Tonga

Living Conditions

Communications

Mail

Mail usually takes a minimum of two weeks to arrive in Tonga. The main Peace Corps office in Nuku’alofa is here:

U.S. Peace Corps
P.O. Box 147
Nuku’alofa, Tonga, South Pacific

Volunteers who serve on Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu, collect their mail from the Peace Corps office. Mail for Volunteers on outer islands will have their mail forwarded to the islands via the local airline or the local ferry service once a week. Once you know your site location, you can advise your family and friends about the appropriate address to use.

Telephones

Calling the United States from Tonga is expensive and only unlocked, tri-band cellphones will work in on the island. Peace Corps/Tonga will provide you with a cellphone upon arrival. Credit for cellphones can be purchased at almost any small shop throughout the kingdom, even in places where there is no electricity.

Intranet

Most Volunteers choose to bring personal laptops to Tonga. If you are thinking about bringing a laptop, please consider insuring your devices against damage and theft. Internet service is widely available in Internet cafes through the main islands of Tongatapu and Vava’u.

Housing and Site Location

Volunteers’ host organizations are responsible for identifying and providing safe and suitable housing in accordance with the Peace Corps’ criteria. Housing ranges from a one-room fale (traditional Tongan huts) with a thatched roof to a two- or three-bedroom wooden or cinderblock house with very basic furniture. Peace Corps/Tonga asks host agencies to provide private bath and toilet facilities; however, occasionally Volunteers may have to share facilities with a neighbor. The current in Tonga is 220 volts, 50 cycles, with variations. Some Volunteers have electric lights and outlets, flush toilets, and running water in their homes. Others spend evenings reading by kerosene lamp, solar lantern, or candle, use a pit latrine, and collect water from a rain tank near their homes. The Peace Corps will provide you with a solar lantern, a life vest, a bike helmet (if necessary), and an AM/FM radio. Once you become a Volunteer, you will receive a settling-in allowance to purchase additional household necessities. Peace Corps staff members make site visits to Volunteers to provide ongoing support and to follow up on any housing or safety issues that arise. However, Volunteers are encouraged to contact staff if there are any safety-related improvements needed for their homes.

Living Allowance and Money Management

Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in local currency that is sufficient to live at the level of the local people. The allowance covers food, housing, household supplies, clothing, transportation to and from work, utilities, recreation and entertainment, and incidental expenses. Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to live at a level that is comparable with that of their host country counterparts. The Peace Corps discourages Volunteers from supplementing their living allowance with funds from home. However, Volunteers often wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. For this, credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs. 

Food and Diet

Tongan meals consist of staple foods, such as yam, taro, sweet potato, cassava, fish, pork, and canned meats. Fresh fish can be purchased from markets and local fishermen throughout Tonga. On Sundays and for special occasions, Tongan families prepare food with an underground oven called an ‘umu. Tongan food is generally considered bland by American standards. Root crops are boiled, baked, or fried and often served with salt at every meal. Onions, garlic, curry powder, soy sauce, and chili peppers are usually available, but seldom used in food preparation. Bread, rolls, pastries, and ice cream are readily available in the city centers, but are unavailable in remote villages and outer islands. Noodles, flour, sugar, rice, eggs, butter, milk, canned fish, meat, seasonal fruits, and a few basic vegetables are available in most small shops on the main islands. The living allowance is sufficient to buy some imported fresh and canned fruits and vegetables to take to remote sites. It is possible but difficult to maintain a vegetarian diet in Tonga with some potential cultural challenges. A meal without meat is considered incomplete and inadequate by Tongan standards. This makes it difficult to explain why one would choose a vegetarian diet.

Transportation

Volunteers may bring bicycles from home or buy them locally, though the quality of locally available bicycles is not good by American standards. If a Volunteer brings a bike from the United States, he or she is responsible for the transportation costs (usually airline fees) from the Volunteer’s home of record to Tonga. Distances are reasonable for bike travel in Tonga, and the low traffic density is conducive to bicycling. Bicycling provides opportunities to get to know local communities and surrounding countryside, as well as to get some good physical exercise. Peace Corps/Tonga issues helmets to Volunteers who own bicycles or you may bring your own. Note: Wearing a helmet is mandatory for bicycle use. Local buses and taxis run on Tongatapu, Ha’apai, and Vava’u and tend to be reasonably priced. Travel among islands is by air, boat, or both. A commercial airline has regular flights from the main island to the other major islands of Tonga, and inter-island ferries provide service to outer islands, large and small, throughout Tonga. For safety reasons, Peace Corps/Tonga prohibits Volunteers from owning, driving, or riding on motorcycles and from owning or driving private cars for any reason. Violation of these policies may result in the termination of your Volunteer service.

Social Activities

Tongans are very social and enjoy team sports. Rugby is the national sport, and most villages also have competitions in volleyball, basketball, table tennis, soccer, and tennis, which are almost exclusively male sports. Women play netball, field hockey, and sometimes volleyball and soccer. Movies, videos, card games, and dances are also major forms of recreation. Men gather to drink kava root juice, converse, and sing late into the night. Families have picnics on the beach for special occasions, and feasting is an appropriate way to celebrate anything and everything in Tonga. Men traditionally build boats, canoes, and houses and are proficient in woodcarving. Women traditionally weave mats and baskets and make tapa (cloth made of the bark of the mulberry tree), dolls, and flower necklaces.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

Modesty is very important in Tonga and Tongans take pride in their appearance. Most Tongan women do not wear short skirts, sleeveless tops, or low-necked dresses outside their homes. Pants are not considered appropriate for women in certain areas. Except when worn as athletic wear or while working in the garden, shorts are considered improper on women, especially outside the capital. However, shorts may be appropriate as swimwear, and women wear them at home and in public under wraparound skirts. Men are expected to dress similar to their male counterparts at school, in the office where they are assigned, or in the village. This often means wearing a tupenu (wraparound cloth skirt), ta’ovala (mat worn around the waist), and ironed shirts with collars. Sometimes, wearing a tie and a dark suit jacket is appropriate. Likewise, women are expected to dress like their female counterparts at the schools, in the offices where they are assigned, or in the villages. This typically means wearing long dresses, skirts, and tops that provide modest coverage. To gain the acceptance, respect, and confidence of community members and colleagues, it is essential that you dress and conduct yourself professionally.