Papua New Guinea

A lady in a brightly coloured dress sits on an outrigger canoe on a beach with water behind her

About Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, and Australia’s closest neighbour. Situated in the Pacific Ocean, the country is made up of rugged mountains and tropical rainforests and is situated on the Pacific Ring of Fire. Papua New Guinea is home to a vast variety of flora and fauna, with many species endemic and unique to the region.

Humans first arrived in what is now Papua New Guinea somewhere between 42,000 and 45,000 years ago, in one of the earliest waves of human migration. Little was known to Europeans about the island until the mid-1800s when Christian missionaries arrived, although it was visited by traders from Portugal, Spain, and Southeast Asia before that.

Papua New Guinea has a complex history, which impacts life there today. Separate territories of the island were colonised by the Germans and British in the 19th century, before Australia became the occupying force of both during World War I. The island was also home to major military conflicts between Japan and the Allied Forces during World War II. In 1975, Papua New Guinea successfully appealed for independence from Australia, although it is still a Commonwealth realm, with the King of England as Head of State.

No two provinces are the same, with each location rich in song, dance and local tradition. Almost 85% of the country's eight million people live in rural areas, including remote highlands and hundreds of islands. Relationships between different areas and communities are complex.

One of the world's least urbanised countries, Papua New Guinea has unique development challenges. Australian volunteers have been supporting partners here since 1964.

Learn more about the Australian Volunteer Program's work in Papua New Guinea.

Browse current assignments in Papua New Guinea. 

Key things to consider about volunteering in Papua New Guinea

  • Volunteers need to aware of the risks of living in Papua New Guinea. Volunteers are expected to adopt enhanced security measures while on assignment. Volunteers will be supported by robust procedures to reduce risk, allowing for a safe and rewarding experience.
  • There is limited suitable housing. The Australian Volunteers Program sources appropriate accommodation on behalf of volunteers in secured compounds.
  • For those interested in volunteering in Papua New Guinea, we recommend patience, and a conservative and sensible approach.
  • Volunteers are not permitted to use public transport. Partner organisations will provide transport for work, and the program provides secure transport services for after hours and weekend use (in most locations, not all).

Culture and religion

The general Papua New Guinean communication style is relaxed and open. Relationships between older and younger generations are easy, and men and women socialise together. Papua New Guineans tend to communicate directly on general topics, however, people are culturally very sensitive and are easily shamed, so a more indirect style is common when it comes to sensitive issues.

The majority of Papua New Guineans live in rural areas which are often isolated. Many communities still function through wantok (one talk, or shared language) systems, with their own customary laws, systems and practices that are partially recognised by the country’s constitution. The wantok system plays an important role in Papua New Guinean society; after family, they are the most important social support structure.

Each community has its own taboos surrounding class, status, and custodianship of areas, and this differs between provinces and villages. The passing down of cultural artefacts, skills and customs is complex, and there are intricate rules around taboos and beliefs. General taboos include never stepping over food or pointing at someone, especially when in conversation – this can be perceived as gossiping about that person. Most people point with their chin - not their finger. There are many taboos in Papua New Guinean cultures around gender and sexuality.


The dominant religion in Papua New Guinea is Christianity, followed by indigenous beliefs.


Comfortable, modest clothing is recommended. While larger cities are less conservative, volunteers are recommended to blend in, rather than stand out.


Papua New Guinea is the most linguistically diverse country in the world. The country has more than 800 unique living languages. After independence, Papua New Guinea adopted three official languages: English, Tok Pisin and Hiri Motu.

Tok Pisin is a creole language spoken throughout Papua New Guinea and the most widely used language in the country. English is used by the government, courts and the education system and is widely understood. Volunteers are encouraged to learn basic Tok Pisin as the effort will be well received by the community.

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
The Pride flag is shown against a pink background.

Day to day life


The climate is tropical and can be split into two seasons: the rainy season (December to March) and the dry season (May to October). The average temperature is 28°C. Volunteers won’t need thick jackets, but layers are useful for air conditioning and cooler evenings.

Papua New Guinea is vulnerable to several hazards, including floods, droughts, earthquakes, volcanic activity, tsunamis.

It is important to note the effects of climate change on day-to-day life and weather patterns in Papua New Guinea, which will look different based on location. According to the World Bank, some disasters and sea-levels, “are expected to increase in frequency, magnitude, and intensity due to climate change. The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon has already been observed to have an increasingly negative effect on PNG’s climate, triggering more intense drought and flood events”.


There are three mobile operators in PNG and ARoB. Digicel tends to be the most reliable and preferred provider. Other providers are Telekom and Vodafone.

The stability, speed and high costs of phone data is problematic. Many smaller organisation will not have wi-fi and rely on hotspotting off phones.

Food and dining

Food plays an important part in Papua New Guinean cultures. Foods and their preparation vary greatly depending on location, and the availability of local produce. Papua New Guineans generally buy their food at local markets or from vendors who travel through residential areas. In larger urban areas, there are large supermarkets that stock Asian and Western produce, but they are comparatively expensive.

Food is always shared freely among friends and family even if there is only a small amount available. Traditional cooking is plain and important foods include coconut, fish, sago, bananas, cabbage, taro, cassava and sweet potato. These vary based on geographical area.


Due to limited suitable housing, the Australian Volunteers Program sources appropriate accommodation on behalf of volunteers. Units are mostly housed within secure compounds, which are tenanted by other volunteers or expat communities. The properties are mostly fully furnished, but often require bedding and other personal effects.

Find out about our in-country allowances


Volunteers are not permitted to use public transport in most locations in Papua New Guinea. Partner organisations usually provide transport for work, and the program provides secure transport services for after hours and weekend use.

Volunteers are not generally permitted to drive in Papua New Guinea, but this can be discussed on a case-by-case basis. Most volunteers, even if permitted, choose not to drive.

Volunteering in Papua New Guinea

Australian volunteer Des Symes describes how her partner organisation Touching the Untouchables (TTU) in Papua New Guinea is saving women's lives.

Personal Safety

Volunteers need to aware of the reasonable risks of living in Papua New Guinea.

Violent crime, including armed robbery and carjacking, is common throughout the country, especially in urban areas such as Port Moresby, Lae and Mt Hagen. The settlement areas in these centres are particularly dangerous. Most of the time, crime is opportunistic but organised criminal groups also operate in Papua New Guinea.

Tensions between ethnic or clan groups occur periodically, particularly in the Highlands region and in larger urban areas such as Lae and Port Moresby. These sometimes lead to outbreaks of tribal fighting, often involving the use of machetes or firearms. Disputes can escalate with little warning and can result in destruction of property, disruption to services and injuries or deaths. While foreigners are not usually targeted in this violence, volunteers should remain vigilant, stay clear of settlement areas and avoid large crowds or gatherings.

Volunteers are expected to adopt enhanced security measures while on assignment. Volunteers will be supported by robust procedures to reduce risk, allowing for a safe and rewarding experience.

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 Papua New Guinea, please do some further research on living in Papua New Guinea 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.