A practical foreign exchange and currency guide on sending money and travel to Tonga
Tonga, officially the Kingdom of Tonga (Pule′ Fakatu′i ′o Tonga), is an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, comprised of 169 islands, 36 of them inhabited. Resolutely sidestepping flashy resorts and packaged cruise-ship schtick, Tonga is unpolished, gritty and unfailingly authentic. Life here ticks along at its own informal pace: church-life is all pervasive, chickens and pigs have right-of-way, and there’s nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow. Once you’ve shifted down into ‘Tonga time’, you’ll find these islands awash with gorgeous beaches, low-key resorts, myriad snorkelling, diving, yachting and kayaking opportunities, hiking trails, rugged coastlines and affable locals.
The currency in Tonga is “Pa’anga”. ATMs are available in the capital city Nuku’alofa and in the main towns of ‘Eua island and the Ha’apai island group. There are several ATMs in Nuku’alofa city and one in the general public area of the Fua’amotu International Airport (The one at the Airport can however occasionally run out of cash). All these ATMs are currently operated by Westpac and ANZ Bank. Most larger tourist service providers and Supermarkets accept local bank cards as well as Visa and Mastercards and occasionally AMEX and Diners Club.
Most visits to Tonga are trouble free. The crime rate is relatively low. However, like most place, petty crime and theft do take place. Tongan society is very conservative and highly religious. You will be expected to respect local customs and culture, however the country is nicknamed the “Friendly Islands” which should give you a broad hint at the demeanor of the people. The pace is can best be described as “relaxed”. Generally casual, however evening dining may require shoes and something slightly more formal than beachwear.
Tonga is a popular destination for scuba divers and beach fanatics. However skimpy beachwear is frowned on outside the resorts, on local beaches or in towns. It is respectable to wear modest clothes in towns and rural areas. Tonga strictly observes the Sabbath.
Visitors from most countries including New Zealand, UK, USA and Australia may enter Tonga without a visa for a period no longer than 31 days. Visitors from some countries do require a visa however and it is always best to make those enquiries from your travel agent or contact the Tongan Immigration Department.
Flying is by far the easiest, fastest and most comfortable way to get around Tonga. Real Tonga operates most of the domestic flights in Tonga. Fiji Airways also flies between Nuku’alofa and Vava’u, often as a code-share flight with Real Tonga.
No doubt, Real Tonga plays a vital role in flying people between the isles of the Kingdom. But when it comes to concrete departure times, forget about it. Real Tonga’s flight schedules are a movable feast, changing even within 24 hours of your next flight. They do try and email and phone your accommodation (if you’ve told them where you’ll be) to let you know, but otherwise beware. Re-confirm your booking as close as possible to your departure time, then arrive at the airport early.
Tonga’s privately owned buses have a handy interprative ‘B’ at the start of their licence plates. They run on Tongatapu, and in a more limited capacity on Vava’u and its causeway-linked islands. Fares range from T$0.70 to T$2 depending on distances travelled. Don’t expect to get where you’re going in a hurry…but riding a local bus is a cultural experience in itself.
The Nuku’alofa Visitor Information Centre lists ferry schedules, which must be rechecked prior to intended travel. Subsequent to the tragic sinking of the Princess Ashika in 2009 with the loss of 74 lives, all Tongan ferries and aircraft have come under intense scrutiny, and safety standards have risen dramatically.
The below comparison table makes it easy to find the best exchange rates and lowest fees when you want to make a Transfer or Spend Tongan paanga.
19 Oct 2021
04 Aug 2021
02 Nov 2020
03 Nov 2016
05 Nov 2011
07 Nov 2001