50 Things I’ve Learned as an Expat 8


By Jan De Burgh

I’ve been in Solomon Islands (primarily Honiara) for over one year now. A year away from home is quite a milestone for me! There have been highs and lows but overall, I’ve had a great time and been fortunate enough to meet the most wonderful group of friends.

During the past twelve months, there have been countless moments where I’ve thought ‘gosh, I wish I’d known that’. I’ve made plenty of foolish mistakes, such as spending a whole day searching for fresh milk, and have pondered over many questions which I’ve later learned are apparently common knowledge.

And so to celebrate my first year as an expat, I thought I would write down all the little tips and ideas that other people have taught me, or I’ve just figured out through trial and error. I hope you find the list helpful if you’re starting out your life in the hapi isles. Feel free to add even more in the comments box below!

  1. Geckos live in all the houses. Do not embarrass yourself, as I did, and think that an exterminator needs to be called. Geckos are treasures as they eat all the bugs that may otherwise be eating you!
  2. The Solomon Islands loves Facebook and so many groups/ businesses will have a Facebook page rather than a website.
  3. If you’re going walking, carry a big rock in your hand in case you meet a pack of stray dogs. If the dogs come at you, hold the rock high in the air and look aggressive right back at them.
  4. People don’t have addresses. The locations of peoples homes are generally described by what area they live in, then any landmarks near by (a green fence, a giant bin, a blue pole). If you have a house, perhaps draw a map that you can email to people who you invite over.
  5. People do get malaria here. Take you malaria tablets if you so choose, or at least cover in bug spray. It’s treatable so visit a doctor to get a test if you think you’ve caught it.
  6. You cannot rescue all the cats (or dogs). There are simply too many of them and having a house full of adopted animals will inhibit your ability to have friends over. It is also costly to take them back home. Adopt one or two but make sure to find them good homes before you go, or dish out the cash to take them with you.
  7. Not everyone follows the same road rules. Therefore, drive slowly and be alert for unpredictable behavior, i.e. don’t get too close to other cars.
  8. As a general rule, don’t wear your suits (jacket, tie) from home, you will look ridiculous, be too hot and it will be a barrier. I’m sure there is one or two things you may need a suit for but as a general rule, dress more casual. ‘Island formal’ is a Hawaiian type shirt with pants or skirt.
  9. Dark glass taxis are often used for ‘private liaisons’. If you use one, this is the reason you may get some funny looks.
  10. If you are here supporting your partner, there are lots of activities and volunteer projects you can do. Before making any firm commitments, take your time to look at all the options and get your bearings in your new home first.
  11. If you want to visit someone else’s land, then you will likely need to pay a kustom fee. At the beach, the amounts are often written on a board at the entrance. If you are going into the hills, ask around to make sure you know the right person to seek permission from and pay (other expats or your local friends may know). Be respectful.
  12. At petrol stations people fill up the car for you (just like I remember from my youth in Australia!). Let the attendant know how much you would like to spend. Keep your tank half full incase you ever need to do a trip at short notice.
  13. Taxis are paid by km, not by time, so don’t fret so much about being stuck in traffic.
  14. The red stains on the ground are from people chewing and then spitting out betel nut, not from street fights.
  15. There are good coffees available at the cafes in Honiara. Great cakes too.
  16. Dairy products seem to come and go in Honiara. Cream, cheese and sour cream often disappear for short periods. Many people bring in their own chesses. Yogurt makers are ace. You can buy one at the deli at Panatina Plaza.
  17. Don’t worry about bringing heaps of clothes. There are plenty of clothes to buy in Honiara at the bale shops. They are often good brands, sometimes unworn. Bale shopping can become quite an obsession.
  18. The climate and water can be harsh on your hair. Opt for a short hair cut or bring some good conditioner/ conditioning treatments with you. There are some good hairdressers here. I’ve had the best hair cut of my life in Honiara.
  19. Solomon Islanders tend to have amazing voices and a brilliant sense of rhythm (yes, I know this is a generalisation however I’ve seen it over and over). If you are invited to any events where singing is happening, then you must go.
  20. Register with SmartTraveller and keep informed of travel advice for Solomon Islands.
  21. Swearing is not on! People may ask you for compensation if you swear in front of them.
  22. Join clubs, community groups or regular activities. It’s great for your mental health as it gets you out and about, meeting people.
  23. You can use Skype to call landlines or mobiles overseas (as well as other people using Skype of course). It’s much cheaper than using a local mobile phone although be aware sometimes there are connection issues. Sending text messages from local mobiles to overseas works well.
  24. Wear your dresses, skirts, shorts to at least your knees. If unsure what to wear, look around and see how others are dressing.
  25. Try not to bring too many leather items, they will likely go mouldy. Bring mould rid with you if possible.
  26. The expat community is small and very intertwined. Be friendly and all will be well. Be prepared for everyone to know your business. If you’re from a big city, this can be a little strange at first however, it can provide great support.
  27. Having a first aid box is important: I have one in my car and one in the house. When you go adventuring, remember Savlon for cuts, vinegar for jelly fish stings, band aids and mozzie repellent. Infections happen fast in the tropics. Make sure you scrub any coral cuts to prevent infections.
  28. Christmas decorations are readily available from November. The Solomon Islands loves Christmas and so there are plenty of plastic trees, giant Santas, bobbles and tinsel to buy in the shops. No need to waste a large amount of your uplift (as I did) on such items.
  29. Get into the local fruits like pineapple and watermelon. Apples are in the shops from time to time but don’t get too attached to them, it will just make you sad.
  30. Living away from family and friends has its ‘ups’ and ‘downs’. Learn to recognise (or even better, predict) when you need a trip home or when you need to talk to someone about how you’re feeling.
  31. Costume parties are big in Honiara. Party costumes can be bought at AusMart. Fabric and some craft supplies can also be purchased there if you want to make your own costume. Bring a selection with you if possible.
  32. Two airlines fly internationally to Honiara: Solomon Airlines and Virgin Australia. I tend to choose which company to go with depending on the day I need to travel. Solomon Airlines gives you a meal and allows you to take about 30kg. Virgin Australia is great if you need a connecting flight and their vegetarian pie is delicious. There is a travel agent in Honiara.
  33. If you are looking for a big park to walk around, join the Honiara Golf Club and use it just for strolling or dog walking.
  34. For the ladies: There are very limited occasions in Honiara for high heels but it’s always good to have one pair for a special dinner or ball. Make sure they are comfortable as you will likely be out of practice at wearing them. In general, I tend to wear two types of shoes: my normal flip flops and my fancy flip flops. These two get me through nearly every social occasion.
  35. Internet access is quite expensive and can be slow at times. Just accept it or it will get to you. Don’t compare it to Australian prices as this is a small island and it actually costs more to allow access here.
  36. Store flours in the freezer to avoid weevils.
  37. The Solomon Islands has a thorough phone book. Visit Telekom to pick one up. It’s really handy!
  38. Honiara has many food shops, rather than one big supermarket. There are butchers, the Bulk Shops (good for cooking supplies as well as other things), small Chinese shops and markets (Central Market, SDA Market and many small by the road markets). Panatina Deli does have an overview of everything.
  39. Newspapers are the Solomon Star, The Islands Sun. They both cost $5 and can be bought around Honiara at small stalls at the side of the road and some shops. There is also The Solomon Times which is online.
  40. Ask permission before you take photos. Remember, children are not a tourist attraction. Be respectful – if you don’t have their parent’s or teacher’s permission, you probably shouldn’t put their photos on the internet. Show the person the photo once you’ve taken it and thank them. Even better, print them a copy and have it laminated!
  41. You can purchase Solbrew souvenirs by visiting the Solbrew factory in Renandi.
  42. Expats tummies are not made for the local water. Drink bottled water. Many expats however do use local water for cooking and hot drinks (anything where you boil it). The white lime flakes will build up in your kettle, so make sure to scrub it every so often. There is no need to buy a new kettle every time.
  43. Avoid banks on Thursdays. This is payday and the lines are very long.
  44. Beautiful tropical flowers can be bought at Central Market on Saturday mornings. Get there early!
  45. I don’t have kids myself, but from what my friends tell me, the kid’s birthday party scene is quite impressive. Consider if you need to bring any party items from home such as themed decorations, costumes or games.
  46. Carry ‘market money’ with you such as coins, $5, $10 and $20 notes. Having smaller money will make your transactions quicker at the markets as the sellers will not need to hunt around for change.
  47. Ask questions all the time! Both for general ‘how to’ knowledge and also for activities. There are lots of things to do here but it often isn’t obvious at first. Find out what other people are into and see if you can join them.
  48. If you plan to employ a haus mere to help with the housework/babysitting, then perhaps try employing her for two or three days at first, instead of five. It’s much easier to extend the employment to more days rather than have a difficult conversation about cutting back on days if you feel it’s too much. Some people love having a haus mere everyday but others prefer to have their personal space.
  49. Visit the many local beaches. We drive west out of Honiara and often stop at different ones each time. It’s always good to go with someone else the first time. Remember to pay the kustom fee at the entrance (someone will be waiting). For safety, check that you have mobile phone reception. Some of the things I take to the beach with me are: first aid kit, water shoes, snacks, beach chair, drinks, rash vest, snorkel gear and sunscreen.

And finally….

  1. Milk in Honiara is all long life milk.






  1. Hi there,

    I am a British student Doctor who is soon to be travelling to Honiara to work in the national referral hospital for 1 month.

    I am writing in semi-despiration: myself and my three colleagues were due to stay in the hospital accommodation, but unfortunately they have tripled the price at short notice. Something none of us budgeted for so now we are currently accomodationless.

    We are aware that accommodation is highly expensive in Honiara, so I am writing to request your help.

    Are you aware of any expatriates that would be willing to accommodate 4 very nice British medical students for a month? We are all female, in our mid 20s, kind, clean and friendly. We would be happy to pay something towards our stay.

    I realise this may be a bit of a long shot but it is worth trying.

    I appreciate your time on this matter.

    Thank you so much,

    Yvette Redpath
    4th Year Medical Student, Norwich Medical School, University of East Anglia, UK

  2. you nailed it Jo. If you want to add to the list, explaining betelnut stains might be handy. We had young visitors who were worried and wanted to help all the people they saw with ‘bleeding teeth’.

  3. Thanks Jan for your insights on the life in Honiara and the Solomons.
    We are working for an Australian startup there and it gives a lot of help.

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