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How to live in Suva…22 years ago

by on June 21, 2014

A friend passed along some interesting artefacts to me: the 1992 and 1996 editions of “Settling in Suva”, a publication for newcomers to the city. The 1992 ed says it’s a revised edition, so presumably there are some other even earlier ones out there. If anyone has ’em, I’d love copies/ scans.

Settling for Suva

The 1992 edition is published by the “United Nations Women’s Group”, which the book explains is a group of spouses, parents and/or working women associated with the United Nations, now expanded to include “friends” not directly affiliated with the UN.  They meet monthly and have a UN survival kit of linens and kitchen stuff they will rent you for FJ$5 per week ($50 deposit). They have a sewing and handicraft group on Friday mornings, which includes “macrame” and “patchwork” as sample group projects they’re up to, and Bridge groups (beginner and advanced) each week. They also have an annual Dinner Dance in October to celebrate the UN’s founding.

The 1996 edition is published by the International Women’s Association, which I guess is the new name for the UN Women’s group (the IWA isn’t listed as a club in the 1992 book), as the format and some of the text is the same, and they also rent out a survival kit of linens, though the cost in 1996 has doubled to $10/week with a $60 deposit) . A sticker on the back tells me this book cost F$5 at the USP Book Centre (ironically, USP Book Centre is NOT listed in the bookstore section of either edition).

Enough about that, let’s learn about our new town, time-travel style!


You can check one of the two daily newspapers, the Fiji Times, or the Daily Post, for info about cultural events and scheduled electricity and water shut offs. Both cost 40 cents (50c on Saturday). In 1996, these are listed again (no Fiji Sun yet).

Two radio stations are listed in the 1992 book as news sources: Radio Fiji and FM 96, as well as “TV1, the (temporary) Television station” (I guess this was when TV was just coming to town?). In 1996, “Fiji television” is listed, but it’s the only station; however there are now three English language radio stations: Radio Fiji Gold (100.2 Fm), Radio FM 104, and FM 96.

The 1996 book has added a “before you leave- what to bring” and “what to leave at home” (though they don’t explicitly mention  leathersection. Curiously, it suggests that since furnished houses only have the basics, you will probably need to bring “your own choice of electrical goods (240v), freezer, washing machine, microwave, etc”, though these items “are also available locally”. I can’t imagine wasting 10-20% of my allowed shipping space/weight on a freezer, even if I was coming from a country that sold appliances that would work in Fiji, but whatever.

Health, housing and safety:

Medical advice (p 13-14): There’s no rabies or malaria in Fiji, but there is dengue. You should wash fruits and vegetables carefully and search for small snails, because “the residue these snails leave on the leaves of lettuce and other vegetables can cause meningitis”. I had never heard this and was prepared to scoff, but the internet tells me that indeed, Achatina fulica is found in the Pacific islands and can cause meningitis. So people of 21st century Suva, it’s still a bad idea to eat snail slime. The 1996 edition has added sentences that you needn’t worry about HIV/Hep B in blood transfusions (because of screening/disposable needles), but that “lice and worms are a fact of life here” (generally among schoolchildren).

Housing: “The private housing market is quite tight. House and apartment rents tend to be relatively high, ranging from F$400 and up for an unfurnished apt . For houses with several bedrooms rents are $1000-$3000, furnished or unfurnished.” The 1996 ed has added the caveat to take someone with you when you go to view a rental flat, with an ominous boldface and all caps warning “WE RECOMMEND YOU DO NOT VIEW ALONE”.

Air conditioning – “is not usual in private housing but can normally be installed. Houses located so that they have good ventilation will not need air conditioning”. 1996 ed repeats the fiction about good ventilation not needing AC but  adds “Ceiling fans will make life more comfortable”.

Mold and mildew – “Cupboard warmers can be purchased from Morris Hedstrom to help keep cupboards warm and dry.” (???)

The 1992 edition has 3 sentences on security under the “alarm systems and/or burglar bars”, but the 1996 edition adds 8 sentences including that break-ins have become a very common problem in recent years and that dogs are the best crime deterrent. There’s also two condescending sentences about domestic help: “Keep doors locked when inside, and train your housegirl to do the same with her quarters too” and “Teach your housegirl to answer the phone correctly and not answer questions about your whereabouts from strangers”.

Housegirl/maid – pay is around F$25-$50 per week. Gardeners “are usually paid F$15 for an 8 hour day”. In 1996, housegirl pay has risen to F$40-60 per week, but gardeners are still at “F$15-$20  for an 8 hour day”. The 1996 ed also adds details on enrolling your housegirl in FNPF (a retirement/pension program similar to Social Security): minimum contribution is F$4 per week.


Cars/Petrol – “Officers with diplomatic privileges are entitled to a rebate of the duty component paid when they purchase petrol”. You have to save the gas receipts and submit them quarterly to Customs to get the rebate. Not sure if this is true in 2014 as I am not a diplomat- either way, this isn’t in the 1996 book.

The 1996 book says “only diesel and leaded super fuel are available here” (I remember leaded fuel being mostly gone from the US circa 1987: wikipedia says the US started phasing leaded gas out in 1973 and was banned by 1996) and that “Left hand drive vehicles are no longer allowed to be imported into Fiji” (obviously not the case anymore, as there’s a left hand drive Hummer H3 (!) that I see downtown a fair amount).

Buses- “Routes and bus numbers are printed on the reverse of the map of Suva City” (bus numbers? THE map?!) – repeated in 1996 ed., which adds that bus fares within Suva are “less than 50 cents” (70 cents to $1 in 2014) and that a bus from Suva to Nadi Airport is F$7.50 (now about F$18, or $22 if you take the TFL express)

In 1992: “Taxis cease operation at 12 midnight on Saturday and 10pm Sunday” ; this has been removed from the 1996 ed. 1996 adds this advice, still true in 2014: “Make sure that you have small change, taxi drivers often carry very little”

School and work:

Education: “Several locally run Schools of Nine operate in Suva, which are supposed to have only nine children, but often have many more”. (sounds like Fiji, alright) – omitted in 1996 book. The 1996 book adds “Whilst expatriates mostly patronize The International School you might wish to consider some of the ‘local’ schools, many of which have high academic standards”.

“Schooling is not compulsory in Fiji”. Government schools are free, but you have to pay for uniforms, transport, etc.

“Government schools have a policy for racial balance (40% Fijian, 40% Indian, and 20% other)” – the intro pages of both editions of this book don’t give the demographics of Fiji at the time, but I’d be surprised if  “other” was more than 12% of the population. I’d bet they had a hard time getting 20%, especially if all the  “other” expat kids are going to the International school.

Work permits are required for volunteer jobs. “Work permits are very difficult to obtain”. The 1992 book lists 25 possible leads for volunteer opportunities, including this one from Riding club for the Disabled: “Crippled, blind and retarded children develop physical and social skills”. The 1996 book has pared this down to three; the Fiji Museum and two agencies that “may be able to advise you on a use for your talents”.

Restaurants and nightlife:

Food- 1992 ed:  “There is a ban on Sunday trading, however licensed* restaurants re allowed to operate between 12-2pm and 7-10pm on Sundays” (*note for Americans and others unfamiliar- this means “having a liquor license”,)

Restaurants listed no longer around in 2014: Swiss Tavern, Disney Family Restaurant, Red Lion, Aberdeen Grill, Pizza Hut (apparently not affiliated with the US chain), YWCA Restaurant. 1996 book has this intriguing listing: “Berjaya Inn- Malaysian Food Thursday nights, Hawkers stall- reservation advised as this is very popular” – how the heck do you make a reservation for a hawker stall? Maybe they should have gotten one of those deli “take a number” machines.

Restaurants still around now listed then: Tiko’s floating, Old Mill Cottage, (Singh’s) Curry House, Scott’s (in 1996 but not 1992 ed), Great Wok of China, Wishbone. Bad Dog Cafe isn’t in the 1992 ed, but appears in the 1996 ed under “Coffee shops”.

Nightclubs- Traps has been around since at least 1992, and both books list “Rockefellers and Lucky Eddies (discos)” ;  it’s weird to see “disco” used in a non-1970’s context. One of the Carnavon Street spots was called “The Barn” and featured country & Western music.

Clubs and activities:

In 1992, 2 places have weekly Bingo, Fiji club offers Bridge 3 times a week, 2 clubs have mahjong,  the Classical guitar society offers “Listening to records and playing the guitar”, there’s a photographic society, shell-collecting club, and the “Fiji Morris Men”, which does Traditional Englishmen’s Morris Dancing.  In 1996, the Guitar Society and the Morris Men are MIA. You could learn Japanese at “Fiji Centre USP” in 1992, but not in 1996.

Also, sounds like the Fiji Arts Club/Playhouse was quite happening in 1992 : they have classes in painting, printmaking, modern dance and Scottish Country dancing, they stage plays (and musicals), have a collection of musical scores and instruments (presumably to loan to members) AND a costume rental scheme! In the last two years I’ve seen one art show at this building, but never heard that they still do any performances.

Cinema- 4 listed in the 1992 book (none of these are around today): Regal (now Ming Du Restaurant),  The Phoenix (boarded up but building still standing, near bus station), Lilac theatre on 110 Waimanu road (apparently near the CWM hospital) and the Raiwaqa Twin Cinema on Grantham (no address given). There’s actually a great photo album of ex-movie houses in Fiji on Facebook, courtesy of the Fiji Museum. The 1996 book just says “there are many cinemas in Suva, and a new cinema complex is under construction” (presumably Village 6).

Services and stuff to buy:

Telephones- local calls (assume this is landline and not payphone) cost 20 cents in 1992 and 13 cents in 1996. Postage: local letters are 12 cents in 1992/13 cents in 1996 (remember, the penny is still around), letters to NZ are 30c/31c, Australia 42c/44c, USA 59c/63c . A postcard (worldwide) is 22 cents (23 in 1996).

Banks in 1992  include the National Bank of Fiji, Merchant bank of Fiji, and Habib Bank, Ltd (as well as ANZ/Westpac/Baroda that are still around today). 1996 lists these as well as  “Bank of Hawaii”. 1996 has added information about “external accounts” (ie the type of bank accounts available to non-residents) and mentions EFTPOS services (not mentioned in 1992).

In the 1992  “non-food shopping” lists, there’s 8 different “duty free” listings (Prouds, Tappoo, Brijlal still around, though not as downtown duty free shops)- apparently downtown Suva used to have the same kind of tourist shopping that Port Vila, Vanuatu has now. There are 4 listings for “Jeans” and 8 for musical instruments, though no listings for records, cassettes or CDs.

The 1996 ed lists “The American Shop” near the CWM hospital, carrying Heinz, Nabisco, Hershey, etc. “The range is diverse and growing as demand grows”,  a phone number for “Fresh tofu delivered to your home”, and headings not in the 1992 book  for “computer supplies”,”Pool pump repairs” and “swimming pool maintenance” ,where I see the first (and only) occurrence of a mobile phone number (which is 6 digits, just like all the rest of the numbers listed).

Recycling-  in 1992 the bottle trucks* come around “most neighborhoods” and pay 50 cents per dozen. I have no idea what the current rate is, as I’m still half asleep or getting ready for work when they come around at OMG o’clock, so I  just leave them outside the gate for someone else to collect on. The 1996 book has a listing for “recycling” in the index but the page is wrong and it looks like they accidentally cut that section.

Videotapes- cost $1-$2 to hire. Presumably you have to bring them back instead of keeping them. You can also hire a VCR and a TV. Apparently video rental was thriving in Fiji even BEFORE broadcast television existed here: people had (or rented) TV sets just to watch videos. A good article on that (and the transition to purchasing copied DVDs) is here.

This concludes our look at moving to Suva 22 to 18 years ago. I’d be curious to know how long this publication survived before the  IWA either grew tired of compiling it, or decided all this info was more-or-less available online and there was no longer a need. Judging by all the questions I get about moving to Suva from people who find my google-bait post (and the follow ups on what to pack),  there’s still a need for a PDF or wiki with this type of info on relocating to Suva. Maybe in my copious spare time….




*Aside to my Suva readers: BOTTLEBOTTLEBOTTLEhonkhonkBOTTLEBOTTLEhonkBOTTLE, which I’m pretty sure will replace “Ni sa yadra” as the standard morning greeting in a few decades.


From → Fiji

  1. Very Interesting Hypatia! I have REALLY enjoyed your blog, during college I spent the summer in Fiji after 5 months 4 months in NZ. Awesome experience. I linked up with a couple of Canadian students and together we took a boat from the Lautoka harbor to a small island of the Yassawa group. I remember depositing my life savings into a locker at the airport and kept around 100 cash on me.
    Literally a full breakfast In Nadi was $.99c… We walked or hitchhiked around the whole island. We would only get a youth hostel when we absolutely needed to shower. Its a different world out there now. Now my kids are in college and love hearing stories of their moms crazy travels.
    We brought the kids back there about 5 years ago and my son was amazed. He was making $8.00 and hour delivering Chinese food for a high school job and many Fijians still make that $8.00 per day. (or those he spoke with.) It would be nice if US kids could travel abroad.
    I love your writing style and honesty.Thank you! Barbara

  2. Another screamer Hypatia, thank god the Morris Dancing Men have gone MIA. I presume the Morris women tempted to join them showed better judgement. Thanks for the bit about slug slime, I thought gluten free was good going here until I realised slime free is also to be placed on the highly desirable list. Incidentally, in 1972 as a callow youth I was posted overseas by our government and received a booklet similar to yours, in it the danger of flies (rather than slime) was highlighted and one was advised upon sighting one to “pursue it relentlessly with a fly swat”. Anyway, I think I hear the Tofu man approaching … Wonderful writing H, keep it up.

  3. I grew up in Fiji in the 90s (87-95) and distinctly remember my mother renting a TV + VCR so we could watch tapes.

    I also attended a School of Nine run at a nearby house. Later went to the International School and then Stella Maris until I left.

    Break-ins were not as big of a deal then as they apparently are now, but did happen. Note we lived in the nicer area (Maunikau, right behind the American Ambassador’s residence for the longest) and did still have burglar bars, though I cannot honestly remember any breakins the 7 years we lived there. It’s worth pointing out we had dogs though, as did just about everyone else in our neighbourhood

    FWIW, I also got dengue (hallucinations, massive fever, nearly died, couldn’t walk for 2 weeks – do not recommend) and so now live with the serotype issue.

    I also remember when we got TV1. It came on around.. maybe 3pm or so and only ran till around 9pm at night. They’d play the national anthem at the end. Very simple in those days.. nothing on? Okay go play outside.

    I do remember the Cinema.. was absurdly cheap.. something like 25 cents Fijian for the cheap seats. Here in Hawaii it’s about $10 now.

    • Hypatia permalink

      Thanks, Brian, that was a nice flashback to the old days. Sorry about the dengue- never a good time.

      The cinema is now up to $6.50. And there’s now 2, after the death of the Regal and the Phoenix and all the other ones that VCR revolution killed.

      • Yeah dengue sucks. My mother got it in Tonga years later.

        Satellite TV was actually pretty commonplace even when I lived there. Maybe the cost of DVD + TVs dropping below a certain threshold did in Regal.

        I actually may end up moving back.. interview for a job next week. I guess I’m a bit surprised that in many ways it hasn’t changed quite so much as I’d have expected.

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