Driving in Fiji - What to Expect!
School drop off and pick up, grocery runs, weekend sport, to and from work, off to the gym - we all jump in our car numerous times a day.
Driving is second nature to most adults and given we spend so much time in our cars, when we do move to a foreign country, it is reasonable to wonder about driving in a new country.
Will I be safe? Is it legal for me to drive in Fiji? What are the hazards of driving in Fiji?
Driving is a great way to not only explore Fiji whilst holidaying, but when living as an expat in Fiji, it can be essential as a means to get around. On two occasions we've owned cars as our main method of transport in Fiji, other times we’ve been happy to forgoe car ownership and utelise public transport and taxis. Taxis are cheap and readily available.
But if you are considering the pros and cons of owning a car in Fiji, then you may be wondering what driving is like in the tropical nation.
Fiji Roads Authority is the organisation responsible for planning, developing and maintaining Fiji’s $6billion road infrastructure. The infrastructure primarily consists of approximately 7,500km of road, 1,200 bridges, 9,000+ streetlights and 45 jetties. Most expats will end up living on the main island of Viti-Levu (not all! so a sneeky shout out to those readers in SavuSavu, lol) and this is home to the majority of the sealed highways in Fiji.
There is one main arterial road which runs the entire length around the main island. To the North it is called Kings Road, and as you approach the southern part of the island it is called Queens Road. This road is generally in good condition and has recently been upgraded in parts. Unless you intend to drive through the interior areas, and take obscure tracks off this main road, it is near impossible to get lost driving on the Queens/Kings Road.
If your relocation to Fiji is sending you to the capital city of Suva, and you arrive in Nadi, this is the road you will take.
The maximum speed limit on this road (and across Fiji) is 80km/h, in some areas it is 60km/h, but as you approach villages, it drops to 50km/h.
This photo taken in Fiji always makes me laugh – make sure you pay attention to the road speed limit signs.
Along this highway, at regular intervals, there are a number of Police Stations, or as they’re called in Fiji, “Police Posts”. They all look similar to each other (cute little blue and white houses) (and as I recall them in my mind now, they’re actually the starting point for type of house I dream to live in right on the beach – cocktail in hand, breeze in my face, sitting on that verandah!) I digress a little there…
Apart from a random Fijian guy sleeping on the verandah, and the delightful smell of a fijian curry wafting from the kitchen, these Police Posts are often the location of speed radars (if not hiding directly behind the police sign, they will be hiding in a nearby bus stop shelter).
In Fiji, speeding has been referred to as “over-speeding” which gives me a giggle every time I see a billboard or an A-frame sign reminding road users not to “over speed” (another quirky habit of the Fijian Police Posts). To me, speeding is speeding, not over speeding? Moral of the paragraph? (Sometimes I have so much to say, I forget the moral myself, lol).
Be aware to stick to the speed limits if you don’t want a ticket.
Apart from speeding fines, it is important to be aware that the hazards you will encounter on Fiji roads are a little different to the ones ‘back home’ and therefore if you aren’t prepared, could be cause for danger as a driver in Fiji.
We’ve all dodged a pot hole or two in our time of driving, but we found they are way more common in Fiji. Granted the recent upgrade of the roads have rectified this issue a little. A photograph of locals drinking kava from a pothole went viral years ago, and was intended to be funny but it serves an indication that potholes in Fiji are indeed are a way of life.
Cows, horses and goats are often seen feeding on the edges of the highways and will wander across the roads aimlessly. Whilst living on ‘fiji time’ and grazing with little concern for their surroundings may be nice for these animals, it doesn’t mix well with driving and safety. Stray dogs (found everywhere in Fiji!) can also cause danger, but in my experience, they seem to be pretty road-wise and will dodge cars with ease.
Many local residents do not drive, nor have they received any form of driver education (especially those living outside of the main cities). Added to the fact that the main highway was constructed through villages, it is understandable that local residents don’t have much of an understanding of driver and pedestrian behavior and how they relate to each other. This is why it is common for Villagers to walk dangerously close to moving vehicles, or sit in groups on the edge of the main road. Pounding kava precariously on the roadside with a big group of spectators is also very common and poses a hazard for drivers. As a driver in Fiji, you have a responsibility to take these cultural behaviours into account when driving through a village setting.
Come night fall and in most areas outside of the cities, lighting will be limited to your car lights only, or high-beam lights of the oncoming cars, which makes driving in the dark scary. Add to this the wandering animals and the carefree locals, it could be a recipe for disaster
Approaching most villages are speed humps which seem to be bigger than they appear and can catch you off-guard if you aren’t prepared.
Literally as the saying goes “when it rains, it pours!”, especially in Suva. This wet weather is often the cause of the potholes worsening; poor drainage systems means roads tend to flood very quickly and oil from ill-maintained trucks will make the roads very slippery.
Other Road Users
I won’t sugar coat it - some drivers in Fiji can be a little crazy (as they can in any part of the world). Overtaking on blind bends, and “over-speeding whilst overtaking on blind bends” is especially common. Random cars will also be stop in the oddest places on the side of the road for their Drivers to have a sleep, which can be dangerous for those aforementioned “over-speeding, overtaking” law-breakers who come upon a stationery car in the middle of nowhere.
Your location will depend on the driving experience you encounter. The bigger towns, like Suva and Nadi are the busiest with a lot of traffic. I’ve lost count of the number of hours I’ve wasted sitting in a car in Nadi town. Whereas in the areas immediately outside of them and in more rural locations, traffic volume is much quieter, which can mean the ‘crazy drivers’ are more daring. In the smaller towns and rural areas, you won’t see traffic lights either.
At a minimum, car owners require 3rd Party
The driving licence requirements in Fiji state that you must be at least 18 years old and have a full driving licence valid in your country of residence. You don’t need an International Permit to drive in Fiji. However, if you are moving to Fiji as an expat, I would suggest that you do consider converting your licence. This can be done at the Land Transport Authority offices, which are located in most towns. Cost: $14FJD for licence and $5FJD for application.
The blood alcohol level is 0.08 and it is illegal to eat or drink whilst driving
It is illegal to use a mobile phone whilst driving, unless it is being used with an appropriate hands-free device
Drivers are at all times required to carry their valid Drivers Licence, Registration Papers, and Insurance Papers
The attendants will refuel your car for you, take the payment and bring back any change and a receipt for you – it’s great service! But you are unlikely to be able to pay by credit card, especially out of the city. Consequently, a lot of fuel stations will have an ATM handy, for those of us who are accustomed to putting everything on card. There are service stations near all major towns, though there are very few in some of the rural areas. If you find that you are running out of fuel on a back road, you can check in the local village store, which may sell fuel to get you on your way
The front passenger and driver are the only ones who are required by law to wear a seatbelt (but don’t take that as advice not to!)
Tolls and Meters
There are no tolls in Fiji, but parking meters are strictly governed and tickets start from $10FJD (I've had a few, oops!)
Land Transport Authority (LTA) provides services and information for drivers of public service vehicles, commercial and private cars. It conducts a number of transport-related licensing and accreditation activities, and administers driver authorisations for a range of vehicles. This will be your first stop for anything driving-related. Check out their website here.
Considering buying a car in Fiji? Bula Cars is a great website to do some research on car pricing and what's available in the market. It also has some good information about driving in Fiji. Have a look here.
NUMBER PLATE IMAGES COURTESY OF PLATESHACK.COM