Is Kiribati Safe? How to Travel Safely

Poor infrastructure, petty crime, alcoholism and economic strife in Kiribati. Here's what you need to know to stay safe.

Fanning Island, also known as Tabuaeran, is one of the islands of Republic of Kiribati Photo © Getty Images/EvaKaufman

Kiribati is an island nation in the Pacific, halfway between Hawaii and Fiji. If you'd like a look at life on Kiribati from a traveler's perspective, pick up the book The Sex Lives of Cannibals. The American author came with his wife to Tarawa for a few years in the early 2000s and detailed every cultural difference, quirk and infrastructure problem he encountered. While there's a bit of elaboration inside this travel memoir, some of it does meet the mark.

Limited infrastructure in Kiribati

One thing that's made mention of quite a bit in the book is Kiribati's extreme underdeveloped nature. Planes don't travel in and out of the island very often, and the ones that do may look like they're seconds from falling apart. Buildings are of the most basic construction, and houses lack common necesseties, such as the humble toilet.

Privacy is considered different here, and you shouldn't be surprised to see people roaming through a random house's backyard – even if they don't live there. Many people walk around with machetes.

Population density is quite a problem. Though there are 33 atolls that make up the country, more than half of Kiribati's population lives in South Tarawa, which sees a 3-percent growth rate each year.

Alcoholism in Kiribati

It's a sad fact that many social problems exist in Kiribati, especially on the heavily-populated Tarawa.

Alcoholism is rife on the atolls, and many of their inhabitants are "bad" drunks who may be friendly when sober, but out of control when they've imbibed.

Drinking is one of the only nighttime activities in which to take part in Kiribati, and locals who do it to excess can get rowdy and violent.

Walking around at night, especially in Betio, in downtown Tarawa, and on the beaches of South Tarawa can welcome random attacks and arguments thanks to drunkenness.

It's not uncommon to see bus drivers and other workers drunk on the job as well.

Partly due to booze, but also partly due to perceived gender roles, women alone may be approached aggressively. Many Kiribati think it's against custom to allow women to travel or walk solo.

Incidences of domestic violence often occur when alcohol is involved as well. In fact, Kiribati carries some of the highest rates of mental, physical and sexual abuse against women in the world. Roughly 68 percent of Kiribati women report suffering domestic abuse at some point in their lives. World organizations have begun trying to put more aid in place for domestic violence victims, educate the community and lower abuse rates, but it's still a problem you might hear or see on your trip.

Poverty and the economy

There are more social and health issues afflicting the island, such as high rates of smoking, 85 percent of residents here puff, diabetes and heart disease and malnutrition.

Poverty and economic strife are other issues with which the Kiribati residents contend.

The unemployment rate is quite high. Aid workers are stationed there, but there's only so much they can do.

Petty crime in Kiribati

Petty crime like theft is also common in Kiribati. Travelers recommend taking taxis home when out at night instead of walking to avoid trouble on the street. Keep your valuables out of sight and be aware of anyone lingering close.

Local laws in Kiribati

There are crimes you can commit as a traveler too. Male homosexual acts are illegal, but female homosexuality is not. The law is not enforced strictly, however discrimination may be an issue for the LGBTQ community. Local laws make it illegal to be nude in public, and it is also illegal to wear skimpy swimwear. 

Be aware drug trafficking or possession is a serious offence, resulting in lengthy prison time. Our advice? Don't do drugs in Kiribati.

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2 Comments

  • Teako Otia Nebati said

    I think this is not updated and definitely does not represent Kiribati in a way it should be. I definitely think you should reconsider rewriting a review on Kiribati or ask someone whose from Kiribati but has been exposed to foreign countries.
    1. Road infrastructure is definitely developed and had become better as of the 2015 year, the same year you wrote this.
    2. Culturally the people are laid back and lazy, so drinking and boozing are natural. Disturbance due to drunkards is likely to happen except if you hang in the wrong turf, which is usually around where they drink. Why hang out where people are not cognitively stable? There are plenty of places to visit and even enjoy at night. What you wrote is what I called a 'hasty generalization' of what you don't even know.
    3. Police recruitment is higher than before, right now the law on DUI is enforced, unlike fifty years before, the police enforcement is stronger than ever in enforcing the laws.
    4. Traveling to the outer island is not efficient, but what do you expect from a small island that is already under climatical threats? We have better things to care for than just a petty airplane. We can make do with what we have, and we always did.
    5. Thefts common everywhere but not as bad as in Kiribati, I had been to other Pacific island states and never had I ever felt safer in Kiribati than where I'd visit. The Kiribati people are very conscious of their pride and dignity when you stole something, you do not commit the crime alone, it a brand that you gave your family; so people don't usually jump at every opportunity to steal. Only the mentally unstable people that we called 'te baba' did it.
    6. What you called as nudity, homosexual and skimpy bathing suit is not allowed but is silently accepted. The people are conservative and very religious. The people are family oriented so of course, it is inherent that parents would not want anything that would harm their children. But did it stopped it from happening? No, in fact, you can see Kiribati women walking around with skimpy clothes now, and homosexual men walking around in groups and in partners.

    What really surprises me is that the Kiribati you portrayed is Kiribati in the 1990's era, if you really want to write a good review to mirror both sides of the countries, get your facts corrects, and stop quoting the past, because we do not always stay in the same place, Kiribati is experiencing incremental changes even as I am writing now. What you wrote would still marginalize us as uncivilized and uneducated.

    Reply

  • Dane said

    This article is so horribly ethnocentric that I could barely finish reading it. This is not what I expect from a travel site.

    Reply

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