Situated about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii, Samoa is made up of two main volcanic islands - Upolu and Savai’i - and eight smaller islets, with a total population of over 200,000.
Samoa’s oldest known site of human occupation is Mulifanua on the island of Upolu, which dates to approximately 1000 BC. After centuries of European colonial influence, Samoa gained independence in 1962 – the first Polynesian country to achieve this political status.
Samoans are warm, welcoming, and proud of their colourful traditions. Samoan culture is of Polynesian heritage and is proudly based on fa’a Samoa, which translates as ‘The Samoan Way’.
Samoa’s economy is driven by services, agriculture, and tourism. One in five Samoans find it difficult to meet their basic needs, with the rural poor and people with disabilities particularly vulnerable. Low rates of high school completion and the burden of non-communicable diseases are significant challenges to development.
Australian volunteers have supported a wide range of Samoan partner organisations to achieve their development goals since 1972.
Key things to consider about volunteering in Samoa
- Samoa is a conservative and Christian society. The church is a focus of recreational and social life. Volunteers are usually invited to services for the social aspect, this is a great way to get you know your community better.
- The island is vulnerable to natural disasters, such as tsunamis and cyclones.
- Embrace the slower pace of life. Like most pacific islands, pace of life moves at island time. Samoans are known for later starts, lack of bus schedules and flexible meeting times.
- Poor reception and Wi-Fi. Samoa does have a 4G network, but outside of the capital Apia, coverage is poor and reception weak, resulting in slow internet speed or no connection at all
- Food can be repetitive. Samoans are very traditional people, and this reflects in their food. Main ingredients for every meal are fish, taro (a root that somewhat resembles a potato) and coconut milk.
Culture and religion
Samoans have a very strong sense of community. The matai system, or Samoan chiefly system that governs the extended family is an important part of Samoan culture. Most Samoans live communally with fanua (land) as an integral part of the extended family. Caring and providing for their extended family or tribe is their number one priority as well as contributing to the local church.
Western missionaries converted Samoans from a belief in gods of the sun, earth, heavens and sea, to one God. Although there are Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu communities around Upolu, the majority identify as Christian. Villages, including remote ones, took initiative to build churches for worship. Since then, churches continue to be seen around the islands with almost each village contains at least one church. This reflects the central role of Christianity in the lives and communities of most Samoans.
It is often expected that everyone will attend church on Sundays and will adhere to expectations of offering to the church in the form of tithes. Sundays are often reserved as a day for church and for rest. Activities that may be acceptable on other days, such as swimming, may not be permitted on Sunday.
Samoa has a big expat community, and most are used to seeing western ways of dressing, with many locals dressing very similarly. However, when living and volunteering in Samoa it’s encouraged to dress conservatively. Loose fitting, light, cotton clothing is best. Dresses, skirts and t-shirts are commonly worn – sleeveless is acceptable. It is advisable not to expose skin above the knee, especially when attending traditional events.
Samoa is a bilingual country. Samoan is the main language and English is the second official language. Most government bodies and institutions work primarily in English. However, it is still recommended for volunteers to learn basic phrases in Samoan as it may be necessary in rural areas. Understanding the local dialect or language will provide better understanding and be a sign of respect to your colleagues. ‘
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
Samoa experiences a warm and humid climate all year round, with wet and dry seasons. Dry season is from May to October and usually brings in large number of visitors from across the globe. The wet season is from November to April. In recent years due to the impacts of climate change December and January have become the most flood-prone months.
Samoa has similar telecommunication standards to Australia. Volunteers can purchase a mobile handset, mobile package, and Wi-Fi on arrival.
Food and dining
Polynesians love their food. In recent years the availability of international foods at restaurants has increased. This has led to more healthy options, as well as options for people with different dietary needs.
Fast food chains and cafes are spread across the central business district and found across resorts on the islands of Savaii and Upolu. Options for eating out are typically limited near beach accommodation.
Food markets are available on both islands. Fugalei market is the most popular market for fresh produce. If trying market food stalls, try taking a local with you who can recommend the best and safest stalls.
Sunday is a very sacred day, and most Samoans will attend church. Supermarkets and many local businesses will be closed until late afternoon.
The traditional Samoan fale is an open thatched hut which provides fresh air. Although most Samoans tend to live in a papalagi, or western styled house, there are still families that live in Samoan fales around town and rural areas.
Find out about our in-country allowances
Public transport is very safe in Samoa. Local buses are a very Samoan custom of travel, and a good experience. Volunteers are asked to be cautious when traveling alone in a taxi. Many volunteers get a local driver's license and purchase a second-hand vehicle.
When it comes to your safety and security you must be willing to adapt your behaviour and lifestyle to minimise the potential for being a target of crime. Like anywhere in the world, crime does exist in Samoa.
Although Samoa is a relatively safe place to live and work, there has been an increase in petty crimes where vehicles and homes are being robbed. Volunteers are cautioned to travel in pairs and avoid dark places in and around the Central Business District.
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
Physical access for wheelchairs and other mobility aids are still emerging in Samoa, but the government is keen to increase collaboration, cooperation and coordination in the area of disability inclusion and service provision. The new Samoa Disability Program commits to increasing accessibility of services and the participation of people living with a disability in livelihoods and employment.
Before applying for a volunteering assignment in Samoa, please do some further research on living in Samoa 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.