Travel Consideration: Papua New Guinea

Contributed By RealAdventures

Papua New Guinea is a parliamentary democracy and a member of the British Commonwealth. The country consists of the eastern half of New Guinea Island, the Bismarck Archipelago, the D'Entrecasteaux Islands, the Louisiade Archipelago, and the islands of Buka and Bougainville. Good tourist facilities exist in the capital of Port Moresby and in major towns such as Lae and Madang. The quality of tourist facilities in other areas varies and may be below U.S. standards, particularly in remote areas. Crime is a serious concern in Papua New Guinea (see paragraph on crime below). The Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority, which has a wide range of information of interest to travelers, can be contacted via the Internet at

A valid passport, onward/return ticket, and proof of sufficient funds for the intended visit are required. Tourist visas are required for stays up to 60 days. (Visas are issued upon arrival at Jacksons International Airport in Port Moresby). Business visas require passport validity of at least one year from the date the visa is issued, two application forms, two photos, a company letter, bio-data, recent annual report of parent company and a fee for multiple-entries. An AIDS test is required for work and residency permits (U.S. test accepted).

American citizens who remain in Papua New Guinea beyond the period authorized by immigration authorities may face fines and penalties. Papua New Guinea collects a departure tax. The departure tax is normally incorporated into airline fares at the time of ticket issuance.

For more information about entry and exit requirements, travelers may contact the Embassy of Papua New Guinea, 1615 New Hampshire Ave., NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20009, tel. 202-745-3680, or visit the Embassy’s web site at

Before traveling to Bougainville, the largest island in the North Solomons province, it is recommended that visitors obtain updated security information from the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby. Despite a peace agreement between the government and dissidents, law enforcement is weak on Bougainville, there are no tourist facilities on the island and transportation facilities are limited. An Indonesian secessionist group remains active along the largely inaccessible Papua New Guinea/Indonesia border.

The Southern Highlands Province is also an area of instability. Incidents of ethnic violence have occurred near urban centers and tourist sites commonly frequented by visitors. American citizens considering travel to the region should consult with their tour operator and the American Embassy prior to commencing their travel.

The town of Rabaul is located near two active volcanoes that buried half of the town during eruptions in September 1994. Volcanic activity continues, and travelers should be aware of the potential for further eruptions. Persons with respiratory problems may find that airborne ash exacerbates their conditions.

Crime and personal security are serious concerns in Papua New Guinea. Car hijackings, armed robberies, and stoning of vehicles are a problem in Port Moresby, the capital. Pickpockets and bag-snatchers frequent crowded public areas. Hiking in rural areas and visiting isolated public areas such as parks, golf courses, beaches, or cemeteries can be dangerous. Persons traveling alone are at greater risk for robbery or gang-rape than those who are part of an organized tour or under escort. Visitors to Papua New Guinea should avoid using taxis or buses, known as public motor vehicles, and should rely instead on their sponsor or hotel to arrange for taxi service or a rental car.

Travel outside of Port Moresby and other major towns at night can be hazardous, as criminals set up roadblocks. Visitors should consult with the U.S. Embassy or with local law enforcement officials concerning security conditions before driving between towns. Travel to isolated places in Papua New Guinea is possible by small passenger-aircraft; there are many small airstrips throughout the country. Security measures at these airports are rare. Organized tours booked through travel agencies remain the safest means to visit attractions in Papua New Guinea. The Embassy recommends that prospective visitors consult A Primer on Personal Security for Visitors to Papua New Guinea, available from the Embassy or on the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at

Medical facilities in Papua New Guinea vary from hospitals in Port Moresby and the larger towns to aid posts (including some missionary stations) in remote areas. Medical facilities vary in quality, but those in the larger towns are usually adequate for routine problems and some emergencies. Equipment failures and sudden shortages of common medications can mean, however, that even routine treatments and procedures (such as X-rays) may become unavailable.

A hyperbaric recompression chamber for diving emergencies is available in Port Moresby. Pharmacies in Papua New Guinea are small and are found only in urban centers and at missionary clinics. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for medical services.

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Papua New Guinea is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:

Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor to Good
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Not Available

Traffic in Papua New Guinea moves on the left. Travel on highways outside of major towns can be hazardous. There is no country-wide road network, roads are generally in poor repair, and flat tires occur routinely as a result of debris on the roadways. Landslides can be a problem on some stretches of the Highlands Highway between Lae and Mount Hagen during the rainy season. Criminal roadblocks have occurred during the day on the Highlands Highway and more widely after dark. Travelers should consult with local authorities or the U.S. Embassy before traveling on the Highlands Highway.

Reactions by crowds after road accidents in Papua New Guinea can be emotional and violent. Crowds form quickly after an accident and may attack those that they hold responsible, stoning and/or burning their vehicles. Friends and relatives of an injured party may demand immediate compensation from the party they hold responsible for injuries, regardless of legal responsibility. Persons involved in accidents usually find it prudent to proceed directly to the nearest police station rather than stopping at the scene of an accident.

To obtain information on the operation and rental of motor vehicles in Papua New Guinea consult a travel agency through the Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority at

Although reliable statistics are difficult or impossible to obtain, violent crime is a serious threat in many areas of Papua New Guinea (PNG). The visitor to PNG can minimize the potential to become a victim of crime by taking appropriate precautions, for example, by taking part in organized tours run by reliable and experienced operators. This primer provides basic guidance for those who will be visiting PNG for a short period. Persons who plan to stay in PNG for more than a week or two should get in touch with the Embassy or longtime residents for additional guidance.


Papua New Guinea, although politically one nation, is divided into over 800 separate societies with unique languages. English is the official language, but Pidgin English (Tok Pisin) is an increasingly important alternative. These unifying elements, however, are counter-balanced by growing social strains as residents of formerly isolated communities come into contact with each other. The absence or weakening of traditional village social controls is a major contributor to both urban and rural crime.


PNG's incomplete and halting transition from a subsistence agriculture economy to one offering a broader range of jobs is the second significant contributor to crime. High wages, relative to neighboring Asian nations; the difficulty in obtaining skilled labor; inadequate infrastructure; and high utility and security costs have combined to limit industrial development, and hence non-agricultural employment. PNG is addressing these difficulties with the help of substantial foreign economic assistance.


Finally, Papua New Guinea, unlike the United States, does not have a tradition of strong local police authorities. PNG instead has 4800-strong national police charged with enforcing the law in a country of four million people. The Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary faces daunting obstacles in trying to gain the cooperation of PNG communities, which frequently prefer to deal with criminals by themselves. The Constabulary also faces resource constraints and difficulties in imposing internal discipline. Consequently, police are thin on the ground and response time to a request for help, for example, may be measured in hours, not minutes.


The lack of jobs and difficulty of policing urban areas encouraged the development of "rascal gangs" in the 1980's in Port Moresby and other urban centers. These gangs continue to pose a serious threat to Port Moresby residents, principally those who do not take adequate precautions. Random or opportunistic crime is also common, however. The situation is not unreservedly bleak. Public disorder in Port Moresby, for example, rarely occurs. It is ordinarily safe to travel on main routes in Port Moresby during the day.


The Embassy has compiled the following guidelines for visitors to PNG. This comprehensive guide includes many measures that visitors to virtually any country would find useful. Furthermore, not all the potential mishaps mentioned occur commonly. Most visitors stay close to their sponsors or colleagues, who understand how to avoid getting into trouble. This guide will be particularly useful to those who find themselves on their own, whether by design or accident. We believe much apprehension about visiting PNG is heightened by its exotic reputation. Most visitors to PNG can expect to have a safe and productive stay, providing they use common sense and follow the precautions suggested below.


There are several universal ways to stay out of trouble: do not increase your vulnerability by drinking heavily or staying out after midnight; do not patronize disreputable bars; do not proposition women; do not visit squatter settlements or other economically distressed areas; do not display money or valuables; and do not verbally abuse, cheat or tempt PNG citizens. Wear modest clothes, jewelry and watches so as not to draw attention to yourself. Limit your conversations with members of the opposite sex to chose persons you know or have business with.


Persons arriving at the Port Moresby Jackson's International Airport should arrange, if possible, to be met, particularly if their flight arrives at night. Proceed directly to the parking lot, load your luggage and depart without lingering. If no one meets you, it is possible to take a courtesy bus to the Gateway, Islander Travelodge or Port Moresby Travelodge Hotels and contact your sponsor from there. The terminal itself is not a danger zone, but thefts and assaults have occurred in the terminal parking lot. If picking up a rental vehicle, obtain a street map and review it in the office before leaving. Do not travel by car outside Port Moresby at night, even on major highways. If you encounter a roadblock which does not appear to be manned by uniformed police, or notice a disturbance on the road ahead, turn around immediately, if possible, and use an alternative route. Police vehicles are sky-blue with red insignia.


Do not leave cash or high-value belongings in hotel rooms. Do not leave room keys on hotel counters when going out; drop them in the slot, if provided, or hand them to a clerk. Lock sliding glass doors or windows when going out. Ask if a metal pipe or bar is available to place in the track to block efforts to pry open the window or door. Persons with limited experience in developing nations who plan to travel extensively within PNG should consider doing so with a knowledgeable PNG citizen or expatriate companion whenever possible.


Up-scale restaurants and stores usually have their own security guards. It is still advisable, however, to remain watchful when entering or leaving. Ask the staff to assign someone to escort you to your car if you feel uncomfortable (particularly at night). Hold onto your pocketbook when in a supermarket. Avoid carrying a purse or briefcase in public. Given continued reports of assaults and thefts against persons who visit outdoor markets, the Embassy advises against shopping in those facilities. Do not leave anything of even minor value in sight within a parked car.


Most expatriates avoid using public motor vehicles (PMVs) or taxis to get around, relying instead on their sponsor or a rental vehicle for transport. Visitors should inquire of colleagues or hotel employees before undertaking trips to unfamiliar neighborhoods.

Carjackings, rock-throwing and attempts to stop cars occur occasionally. Keep an eye on persons in the vicinity of your vehicle at all times, particularly when stopped at intersections or crosswalks. When driving, try to stay near the center lanes when possible. Always try to leave sufficient maneuver room between your car and the cars to your sides and in front of you, especially when stopping in traffic. If you are stuck in traffic and your car is singled out for attack, you will need that maneuver room to get away. Keep your car in top mechanical condition at all times. If you know you are having mechanical problems that could result in a breakdown, don' t drive your vehicle. Find a replacement or make alternative transportation arrangements and have your car repaired right away.

Check your rear-view mirror regularly to ensure you are not being followed. If you are, do not return to your residence. Proceed instead to an area where the persons following you are unlikely to accost you, such as the front of a hotel or a police station; get out; and seek assistance. Keep your windows rolled up and doors locked at all times. Never wait in your vehicle on a street or in a parking lot.

When arriving at a destination, check to be sure you have not been followed before leaving the vehicle. To minimize the chance of being trapped by a car pulling up behind you, do not pull into a driveway (i.e., place your car perpendicular to the street) until the gate has been opened. Be prepared to drive away if you notice persons approaching your vehicle. Plan before you start your trip where you will go to seek assistance if a car attempts to block you or if you are prevented from reaching your destination.


A brand-new car is prized by criminals planning to commit a crime (white cars with tinted windows are particularly valued). Given that hijack attempts are most successful when one's attention is diverted you must be particularly watchful when entering or leaving your vehicle. Most hotels and private residences in Port Moresby have secure parking lots, i.e., fenced areas entered through gates opened by remote control or security guards. Try to avoid parking outside secure areas at night. When leaving a private residence or building at night, say your farewells and take out your car key while still inside. Do not hold extended conversations in an area visible from the street. Walk directly to your vehicle, enter and leave immediately.


The level of crime outside Port Moresby varies greatly. Persons who have been invited to visit villages receive a warm welcome. The town of Rabaul, as well as Manus Island, have lower crime rates than Port Moresby. Many visitors enjoy their stay in Majang, a major diving destination on PNG's north coast. Boat trips or other visits to communities along the nearby Sepik River, one of PNG's major cultural and environmental attractions, also can be arranged with limited risk of crime, although it is always safest to patronize long-established tour operators. Tour group visits are common to the PNG highlands. Tour operators work out arrangements with local residents, who assume responsibility for protecting their guests. Visitors to these communities nonetheless should safeguard their valuables with the same care they would exercise in other tourist resorts.


Individual travelers to the PNG highlands need to exercise substantially greater caution than those taking part in organized tours. The Highlands provinces -- Enga, Chimbu, and Eastern, Southern and Western Highlands -- can be volatile. Political disputes, inter-clan fights and sudden altercations (for example, at sporting events) occur frequently. Criminals have been known to set up roadblocks on segments of the Highlands highway, which runs from Lae to Mt. Hagen, Mendi and Tari. Visitors should inquire locally concerning security before driving between towns. An extensive secondary airline network provides frequent service within the Highlands.


The risk of sexual assault in PNG depends directly on the extent to which a visitor follows the precautions suggested above. Sexual assaults are primarily crimes of opportunity. Female visitors therefore should avoid isolated areas, such as beaches, remote bush, and buildings after work hours. Due to the risk of roadblocks, avoid traveling outside of Port Moresby, even on paved highways, at night. Never travel in PMVs, whether in urban or rural areas. Travel outside urban areas with knowledgeable colleagues or with local leaders or officials. Visitors to PNG are at maximum vulnerability when entering or leaving cars; therefore, women should pay to their surroundings when deciding whether to park in a non-secured area. It is usually safe to visit businesses in daytime. If your sponsoring organization has a radio network, request a portable radio so as to be able to summon help in case of an accident or breakdown. Female visitors are advised to avoid revealing swimsuits, sundress, or similar apparel.


Visitors should do their best to avoid getting into an accident in PNG. Slow down when passing persons on a road. Driving carefully is important because many PNG citizens respond emotionally and violently to a serious incident or an injury involving relatives or fellow villagers. Such reactions can endanger the life of the person perceived to have inflicted the loss, whether or not that person would be found legally responsible by a court. Drive defensively at all times, but particularly in the afternoons and evenings of "pay Fridays," when the likelihood of encountering inebriated drivers or pedestrians is greatest. Killing a dog or pig is almost certain to trigger a demand for monetary compensation, so exercise caution when driving through rural areas. Finally, it is unwise to provoke PNG drivers by cutting them off or gesturing rudely.


Short-term visitors who take the precautions outlined above are likely to find their stay in Papua New Guinea interesting, enjoyable and rewarding. The vast majority of PNG citizens are friendly, live peacefully and are eager to learn about life in other countries. Attention to personal security will enhance your confidence in undertaking personal and professional contacts, leading in turn, to a deeper understanding of Papua New Guinea and its people.

U.S. citizens are encouraged to register at the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby, where they can obtain updated information on travel and security. The U.S. Embassy’s street address is Douglas Street, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. This address should be used for courier service deliveries. The Embassy is located adjacent to the Bank of Papua New Guinea. The mailing address is P.O. Box 1492, Port Moresby, N.C.D. 121, Papua New Guinea. The U.S. Embassy's telephone number is (675) 321-1455; fax (675) 321-1593. Americans may submit consular inquiries via e-mail to:

As there is no direct commercial air service at present, or economic authority to operate such service between the U.S. and Papua New Guinea, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Papua New Guinea’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Papua New Guinea’s air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA Internet home page at The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at 618-229-4801.

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