription medicine in the original bottle.
- There may be no dental care available. Address any potential dental needs before arrival.
- In the city, you will want to drink bottled water. Your house may have a solar heater to give you hot water to use in the kitchen or shower. You may have to heat your water in a kettle for dishes.
- Medical facilities are basic, and any serious medical problem generally means evacuation. Therefore, you must purchase a travel health insurance plan with med-evac insurance to cover your time of travel. Such plans are readily available.
Evacuation insurance is required. The recommended companies are listed on the Insurance page of the WA training website.
Tickets, Airports, and Flights
You might want to pack a change of clothes in your carry-on bag in case your suitcase takes a detour on the way. Try to check your luggage all the way through to Honiara when you check-in for your flight in LAX.
Don't be surprised to exit the plane by going down stairs and outside on the tarmac at the Solomon Island airport. Be prepared for heat, humidity, no air conditioning, and a slower pace (You may be greeted by a men's bambooband).
You may want to reconfirm your departing flight 72 hours prior to departure to make sure that you are listed on the airline records.
Any airline you want to take is okay. Just be aware that if you book with Pacific Blue (Virgin Airlines) they do not have any free refreshments. That is one reason their prices are generally the lowest.
Travel Information Form
Before your final approval to travel, you will need to fill out the Travel Information Form located on the WA Training website.
Someone will be waiting at the Honiara airport after you exit from customs. Send your travel information/flight plans to: email@example.com. The deputy will make sure that someone is there to pick you up when your flight comes in.
On the off chance that no one is there to pick you up, you can catch one of the many taxis that are just outside the airport doors. Tell them to take you to SITAG on Tanuli Ridge, on top of Saint Nicholas school. They can be paid from our cashbox upon arrival.
When arriving on the Solomon Islands, you will find most nationals to be friendly, hospitable, and eager to talk with overseas visitors. A raise of the eyebrows opens the doors to a smile, or a greeting with those you will meet. You will find this to be a relational society that values time with people more than time to meet deadlines. Be prepared to slow down...wait...and smile!
DO NOT put that you are coming to do work as that could cause problems with your permits, as well as for our ability to get work and residence permits in the future.
The only possible airport fee you could face would be if a missionary asks you to bring in purchases for them, you may have to pay Duty on arrival. However, any item that you are bringing in for someone else can be left at the airport and be picked up later.
What to Bring
Tips for Packing and Preparation
- Clothes are dried on a line in the sun. Clothes will fade and stretch. Clothes that are easy to wash and quick to dry are best.
- It is hard to buy quality underwear and socks, so bring enough for the entire field term.
- You may want to bring a small supply of things that you normally use because what you will find in the stores will be different than you are used to and more expensive.
- You may want to bring cookbooks, ziplock bags, favorite toiletries, and sunscreen.
- Consider bringing pictures and little things to make your house a ‘home'. You may want to bring some family pictures or pictures of the area where you live. Remember that certain clothing and men and women showing affection to each other are not appropriate, even in pictures.
- A small umbrella is helpful because of the frequent rain showers (along with lots of intense sun). You can buy them in town if you would rather not bring one.
- A flashlight is helpful in walking around the center at night or finding the generator switch in the house if the power goes out at night.
- You may want to bring a swimsuit and snorkel gear if you have it. There are some great fish and coral to be seen.
Clothes and accessories
Fewer clothes are better. Lightweight, cotton, fast-drying clothes are best.
A water bottle, hat, and sunscreen are really important as the sun is very intense.
Wireless internet connection is available in the Solomon Islands, and is generally ok, but drops frequently. You can bring a laptop or have limited access to a computer to send and receive emails.
Please bring your own hand tools/work belt. The center has some power tools and other tools.
You may want to have a change of clothes, toothbrush, etc. in your carry-on, in case your suitcases take a detour. Put some of each kind of clothing in each suitcase in case only one makes it. If you have snorkel equipment, you may want to bring it.
It would be nice to bring peanut M&Ms for the SITAG deputy director.
Items Available for Purchase
- Toiletries such as toothpaste, shampoo, hair conditioner, soap, and shaving cream
- Cleaning supplies, office supplies, electronics, and appliances
- Batteries, flashlights, and umbrellas
Life in Country
The Solomon Islands overview presented abbreviated information about life in the Solomon Islands. This section includes more detailed information about what WA volunteers should expect. Of course, your experience may vary according to the specific project and location to which you are assigned.
Remember to smile and be flexible. Be prepared to take initiative to find and do jobs. There is much to do, but everyone is busy, so the best volunteer is a self-motivated, willing servant.
Cool, lightweight, breathable clothing is very helpful in this tropical climate. You may need a light jacket or long-sleeved shirt on rare occasions. There are second-hand clothing stores in town.
Sport sandals (Teva, Columbia or Chaco) are really good because they can get wet, but are sturdy. Flip-flops or slip on sandals are nice to have too because shoes come off at the door. It is nice to keep one pair as better shoes for town/outings, but don't bring anything that is really nice or that you want to use again as humidity, sand, and water tends to mold or deteriorate things.
You may want one long-sleeved shirt or light wind/rain jacket. This is the most you would need as the temperature does not generally drop below 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
OFFICE ATTIRE – nice shorts, t-shirt or button-up shirts, sandals are optional.
CONSTRUCTION – longer shorts/pants, cut-off t-shirt, shoes.
RECREATION – swim trunks/suit, water shoes/sandals, shorts (baggy and long for girls, see below), hat or something to keep the sun off.
Lightweight, loose-fitting pants, jeans, or shorts (with an inseam of no less than four inches) are appropriate. Please do not bring “boxer” shorts to wear as external clothing.
Button-up shirts or t-shirts are appropriate. For working, we recommend a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt to protect you from the sun. Be sure to bring work gloves and closed-toed shoes for working on construction.
Pants/shorts and a shirt with a collar are appropriate for church.
Sandals are appropriate for wear anytime.
Solomon Islands women are generally quiet, hardworking, and humble. Most of the ladies in this country wear a wrap skirt called “lava lava.” These are readily available in Honiara, but full skirts and blouses or modest t-shirts are fine. Clothing that reveals a woman’s shape or draws attention to a woman’s thighs (shorts, tight-fitting pants, capri’s, a short skirt, or a skirt with a large slit) are considered immodest and even sexually explicit.
As you prepare to come to serve, you need to settle in your heart the issue of dress. You may be most comfortable in pants or shorts, but wearing them in Solomon Islands can offend the men and women that you have come to serve. When you give up your desire to wear pants as an act of submission both to God and the Solomon Islanders, it becomes a joy to wear a dress. It's not really a matter of dress, it's a heart thing.
Knee-length or longer skirts and dresses should be worn. Please do not bring skirts or dresses that have slits which extend above the knee when either sitting or standing. Please wear a slip with lighter skirts and dresses.
Balance comfort with modesty, especially with regard to necklines and arm holes. Spaghetti straps, midriff tops, tube tops, and short skirts are not appropriate.
Culturally, it is very inappropriate for a woman to show definition of her upper legs/thighs, so the baggier the better.
You may wear shorts while playing volleyball or other sports. They must be “knee-length” and loose-fitting. A long baggy t-shirt will need to be worn over your shorts.
Knee-length shorts or skirts should be worn over a one-piece swimsuit.
The sun is very intense here. Hats, lightweight, long-sleeved shirts, sunglasses, and sunblock are essential to protect you from the sun.
There are laundry machines close to/inside most houses. The use of the machine is included in your rent. You’ll need to buy your own laundry soap.
Although the houses look fairly Western, there are differences. Most houses are very basic. Please do not expect a house like you live in at ‘home.’ You will be assigned to live in flats (small apartment.) All basic linens, cooking utensils, dishes, etc. that you will need to keep house are provided, but the supplies are very basic. If you have something that you don’t want to live without…bring it.
The houses are wired for 240v so check your electronic gadgets before you bring them. There is no AC, but each house is equipped with fans.
The SITAG deputy director will assign the volunteers to an accommodation unit (a SITAG flat or house.) The exact unit where the volunteer will stay may not be known in advance as the accommodation situation often changes quickly.
There are local buses that can be caught up the road from the center. There is a reliable local taxi service available. The local transportation is reasonable, but not always timely.
Living in a different country is an exciting and challenging experience. Not only will you move to a different geographic location, you will move from the ‘known’ of your home culture to the ‘unknown' of a wide variety of new customs and cultural experiences. Even the other missionaries may be from other countries with different cultural expectations. Remember to have a learner’s attitude, a servant heart, and a large quantity of flexibility.
There are many blessings of serving. Here are just a few:
- Being a part of a diverse group of people with one common goal – doing what God has led them to do to open His Word to the people of Solomon Islands in their own language.
- Being a part of a multi-cultural community and experiencing a diversity of world views, personalities, work styles, learning from and with each other.
- Working side by side with Solomon Islands Christians – not just enabling them with our skills, but learning from them.
- Recognizing the sovereignty of God: Away from all the high-tech support of the Western world, one realizes quite soon that really we need to depend on God and Him alone.
It will be a fairly big adjustment for you to move from your home country where almost anything you want or need is available just down the street at the shopping mall or supermarket. It is normal to experience culture shock from time to time as you serve.
- You are in a third-world country. Travel may be different, difficult, and limited.
- Your choices in shopping, cooking, and eating will be more basic and limited. You will need to be prepared to cook more of your food from scratch from the ingredients that happen to be in the store at that time.
- There are no 24 hour supermarkets, Wal-Marts, or Lowes available. There are lots of the same “cheap” items available in many stores, but it is difficult to find quality items available for purchase.
- Service in the stores is slower, less reliable, and different.
Being a part of Bible Translation in Solomon Islands is a wonderful opportunity to serve the Lord and the people of Solomon Islands. But please consider the everyday realities that you will need to prepare yourself for as you live and serve in a third-world country.
Town is not like a town that you are used to. On the left above is a trade store (Wal-Mart?). To the right above is a place to buy fruit, vegetables, and fresh fish. Purely organic!
Many national people are subsistence farmers and live a day-to day-existence. Even so, the Solomon Islands is a fairly safe country. However, like anywhere, there are those who look for the opportunity to steal. Minimize the opportunities for possible thievery by not wearing expensive jewelry, keeping your wallet in your front pocket or a hip pack, dressing conservatively, and keeping your valuables out of view. Lock your vehicle when unattended.
It is safe to walk alone in the day, even for ladies. But again, be alert to your surroundings. At night, it is best to walk as a group, stay on the roads, and avoid dark, bushy areas. A flashlight can be helpful. Be alert.
English is the national language and the language taught in school, but most people will not easily understand your accent and” version” of English, although, you can usually make yourself understood with slow, simple words, body language, pointing, and a smile. Most people speak Pijin, and often newcomers can understand some of what they hear. The nationals really appreciate it if you try to talk to them in the trade language. There is language help available if you’d like to practice before you come.
Wireless Internet is available, but it is slow and drops frequently. Because of limited usage levels, please do not download movies, games, or other large files. The internet and local phone systems are unreliable and may not work continually.
The food is generally safe to eat. Some people prefer to rinse fresh produce in a bleach water solution, or peel or cook fresh produce, but generally the produce is safe to eat. The food in most restaurants is generally safe to eat. It is safe to buy fresh fish or chickens at the market as long as they are cold and on ice.
Expect very limited choices and supplies that vary from day-to-day and store-to-store. You can buy some “Australian/western” food, but it is a little expensive. You can buy local food for a lot less. There is a nice market in town where you can buy fish, chicken, veggies and fruit. Most families wash their market purchases; some soak them in bleach.
White potatoes (expensive if available at store), sweet potatoes (several varieties), taro, yams, greens, carrots (expensive if available at store), green beans (different varieties than what you are used to eating), cabbage (sometimes available), green onions, yellow onions (available at store), ginger, avocados, bananas, pineapple, papaya, passion fruit, oranges, lemons/limes, mangoes, fresh meat, chicken, and fish are available.
Flour (white or whole wheat), sugar (raw, refined, powdered, brown), rice, pasta, salt, seasonings, oil (coconut oil is cold pressed and readily available), oatmeal, some packaged breakfast cereals, juices, milk (UHT boxed, fresh, powdered), soft drink concentrate, cookies, crackers, bread, canned vegetables and fruits, peanut butter, jam, spaghetti sauce, dried fruits and nuts, cheese, butter, margarine are available. Regular coffee and tea to brew are available, but decaffeinated varieties may not be. Instant coffee and teabags are available. Locally grown food is relatively inexpensive, but anything imported is high priced.)
There are limited radio stations and no television, so you may want to bring books, crafts, music, `computer, or games to occupy your time in the evenings or weekends. Visiting with others over meals is one form of entertainment. There are a few daily local tours, shops and a museum with Solomon Island made items restaurants and snorkeling/diving available.
You can buy some snacks, pop, and ice cream (although not like you are used to).
As a volunteer, your time can be very flexible. The missionaries often accommodate to help your experience the wonders of the Solomon Islands. There are some tours to nearby islands to experience other parts of the SI.
There are local schools around the SIL center. The schools have limited resources and many students may be in one classroom with little or no supplies to work with. Often the students wear a simple uniform. There is an international school that provides good education for students through 7th grade.
All the missionaries in-country home school.
There are five main denominations in the country and a handful of smaller ones. The main ones are: Catholic, Anglican, United (Wesley), SDA, and SSEC. All services are at least two hours with some going a lot longer.
Specific Tips for the Solomon Islands: It is hot, so dress accordingly and bring a good water bottle. We’ve had families that had previously served in Africa and they were shocked by the heat.
Currency: The currency is Solomon British Dollars. Currently the exchange rate is just under 8:1 when comparing to the USD. (For currency information also see WA training website – training.wycliffeassociates.org.)
Voltage: We use 240 voltage here.
Cultural Dos & Don’ts: It is ok for members of the same sex to hold hands in public, but it isn’t for males and females. For couples: try to abstain from PDA while you are here. Among the ex-pats it is fine, but not among the nationals. Women need to wear a skirt or a dress when outside their house.
General Overview of the Solomon Islands
The information in this section is intended to provide general information about the Solomon Islands. More specific information about WA locations is found in the preceding sections. Also, the WA Training website includes a list of helpful websites with current information on many topics.
Location and Geography
The Solomon Islands are an archipelago, consisting of 992 islands across 280,000 square miles. Located in the South Pacific about 1200 miles NW of Australia, most of the terrain is rugged mountains and coral atolls. The most populous of these islands is Guadalcanal, site of one of the fiercest battles of World War II. The climate is tropical monsoon, with temperatures varying little throughout the year. Most of the roads are unpaved, and many islands are accessible only by boat. The terrain is very hilly and rugged.
Daytime temperatures are generally in the upper 80’s to the upper 90’s, and can be quite hot and humid. Evenings may cool off to the 70’s. The temperatures stay about the same year round. See WA Training website for current weather information.
Melanesians are believed to have occupied the Solomons for 30,000 years. Polynesians are thought to have migrated to the islands around 4,000 B.C. The first European to visit the Solomons was the Spanish explorer Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira in 1568. In the 1890s, Great Britain established a protectorate over the Solomon Islands.
The Solomons gained independence from Great Britain in 1978 but have had numerous political ups and downs since then. In 2003, plagued by ethnic violence, misconduct within the government and uncontrolled crime, the Solomons' Prime Minister appealed to Australia for help. With the help of Australia's Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, law and order were restored and ethnic militias disarmed.
The Solomon Islands are divided into regions. Each region elects members of Parliament. The Prime Minister is appointed by Parliament.
Most people live a subsistence life with the average earnings of $1000/year. There is little SI owned business with little export income. Other countries do come to the SI to take lumber, fish, and natural resources, but that is not a source of income for the Solomon Islanders.
Most local communities have a primary school for children up through grade 3. There are schools which are shared between several communities for grades 3-6. There are limited secondary schools, and most are boarding schools that provide education for grades 7-12. The schools primarily teach in English, but there is a push to begin primary education in Pijin and gradually add instruction in English, so that by year 6 all instruction would be in English. Students must pay school fees and often wear a uniform to attend school. Attendance is often sporadic and the outgoing learning levels are often low. There is a high level of illiteracy throughout the Solomon Islands; although, adult literacy programs are beginning to be introduced.
Bible Translation Needs
The Solomon Islands are home to an estimated 600,000 people who speak over 72 languages. Most do not have the Bible in their own language. Languages with published Scriptures include two with full Bibles, ten with New Testaments, seven with completed portions and seventeen translations in progress. National believers are taking the initiative in Bible translation. Perhaps twenty more languages still need to have translation work begun. A well publicized and joyous dedication of the whole Bible in Solomon Islands Pijin took place in 2008.
The People of the Solomon Islands
The Solomon Islands are politically one nation, but have 100 different culture groups across the islands. Many nationals speak a common Pidgin while a few speak English. Many national people are subsistence farmers and live a day-to-day existence earning. The annual per capita income is less than $1,000 USD. The people tend to have a strong attachment to the land and are more loyal to clan and tribal groups than to a single national identity.
Of a population of over half a million, about 85% are Melanesians. The remainder are Polynesian (4%) and Micronesian (1.5%). In all, there are 74 languages listed for the nation, of which four are extinct. Few of these groups are very large; most range in population between 1,000 and 16,000.
While English is the official language, only 1-2% of the population speaks it. Solomon Islands Pijin, a major trade language, is spoken by perhaps half the population.
Christian missionaries have been at work in the Solomons since the middle of the 19th century, resulting in the establishment of a number of different denominational traditions—both Roman Catholic and Protestant. One hindrance to evangelism early on was the practice of “blackbirding” by Europeans—the process (usually by trickery and often by coercion) of deporting segments of the population to Queensland, Australia, or to Fiji to work as virtual slaves on sugar plantations.
The Wantok system controls much of the behavior of the Solomon Islanders. This acknowledges a common bond of people of “one talk” or Wantok. If a wantok has a need, you are obligated to meet that need whether that is food, money, a child if they don’t have one, housing, transportation, help to provide for a wedding or funeral feast, etc. This is good in that there are seldom orphans or people in need. It is difficult because a person can never get “ahead” because a wantok may ask for the money, property, crop, etc. that a person is saving.
You as a short-term volunteer ARE NOT a wantok; although, some people may try to get you involved in giving to their needs. A gullible volunteer can give too much and in the wrong way and upset the natural progression of the culture. We need not feel guilt. Our lifestyles and needs are different from Solomon Islanders. Different is not necessarily wrong. While they may not have the resources westerners have, they are very wise and quite handy in making or getting what they need from the things that God has provided.
There are similarities among Melanesian people, but there are also distinct tribal differences. Solomon Islanders have more tribal patriotism than national patriotism. The tribe…language…family…wantok is the most important thing in a Solomon Islanders life.
Contacts in the Solomon Islands
Your specific contact will vary according to the kind of work you will be doing on the field. If you have questions about who to talk to, please ask your Volunteer Advocate.