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 were 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. Majority languages 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 128, according to the 2014 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 three-week Tetun language training course at the start of assignments and follow-up training if necessary.

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 making 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 pumped from the mountains or from local wells, although neither source is entirely reliable. All houses have an Asian water container (called a mandi) for non-supply periods. Mains water supply is not recommended for drinking so boil water, use a purifier or drink 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 shirts for work. For women, dresses, skirts and short-sleeved shirts are commonly worn in work situations. Revealing clothing should not be worn in public places including churches and markets.


Malaria is endemic in the majority of Timor-Leste and all volunteers must use malarial prophylaxis. Other precautions are still recommended, such as insect repellent and long sleeves / trousers in the evening if outside and a mosquito net if you are staying in villages. Dengue Fever is also present. 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 or the Dili National Hospital. Health care is basic and you’ll need to be responsible for managing your own health while on assignment.


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;

The main commercial bank in Dili is the ANZ Bank. We open a local US dollar bank account for all volunteers on arrival in Timor-Leste where monthly living allowances are paid into.  The bank operates various ATMs in Dili, and some are accessible 24 hours. ATMs are subject to occasional downtimes due to a lack of electricity. When they are offline, cash can be obtained from the bank but only out of a local account or from Visa/Mastercard credit cards. Local currency is the US dollar with Timorese coins. Visit XE.com for current exchange rates.

Cell phones and email

Cellular phones have pretty good coverage in and around Dili. This is extending slowly into the rest of Timor-Leste and competitors to the government provider are now entering the market. Landlinesare not common but can be used for both local and international calls.

Internet connections can be slow compared to New Zealand. There are a number of internet cafes in Dili with access to broadband. If you have your own laptop you can also access Skype. Internet access is more limited outside Dili.