Crime and Local Laws in Tonga: Know Before You Go

Crime, local laws and customs to know before you go to Tonga. Here's everything you need to know to stay safe.

Sailing boats anchored off of the Robinson Crusoe Island Manihiki in Tonga's Vav'u Island group Photo © Getty Images/Susanne Michaela Huss

Modesty and respect will go a long way in Tonga. The Pacific island nation of Tonga can be a fascinating place to travel. It generally enjoys a relatively low crime rate and practices strict Christian beliefs. With those things taken into account, travelers should be vigilant on certain fronts to protect themselves from being victimized in any way and offending the very religious locals.

Theft and petty crime in Tonga

Petty crime and theft occur in Tonga, so practice the standard precautions of securing valuables and not flashing desirable items around. The Australian Government reports that home invasions and property theft have increased since the Global Financial Crisis as well. Violent robberies have also occurred. Use caution when walking around at night, travel in groups and avoid desolate areas and suspicious people. While a rare occurrence, sexual assaults involving travelers have happened in areas like public beaches. A popular travel site reports that drunk Tongan men may get a little fresh with women, so female travelers should especially make sure they go out with a group. Women should also avoid secluded beaches.

Local customs in Tonga

Travellers will probably have more to get used to in terms of local customs than criminal behavior on the island. Because of its religious society, most people in Tonga are very, very conservative. Some more extreme Christian groups exist including Mormon, Seventh-day Adventists and Assemblies of God. While the Tongans can be friendly, they are more reserved than inhabitants of other Pacific Island nations, reports Lonely Planet. You should take care to engage locals politely and try your best not to offend.

Dress modestly in Tonga

One of the first ways you can make sure not to rub any Tongan citizens the wrong way is by dressing in the right manner. You should almost dress as you would in a heavily Muslim country, wearing modest clothing that covers the shoulders and knees and not showing off cleavage. Wearing all black means you are in mourning and it is considered disrespectful by the Tongans to wear this color if you are not grieving. Dress in a conservative bathing suit if swimming on public beaches and never go topless. You can wear whatever you wish if staying in a resort. Men also should not take their shirts off unless they are at a resort.

Businesses are closed on Sundays

Many travelers have learned to their dismay that Tonga's strict Sabbath observance means many business are closed on Sundays. Sunday prayers are practiced by the majority of the island's inhabitants and this observance extends to restaurants, cafes and pubs in addition to sporting events and leisure activities like snorkeling. Even exercising is considered illegal on Sunday, unless you are, once again, staying on a resort. Also illegal is homosexual behavior, including any simple displays of affection between those of the same sex.

Drugs and drinking kava

Unsurprisingly, drugs are very illegal in Tonga, and any import or export can get you up to 30 years -- yes, you read that number right -- in prison or a hard labor camp and/or a several hundred thousand dollar fine. Those who grow or sell drugs can face similar penalties. Know that at least these laws don't apply to the local drink Kava, which is said to have a narcotic effect.

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6 Comments

  • julie said

    hi there just curious, Can you lay a complaint with Tongan police from Tonga to a member from New Zealand?

  • Sola said

    Interesting! Add this also. If you are a foreigner, and hungry ... look for a church or a priest and ask them ... honesty is better. and if too faraway, ask the ladies or couples walking by they will assist you if you are hurt and hungry in Tonga. Never approach drunken group ... they may help but mostly aggressive if they are sad or unhappy. stick to happy crowd and take care
    thank you

  • Matt Dearth said

    More cattle are being raised, and beef imports are declining. Tonga's development plans emphasize a growing private sector, upgrading agricultural productivity, revitalizing the squash and vanilla bean industries, developing tourism, and improving the island's communications and transportation systems.

  • Jade Mason said

    Be careful not too leave valuables in a self contained house that is securely locked, fenced with barbed wire, padlocked and has bars on the windows. We were lulled into a sense of security and had thieves break open the bars on the windows, rip the fly screens off and break the window ledges to get in. It was daytime. We learnt a hard lesson in Tonga.

  • Pita. L said

    Let me just have you know that I have been in Tonga residing in a village called vaini for 3 months and the experience has been nothing but amazing.

    I orginated from Australia so yes the standards are way different yet Tongan lifestyle, just the simplicity of living attract my attention with it being more peaceful then anywhere i have been.

    Like anywhere there are good and bad in people but majority of the people here are fun loving, helpful and funny you just have to learn their way and the way of the country.

    Trust them but trust yourself more and everything will be just fine and if worse comes to worse get yourself a good friendly interpreter or translater and i found a great one who speaks both tongan and english exceptionally well and has allowed me to pass on her details.

    Ana Sin'elVaini : 7705509

  • Louisa said

    'You should almost dress as you would in a heavily Muslim country'..I wouldn't go that far, you can wear sleeveless tops and dresses in public, also short denim or cargo shorts, just nothing too flashy like a mini skirt, thin strap crop top.. you get the idea. It's just for modesty and respect but don't stress too much if your sundress is 2cm's above your knee :P
    I grew up in Tonga and although there are some truths in this article, it should also be taken with a grain of salt.

    -It is a predominantly Christian island but you won't have locals pestering you with their beliefs. If anything, i suggest visiting a local church on Sunday just to see and hear the beauty of the choir and service. It really is unique. Hop on a boat after church from the wharf to one of the islands close by, have a late lunch and swim then head back all before sunset.

    -Tongans are very easy going, humorous people. If you encounter a drunk group and they say something cheeky, feel free to give a cheeky witty response back, laugh and be on your way. Chances are they will appreciate the humour and laugh too, not bothering you much further. If you are in the bars and same things happen, remember they are flirtatious and cheeky by nature, don't take it too seriously. If you feel uncomfortable, let the security know, he will handle it for you.

    -' Because of its religious society, most people in Tonga are very, very conservative. Some more extreme Christian groups exist including Mormon, Seventh-day Adventists and Assemblies of God'... I wouldn't use *very very* conservative and *extreme* Christian groups here..I mean, yes Tongans can be conservative and yes there are Christian groups but don't let that give you the wrong impression. Tongans won't harass you on the street for wearing clothes that aren't deemed modest and they certainly won't judge you or try and convert you into a Christian. If anything, they are *very very* hospital and friendly people. You will know what I mean when and if you go there :) One of the few places were you can feel safe hitch hiking, and that says a lot.

    -Again, if wearing all black is your style, locals won't feel disrespected even though it is a colour worn during mourning. Locals understand that you are a tourist/traveller. They do not expect you to know our customs. Anyway, it's a hot a humid island, wearing black will be totally uncomfortable in the heat so bear that in mind.

    -Businesses are closed on Sundays so be prepared and buy things you need on the saturday. Some Chinese restaurants are open as are some resorts that serve food. The islands close by (that you can catch a boat to from the wharf) are also open on Sunday. You won't starve. If however, you want to try local food. Go to church on Sunday morning and make some friends or strike up a conversation with someone you are sitting next to, tell them you would love to try local food and I am sure you will be happily invited back to their house for lunch. More likely if its a woman ( the men can be shy). If offered, do accept, it will be a great experience and you will live to tell the tale. Also, it is safe to do so, Tongans are very hospitable and make friends quickly. They will be glad to have a guest for lunch.

    -Petty crime does happen. Unemployment among youth is rather high and this leads to delinquent behaviour. Just keep an eye on valuables you have and don't be careless. Locals, especially elderly and older locals don't appreciate and tolerate petty crime so if a person runs off with your purse, phone etc. yell out and tell another local immediately. They will most likely run after the person or make a scene and the culprit will be caught soon. Everyone knows every one on the island. Locals are embarrassed and empathetic when petty crime and theft happen to foreigners. If you are ever a victim, report it and let others know.

    -Yes, don't deal with drugs on the Island, don't bring it with you, don't buy it, sell it, use it etc..it is not worth it, ever. You will realise authorities have no remorse if you are caught. Kava on the other hand, feel free to enjoy. If you ever happen to walk past a hall building next to a church with a group on men sitting around the circle, ask to join in and they will gladly accept. Feel free to buy some candy at the local convenient store to share at the kava circle, the sweet taste is nice as kava can have an unpleasant taste.


    Lastly, enjoy! Don't stress too much and make some great memories! :)

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