Moving to Papua New Guinea Guide

Papua New Guinea lies just north of Australia in the Pacific Ocean. Classed as a developing country with over 8 million people living within customary communities, this expansive island showcases cultural diversity at its best. In comparison to most other south pacific islands, Papua New Guinea is somewhat isolated and relatively underdeveloped in terms of services and facilities, including transportation and tourism. Despite this, there is still a considerable expatriate population of approximately 25,000.

Both alluring and distinctive, Papua New Guinea’s magic will instantly captivate anyone who lands on its shores. Abundant in breath-taking natural landscapes and offering a wealth of wildlife and scenic potential, this is an ideal destination for both nature lovers and outdoor adventurers – those charmed by raw natural beauty and intrigued by the unique culture and ways of life.

Furthermore, its lush rainforests are home to one of the world’s most stunning bird species – the Papua New Guinea birds of paradise. As a result, the country sees many bird watchers and bird enthusiasts flock to catch a glimpse of this striking species with its magnificent plumage and unique courtship displays.


As you might expect, being located so close to the equator and full of such vast expanses of dense rainforests, Papua New Guinea’s climate is mostly tropical. Nevertheless, the climate does vary, with hot and humid conditions along the coast lines and plains to much cooler temperatures the further up into the highlands and mountain ranges you go.

Average temperatures range between 26°C and 28°C with only very slight seasonal variations overall.  If you travel above 7,000 feet in the mountains, it is common to experience night frosts and daytime temperatures of around 22°C.

Influenced by monsoon circulations, there is no dry season and you can expect year-round rainfall, which does vary significantly depending on which region of the country you are residing in or visiting. In the northwest, the monsoon season lasts from December until March and between May and October in the southwest. However, it is in the highlands where the heaviest rainfall can be seen with an average of around 2,000 and 5,000mm expected each year.

On occasions, usually from November to May, some parts of the country may be affected by tropical cyclones. However, these aren’t a regular occurrence and the risk remains fairly low. Albeit, a risk to certainly consider when planning your travels here.


Papua New Guinea is steeped in history, legend, tradition and culture. It has been estimated that the country is home to more than 7000 different cultural groups and as a result, there is a beautiful eclectic mix of creative expression with varied forms of dance, attire, music, architecture, language, art and weaponry between them.

It has been suggested that early settlers migrated from Africa and Eurasia to the island around the same time as Australia. The inherent ancestral traditions have been preserved throughout the generations and kept alive through elaborate ritualistic ceremonies within each tribe.

Typically, these dispersed tribal communities reside in small villages and hamlets, with more than a third of them found within the rugged mountain ranges. Within these groups, their main source of income is found in agriculture, fishing, hunting and craft making. The women are responsible for keeping the homes and village, whilst the men take care of the hunting, trade and warfare.

With evidence of ancient habitation dating back some 50,000 years, Papua New Guinea has a somewhat gruesome past. Up until the early 1950s, across many of the communities, both headhunting and cannibalism were part of everyday life. After much interest and study from the anthropological community, these past activities are thought to have a primary function that is both ritualistic and ceremonial. Today it has almost entirely ceased, yet understandably, living descendants show great respect and admiration for their ancestral heritage.


With over 850 local languages in existence in Papua New Guinea, equating to about a third of the world’s indigenous tongues. These languages are grouped into Papuan, Austronesian or non-Austronesian languages and the most widely spoken language is Enga, Melpa and Huli.

It might seem an impossible task for expats to be able to converse in such a culture. However, whilst there is this linguistic diversity, many natives also use a shared language, Tok Pisin, to converse across the tribal groups and English is the main language of government and commerce.

By learning some of the key phrases in this shared language, expats and travellers can quickly integrate across cultures and find it much easier to communicate when travelling to the more remote regions.


Visitors to Papua New Guinea tend to lean towards car or taxi hire as their go-to mode of transportation around the island. The road systems are somewhat basic, with the longest road in the country, the Highlands Highway, linking the cities of Lae and Madang to the Highland areas. There is also 12,200 miles of all-weather highway to get around the island. In order to drive in Papua New Guinea, expats can use an international licence for up to a month which can be exchanged for a local license through the Motor Traffic Registry Office. Within major cities like Port Moresby, Alotau and Vanimo taxis are readily available. However, there are some cities with no taxi services at all, such as Lae and Goroka.

Unlike most other developing countries, Papua New Guinea doesn’t have a passenger train service. Though there are bus networks present, referred to as Public Motor Vehicles (PMVs). These privately-operated vehicles can range from a minivan to a pick-up with no seats! The routes service all of the county’s largest cities and are one of the most cost-effective ways of travelling. Furthermore, assistance for visitors can easily be found in friendly and approachable locals and each van is usually signposted with a number and the destination in which it is headed.

As an island, Papua New Guinea is also commonly navigated by boat and this can be a simple way to get from A to B. With regular passenger ferries linking many of the main towns and locals offering water taxi (boats and canoes) services for shorter journeys, expats find it fairly straightforward to get around via this mode of transport.


The healthcare infrastructure in Papua New Guinea is considered problematic and far from what is experienced in more western cultures. Over the past decade, despite a wealth of support from overseas, the country struggles to control the spread of diseases and the prevalence of major illnesses like Malaria, Typhoid, Tuberculosis, Cholera and HIV/AIDS, remain high.

The National Department of Health is driving forward its focus with the development of the National Health Plan (2011 -2020) which is part of the public health policy – addressing resources, training, setting standards and making improvements to the available healthcare provisions in the 19 hospitals for which they are directly responsible. Whereas the more rural health services are managed by local and provincial governments.

Whilst medical facilities are indeed available and accessible in larger urban areas, underfunding remains a significant problem that has resulted in scarce medical resources – lack of medical professionals and an insufficient supply chain. Most recent estimates suggest the ratio of 0.5 doctors per 10,000 population.

That said, expats should be able to access sufficient emergency surgery and a high standard of medical care within the main cities of Port Moresby and Lae, but need to be prepared to make full cash payments directly after receiving any treatment.  In some cases, if the situation requires specialist treatment, transportation to Australia may be the only available option.

Malaria is common, so vaccinations are advisable before travelling to Papua New Guinea. Furthermore, medication can be limited and difficult to obtain and why it can be useful for expats to keep a stock of any required personal prescription medicines.

Reducing the risk can be an extremely sensible option and why visitors are best protecting themselves with the relevant expat health insurance or expat travel insurance.


Far from what you might be used to in more developed countries, cash payments are preferred and ATMs and card machines are limited to the larger cities. The official currency of Papua New Guinea is kina, shown as K or PGK. Kina can be acquired at most international ports at the foreign exchange counters or at the banks in Port Moresby international airport or major towns.

International credit cards are accepted at most major hotels and in shops in the larger towns. However, in the smaller towns and villages Kina is the only currency accepted for purchases. Villagers prefer payment in small denominations, so it is recommended to opt for monies such as K2, K5 and K10.

In order to pay household bills, expats will need to open a local bank account and this can be done at branches in the major cities. It is relatively easy to open a bank account you’ll just need your passport and resident visa. Expats often use recommended banks including ANZ and Westpac.  Services and rates vary but it’s unlikely for expats to qualify for certain lending services.


Papua New Guinea’s educational system consists of three levels – primary, secondary, and tertiary. Originally influenced by the Australian educational system’s structure, most teaching still occurs in English. However, since 1993, most areas have established local schools which serve the village and provide local language literacy. Therefore, expat children are best educated in the larger cities where lessons are more likely to be taught in English at this level. Primary schools provide around 70% of Papua New Guinea’s children, aged 7-12 years, non-compulsory education and in some villages, from the age of 5, children can attend pre-primary schools to learn their native language prior to learning English.

In the large cities and towns, virtually all children attend school, yet in more remote poorer regions the percentage of children who attend formal education can be as low as 7%. This is mainly due to parents being unable to afford the fees. Whereas in the national high schools they are either free or government subsidised.

Students are expected to pass a national exam in the sixth grade, in order to continue to secondary education. At this level, all curriculum is taught in official languages – English, Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu.

There are two international schools – The Ela Murray International School (non-profit, private, coeducational day school), based in Port Moresby and The International School of Lae, an Early Childhood to Grade 6 School in Lae.

Opportunities for further education can be found in the country’s six universities in, with most students able to easily gain acceptance by passing the National High School Examination at the end of the twelfth year.

Food & Drink

With 82% of the country being rural and dependent on agriculture, traditional cuisine usually contains some form of root crops such as yams, taro and sweet potatoes. Sago, a form of edible starch flour which is obtained from palm trees, is also an essential part of Papua New Guinean cuisines. Other staples include coconuts, coconut cream and cassava. Most meals are accompanied by rice, with local meat (usually pork) only consumed on occasions. However, in the coastal areas fish and seafood are served more often with meals

If you’re intrigued by truly authentic cuisine, then you have to try the traditional dish of mumu which combines layers of greens, root vegetables, meat, spices, fruits and coconut milk which is cooked inside banana leaves in a traditional ground oven – a pit covered with hot stones. Another popular dish in Papua New Guinea is Kokoda Fish – raw fish marinated in citrus juice and coconut cream.

In the main cities, hotel dining offers varied menu options and Chinese, Indonesian and European restaurants are growing in popularity and becoming more readily available. Whereas travelling to more remote areas, you can expect much more basic choices which usually include locally sourced fish, meat, vegetables and fruit.

Breakfast is considered the least important meal of the day and locals may simply drink tea, coffee or milo (a chocolate and malt powder drink mixed with hot water) and fresh fruit. However, come lunchtime in Papua New Guinea, it’s time to feast with the family and this is usually the largest meal of the day. Dinner tends to be classed as the secondary meal of the day and often consists of leftovers.

For expats with a sweet tooth, you’ll want to try Papua New Guinea’s renowned dessert, saksak – a dumpling made of ground sago, bananas, sugar which is wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. Local fruits are also frequently eaten with most meals and grow abundantly throughout the country; these include pineapple, mango, pawpaw and passionfruit.

When it comes to alcoholic beverages, locals favour beer which is usually Australian or Filipino imported brands. Alongside other islands in the western pacific, kava (a drink that is made from the native plant Piper methysticum) is a popular non-alcoholic drink.

Keeping hydrated in the heat is essential and locals opt for the traditional and instantly refreshing drink kulau (coconut water) which is the liquid found inside a fresh coconut. Coffee is also consumed in high quantities as the crop is grown prolifically in the highlands regions for export.


Papua New Guinea is often unjustifiably painted in a negative light in the media and whilst there are certain areas that are mentioned as high-risk for tribal fighting and best avoided, the remaining parts of the country are generally home to friendly and welcoming nationals.

That said, crime is a high-risk factor to be aware of and you will benefit from reading the latest updates on official website which will outlines current risk factors and threats in relation to crime, war and nature disasters. Carjacking is fairly common, particularly in Port Moresby and Lea, despite this, many expats still reside in these towns.

Expats and visitors should be vigilant and take necessary precautions such as not carrying valuables with you and being mindful of storing valuables, in order to keep your belongings safe. It is also recommended to avoid going out at night time.

Whilst it can be easy to be overzealous about security, as is the case across the world, simply using common sense and situational awareness can be the best advice to for expats to remain safe.

Other risks for expats to consider and prepare for are in relation to health. Certain diseases are prolific within the country and suitable vaccines and preventative measures should be administered before travel. Visitors require vaccinations against yellow fever/cholera and it is recommended for travellers to ensure hepatitis, typhoid, tetanus and polio inoculations up to date. Malaria is prevalent and precautions should be taken by way of appropriate medication. Furthermore, as of early 2018 UK health authorities have categorised Papua New Guinea as high risk of transmission of the Zika virus.

Places to Visit

As a unique tropical haven, largely untouched by mass tourism, Papua New Guinea is with of the world’s least explored countries. With an abundance of stunning natural beauty, Papua New Guinea offers dramatic landscapes to explore and distinctive cultural heritage to uncover. As a result, there is a wealth of awe-inspiring things to see and do throughout the country and you’ll be extremely spoilt for choice.


In north coast of the islands lays the pretty town of Madang. Surrounded by sparkling azure waters, this is the ideal place to experience the unwater world of magical natural coral reefs and marine life. Diving, snorkelling and boat trips are highly recommended here.

The Sepik River

Embarking on a boat trip down the meandering Sepik River will take you on a tranquil journey through time, past stilt villages decorated with elaborate carvings and tribal art, and wildlife-rich rainforests.

The Highlands

Within the distant mountain valleys, live Papua New Guineas largest populations of tribal communities. Trekking through the dense rainforests offers visitors a taste of nature in its rawest form. Rich in flora, fauna and wildlife, the expanse of untouched nature is an experience that will stay forever in your heart. Heading to the town of Tari in the southern highlands will provide a glimpse into native life and it is also a prized site for bird watchers.


Tavurvur is one of Papua New Guinea’s most famous active volcanoes after its eruption in 1994, where the devastating impact nearly destroyed the local area. This is a chance to witness nature at its most dramatic and powerful.

Mt Wilhelm

Rising to over 14,700 feet, Mt Wilhelm is one of tallest peaks in the whole of Oceania. For experienced hikers, this trek will take you on an adventure to soaring highs with spectacular scenic potential.

Lusancay Islands

Found in the Milne Bay region on the eastern side of the mainland, these picturesque islands beckon you to enjoy this dreamland of white sandy beaches and rich marine reefs and ecosystems beneath the surface. To truly capture the incredible beauty on offer, the islands are best viewed from above.