The country of Palau is made up of tightly clustered islands east of the Philippines. With 18,000 people it has the world’s fourth smallest population and is the 16th smallest country by area.
Palau was initially settled in 1000 BC, and there is little known about the origin of the modern population. There are some indications that it may derive from modern Indonesia, based on today’s language and the fact that it was once a matriarchal society.
In the late 1800’s, England, Spain, and Imperial Germany all claimed the islands, before Japan conquered the country in 1914 as part of World War I. World War I and II were a difficult and grim time for the people of Palau, as their home was of strategic importance to both the USA and Japan. Post-war Palau was managed by the USA until 1981, when an independent constitution was created, and the country became a republic.
Today, the nation is governed by a structure of states, which are divided into municipalities. Each of these municipalities have both a tribal chiefdom, and an elected legislature. The United States of America takes responsibility for protecting Palau from foreign threats as the nation does not have its own military.
Tourism is a large part of the economy, with 140,000 people visiting the country in 2016. In 2017, the country became the first in the world to require tourists to sign an ‘Eco-Pledge’ upon arrival – a stamped pledge in their passports that states they will be a good environmental steward throughout their stay.
Australian volunteers have supported a wide range of Palauan partner organisations to achieve their development goals since 1993.
Key things to consider about volunteering in Palau
- Dress and behaviour standards are conservative. If you're a woman, it is advised to wear clothing that covers your knees and shoulders.
- Natural disasters can occur, including tropical storms, flooding, and coastal flooding. Read more below in the Climate section.
- Plan how you will handle isolation. Palau is a culturally rich and beautiful country, but it has a relatively small population and a small number of volunteers each year.
- Palau is known for its diving. Tourists from all over the world travel to experience their world class waters.
Culture and religion
Palauan culture is based around a clan society with a complex matriarchal system. Following traditional structures, Palauan villages are organized around clans, and governed by a council of chiefs from the ten ranking clans.
The indigenous Palauan religion of powerful ancestral and nature spirits was supplanted by Christianity brought by missionaries from the 19th century. Slightly more than half the population is Roman Catholic, and just over a quarter is Protestant.
Generally, dress is somewhat conservative with covered shoulders and knees length for women. However, many organizations and government departments have been very flexible about dress codes.
Palauan (a tekoi er a Belau) is a Malayo-Polynesian language native to the Republic of Palau and one of two official languages alongside English. Volunteers will have the opportunity to learn Palauan.
The program provides funding to support language lessons. More information on this process will be available during the onboarding process.
Explore our Pride Guides
LGBTIQA+ program participants must be aware of the country's context before undertaking an assignment. Pride Guides are designed to introduce key issues related to people with diverse SOGISEC & their participation in the program.Learn more
Day to day life
Palau's climate is tropical, with relatively constant humidity. Temperatures vary little, with average lows of 23°C and highs of 31°C year-round.
It is important to note the effects of climate change on day-to-day life and weather patterns in Palau, this will look different based on location. According to the World Bank, “Palau is particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise and an increase in extreme weather events such as storm surges, given that the majority of its population, infrastructure and cultural sites are in coastal areas.”
There are reliable mobile network and internet services in Palau. Many places including restaurants offer free wifi services to guests.
Food and dining
Palau has many restaurants and bars, most commonly with American, Asian and Indian cuisine.
There are two main supermarkets and one local produce store. Volunteers with dietary requirements (such as Coeliac) may find it challenging to source appropriate ingredients locally.
Volunteers stay in apartments and houses. Volunteers will be supported by the in-country team to find appropriate accommodation, and word of mouth is often the best way to find suitable options.
Most of Palau’s islands are paved. While car hire is available, most volunteers purchase a second-hand car. Taxis are limited on the island and therefore not reliable.
Palau is a safe place to travel with low crime rates. In some areas there are local curfews, especially for school-aged children.
Personal safety issues constantly evolve, we recommend you keep an eye on Smart Traveller for current information.
Mobility and Accessibility
We’re committed to ensuring that international volunteering is inclusive and accessible to Australians from a range of backgrounds, with diverse perspectives, identities and abilities.
To support this, Access and Inclusion Plans are available for volunteers with disabilities to assess their needs and ensure their living and working requirements are fully considered. Indigenous Pathways is an Indigenous-led program that focuses on providing culturally safe, flexible and tailored support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander volunteers.
Before applying for a volunteering assignment in Palau, please do some further research on living in Palau and the organisation you are hoping to volunteer with. Successful applicants will have the opportunity to discuss expected living and working arrangements with their recruitment officer.