FAQs about Peace Corps in Tonga

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FAQs about Peace Corps
  • How much luggage am I allowed to bring?
  • What is the electric current?
  • How much money should I bring?
  • When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
  • Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
  • Do I need an international driver’s license?
  • What should I bring as gifts for my host family?
  • Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
  • How can my family contact me in an emergency?
  • Can I call home?
  • Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
  • Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
...and more...

For information see Welcomebooks

How much luggage am I allowed to bring to Tonga?

Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds this allowance. The Peace Corps has its own size and weight limits and will not pay the cost of transport for baggage that exceeds these limits. The authorized baggage allowance is two checked pieces of luggage with combined dimensions of both pieces not to exceed 107 inches (length + width + height) and a carryon bag with dimensions of no more than 45 inches. Checked baggage should not exceed 80 pounds total with a maximum weight allowance of 50 pounds for any one bag.

Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take pets, weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted), automobiles, or motorcycles to their overseas assignments. Do not pack flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers. This is an important safety precaution. All travel restrictions do apply; please check with your airline for further details. Also, please check the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website for a detailed list of permitted and prohibited items at http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/ prohibited/permitted-prohibited-items.shtm.

What is the electric current in Tonga?

The current in Tonga is 210 volts, 50 cycles, with variations. The variations can be extreme at times, so be prepared to take protective measures for any electronic equipment you bring.

Many Volunteers in Tonga have electricity in their homes at least some of the time, including that produced by solar power or gas generators. Most Volunteers placed on the outer islands have electricity between specific evening and nighttime hours while few others have no electricity

How much money should I bring?

Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people in their community. They are given a settling-in allowance and a monthly living allowance, which should cover their expenses. Often Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. Credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs.

When can I take vacation and have people visit me?

Each Volunteer accrues two vacation days per month of service (excluding training). Leave may not be taken during training, the first three months of service, or the last three months of service, except in conjunction with an authorized emergency leave. Family and friends are welcome to visit you after pre-service training and the first three months of service as long as their stay does not interfere with your work. Extended stays at your site are not encouraged and may require permission from your country director. Peace Corps/Tonga takes the view that a short visit by friends or family members may not necessarily be disruptive of your work as a Volunteer, but that longer visits may create the presumption that the visit is disrupting your service in Tonga. If you are expecting a longer visit from family or friends, you must get the approval of your associate Peace Corps director (APCD). The best course of action is to combine a short visit to your village with annual leave away from your village. The Peace Corps is not able to provide your visitors with visa, medical, or travel assistance.

Volunteers should be aware that it is Peace Crops policy that vacation days are required for all days a volunteer is on vacation. This includes weekends and holidays. This effectively reduces the Peace Crops vacation allotment about 29% from 'normal' expectations, and more if vacation is taken during work holidays.

Will my belongings be covered by insurance?

The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for personal effects; Volunteers are ultimately responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. However, you can purchase such insurance before you leave. If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company; additionally, insurance application forms will be provided, and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Volunteers should not ship or take valuable items overseas. Jewelry, watches, radios, cameras, and expensive appliances are subject to loss, theft, and breakage, and in many places, satisfactory maintenance and repair services are not available.

Do I need an international driver’s license?

Volunteers in Tonga do not need to get an international driver’s license because they are prohibited from operating motorized vehicles. Most urban travel is by bus, taxi, or bike. Rural travel ranges from boats, minibuses, and trucks to bicycling and lots of walking.

What should I bring as gifts for Tongan friends and my host family?

This is not a requirement. A token of friendship is sufficient. Some gift suggestions include calendars of American scenes; souvenirs from your area; hard candies that will not melt or spoil; and small perfumes or scented lotions.

Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?

Peace Corps trainees are not assigned to individual sites until after they have completed their pre-service training. This gives Peace Corps staff the opportunity to assess each trainee’s technical and language skills prior to assigning sites, in addition to finalizing site selections with their ministry counterparts. If feasible, you may have the opportunity to provide input on your site preferences, including geographical location, distance from other Volunteers, or living conditions. However, keep in mind that many factors influence the site selection process and that the Peace Corps cannot guarantee placement where you would ideally like to be. Most Volunteers live in small towns or in rural villages and are usually within one hour from another Volunteer. Some sites require a boat ride of from two to 48 hours or a plane ride of 10 minutes to two hours from the capital.

How can my family contact me in an emergency?

The Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services provides assistance in handling emergencies affecting trainees and Volunteers or their families. Before leaving the United States, you should instruct your family to notify the Office of Special Services immediately if an emergency arises, such as a serious illness or death of a family member. During normal business hours, the number for the Office of Special Services is 800.424.8580, extension 1470. After normal business hours and on weekends and holidays, the Special Services duty officer can be reached at 202.638.2574. For non-emergency questions, your family can get information from your country desk staff at the Peace Corps by calling 800.424.8580, extension 2522 or 2523.

Can I call home from Tonga?

Yes, it is possible to purchase a local telephone card to call the United States. Some Volunteers in larger cities also purchase mobile phones for use during their service.

Should I bring a cellular phone with me?

Tonga has two mobile phone systems. The only mobile phones compatible with the systems here are those that utilize SIM cards. Most mobile phones from the U.S. are not compatible and Volunteers find it easiest to purchase mobile phones in Tonga.

If you have a GSM phone (T-Mobile or AT&T) you can ask your carrier for the "unlock code". They should email you directions for unlocking your phone along with the code. Once unlocked your phone will work in Tonga with either carrier. Typical phones from the States are of higher quality than affordable phones available in Tonga. If you do not have the unlock code, mobile phone shops MAY be able to hack the unlock code. If this does not kill your phone there is typically a TOP$45 fee to unlock the phone.

Cheap phones in Tonga start at about TOP$100. A typical US grade phone such as a Razer may exceed TOP$500. High end phones exceed TOP$1000. Even I-Phones are available here, but value added services currently do do not work. The new carrier, Digicell, has promised to upgrade information services before the end of 2008.

Calls to the U.S. from Tonga from a mobile are currently (April 1 2008) about TOP$1.35 a minute. Although new competition is expected to lower this cost, PCVs with Internet access may prefer to use Skype.

Phones have a short life in Tonga. PCVs are exposed to the elements while commuting and their phones often experience water damage. Mobile phones are frequently stolen.

For volunteers who live in a populated area a mobile phone is a critical tool and is an important to your personal safety.

Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?

There is e-mail and Internet access at businesses in the capital, at the Peace Corps resource center, and possibly through your host organization. Because of weaker telephone and electrical infrastructure in outlying areas, Volunteers in rural sites may be limited to sending and receiving e-mail on their occasional visits to the capital. Some Volunteers have brought laptop computers, but they are responsible for insuring and maintaining these computers. Be aware that you will probably not find the same level of technical assistance and service in Tonga as you would at home and that replacement parts could take months to arrive. (See the earlier Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle section for more information.)

There is very little Internet access during training.

Computers provided by Peace Corps are extremely restricted and have major functional limitations as a result. There is no Skype allowed on the PC computers. Volunteer computers may not be connected to the PC network and there is currently no WiFi available to volunteers. Even the browser (IE 6) and plug ins available (such as Flash) are obsolete and limit functionality.

Broadband in Tonga usually means 64kbps. This is about as fast as a dial-up connection in the States. A single broadband connection may be shared by twenty users. Volunteers may find this frustrating, especially when using bandwidth intensive sites.

Internet cafes are common. Prices range from TOP$2 per hour to TOP$8 per hour. Many of the higher end cafes in VaVau offer significant discounts to PCVs. Ask for these discounts. Low end Internet cafes are slow. It may take an hour to respond to a single gmail email.

There are two ISPs in the country. Each has a 2 mbps satellite downlink that all customers in the country share. Outages are common.

TCC delivers Internet using DSL over their phone lines. TonFone (Digicell) delivers Internet using WiMax.