American Express -- American Express has no representative in Tonga.
Bookstores -- Friendly Islands Bookshop, on Taufa'ahau Road (tel. 23-787), carries greeting cards made from tapa cloth, paperback books, postcards, international news magazines, week-old Australian newspapers, books about Tonga and the rest of the South Pacific, and maps of Tonga.
Business Hours -- In general, Tonga's shops are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 1pm and 2 to 5pm and Saturday from 8am to noon. Government offices are open Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 12:30pm and 1:30 to 4:30pm.
Camera & Film -- Foto Fix, on Taufa'ahau Road north of Wellington Road (tel. 23-466), sells Kodak and Fuji film, provides 1-hour color film processing, and has machines which will print photos from digital camera memory cards.
Customs --Visitors are allowed to bring in 500 cigarettes and 2.25 liters of spirits or 4.5 liters of wine, as well as personal belongings in use at the time of arrival. Pets, dangerous drugs, indecent materials, firearms, and ammunition are prohibited, and foodstuffs must be declared and inspected. Arriving visitors can buy duty-free merchandise at Fua'amotu Airport after clearing Immigration but before going through Customs.
Drug Laws -- A drug-sniffing dog roams the baggage claim area at the airport, so don't even think about bringing illegal drugs into Tonga.
Drugstores -- Village Mission Pharmacy, on 'Unga Road between Wellington and Laifone roads (tel. 27-522), is the most modern drug store here. Open Monday to Friday 8:30am to 5pm and Saturday 9am to 12:30pm. Fasi Pharmacy & Clinic, on Salote Road between Lavina and Tupoulahi roads (tel. 22-955), is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm and Saturday 9am to 4pm. Both have doctors on call.
Electricity -- Electricity in Tonga is 240 volts, 50 cycles, and the plugs are the heavy, angled type used in Australia and New Zealand. You will need a converter and adapter plug to operate American appliances.
Embassies & Consulates -- The nearest U.S. embassy is in Suva, Fiji. Consular offices in Tonga are the Australian High Commission (tel. 21-244), the New Zealand High Commission (tel. 21-122), and the People's Republic of China Embassy (tel. 24-554).
Emergencies & Police -- The emergency telephone number for the police, fire department, and hospital is tel. 911. The main police station (tel. 21-222) is on Salote Road at Railway Road.
Etiquette & Customs -- It's against the law for men as well as women to appear shirtless in public. While Western men -- but definitely not women -- can swim and sunbathe shirtless at the hotel pools and beaches frequented by visitors, you will see most Tongans swimming in a full set of clothes. Accordingly, visitors should not wear bathing suits or skimpy attire away from the hotel pools or beaches frequented by foreigners (and that includes showing off your pierced naval and your lower back tattoo). Summer clothing is in order during most of the year, but a sweater, jacket, or wrap should be taken for evening wear throughout the year.
Eyeglasses -- Vaiola Hospital (tel. 21-200) is the only place to get glasses fixed or replaced.
Firearms -- Guns are illegal in Tonga.
Gambling -- There is no casino or other form of organized gambling in Tonga.
Healthcare -- Vaiola Hospital (tel. 21-200) provides medical, dental, and optical service, but it's considerably below the standards you're used to. The outpatient clinics are open from 8:30am to 4:30pm daily. The two drugstores have private physicians on call.
Hitchhiking -- It's not against the law, but Tongans are not particularly accustomed to picking up strangers.
Insects -- There are no dangerous insects in Tonga, and the mosquitoes do not carry malaria. Vava'u, warmer and more humid than Tongatapu, tends to have more mosquitoes and has tropical centipedes that can inflict painful stings if touched; watch your step if walking around with bare feet.
Internet Access -- Friends Tourist Center (tel. 26-323), on Taufa'ahau Road between Salote and Wellington roads, has Internet access Monday to Friday 8am to 10pm and Saturday 8:30am to 7:30pm. Dataline Internet Cafe (tel. 27-688), on Wellington Road east of Taufa'ahau Road, is open Monday through Saturday 8am to 11pm. On Faua Jetty, Café Reef (tel. 26-777) has two computers with access. All charge T$3 (US$1.50/75p) per hour.
Road warriors can get temporary Internet access accounts for their laptops at Tonga Communications Corp. (tel. 23-499), on Salote Road at Takaunove Road. There's a T$41 (US$21/£10) setup fee plus T$23 (US$12/£5.75) for 2 hours of access over 1 month, or T$46 (US$23/£12) for a month's unlimited access. Go into the telephone office, which is open Monday to Saturday 8:30am to 10:30pm and Sunday 10am to 10:30pm.
Laundry & Dry Cleaning -- Savoy Dry Cleaners, on Fatefehi Road (tel. 878-3314), has 1-day laundry and dry-cleaning service. Open Monday to Friday 8am to 5pm and Saturday 8am to 2pm.
Liquor Laws -- The legal drinking age is 18. Licensed hotels can sell alcoholic beverages to their guests 7 days a week; otherwise, sale is prohibited from midnight Saturday to midnight Sunday. Ikale beer is the local brew.
Newspapers & Magazines -- All the local newspapers are published in Tongan. Matangi Tonga (www.matangitonga.to) is a fine English-language monthly magazine edited by the noted Tongan writer and publisher Pesi Fonua. It has features about the kingdom and its people. Friendly Islands Bookstore carries international newspapers and magazines.
Mail -- The Nuku'alofa Post Office is at the corner of Taufa'ahau and Salote roads. It's open Monday to Friday 8:30am to 4pm. Many Tongan stamps in the shape of bananas and pineapples are collectors' items.
Radio & TV -- The government-owned radio station, A3Z (Radio Tonga), broadcasts in both AM and FM. Most programming on the AM station is in Tongan, although the music played is mostly U.S., Australian, or British popular tunes. The news in English is relayed from the BBC or Radio Australia several times a day. One privately owned FM station in Nuku'alofa plays popular music.
Tonga has two over-the-air television channels, one owned by the government, the other with mostly Christian programming (which is to say, fundamentalist American preachers raising money while haranguing the faithful). They can be received only on Tongatapu and 'Eua. Tonfon, a communications company, provides the BBC and a few other channels on its satellite TV service in Nuku'alofa; the TV set in your hotel probably will receive them.
Safety -- Robberies and break-ins are on the increase, although crimes against tourists have been rare. It's a good idea to be alert if you walk down dark streets at night. Remember that the communal property system still prevails in the kingdom. Items such as cameras and bags left unattended might disappear, so take precautions. Women should not wander alone on deserted beaches.
Taxes -- The government adds a 15% "consumption" tax to the price of everything purchased in Tonga, including hotel rooms. The tax is added to most bills in the American fashion and included in the price in others. All passengers on international flights pay a departure tax of T$25 (US$13/£6.25) in Tongan currency.
Telephone & Fax -- Tonga Communications Corporation (TCC), on Salote Road at the corner of Takaunove Road, handles all land-line phones here.
To call Tonga: Dial the international access code (011 from the U.S.; 00 from the U.K., Ireland, or New Zealand; or 0011 from Australia), Fiji's country code 676, and the local number (there are no area codes within Tonga).
To make international calls from within Tonga: First dial 00, then the country code (U.S. or Canada 1, U.K. 44, Ireland 353, Australia 61, New Zealand 64), then the area code and phone number. Direct-dial calls to anywhere in the world cost about T80¢ (US40¢/20p) a minute during the day, T68¢ (US34¢/17p) on weekends, making Tonga by far the least expensive place in the South Pacific from which to call home.
You can also make international calls at the Tonga Communications Corporation (TCC), on Salote Road at the corner of Takaunove Road, which has phones in private booths. TCC is open Monday to Saturday 8am to 10:30pm and Sunday 10am to 10:30pm.
To make domestic calls within Tonga: No prefix or area code is required for domestic long-distance calls, so dial the local number.
For directory assistance: Dial tel. 910 or tel. 919 for directory assistance.
For operator assistance: Dial tel. 913 for operator assistance in making an international call.
Toll-free numbers: Calling a 1-800 number in the U.S. or Canada from Tonga is not toll-free. In fact, it costs the same as an overseas call.
Pay phones: Calls can be placed from any public phone using a prepaid phonecard, which can be bought at many shops and at the Tonga Communications Corporation (TCC), on Salote Road at the corner of Takaunove Road.
Cellphones: The Tonga Communications Corporation (TCC) branch on Taufa'ahau Road (tel. 27-335 or 27-336) rents mobile phones and sells SIM cards for unlocked GSM cellphones, starting at T$28 (US$14/£7), including T$20 (US$10/£5) of airtime. A subsidiary of Digicel Pacific, Tonfon (tel. 876-1000; www.tonfon.to) also rents cellphones and sells SIM cards.
Time -- Local time in Tonga is 13 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. It's in the same day as Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji, and a day ahead of the United States, the Samoas, the Cook Islands, and French Polynesia. Translated, Tonga is 3 hours behind the U.S. West Coast during standard time (4 hr. behind during daylight saving time) -- and 1 day ahead. If it's noon on Tuesday in Tonga, it's 3pm Pacific Standard Time on Monday in Los Angeles and 6pm Eastern Standard Time on Monday in New York.
Tipping -- Although it has gained a foothold, tipping is officially discouraged in Tonga because it's considered contrary to the Polynesian tradition of hospitality. One time gratuities are encouraged is during Tongan dance shows, when members of the audience rush up to the female dancers and stick notes to their well-oiled bodies.
Water -- Although the government proclaims the tap water in the main towns to be chlorinated and safe, I don't know anyone who drinks it. Because it comes from wells in the limestone bedrock, it's hard (laden with minerals) and doesn't easily rinse off soap and shampoo. Bottled water is available at most grocery stores in Nuku'alofa.
Weights & Measures -- Tonga uses the metric system.