“For every village a different culture” is the expression that best describes the hundreds of separate behavioural rules and structures, cultures and languages of Papua New Guinea’s population. Most locals will greet you with a warm, genuine smile, and the salutation “monin tru”, or “a very good morning”, is considered the polite early day greeting. Western etiquette in urban centres is the norm. In rural areas, an emphasis is placed on reciprocity and hospitality. If walking or sightseeing in rural areas, it is wise to have the approval of the landowner before crossing private land, and the owner may in fact provide a guide. In the event of an invitation to greet a chief or village head, visitors must bow before the leader and are prohibited from eating foods reserved for the chief and his family. To do otherwise would be considered discourteous.
Given the year-round tropical climate, light and loose 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 standard Western business attire. Women should dress modestly; very short skirts or shorts, bikinis or brief swimwear are not appropriate in public. Sweaters or light jackets are recommended when visiting the Highlands Region or high-altitude areas.
Over 800 languages are spoken throughout PNG. Under colonisation, a pidgin English, Tok Pisin, emerged as a common language 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 is handy, given that it is a symbol of national identity and is often the preferred means of communication.
PNG’s currency is the kina (pronounced “keena” and written as PGK). As of August 2014, $1 is worth PGK2.39. Most major currencies can be exchanged in banks with relative ease. Automatic teller machines accept Visa and MasterCard and allow withdrawals of up to PGK2000 ($813) daily. There may be an additional 3% charge on credit card transactions.
Anyone travelling to PNG for work, business, study or tourism purposes must have a visa entry permit. Applications for a 60-day tourist visa cost PGK100 ($41) and can be obtained upon arrival at international ports of entry. Applications for single-entry 30-day business visas cost PGK250 ($102) and can also be made upon arrival. The longer 12-month multi-entry business visa with a 60-day stay per entry must be obtained prior to arrival from the nearest PNG diplomatic mission. Fees may vary.
Government offices and most private and state-run enterprises are usually open from 8am to 5pm Monday through to Friday. Banks generally remain open until 3pm.
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 trained doctors. The International SOS health care centre in Port Moresby operates at Western standards.
It is not advisable for visitors to drink tap water, and newcomers should drink only bottled or boiled water. Visitors should consult a doctor for the 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 in PNG, the country has made consistent progress in improving law and order, thanks to the PNG-Australia Policing Partnership. Exercising normal safety precautions is still advisable, and those arriving at Port Moresby’s Jacksons International Airport at night should arrange for a pick-up. Visiting settlements and travelling by car outside the main cities at night, even on substantive roads, is not recommended and foreigners should avoid flagging down taxis. Using sponsored or rental vehicles is advised, provided that the car doors are locked with the windows up at all time to avoid opportunistic crime.
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