Quick Facts

  • At the end of the Indonesian regime there was significant violence. Most of the country's infrastructure - including homes, irrigation systems, water supply systems, schools and nearly 100% of the country's electrical - grid was destroyed.
  • Some of the banyan trees on the Dili foreshore are more than 100 years old.
  • “Timor” comes from the Malay word for “East”.
  • The island of Timor is part of the Malay Archipelago and is the largest and eastern most of the Lesser Sunda Islands.
  • There are about 16 indigenous languages. The official languages are Tetum and Portuguese. The majority of languages spoken are Tetum, Galole, Mambae, and Kemak.
  • The main religion is Roman Catholicism (98% of the population).
  • The currency is the US dollar.
  • Timor-Leste has a Human Development Index rating of 141, according to the latest UN Human Development Report. (Source: UN Development Programme International human development indicators)

Language and culture

VSA assignments last up to two years, so local language training is important. We provide a two-week Tetun language training course at the start of assignments and ongoing training thereafter.

Understanding local customs is vital to a successful assignment. In Timor-Leste there is great importance placed on greetings and first impressions. It’s important to remember to engage in ‘small talk’ before getting down to business. Try to avoid negative statements and make people lose face. Under no circumstances should you criticise or correct someone in front of a group – it would be more appropriate and acceptable if you were to do this in private.

Housing and living conditions

We provide our volunteers with basic, furnished accommodation. 

Electricity supply in Dili can be erratic. 

The town water supply is either government-supplied, pumped from the mountains (unreliable), or from individual household wells, although neither source is entirely reliable. Some houses have an Asian water container (called a bak mandi in Bahasa Indonesia) for non-supply periods, buckets also work. All drinking water is bottled water.

Dress standards

Timor-Leste is a conservative country, and some western style clothing is not appropriate. Loose-fitting, light, cotton clothing is best. For men choose long pants, and short- sleeved collared shirts and closed shoes (no toes showing) for work. For women, dresses, skirts and short-sleeved shirts (covering shoulders) are commonly worn in work situations. Revealing clothing should not be worn in public places including churches and markets.


Malaria has been prevalent in Timor-Leste, but there has not been a case in Dili for more than five years and the WHO is reconsidering recommendations. Malaria prophylaxes are only required in some districts during the rainy season. Other precautions are always recommended, such as insect repellent and long sleeves/trousers in the evening if outside and a mosquito net if you are staying outside of Dili. Dengue Fever is also prevalent and common. Skin infections can develop quickly so have a good supply of plasters, antibiotic cream and antibiotics. Medical and dental facilities are limited; expatriates go to one of two private clinics. Health care is basic, and you’ll need to be responsible for managing your own health while on assignment. There are no safe overnight hospital facilities in Timor-Leste for expatriates and any major trauma will require evacuation to Darwin or Bali.


We provide all selected volunteers with a thorough security briefing prior to departure and specific local issues are covered during in-country orientation. Despite the generally stable situation in Timor-Leste, security incidents do occur, and you should maintain a level of personal security awareness as you go about.

Banking and finances

Volunteers are required to open a local US dollar bank account once their visa has been approved (approximately 2 months after arrival), where monthly living allowances are paid into.  There are ATMs in Dili, and some are accessible 24 hours. ATMs are subject to occasional downtimes due to a lack of electricity and often run out of cash. When they are offline, cash can be obtained from the bank but only out of a local account. The local currency is the US dollar with Timorese coins. There are NO MASTERCARD facilities in Timor-Leste. There is only Visa. Paying by credit card or debit card is rare, this is predominantly a cash-based economy.

Cell phones and email

Cellular phones have good coverage in and around Dili and Timor-Leste. Different suppliers have different coverage, so some volunteers have multiple sim cards if they travel regularly outside of Dili.  Landlines are uncommon but can be used for both local and international calls.

Internet connections can be slow compared to New Zealand. All internet is via satellite and distributed via a mobile connection, there are plans for high-speed sea cable from Australia to be operational by around 2021/2. Unlimited internet on 4G is available for around USD50 per month. Most volunteers can access Netflix.