Vanuatu consists of more than 80 islands located in the South Pacific. Over 112 distinct language groups live in these isolated, mountainous, volcanic islands. The vast majority still need to have God’s Word translated into their heart language.
WA Information about Vanuatu
An international debit (ATM) card is the best way to get Vatu dollars. Do not bring checks. There is a currency exchange, but a fee is charged. Some places take a charge card, but most do not. You will have access to an ATM in Vanuatu.
Rather than bringing cash into the country, an ATM card is best and an ATM machine is available in a number of places in Port Vila, Vanuatu. It will access your home account and show available amounts in vatu.
A valid US passport is required—not only for entry into Vanuatu, 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!
A free tourist visa will be issued at the airport for stays up to 30 days. It is possible to extend this to up to 120 days, however paperwork needs to be completed before arriving in Vanuatu. There are charges for extending beyond 30 days. You will need a valid passport, an onward/return ticket, and (rarely) proof of sufficient funds. If you plan to transit through or visit Australia, you must have an Australian visa for that country.
Medical facilities in Vanuatu are limited. The nearest advanced medical treatment is in Australia or New Zealand. The doctors and hospitals that are available expect immediate cash payment for their services.
Pharmacies in Vanuatu are found only in the two major urban centers. They are small and may be inadequately stocked. You should bring adequate supplies of any medications you take for your stay in Vanuatu. Please bring prescription drugs in the original prescription bottle.
Evacuation insurance is required. The recommended companies are listed on the Insurance page.
What to Bring
Vanuatu is tropical, so you will need a hat with a brim, sunglasses, and good sunscreen. It is also picturesque, so you will want a camera and a way to store your photos or data. You may want to bring a few packaged snacks like granola bars, but you will need to declare them when you arrive at the airport. Family photos will also be a great conversation starter with the people you meet.
In the rainy season, bring an umbrella or waterproof poncho. Make sure the clothing you bring will dry quickly and easily. Also consider bringing a waterproof camera, or at least sealable plastic bags to protect it and other delicate items.
Life in Country
Casual wear is the norm. Sandals, flip-flops, or sneakers will suffice for footwear most of the time. If you will be hiking into the mountains, hiking shoes with good tread would be helpful.
Men wear shorts or long pants and shirt—t-shirts are fine. A collared shirt is appropriate for church or evenings in town.
Women wear full, below-the-knee skirts with modest tops. Sleeveless shirts are acceptable, but not strap shirts. Long baggy shorts should be worn over swim suits. It is not appropriate for women to wear pants of any length unless shorts are worn under an appropriate skirt. Shorts are needed to be worn over swimsuits – no bikinis.
Office attire is casual, business attire. Construction sites would require appropriate clothes for work being done so it would depend on the work. The Centre Manager wore shorts and sleeveless shirts most of the time. Sandals are ok unless working with welding, etc.
The housing at the Translation Center is fairly western. The houses and flats include all the basic supplies and furnishings that you will need. The water is safe to drink. The center is close to the city and to public transportation. There are washing machines in the apartments and lines to hang the clothes on for drying.
You will have access to email and internet on a limited basis.
Leisure and Recreation
Visitors can swim and snorkel in the warm ocean water and cool waterfalls. Vanuatu is a third-world country, but Port Villa is host to cruises, so there are many shops and restaurants to enjoy in town as well as an open-air market. There are also many small trade stores along unpaved local roads.
Food preparation: Food from the market or grocery store is safe to eat. It is always a good idea to wash everything thoroughly before consuming and it is no different in Vanuatu.
Churches: There are one or two English speaking churches that you can attend, as well as several national Bislama-speaking churches to choose from.
Schools: There are schools available for ex-patriots.
Use of English: English is commonly used as a second language, but so is French. If serving a longer term in Vanuatu be prepared to learn Bislama as it will likely be needed in business transactions.
Internet and/or phone availability: Internet is available – a bit pricey and slow, but adequate. Cell phones (mobile phones) are available and used in most areas of Vanuatu. Buy a SIM when you arrive rather than using roaming.
Specific tips for Vanuatu: The people of Vanuatu are very friendly and relationships are important to them. Slow down and take time to build relationships.
Currency: It comes in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 coins and 200, 500, 1000, and 5000 notes.
Cultural dos and don’ts:
Do take time to be personable and caring. Do have fun but assure that you are being understood as having fun – be careful with sarcastic humor – it may not be understood by the nationals or by the ex-patriots. It is necessary to consider that there is a mix of cultures in Vanuatu. There are people in Vanuatu from all over the world, therefore there are many different cultures to consider including; Vanuatu, Fiji, Australia, China, Japan, Korea, America, Canada, etc.
Please, no public displays of affection. If a man and woman are holding hands, kissing, hugging, etc. in public, the ni-Vanuatu may consider the woman to be a “loose” woman. They do not show affection to the opposite sex in public. You may however see men holding hands with men and women with women…this is a sign of friendship for the ni-Vanuatu (ni in ni-Vanuatu means the same as adding an n at the end of America to say you are an American.)
General Overview of Vanuatu
This section contains general information about Vanuatu.
Location and Geography
Vanuatu is an archipelago that includes more than 80 islands, 65 of which are inhabited. Most of the islands are mountainous and of volcanic origin. Some have narrow plains along their coasts. The two largest islands account for nearly one-half of the total 4,739 square-mile land area. Exotic Vanuatu was the setting for the TV series, Survivor: Vanuatu—Islands of Fire in 2004.
The islands of Vanuatu are part of Melanesia, a large archipelago that includes Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. The country’s population of around 200,000 is scattered over 82 islands totaling about 13,000 sq. km. of land. From top to bottom the islands stretch across 550 miles of Pacific waters.
The climate is sub-tropical with approximately nine months of warm to hot rainy weather and the possibility of cyclones from October to April (summer). During this time, significant rainfall occurs almost every month. From May to September (winter) it is cooler and drier with winds from the southeast.
Until 1980, when it achieved independence, Vanuatu was called New Hebrides, and ruled jointly by Great Britain and France. Vanuatu means “the land stands” or “exists.” People born in Vanuatu are called “Ni-Vanuatu.”
Bible Translation Needs
For centuries, multiple waves of colonizers, each speaking a distinct language, migrated to the islands of Vanuatu. This accounts for the complex linguistic diversity that remains there to this day. The population of approximately 240,000 includes 112 distinct language groups. Many of the islands on which these groups are found are accessible only by air or boat. The task is enormous.
The Bible translation center is located in the capital city of Port Vila. From there, the Word of God is steadily being made available to the people who have yet to hear. Five missionary teams and ten national teams are working to translate the Bible into each of the languages of the Vanuatu islands. Wycliffe Associates volunteers and staff are working diligently in construction, computers, and other areas to make this goal a reality. Your gifts are vital to the support of this ongoing ministry to those who still wait for the Bible in their language.
The People of Vanuatu
The people of Vanuatu are friendly and easygoing. About 80 percent of them are engaged in agricultural activities. A 2006 New Economics Foundation study designated Vanuatu the world's happiest nation. However, the people are not without problems. The islands are susceptible to cyclones, volcanic activity, tsunamis, erosion, and drought.
The language situation in Vanuatu is complex. There are three official languages—French, English and Bislama (a pidgin). Bislama is the most widely-spoken language, but education is mainly in French or English. Bislama is therefore sometimes described as the most common second language in Vanuatu.
Of the approximately 113 languages spoken, 18 translations are currently in progress. The full Bislama (Vanuatu pidgin language) Bible was published in 1998. In December 2005, the first New Testament was dedicated. There could be as many as 40-50 languages still requiring Bible translation work, but that can only be determined after further language assessment is completed.
Almost all Ni-Vanuatu have had some contact with Christianity for well over 100 years through different missionary and church agencies. Early missionary work included attempts at Bible translation. About 38 language groups have some Scripture, but most were done in the late 1800s and are no longer understood.
Traditionally these communities were oriented to the land as gardeners rather than to the sea as fishermen. Their diet primarily consists of root crops such as yams and manioc, plus lush tropical fruits – bananas, pineapples and citrus fruits.
Life is friendly and laid-back on Vanuatu. Slow down and smile—adjust to the slower island pace of the Pacific. Take time to meet and greet people. Handshakes are expected. Don’t be fooled by the romantic setting of beaches and palm trees—public displays of affection between men and women are not culturally acceptable here.