Timor-Leste

Two people are holding and looking at soil.

About Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste is a small country to the north of Australia, it takes up half of Timor Island and is bordered by Indonesia to the west. Formerly known as East Timor or Timor Timur (in Bahasa Indonesia), the country is mostly mountainous interior terrain, surrounded by sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters.

There are cultural remains in Timor-Leste dating back to 42,000 years ago. Local legend has it that the island of Timor was formed from the body of an ageing crocodile as compensation to a little boy who helped him while he was unwell, and residents of the island are thought to be descendants of the little boy. Multiple waves of migration since the earliest inhabitants have built a country with a diversity of languages and cultures.

Colonised by Portugal in the 16th century and later occupied by Indonesia in 1975, Timor-Leste has a diverse history and cultural heritage. In 2002 it became the first new sovereign state of the 21st century, with the decade-long struggle for independence creating numerous development challenges for this young nation.

Today, Timor-Leste has over 15 different ethnic groups and 32 dialects, with the major ones being Mambae, Makasae, Fataluku, Bunak, Kemak, Atoni, and Tetun or Fehan.

Since independence Timor-Leste has taken great strides towards economic development and continues to tackle social, political and economic challenges. Human development indicators continue to improve, but 30% of the 1.3 million citizens still lives on less than US$1.90 a day.

Australian volunteers have supported a wide range of partner organisations in Timor-Leste to achieve their development goals since 1995.

Learn more about the Australian Volunteer Program's work in Timor-Leste.

Browse current assignments in Timor-Leste.

Key things to consider about volunteering in Timor-Leste

  • Personal relationships are extremely important in Timor-Leste. Volunteers are encouraged to start their relationship with light topics of common interest before getting to the real work of their assignment. Presents of some value from your home are encouraged, as are visiting families in their homes as part of starting a relationship.
  • There are many different microclimates in Timor-Leste. From dry, barren hillsides to thickly forested. Misty peaks interspersed with cultivated areas. Think carefully about what you will need on assignment.

Partner spotlight

Discover how an Australian volunteer Annamarie Reyes worked with colleagues at HIAM Health in Timor-Leste to spread the word about the nutrition-rich moringa plant.

Culture and religion

The 1.3 million Timorese people are linked closely, while at the same time the national identity is composed of many different indigenous groups, each with their own language and cultural practices. Broadly, Timorese society is conservative and traditional with a focus on family and community.

Timorese people are incredibly hospitable and friendly. There are many celebrations held at national and community levels and these are a big part of the vibrant culture of the country.

Religion

Around 90% of Timorese people identify as Catholic. Animism, or the belief that all people, places, and things possess a distinct spiritual essence, continues to be a persuasive force in most people’s everyday lives. Observing the way animist and religious beliefs are seamlessly blended is one of the interesting aspects of Timor-Leste.

Dress

Work dress is quite modest in Timor-Leste. For women, a skirt and blouse or a long dress are acceptable. For men, long trousers and long or short sleeved shirts are appropriate, but suits are required for very formal occasions.

Language

Timor-Leste has many spoken languages reflecting past migration, colonialism and occupation by other countries. Tetun and Portuguese are official languages, with Indonesian and English considered working languages.

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
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Day to day life

Climate

Timor-Leste has a hot tropical climate with a dry season (May – November) and wet season (December – April). The temperature on the coast is usually between 25-35°C and in the mountains at higher elevations the weather is much cooler – sometimes wet and misty and at other times clear.

It is important to note the effects of climate change on day-to-day life and weather patterns in Timor-Leste, this will look different based on location. According to the World Bank, “Timor-Leste is highly vulnerable to natural disasters which are associated with droughts, floods, landslides and soil erosion. Increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns and increased heavy rainfall events increase impacts of climate change for the country”.

Telecommunications

The speed and quality of mobile access is variable and lower than in Australia. Internet access is usually via a USB modem or mobile phone. There is limited wireless and virtually no landline internet.

Food and dining

Timor-Leste has a strong culture of hospitality, and most socialising involves food. For a city of its size, Dili has a wide range of international cuisine, reflecting many differing influences. Seafood caught daily and organic fruit and vegetables from local farmers influence menus. Most restaurants serve beer and wine.

A traditional Timorese lunch or dinner includes rice, meat or fish, beans and corn, seasonal vegetables with clever use of local spices, fresh herbs, tropical fruits and sometimes coconut milk accompanied by extremely hot ai-manas (chilli paste).

Accommodation

In Dili and throughout Timor-Leste there are a variety of accommodation options that fall within the budget of the volunteer accommodation allowance. Properties regularly become available, and volunteers usually find accommodation within the first two weeks of arrival in-country.

Find out about our in-country allowances.

Transport

There are a range of transport options in both Dili and across Timor-Leste, however public transport can be difficult. Many volunteers purchase their own vehicle while on assignment.

Personal Safety

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 Timor-Leste.

Timor-Leste is relatively stable however there are occasional incidents of fighting between young groups in various districts around the country, often but not always related to martial arts groups. These incidents often involve stone throwing and occasionally machetes and knives. Most happen at night and foreigners are rarely targeted.

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 Timor-Leste, please do further research on living in Timor-Leste 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.

Volunteering opportunities in Timor-Leste

There are no current assignments in Timor-Leste, but we’re always adding new assignments. Stay up to date with our Assignment Alert newsletter or register for the Talent Pool to get a head start on your application. Alternatively, explore all our current assignments.