A Dili packing list

Are you about to move to Timor-Leste? Have no idea what you can get here and what you must devote your precious checked-bag kilograms to? Here’s a short list from my experience of what you need when you arrive in Dili.

Read more: Your first weekend in Dili

First-day stuff

Chuck this in your carry-on.

  • Cash, cash, omg, bring cash — you need US $30 to pay for your visa on arrival, another $10 if you’re getting a taxi from the airport to your place, and when you’re on your first food-related outing in your new city do you really want to be traipsing around for an ATM hungry? Bring cash, more than you think you’ll need, and make it new USD bills smaller than $20.
  • A power adapter, or whatever they’re called — something to make your Australian or American power plugs connect with the wall plugs in Dili. The most common plugs here are the two-pin, round plugs that are common in Indonesia and Europe, and in some houses you’ll also find Australia, three-pin slanty wall plugs, but they’re less common and I wouldn’t count on them. (You can buy these everywhere in Timor but for your first phone charge, bring one, because you’ll use it a thousand times and trying to describe what this thing is hard even in English, let alone a second or third language).
  • All your valuables, of course, in case the worst happens and your bag goes missing.

Essential clothing

Every Timor-Leste packing list I’ve ever read has been like, ‘bring loose, comfortable clothing’, which now totally makes sense but wandering cluelessly around the op shop two years ago trying to interpret that was terrible and I ended up with a lot of tragic hippy pants I never would have worn back home — so why did I suddenly think I’d become a different person, with different style, here?

Here are some examples of what I think you need:

  • A few plain black or white T-shirts made from cotton or hemp or bamboo (not grey, unless you’re comfortable showing visible sweat patches) — you’ll wear these for exercising, sleeping, mooching around the house, and I wear mine to work with long, patterned skirts.
  • A couple of pairs of shorts — cotton, linen, denim, not too short. They’re good for weekend beach brunches and for after work.
  • A couple of miscellaneous nice ‘office’-type tops; assuming you’re working in an office — these can be sleeveless but not spaghetti-strappy thin. Patterns disguise sweat patches and look less boring than plain colours, and while cotton or linen or something  bit breathe-y is best, you’ll probably have an air conditioner at work and some fun polyester would also be ok (this is obviously not a packing list for suit-wearers; whoops). I get some of mine from the secondhand, OB markets.
  • Dresses! Life-savers for me; I wear them every day, the floatier and more shapeless, the better (this is obviously not a packing list for people who don’t wear dresses; whoops). Most of them I’ve actually bought here in Timor-Leste, from the OB markets, but bring a couple before you’re brave to try. Try and cover your shoulders or your knees or both, and again, anything made from cotton is your friend (yes, you’re going to dress like a 90s mum).
  • Jeans! Do it do it do it, you’ll see every Timorese woman in Dili wearing either jeans and a nice top or a super-sophisticated tight-fitting business skirt, and even though it feels hot it’s unfussy, you’ll fit in, and you get used to it, and it’s better than trying a posh skirt. They’re fine to wear to work. I have a pair of black jeans that I wear like three times a week and I’m scouring the markets for grey ones.
  • Casual business-y trousers — again, if you’re working in an office, wear these with your nice-ish tops and look tropical glaaaam. I have a pretty shitty pair of black cotton trousers I bought from Target’s ‘businesswear’ section a year ago and no joke I’ve worn them one hundred times since.
  • Liiiineeeeeeeennnnnnn linen aaaaanything I own a linen button-up and a pair of linen casual shorts and omg I feel like the best version of myself when I wear them; crisp and clean and CAPABLE. (Edited to add I recently received a linen dress as a hand-me-down from a friend and holy HELL I didn’t know I could love linen more it is the BEEEST, loose and floaty and not sweaty but still a bit chic, bury in my linen dress, make my eulogy “she owned a linen dress”).
  • More undies than you think you’ll need! Seriously! Shitty bras you won’t mind losing to the washing machine if they get bent out of shape! Everything! Made! From! Cotton! Or! Hemp! Or! Bamboo!
  • One hat and one jumper — hat is self-explanatory; there’s 12 hours of sunlight every day year-round, and the jumper (or sweater or jacket or whatever) will keep you warm when you venture up from Dili’s stinking-hot sea level to the mountains.

Essential house stuff

I cannot overstate just how much stuff you can buy already here in Dili. Bedsheets, hooks, ornamental fake flowers, incense, matching plastic containers for storing your stuff, colanders, Lego, photo frames, hair brushes, gas-burner stoves, Masterfoods-brand seeded mustard. Do not stress about bringing too much house stuff, unless it has sentimental value, because you’ll likely move into a furnished house, and you can get everything you need right here.

That said, though, here are some special things worth sacrificing baggage space for:

  • Cotton sheets or silk pillowcases, if you’re particular about sleeping on something smooth — you can get cotton sheets at least here (try downstairs at Leader), but they’re just a bit difficult to find.
  • Jarred pesto — you can buy it here, in Pateo and Quilina and Kmanek supermarkets, but there’s just one brand and it’s pretty expensive. And nuts are ludicrously expensive and sweet basil hard to find, so making your own pesto isn’t the easiest option. Stock up.
  • Cooking scales, if you bake often and need them — you can buy them here but they cost like, US $90. Ditto for a small blender thing if you make smoothies; you can buy them here but they’re over US $100.
  • Nuts! All nuts and seeds are expensive here and if you want to eat them you should carry them in yourself. Candlenuts grow locally here but oh my god they are poisonous if you don’t cook them first; you must must must boil them before snacking.
  • Any particular product that’s a bit new or trendy in your home country — things like bamboo toothbrushes, nice insulated water bottles, charcoal anything, pore strips, those hair ties that are springy coils, beeswax wraps, oat milk, etc. You can buy KeepCups and red hair dye here so I think Dili’s imports are still firmly in 2010.

Essential electrical stuff

  • Surge protector power board. I have two — one is a cute little two-plug, two-USB thing I stole from my old housemate (I’m very good to live with, move in with me), and a bigger one with maybe six Australian plugs on one side. Important protection from power surges.
  • Huge hard drive — fill it with movies and TV shows to both watch and to swap with other people. Internet speeds here are pretty slow so downloading is difficult. (There’s also a DVD shop at Timor Plaza.)
  • A Visa card, a Visa card, a Visa card, omg, bring aVisa card; do NOT bring a MasterCard. The only bank whose ATMs take MasterCards, ANZ, shut down its retail services in September last year and there’s still no replacement for us sad foreigners with MasterCards. Bring cash and bring a Visa card, and do not read this and ignore it and arrive in Dili and post in the horrendous Facebook group Dili Expats “where can I get out money with a MasterCard” because boomer expats will dunk on you and you will deserve it, you idiot. You can pay for very, very, very few things with a credit or debit card here. I’ve never used mine for anything other than withdrawing cash.
  • A Kindle! Life-changing for me. There are no English-language book stores here and while you can find enough reading material scouring the take-one-leave-one shelves at places like Dili Wellness and Beachside, it’s also really nice to read what you want to read, not another one of the 50 dusty Tom Clancy novels someone donated twenty years ago.

Essential medical stuff

  • Bring your prescription medicines, of course (but don’t super stress if you run out of something — there are lots of doctors and pharmacies here, and a physio, an optometrist, a dentist and a psych, and if you can’t get or see someone here your insurance may pay to fly you to Darwin to do it).
  • Diarrhoea stuff! No getting around it, you’ll likely get sick at some stage, and if you know what you’ve got there’s not point spending $100 at the doctor’s or trying to leave the house. Bring rehydration things, like Hydralite or Gastralite tablets or sachets, bring Panadol to bring a fever down, and if you like it bring something like Gastro-stop to clog you up (I don’t really like it though, I prefer to just let short-term gastro run its course — no long train trips here in Timor). I also got an antibiotic for this in my AVID-mandated medical kit, but I’ve never used it.
  • UTI stuff! Just in case and just because it is SO BAD having a UTI in a foreign country. Antibiotic and omg what’s the name of the thing you drink to make it sting less? Bring that. Ural. Bring it.
  • Tampons or a menstrual cup — both hard to find here.

Essential beauty-like stuff

  • 80% DEET mosquito repellent (lol at this being my number one ~beauty item~) — some long-term Dili foreigners will likely disagree with me here and say the Indonesian-brand 13% DEET you can buy in every supermarket and kiosk does the job fine. But I get bitten heaps, wear shorts a bit too often, and am scared of getting dengue — and I often find it hard to buy tropical-strength stuff here. For me, this is a worthwhile thing to carry over (you can buy mosquito coils here).
  • SPF 50+ sunscreen — another thing that’s randomly really hard to find! Worth packing (I also recently learned from a confused American that their SPFs go up in increments of five, not from 30 straight to 50 like in Australia, so this really means any sunscreen higher than 30+).
  • Really posh hair conditioner — you can buy SO many brands of conditioner here and if I’d been writing this list three months ago I wouldn’t have added it. But. My housemate brought back this fancy, $20/bottle coconut conditioner from her last Australia visit and I used it (again, I’m a great housemate, live with me) and oh my god my hair was transformed; it reminded me how sad and scratchy my thick hair gets in the tropical sun and hard hard water. If having soft hair makes you feel happy, don’t rely on Dili’s conditioner.

Essential shoes

I was going to include this in clothes but that list got long and it turns out I have extremely set ideas on shoes in Dili. You need precisely five pairs.

  • Thongs, flip flops, whatever you call them (you can buy these here if you don’t already own them). For beach time, walking on pebbles, and mooching at home.
  • Sturdy sandals. My Saltwater Sandals are my very very very favourite thing I own and I would like to be buried in them. My sister bought me a pair of tan ones when I first left home two years ago; I inherited a pair of navy ones from a departing friend about a year ago. I wear one of them every single day (got the navy ones on now, with a loose, comfortable, baggy cotton dress). I’m not a Birkenstock convert yet but I think those would suit too — I wear these to work, on the weekend, at the shops, on field trips, back home to Australia, which I assume is the role Birkenstocks play, too.
  • Hiking sandals. You don’t need hiking boots here, it’s too hot and too wet and the trails aren’t treacherous enough. You can hike in sneakers or in lightweight, river-friendly hiking sandals.
  • Sneakers, runners, joggers, exercise shoes — again, you can buy them here, but bring yours. Good for exercise, of course, field trips and hiking.
  • Flimsy, nice sandals. Contentious, maybe, but if I’m like randomly at a function or going to a nice dinner with Felix or if I am just sick of looking like a sad dusty sweaty hobo all the time I put on my nice sleek black sandals — they’re just simple ones, still sturdy enough to walk to work in, but not industrial-strength Birks. (I used to have some with a small, inch-high heel — hahahahaha I no longer own them, that was a bit dumb).

Essential do-not bring

  • A yoghurt maker. By all means make yoghurt, but a) you can make yoghurt on the stove and benchtop here, it’s that warm; b) they sell new yoghurt makers in Quilina; c) yoghurt makers are bulky and huge you could literally bring 12 books for that size; and d) there are people in Dili trying to get rid of their yoghurt makers and you can just pick one up here (I literally have one in my house if you want it).

I hope this helps! If you’re moving or have recently moved, welcome to Dili! If you live here or have just arrived, what did I miss?

Was this helpful? Read this next: How to manage your first few weeks in Dili.

4 responses to “A Dili packing list”

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  2. […] stupid thoughts I had about just not understanding what the weather would be like and why every packing list told you to pack the most hideous-sounding baggy garb like you’ll suddenly become a […]


  3. […] the beginning of this year I wrote a packing list post for Timor-Leste tropical travel, including everything I could think of that a newcomer to Dili […]


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