Report   DETAILS

Kiribati 2019 Crime & Safety Report

East Asia & Pacific > Kiribati; East Asia & Pacific > Kiribati > South Tarawa

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Kiribati at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Fiji does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or establishment, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of services provided.

Review OSAC’s Kiribati-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

There is minimal risk from crime in Tarawa, yet it can have an impact on the work and life of the community. However, visitors should review their security practices to mitigate the risk of petty theft.

Cybersecurity Issues

Kiribati has made several key advances in its cybersecurity roadmap. Kiribati participated in the inaugural Pacific Cyber Security Operational Network (PaCSON) event in 2018 funded by the Australian government to enhance cyber resilience in the region. In November 2018, Kiribati announced it was beginning the process of drafting its first cybersecurity framework set to finish prior to the arrival of the new submarine cable system in late 2019 for high-speed internet connectivity. However, there is no indication that Kiribati has completed its cybersecurity framework yet. Take normal security precautions when using electronic devices.

Other Areas of Concern

Tarawa was the site of a major WWII battle that resulted in large amounts of unexploded ordnance (UXO), particularly in the Betio and South Tarawa areas. While international cleanup efforts have increased since 2013, exercise caution while walking across beaches where military materiel – especially metal in the sand – may still be present. 

Kiribati’s customs authorities strictly prohibit the importation of firearms, ammunition, explosives, counterfeit money and goods, knives, and indecent publications or pornography. Strict quarantine laws govern the import of any part of plants, fruits, or vegetables, as well as soil, animals, and animal products. Visitors may not export human remains, artifacts that are 30 or more years old, traditional fighting swords, traditional tools, dancing ornaments, or suits of armor. 

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

With the assistance of the international community, Kiribati completed a road rehabilitation project in 2018 to upgrade the main road spanning the entire Gilbert Island network. This road is the only major paved road on Tarawa, and had previously been subject to frequent flooding, potholes, and various bumps that seriously affected safety and travel times. While authorities updated the roadway with a new drainage system, certain areas may still be impacted by rainy weather causing severe flooding.

Traffic moves on the left side of the road in Kiribati. While satisfactory in some areas, roads in urban Tarawa and Christmas Island (Kirimati) generally need repair. Much of the major island atolls, including that of North Tarawa, are actually closely connected islets. Unsealed roads in North Tarawa and on outer islands are mostly unbridged, making transit between islets possible only during low tide.

Road safety is a major concern, with a growing incidence of road accidents due to increased traffic, the age and condition of vehicles, and dangerous driving. Many local residents use small motorbikes and mopeds for transport; be aware of these smaller vehicles sharing the road. After heavy rains and high tides, some road sections flood temporarily. Traffic proceeds at a relatively slow rate. Drinking and driving is commonplace, especially on the weekends. Since visibility is poor, with no streetlights, avoid driving long distances at night, particularly outside of Betio.

The traffic speed reduces in places to 20 km/h or less because of road damage. Driving conditions can be particularly hazardous after rain. Driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal in Kiribati, as is mobile phone use while driving. Drivers and passengers must use seat belts.

Car rentals are available for the Gilbert Islands and Christmas Island. Driving is legal with a valid domestic license or an international driver’s license for up to two weeks. After the two-week period, drivers must acquire a Kiribati license.

For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s Report, Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

Public Transportation Conditions

There are no taxis in Kiribati. A private minibus service travels on the Gilbert Islands as well as Christmas Island. While they usually frequent airports, passengers must hail a preferred minibus. A rental car will cost approximately A$60 a day. Book a rental car before arrival.

While Kiribati is an island nation dependent on maritime transportation, vessel conditions and inspection regimens can be less than ideal.  Exercise caution while using ferries, as there have been several high-profile cases of ferry accidents. In 2009, an I-Kiribati ferry was involved in a fatal accident while trying to rescue a crewmember. In 2018, another fatal accident, possibly caused by cargo overload, occurred after a ferry departed from Nonouti bound for Betio. Be aware of boat and ferry exits, and life jacket placement.  Travel schedules and timetables can vary from advertised, with cancellations not uncommon; build liberal extra timing into other- and outer-island transport.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Bonriki International Airport (TRW) is the major airport in Kiribati, with the majority of flights coming from Fiji. There have been no reports of items stolen from checked baggage. Passengers should maintain awareness of their belongings at all times, use Transportation Security Administration (TSA) approved locks, and retrieve checked bags as soon as possible.

Terrorism Threat

There is minimal risk from terrorism in Tarawa.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest 

There is minimal risk from political violence in Tarawa. There has not been an incident of civil unrest since a small riot erupted in 2004.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Kiribati is a low-lying island nation subject to many natural disasters, including cyclones, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, and landslides. Rising ocean levels threaten Kiribati with regular flooding damage. Although the probability of a major earthquake or tsunami occurring during a particular trip is remote, small earthquakes occur regularly due to its proximity to the Pacific Plate boundary.

The South Pacific cyclone season runs between November and April. However, storms may occur all year. Cyclone activity frequently causes flooding along the coastline, often creating potholes and causing disruption to the infrastructure and essential services. Public services (e.g. water, electricity, transportation) are unlikely to be available for a significant period following a powerful cyclone. 

Critical Infrastructure

Many buildings in Kiribati do not have fire alarms or fire suppression equipment in close proximity at all. Fire alarms at tourist hotels are sporadic with some evacuation plans in place. For more information on fire safety in hotels, review OSAC’s Report, Fire Safety Abroad.

Economic Concerns

Kiribati is not a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the WTO, or any organization protecting intellectual property rights. As a result, the frequency of pirated items has not declined and stores may sell pirated copies of movies, television shows, music, counterfeit clothing, jewelry, and other luxury goods.

Personal Identity Concerns

Kiribati is a religious and conservative country; women typically dress more modestly, especially in beach settings. Women are socially subordinate to men, and domestic violence is common.

Consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men is illegal, with a maximum penalty of five to 14 years’ imprisonment, depending on the nature of the offense.  However, the U.S. Embassy is not aware of any reports of prosecutions directed at LGBT persons under these provisions for sexual activity between consenting adults.

Accessibility of buildings, and communications and information for persons with disabilities is not mandated. There are no special accommodations for persons with disabilities.

Kiribati is an ethnically homogenous country; ethnic I-Kiribati comprise more than 96% of the population. There have been no reports of internal ethnic conflict. Non-native visitors will stand out as foreign, but report little if any bias or criminal targeting based on ethnicity.

Drug-related Crimes

There are reports of drug-related crimes in the form of transnational organized crime passing through Kiribati waters. The lack of funding, vehicles, and labor has affected Kiribati’s ability to thwart organized crime in the area.

Kidnapping Threat

There is minimal risk from kidnapping in Tarawa.

Police Response

The ability of local police to assist victims of crime is limited due to a lack of response vehicles, radios, and other essential equipment, especially on outlying islands.

Carry a copy of your passport on your person, as police often ask for identification of all parties involved in any type of incident.

Report all incidents of crime to the local police authorities. Remain calm and polite when interacting with the police to avoid misunderstandings.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Police generally treat arrested or otherwise detained foreigners well. U.S. citizens in police detention should request to speak with a U.S. Embassy representative in Fiji. Be aware that the assistance the Embassy can provide is limited to making sure U.S. citizens are treated similarly to local detainees, and providing them with a list of local attorneys.

Crime Victim Assistance

For emergencies requiring police, fire emergency, or medical assistance in Kiribati, 992 for police, 993 for fire, or 994 for medical emergency. Report crimes to the local police by dialing 999.

For administrative calls to the police post on Tarawa, +686 26187            

Medical Emergencies

Health care throughout Kiribati, including Tarawa, is substandard. Tungaru Central Hospital, located in South Tarawa, is the central referral hospital in Kiribati. Kiribati has two other referral hospitals: one in Betio, Kiritimati Island (for the Line and Phoenix Island Groups); and one at Tabiteuea North (for the southern Gilbert Islands). Health care facilities in Kiribati are only adequate for routine medical care.

Emergency response is limited due to the space between islands, infrequent flights and ferries, and road conditions outside of the main road in Tarawa. Both the Kiritimati hospital and Tungaru Central Hospital in South Tarawa are capable of medical evacuations (medevac) to Fiji. Carry adequate supplies of any needed prescription medicines, along with copies of prescriptions, the generic name of the drugs, and a supply of preferred over-the-counter medications. For more information, refer to OSAC’s Report, Traveling with Medications.

Individuals requiring an ambulance for a medical emergency in Tarawa should call 994 or Tungaru Central Hospital (+686 28100). Rural areas contain a total of 75 health clinics that offer basic primary care, and 30 health centers that offer additional services such as dental care, ambulance services, basic medication, and maternal services, but emergency evacuations requires traveling to either the Kiritimati hospital or Tungaru Central Hospital for additional aid.

Kiribati does not currently have any private health services and no funeral homes with embalming or cremation services.

Kiribati is near the equator; annual temperature ranges from 25° to 33°centigrade. Take precautions against sunburn, which is a serious hazard. Dehydration is also a potential problem for visitors. Regard all water as a potential health risk; use only bottled water. 

Hepatitis is prevalent; take precautions. Travelers should have tetanus immunization; the island is full of stray pigs and dogs. The following communicable diseases are prevalent: Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, Leprosy, Diarrheal diseases, Dysentery, Giardia, Typhoid, Parasitic infection, Fungal Infection, and Conjunctivitis.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For a list of available medical facilities, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

Tungaru Central Hospital works frequently with international evacuation services, primarily out of their location as well as the Kiritimati hospital.

Insurance Guidance

While Kiribati affords its citizens with free healthcare, international visitors must pay for services. Doctors and hospitals expect immediate cash payment for health services.

Persons with medical emergencies may require medevac to Guam, Australia, or the U.S., likely costing thousands of dollars, and considered only if the patient has adequate insurance or pays up front. In some cases, a medical evacuation to Australia or New Zealand can require a medical visa. Strongly consider travel and medical insurance. Note that you usually must purchase medevac insurance separately from other policies.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Kiribati.

OSAC Country Council Information

There is no OSAC Country Council in Kiribati. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Asia Pacific team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address: U.S. Embassy Suva: 158 Princes Rd, Tamavua, Suva, Fiji

Embassy Contact Numbers

Telephone: + (679) 331-4466

Emergency: + (679) 772-8049; for after-hours emergencies involving U.S. citizens, callers can also dial the main switchboard at (679) 331-4466 and ask for the duty officer.


Nearby Post: Virtual Presence Post Tonga

Embassy Guidance: U.S. citizens traveling to Kiribati should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.

Additional Resource: Kiribati Country Information Sheet