This guidance is designed to describe appropriate clothing, the cultural context where you will be living and working, and the professional expectations of your workplace.
As you decide what to bring, keep in mind there is a 100-pound weight limit on checked baggage.
In general, most items you will need are available in country and locally acquired items are often the best at helping you integrate into your community. However, locally available items may not be the brands, quality, prices, or sizes you are used to. Bringing some key items from home might make your transition to service more comfortable.
This guidance has been compiled by Peace Corps staff and Volunteers and is based on their experience. Use this information as an informal guide as you make your own packing list, bearing in mind that each experience is individual. There is no perfect packing list!
This packing guidance is designed to help you think through different categories of items and consider what you might want to bring, considering work expectations, cultural considerations, and your own personal preferences.
The climate in Tonga is tropical which often translates to warm temperatures, 70-80 degrees, all year round.
Tonga does not have traditional US seasons, but US seasonal markings are often used as terms of convenience to more easily describe the climate. Winter and summer are often used—they are oftentimes not very different in temperatures, but rather characterized by differences in humidity.
The warmer/hot months (November to April) – referred to with the familiar term of summer – coincides with the summer season of New Zealand and Australia and similarly with their winter months (May – October) – referred to as the cooler months. The times of the year will also be referred to as ‘cyclone/rainy season’ and ‘dry season’.
During the warmer/hot months, humidity levels are extremely high which usually calls for thin, lightweight, and breathable clothing materials. During the winter months, it can get a little bit chilly, especially in the evenings and at night, so a light jacket or sweatshirt/hoodie will be useful.
Regardless of the month of the year, the sun can be quite hot, so wearing clothing and sunscreen to protect you from the sun is recommended.
You can expect a lot of rain especially during the cyclone/rainy season. A good reliable umbrella (for both rain and shine), raincoat, and boots could be useful, but is up to you. An umbrella can also provide good protection from the sun. The summer months are also months where bugs are more prevalent.
Peace Corps/Tonga provides the following items:
- Mobile phone (if using a personal phone, Peace Corps will provide a sim card with associated plan and service – Embedded Sims (eSims) do not currently work in Tonga)
- Life jacket
- Portable rechargeable lamps
- Bicycle helmet (upon request)
- Water filter
- First aid kit
- Smoke/CO detector
- Mosquito net
- Personal alarm
- Transistor radio
- Satellite phone (as needed)
- Personal locator beacon (as needed)
And a settling-in allowance of $1,200.00 TOP that is provided before you go to site to purchase necessities for your new home.
Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take:
- Radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted)
- Automobiles or motorcycles
- Flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers
- Valuables such as precious jewelry or family heirlooms
Do not bring any drug that has not been authorized by the Peace Corps for medical purposes without prior consultation with Office of Health Services Pre-Service. This includes prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Illicit drugs, including marijuana and related products such as CBD and herbal substances such as kratom, are prohibited during Peace Corps service, even if they are legal in your home of residence. If you use, possess, or distribute illicit drugs, you will be administratively separated from service.
In Tonga, traditional gender norms impact professional dress and can be seen in the regulations, policies, and expectations of staff in schools. Peace Corps Tonga staff act as cultural mentors in this regard to ensure effective and appropriate approaches to navigating these local norms. At work, all teachers are required to wear national dress. For men, this includes a collared shirt, tupenu (wrap-around skirt), and a ta’ovala (waist mat). For women, this includes a top, a long ankle-length tupenu (wrap-around skirt) that must be also worn underneath a dress or puletaha (matching shirt and skirt), along with a kiekie (waist wrap for women).
Within local norms, teachers typically clean and press their clothes daily. There are ta’ovala and kiekie for different events and occasions, and at times Volunteers will have to shift between different kinds. These are most often provided by host families, colleagues, or community members for special occasions as locally handmade ta’ovala can be expensive if purchased. Stores across Tonga sell affordable ta’ovala made from synthetic materials and Volunteers most often will wear the same ta’ovala daily and for most events. Locally hand-made kiekie are more affordable than ta’ovala and Volunteers again will most often wear the same kiekie daily and for most events – kiekie or ta’ovala for special events will most often be provided for use.
Volunteers should observe the dress and grooming of local teachers – uniformity with Ministry of Education and Training regulations and policies is expected. Tight fitting and revealing clothing are discouraged. It should also be noted that events in Tonga are often formal and levels of formality can include neck ties, long sleeve collared shirts, blazers or sport coats, closed-toe shoes (or nice sandals), heels, make-up, etc. While these events do not happen too often for Volunteers and it is not necessarily expected for Volunteers to dress at this level of formality, it is a local norm for awareness. Many of these items for professional wear are available in country but will probably be more expensive than in the US. Lastly, often professional clothing is handsewn by family members, so tupenu, shirts, etc. are often being sewn up in the community with fabric bought from local stores.
Individuals that identify with and express gender identities outside of what are considered traditional gender norms in Tonga, may experience challenges in adapting to local norms and are encouraged to consult with staff cultural mentors in determining effective and appropriate strategies for navigating them in the workplace and in their daily lives in their communities. Volunteers with varied gender identities have served successfully in Tonga and developed long-lasting professional and personal relationships.
Leisure and recreational clothing
General leisure clothing should be modest, loose fitting, and is generally dependent upon different activities. Shorts and t-shirts are commonly worn around the house or when engaged in sporting activities. Dress, shorts or long pants and shirts/t-shirts are usually worn when going to town or out in public. Tupenu huluhulu (casual wrap around skirts) are usually to be worn only in very casual circumstances or in the home. Formal tupenus for men and women can be worn casually in public as well.
Tongans commonly wear shorts and t-shirts when swimming. Men and women do wear form fitting sportswear when exercising, especially within a gym or enclosed track or rugby/soccer field.
Shoes should be comfortable and durable for walking and standing consistently throughout the day. Sandals and flip flops are commonly worn in all settings. Beach or water shoes are helpful for swimming as beaches have coral rocks that can be hard on the feet. Shoes for running and other sports are also recommended. While shoes can be bought locally; name brands, styles, sizes, and options are very limited and can be expensive.
You should bring a three-month supply of any prescription and/or over the counter medications you use that are authorized/approved by the Peace Corps.
Note: Prior to service, Peace Corps supplies all volunteers with a medical kit containing basic, over-the-counter medications, as well as multivitamins.
The medical unit will replenish prescriptions after the initial three-month training.
If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs (of the current prescription) with you. Contact lens use will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Additional guidance from Peace Corps/Tonga:
Peace Corps does not cover the cost of contact lenses or associated solutions unless approved by Office of Health Services. Thus, contact lens use will be considered on a case by case basis. It is also important to take note that optometrist services are rather limited in Tonga.
Electricity on the main island of Tongatapu is quite stable and consistent, with a few power outages. Outer islands such as Vava’u, Ha’apai, and ‘Eua also have consistent electricity. The more remote outer islands often have electricity with individually powered solar panels or a community generator that run on specific schedules.
Electrical currents in Tonga are 220 volts. Plugs have a Type D Three-Prong socket. Electronic devices such as laptops, phones, and hard drives can be charged using a plug adapter to convert from the US Type A & B plugs to the Tonga Type D plugs.
Peace Corps does recommend that you have some sort of electronic device (smartphone, laptop, tablet, etc.) to access Volunteer reporting application and the blended-learning online content as part of your training.
Peace Corps Tonga will issue low-cost basic devices to those who do not have an electronic device for access. A low-cost basic phone is also provided to Volunteers who do not wish to bring their own personal phone.
SIM cards and a Peace Corps Tonga calling plan is provided to all Volunteers. Embedded SIM (e-SIM) technology is not yet supported by local network providers, so it is recommended that if you come with a personal phone that it has a physical SIM card slot. Note that any phone brought to Tonga must be unlocked for use with a local SIM card. If possible it is also recommended to bring a dual-SIM phone (this is not required, but can be convenient).
Electronic devices like smartphones, laptops, and tablets are available in Tonga but they can be very expensive and supply is limited.
Based on your interests and personal preferences there may be additional items you will want to consider bringing with you. Below is a description of the common activities Volunteers engage in and what different Volunteers have said they enjoy having that might be more difficult to find in-country. Note: these items are not required or even recommended, but they might be nice to have.
Since our Volunteers work in a school setting with limited resources and very energetic school children. A lot of items that Volunteers tend to enjoy having are board games/card games, sports equipment, coloring/crafts materials, reading materials and other fun items that can be used for a school lesson, after school club, or just passing time with children during the holidays or after school hours.
Another activity that Volunteers enjoy in Tonga is swimming, hiking, running, and even camping. So it is important to consider what items would be useful to have if these are your interests.
For those who enjoy cooking, it can be tough obtaining certain ingredients that are not commonly found here in Tonga, so some Volunteers return from home visits with some of their favorite spices, condiments, ingredients, and even snacks and candies. The children love the American snacks and candies.