“For every village a different culture” is the expression that best describes the social norms, cultures and languages of Papua New Guinea’s population. Most locals will greet you with a warm smile, and the salutation “monin tru”(“a very good morning”) is considered the polite early-day greeting. Western etiquette is generally observed in urban centres, while reciprocity and hospitality are emphasised in rural areas. While walking in rural areas, it is wise to have the landowner’s approval before crossing private land. In the event of an invitation to greet a chief or village leader, visitors must bow before the leader and are prohibited from eating foods reserved for the chief and his family.
Given the year-round tropical climate, loose-fitting clothing is recommended, with long sleeves for dawn and dusk. Although PNG does not have a set standard for dress, most business meetings are conducted in Western business attire. Women should dress modestly; short skirts or shorts are considered inappropriate in public. Sweaters or light jackets are recommended when visiting the Highlands region or any high-altitude area.
Over 800 languages are spoken. Under colonisation, a pidgin English, Tok Pisin, emerged and is today one of PNG’s official languages. While English is taught in school and is the official language of business and government affairs, learning a few phrases in Tok Pisin can prove useful, given that it is often the preferred means of communication.
PNG’s currency is the kina. Most major currencies can be exchanged in banks with relative ease. ATMs accept Visa and MasterCard and allow withdrawals of up to PGK2000 ($634) daily. There may be a 3% charge on credit card transactions.
Government offices, state-run enterprises and most private businesses are typically open from 8.00am to 5.00pm, Monday through Friday. Banks generally closer earlier, around 3.00pm.
Visitors for business, study or tourism purposes must acquire an entry permit or visa to enter the country. Single-entry and multiple-entry visas are granted by PNG embassies, and certain foreign nationals are eligible for tourist visas on arrival at Jacksons International Airport and Rabaul International Airport. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Immigration has introduced a new visa class – the designated event visa – which allows foreigners to visit PNG to attend national, regional or international events being hosted in the country.
Adequate medical staffing in hospitals and clinics can be found in urban areas. Rural areas are serviced by a network of aid posts and small health care centres. Trained nurses and paramedics are rare, as are qualified doctors. The International SOS health care centre located in Port Moresby operates at Western standards. It is not advisable for visitors to drink the tap water, and newcomers should drink only bottled or boiled water. Visitors should consult a doctor for appropriate vaccinations before travelling to PNG. Mosquito nets, sprays and prescribed medication should be used to protect against malaria and dengue fever, which are widespread in both urban and rural areas.
Although visitors should remain vigilant and aware of personal safety when travelling around PNG, the country has made consistent progress in improving law and order, thanks to the PNG-Australia Policing Partnership. Exercising standard safety precautions is still advisable, and those arriving at Port Moresby’s Jacksons International Airport at night should arrange for a pick-up service to their hotel. Travelling by car outside the main urban areas at night – even on major roads – is not recommended, and foreigners should avoid flagging down and negotiating with taxis on their own. If choosing to rent a car, doors should be locked with the windows up at all times to avoid opportunistic crime.
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