East Timor travel guide
About East Timor
In May 2002, after 450 years of near-continuous foreign occupation, East Timor became an independent state. The road to independence was long and traumatic. Even so there's plenty to admire in this picturesque country of beaches and mountains while getting to grips with the complex history.
The Portuguese first arrived on the island in the early 16th century and by the 1550s had occupied the eastern part. The Dutch took control of the western part, which became part of the Dutch East Indies and, after independence, Indonesia. In 1975, the new left-wing Portuguese government relinquished all of its colonies. East Timor then enjoyed just a few days of independence, before the Indonesians annexed it as their 27th province. There was little local resistance and the international community largely acquiesced.
In the aftermath, the main independence movement faced a savage counter-insurgency, during which the Indonesian army killed over 100,000 East Timorese. Finally, a referendum was offered to East Timor in 1999, and 80% opted for independence. Violent reprisals by the military followed, but the country eventually became independent.
Colonial architecture, Portuguese fortresses and other treasures from the 100-year Portuguese occupation can be found all over the country. However, many towns and villages were destroyed during the Indonesian occupation and the fighting in 1999, and these are only slowly being rebuilt. Many houses are still erected on stilts in the traditional way, using local materials such as grass, bamboo, tree trunks and palm leaves.
Despite the tragic recent history, East Timor's immaculate reefs, little-trodden mountain paths and rich, traditional cultural that has endured in the face of war make it a true hidden gem. Hiking in the hills will bring you to otherworldly jungle caves, while exploring settlements away from the capital of Dili give a taste of village life. Well off the beaten track, East Timor is still getting back on its feet, but is a raw and compelling destination.
14,919 sq km (5,760 sq miles).
1,211,245 (UN estimate 2016).
82.5 per sq km.
President Francisco Guterres since 2017.
Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak since 2018.
Last updated: 22 March 2019
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Crime continues to be a problem in East Timor (Timor-Leste), including gang-related violence (not directed towards foreigners), robbery and assault.
Consular support may be limited in Timor-Leste as there’s no resident British diplomatic mission. Emergency consular services are provided by the New Zealand Embassy in Dili (24 hour emergency number: +670 7732 1015) and the British Honorary Consul. For all routine consular issues, contact the British Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Timor-Leste, attacks can’t be ruled out.
The rainy season in Timor-Leste normally runs from November to April. See Natural disasters
To contact the emergency services, call 112 or 7723 0635 (police), 3312210, 3324019 or 7230686 (fire) and 7723 6662, 33110441 or 7233212 (ambulance).
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
Safety and security
Crime continues to be a problem in Timor-Leste, including gang-related violence, robbery (in some cases armed), and assault.
There have been attacks on foreigners in Dili during the hours of daylight and darkness. Be vigilant at all times and avoid displaying expensive items of jewellery or carrying large sums of money. There have been reports of harassment and violence against women (including foreigners).
There are occasional incidents of fighting between groups in various districts around Timor-Leste, often but not always related to martial arts groups. These incidents often involve stone throwing and occasionally machetes and knives. Most happen at night. Foreigners haven’t been targeted, but leave the area immediately if you’re aware of fighting.
Take care if you go outside after dark. Avoid travelling alone or to isolated areas.
Be particularly vigilant in border areas.
Crocodiles are frequently seen on the south coast and have even been seen at beaches near Dili.
Poor road quality makes driving in Timor-Leste hazardous. Accidents are frequent especially involving motorcycles.
Drivers must hold a current driving licence valid for the class of vehicle they plan to drive. Take extra care when it’s wet. Outside of Dili, travel in convoy whenever possible. Main routes are often single-track mountain roads, which can deteriorate rapidly and become impassable, particularly during the rainy season (November-April).
There have been incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in neighbouring waters. Mariners should be vigilant, reduce opportunities for theft, establish secure areas onboard and report all incidents to the coastal and flag state authorities.
The UN peacekeeping operation ended its mandate in December 2012. The security situation in Timor-Leste has improved but underlying tensions remain especially during election periods where the security situation could deteriorate with little warning.
If you become aware of any nearby military activity you should leave the area immediately. If you are inside and become aware of military operations in your immediate area you should take cover away from windows.
Avoid any demonstrations and large crowds, as these have the potential to deteriorate quickly and turn violent.
Make sure your travel documents are up-to-date and available in case you need to leave at short notice. Keep a photocopy of the relevant pages of your passport to avoid any complications.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Timor-Leste, attacks can’t be ruled out. You should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be in public areas, including those visited by foreigners.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
Don’t become involved with drugs of any kind. Penalties for breaking the law can be severe.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
A tourist visa costs US$30 and can normally be issued to the holder of a valid British passport on arrival at Dili International airport or Dili seaport, provided entry into Timor-Leste is regarded as being for a legitimate purpose. The visa will be valid for a single entry and will allow you to stay for up to 30 days.
British Citizens intending to enter the country via the Indonesia (West Timor) land border crossing at Atambua/Batugade need to apply in Kupang for a tourism visa in advance. This visa will generally be valid for a single entry and a duration of up to 30 days.
In Dili, tourism visas can be extended to a total of 90 days, for a fee.
If you plan to travel overland (rather than by the ferry) to the exclave of Oecussi you’ll need to apply for an additional visa. You must present your round trip ticket and complete the required forms at your nearest Timor-Leste embassy or consulate, or in Dili, prior to travel. For information on other types of visa see the Immigration Department of Timor-Leste.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Timor-Leste.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for exit from Timor-Leste only. You can’t use an ETD to enter the country. If you wish to transit Timor-Leste, you should contact the Immigration Department of Timor-Leste before you travel to confirm the requirements.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
Medical services in Timor-Leste are limited, particularly outside Dili. In the event of a medical emergency, evacuation to Australia or Singapore is likely to be the best option for treatment. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
Malaria is rare. Dengue fever remains a risk throughout Timor-Leste, during the rainy season, which runs from November to April. There have been no reported cases of rabies.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip seek up to date local advice from foreign residents and/or dial 110 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Earthquakes can occur at any time. There have been no significant earthquakes since 2005.
The rainy season in Timor-Leste normally runs from November to April. You should monitor local and international weather updates from the World Meteorological Organisation.
See our Tropical cyclones page for advice about what to do if you are caught up in a tropical cyclone.
Bring US dollars in cash or travellers’ cheques.
The limited banking system in Timor-Leste will not exchange Pounds Sterling cash or Sterling travellers’ cheques. The same often applies to Euros. Credit cards are of little use outside of major hotels. In Dili, ATMs are limited. Mastercard is not accepted anywhere. ATMs, banks or credit cards facilities are very limited outside Dili. Bring small notes when travelling in districts as large denominations are hard to change. Notes older than 2009 are usually rejected.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.