Moving to Fiji
Expats moving to Fiji will find a Pacific Island nation rich in culture and diversity with pristine beaches and wonderful places to explore. Though the country claims a difficult political situation, living in Fiji can be both exciting and rewarding.
Fiji is located in the South Pacific Ocean and is comprised of over 330 islands. The largest island in the group is Viti Levu, and it hosts both the east coast-based capital of Suva and the west coast-based Nadi (pronounced “Nandi”), Fiji’s second largest city. Still though, according to the last official census (2007), expats and foreign residents only make up about 5 percent of the nation’s total population (est. 827,900).
While democracy has been on hold in Fiji since the 2006 military coup, there are still very good expat jobs to be found, and the upcoming democratic elections in 2014 may result in a resurgence of employment opportunities. Typical areas of expat employment include management, education, tourism and the large NGO sector.
Expats should realise that it can be difficult to obtain a work permit, and potential expats should therefore ensure that they will have this important documentation before relocating to Fiji.
Most expat jobs are based in either Suva or Nadi, and if not there, then in one of the many surrounding island resorts.
For those based in Suva or Nadi, it’s easy to escape on the weekend; expats can head to one of the dozens of resorts sprinkled around the main island of Viti Levu, can explore the remote jungle interior of the island, or can travel to one of the smaller, nearby islands.
Many expats spend their weekends sailing, surfing or diving on the excellent coral reefs that surround Viti Levu. Fiji also sits as a regional hub, and it’s relatively easy to head to the nearby Pacific Island countries of Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati or Vanuatu.
Fiji has a tropical oceanic climate, which means high humidity and lots of rainfall. Temperatures range from an average summer maximum of 85°F (30°C) to an average winter minimum of 73°F (23°C). The two main islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, both have a "wet" side (the south-east) and a "dry" side (the north-west). Unfortunately for most expats, Suva is on the wet side of the island and records 23 to 24 wet days a month between November and April.
Most expats living in Fiji prefer to send their children to the international schools in either Suva or Nadi. The schools have students from over 40 different countries; although, enrolments have declined over recent years as a result of the political situation. Curricula offered include International Baccalaureate, the Australian Capital Territory Year 12 Certificate and the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR).
While Fiji has both public and private healthcare options, the majority of expats use the small private hospitals in Suva and Nadi. These hospitals offer a basic standard of healthcare; however, they are also limited in terms of their diagnostic, specialist and surgical abilities. Thus expats should ensure they have health insurance policies that include repatriation to hospitals in Australia and New Zealand if necessary, particularly in the case of a complicated or emergency health situation.
Fiji’s official languages are Fijian, Hindi and English. Most Fijians speak English; although, the most popular language is native Fijian, and the second most popular Hindi.
Culturally, Fiji offers both a wonderful Fijian Pacific Islander culture and a rich Hindu culture. In the Indo-Fijian shopping areas of Suva an expat could easily be convinced they are walking around Delhi or Mumbai. The Hindu festival of Diwali is particularly well celebrated across the country.
Fiji’s national drink is Kava, a mild narcotic that has a sedative effect and tastes not unlike muddy water. Kava is commonly consumed by local Fijians at many social events and on weekends. Expats moving to Fiji will experience a range of local delicacies, including Kokoda (raw fish marinated in coconut juice, chilli and lime juice) and wonderful Indo- Fijian curries.
Expat accommodation in Suva and Nadi is relatively expensive, particularly for accommodation of Australian or New Zealand standard. Because of the limited housing stock it can take time for newly arrived expats to find suitable accommodation. Care should be taken to ensure the potential house has suitable security arrangements, a back-up power generator and air conditioning. Power outages are not uncommon, particularly following tropical storms and the occasional cyclone.
Houses also need to be able to stand up to tropical storms, which lash the Islands over the summer months. Many houses have a swimming pool; however, pool fencing is uncommon. Expat children tend to spend weekends at each other’s houses (rather than heading to shopping malls or other public venues where security cannot be guaranteed).
With the deterioration of the economy over recent years the security situation in the main town centres has worsened. Suva in particularly suffers from home invasions, bag snatchings and other petty crime. Home invasions are often undertaken at night by unemployed Fijian youths under the influence of Kava. As a result, expat houses in Suva often include substantial perimeter fences and full-time guards.
Fiji has a number of international banks offering a range of services to expat clients. ATMs, debit and credit facilities are available, and most banks offer electronic and Internet banking services. Expats will need a residence visa before an account can be opened.
Suva now has a modern shopping centre (MHCC) (opened in 2009) offering a limited range of western groceries and a reasonable range of household items. The range of foodstuffs is limited by Australian standards, and most expats source at least some clothing, luxury and/or gourmet items from Australia or New Zealand.
Fiji is one of the few countries in the world where rugby is the principle sport. The country is obsessed with following the fortunes of the national rugby union team, and expats will surely have the opportunity to view some excellent games.
With its rich mix of Pacific Islander and Indo-Fijian cultures, wonderful beaches and tropical lifestyle Fiji is a great destination for resilient expats.