Vanuatu travel guide
If you can confidently point to Vanuatu on a map then you’re a better geographer than most. Drifting like flotsam in the Pacific Ocean, this little-known nation has much to offer intrepid travellers and is all the more appealing for its obscurity.
Made up of approximately 83 islands, the geologically active archipelago is a natural playground of colourful coral reefs, bubbling volcanoes and lush rainforest. Visitors can drive up to the crater of Yasur, cited as the most accessible active volcano in the world, sea kayak round the islands' sandy shores, explore underwater WWII relics, or hike and bike through coconut plantations and steamy jungles.
Those less disposed to physical exertion can always while away lazy days on Vanuatu’s bountiful beaches, which really are the picture of tropical island idyll. Or why not charter a boat and hop from one island to the next? Wherever you go expect a good feast: the food here is absolutely exquisite, a testament not only to talented local chefs, but also the profusion of fresh ingredients that grow on this fertile archipelago.
Warm and welcoming, with a rich and sometimes mysterious traditional culture, the ni-Vanuatu people greet visitors as friends and are keen to share stories about their country, which was declared the happiest nation on the planet in 2006. The Happy Planet Index hasn’t bestowed this title on Vanuatu since, but it’s still pretty jovial by all accounts.
Tourism in Vanuatu is largely centred on the islands of Tanna, Espiritu Santo and Efaté, with most international visitors arriving on the latter. From here it is easy to travel by boat or plane to the rest of the country, which caters for travellers of all stripes. Sure, it’s skewered to the well heeled, but amongst the high-end beach resorts are a smattering of wallet friendly options. Proof that paradise needn’t break the bank.
12,190 sq km (4,707 sq miles).
270,470 (UN estimate 2016).
22.3 per sq km.
Acting President Esmon Saimon since 2017.
Prime Minister Charlot Salwai since 2016.
Last updated: 22 October 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.
The government of Vanuatu has declared a state of emergency for the island of Ambae. The government have ordered the immediate compulsory evacuation of the population of Ambae to the neighbouring island of Maewo due to the ongoing volcanic activity. If you’re in Vanuatu you’re advised to follow the advice of the local authorities, including the evacuation order.
Vanuatu lies on the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’ and regularly experiences natural disasters, including cyclones, volcanic activity, earthquakes and tsunamis, with over 2,000 seismic events reported each year. Alert levels and accessibility to volcanoes can change quickly. You should monitor the Vanuatu Meteorology and Geohazards Department website for the latest updates and follow the advice of the local authorities.
The tropical cyclone season normally runs from November to May. You should monitor local and international weather updates and follow the advice of the local authorities.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Vanuatu, attacks can’t be ruled out.
Most visits to Vanuatu are trouble free. Crime levels are relatively low but following a series of recent incidents, residents and visitors should take particular care when walking at night and visiting remote areas.
Consular support may be limited in Vanuatu, however, the British Consulate-General in Sydney, Australia can provide consular support to British nationals.
Safety and security
Crime rates are low, but increasing. Burglaries are often accompanied by violence. Make sure you lock doors and windows at night. Street crime is also increasing and you should avoid making yourself an easy target, especially at night. There have been a number of attacks on tourists at nightclubs and bars in Port Vila. Check with the Vanuatu Tourist Office or your hotel on places where extra caution is required.
There have been several serious attacks on foreigners, including lone women, in isolated locations. Avoid visiting remote tourist sites or beaches alone. Where possible, travel as part of a larger group.
Before you travel, make copies of your passport, travel documents and travellers cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.
You can drive in Vanuatu on your UK driving licence. General driving standards are below those of the UK. Many vehicles, including public transport, are in a poor state of repair and may not be insured. Numerous roads are not properly surfaced, and driving can also be dangerous due to a lack of street lighting, and the presence of pedestrians. Extra care should be taken when driving, particularly at night, in heavy rain or after a prolonged dry period.
Inter-island travel by the domestic airline (Air Vanuatu) is very expensive and subject to delays. Vanuatu’s outer island routes are serviced by small aircrafts, and airports and airstrips have quite basic facilities.
Boat services between the islands are infrequent and can be unreliable. Inter-island boats should have a current sea-worthiness certificate, but many don’t.
Seek local advice from the Provincial Council Office and elsewhere before swimming in the waters off Vanuatu, particularly around the islands of Malekula and Espiritu Santo. Sharks are known to be present in these waters and deaths have occurred.
Many visitors to Vanuatu take part in water sports, including scuba diving and snorkelling without incident. However, deaths and serious accidents have occurred because of the lack of basic safety measures. Safety precautions and emergency responses may be less than those expected in the UK.
Vanuatu has two hyperbaric recompression chambers to provide medical assistance for dive-related injuries, both located in Port Vila.
Make sure your travel and medical insurance policy covers you for the activities you take part in.
After a period of short-lived governments, the current administration has been in place for over 2 years. However, party politics is less stable with individual MPs often changing loyalties.
The President serves a five year term. The current State President, Tallis Obed Moses, was elected in July 2017.
You should take extra care around political gatherings and follow instructions from the local authorities
Mobile phone services
There is a GSM mobile phone service in Vanuatu and you should contact your service provider to establish whether your phone will work in Vanuatu. Alternatively, SIM cards may be purchased from the local telephone companies TVL or Digicel.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Vanuatu, attacks can’t be ruled out.
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.
Local laws and customs
You should respect local customs, which are strictly observed, and religious sensitivities.
Do not beachwear when away from beaches and hotels.
Homosexuality is legal in Vanuatu but open displays of affection between same-sex partners will attract adverse attention and may offend some. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
Drinking kava is an ancient tradition in Vanuatu. Kava is widely available at traditional ceremonies, at nakamals (kava bars) and at some hotels. Be aware of the British Medicine Controls Agency advice on kava consumption. It is illegal for supermarkets to sell alcohol between noon on a Saturday and 7am on a Monday. However, clubs bars and hotels may serve alcohol during these times.
Drug offences are punishable by fines, imprisonment or both. While there are no mandatory sentences for drug offences in Vanuatu, it is rare for a convicted person not to be fined or receive a jail sentence, even for ‘soft’ drug offences.
Most ni-Vanuatu (meaning people ‘of Vanuatu’) will allow you to take their photograph but you should always seek their permission first.
Land ownership in Vanuatu is an important and often sensitive issue. If you are travelling off the beaten track, be aware that you may be trespassing and required to pay a “visiting fee” to the landowner.
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.
British passport holders visiting Vanuatu do not require a visa and are normally given permission to enter and remain in the country for up to 30 days on arrival, provided that they are in possession of an onward or return ticket.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry from Vanuatu.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Vanuatu.
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.
While travel can be enjoyable, it can sometimes be challenging. There are clear links between mental and physical health, so looking after yourself during travel and when abroad is important. Information on travelling with mental health conditions is available in our guidance page. Further information is also available from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).
Medical facilities in Vanuatu are basic but adequate for routine treatment but are limited in range and availability. More serious cases will require evacuation to Australia or New Zealand. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad, medical evacuation and repatriation.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 112 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Vanuatu sits along a volatile seismic strip called the ‘Ring of Fire’ in the Pacific. Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis are possible.
The tropical cyclone season in Vanuatu normally runs from November to May. Throughout this period there is a high risk of strong winds and heavy rains with associated flooding, landslides and road closures. You should monitor local and international weather updates from the World Meteorological Organisation, the Vanuatu Meteorological Service, local newspapers and local radio.
See our tropical cyclones page for advice about what to do if you’re caught up in a storm.
Earthquakes and tsunamis
Vanuatu is prone to significant year round seismic and volcanic activity, with associated risks of tsunamis. They are over 2,000 seismic events reported each year, most events are small scale, although larger tremors and quakes of over 5 on the Richter scale do occur on a regular basis.
Further information on earthquakes can be found on the US Geological Survey website. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and Vanuatu Meteorological Service provides real-time information on tsunamis in the region.
To learn more about what to do before, during and after an earthquake, see the website of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.
There are several active volcanoes in Vanuatu, located on the islands of Tanna, Ambae, Ambrym, Lopevi, Vanua Lava and Gaua. You should monitor local media reports and follow the advice of local authorities when visiting these areas.
The Vanuatu government’s Mines and Geology Department monitor volcanos and provide advice on the level of risk. There are five alert levels for volcanoes; from zero (normal, low-level activity) up to five (very large eruption, island-wide danger). An alert level of three will often be the trigger for warnings to avoid the summit of the volcano and nearby areas. Even at lower levels, explosions and injuries from volcanic debris can occur.
Alert levels and accessibility to volcanoes can change unexpectedly contact the Vanuatu Tourism Office for the latest advice before travelling to the areas where volcanic activity may occur.
More information on volcanic activity can also be found at the Vanuatu Meteorology and Geohazards Department.
The local currency is the Vanuatu Vatu (VUV). The use of credit cards is commonplace in Port Vila and Luganville but less so in the rest of Vanuatu, particularly away from tourist resorts. There are banking facilties and money exchange services in Port Vila through the following banks, ANZ, BSP (Bank South Pacific) and the National Bank of Vanuatu available 8.30am to 3.00pm Monday to Friday. Many offer ATM facilities covering most UK bank cards.
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.
Browse our Video Guides