packing list — updated 2021

I’ve travelled to Timor-Leste four times: a work trip in October 2016; when I moved here in March 2017; a visit back after leaving in August 2019; and now, this December 2021 arrival.

Each time, I’ve just packed the absolute worst assortment of items, written a blog post explaining how to pack better (one, two), and privately vowed to do things differently the next time.

Following tradition, here’s my updated packing list for a solo woman moving to Dili, Timor-Leste, for the first time — the list I needed before I arrived.

Bags to bring to Dili

I’d recommend arriving with four or five bags:

  • two large, checked-baggage-type suitcases
  • one small backpack (for day trips and the flight)
  • one tote, handbag or shoulder bag (for everyday use and the flight)
  • one small bum bag

That’s what I had for this most recent arrival, and I thought it worked well.

In my suitcases I had my clothes, shoes, books, gifts and electronics for my three months in Dili. In my backpack, a carry-on bag, I had three days’ worth of clothes, my toothbrush, hairbrush, etc — to save having to rummage through my suitcases immediately after arriving. My tote had my plane gear — laptop, book, jumper, snacks — and my bum bag had my passport, money, phone, and face mask: things I needed frequently throughout my travel, as I took my three flights from Melbourne to Dili.

Packing for day one in Dili

I’m structuring this list deliberately — in my experience, packing for any trip is less about the specific items you bring and more about organising the order in which you need them. In both of those previous packing lists I’ve written (one, two) I’ve recommended isolating out your first-day belongings, which I stand by.

In my bum bag I packed:

  • phone, charger and headphones
  • passport and pen (for immigration cards)
  • money (minimum US $50 in $10 bills, for your visa, taxi and dinner)
  • lip balm, chewing gum, face mask, sunglasses

In my tote I packed:

  • laptop and charger
  • book and journal
  • jumper and snacks for the plane

I was fortunate to arrive in Dili from Darwin, where the climate is very similar — I didn’t have to worry about dressing for both a cold and warm place on this voyage. On the plane I wore cotton trousers, Teva sandals, and a sleeveless collared shirt, with my jumper in my tote if I felt cold on the flight. (Here are some examples like the pants, top, and shoes I wore). If you fly from somewhere colder than tropical Darwin, consider wearing your normal clothes to the airport, then changing into an outfit like mine on the flight before you land.

In my backpack I packed everything I knew I’d need for my first few days in Dili, to save myself from having to fuss through my my suitcases and un-seal my vacuum-sealed bags every time I had a shower. I had:

  • five pairs of underwear (you will shower more than you think)
  • two comfortable bras
  • three outfits worth of clothes (for me, high-waisted cotton-linen shorts, two cotton t-shirts, and one linen button-up top, to go with my plane trousers)
  • something to sleep in (for me, cotton shorts and a t-shirt)
  • towel and small soap
  • toothbrush and small toothpaste
  • small sunscreen and mosquito repellent
  • hairbrush or comb
  • adaptor (Indonesian type F, two-pin is the most common outlet in Dili)
  • portable charger (it has an external battery that couldn’t go in checked luggage but I didn’t want it crowding my tote on the plane)

My bum bag, tote and backpack were all carry-on. It sounds like a lot, but they made my weight limit and no-one had an issue with the number of bags I had.

Essential Dili clothing

Each of the four times I’ve arrived in Timor-Leste I’ve landed and stayed in Dili. If you are moving to Maubisse, Ainaro, Same, or somewhere mountainous, your packing requirements will be very different from mine — it’s hard to believe by looking at its location on a map, but Timor-Leste is a mountainous country that can get very cold and in places very wet.

I grew up by the beach in a very hot city (Perth, Australia), but was deeply unprepared for, and worried about, Timor-Leste’s weather when I first came here, and I didn’t know what I’d be wearing.

In my first packing list post, I wrote:

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?

Dili is a hot, humid, and reasonably conservative place — the weather will make you want to wear very little, and etiquette will make you cover your shoulders.

In both of my previous lists, I’ve recommended choosing simple clothing made mostly from natural fibres (but I do find polyester a surprisingly light and easy fabric to wear in Timor-Leste, so don’t discount synthetics entirely). Over time and trips, I’ve found a compromise I’m happy with, between the outfits I wear at home in Australia, and the clothes that are suited to Dili’s climate and culture. I like long, usually sleeveless dresses; plain cotton t-shirts worn with tailored, high-waisted shorts; trousers that don’t cling to my skin with patterned sleeveless tops; and silly little shorts and skimpy cotton singlets for mooching around in at home.

Because of the climate, I find myself showering more frequently here. Consider this when you’re counting how many of each item to bring — particularly with underwear, but also with things like those silly shorts I just mentioned: comfortable, easy clothes too casual to wear outside the house.

And don’t forget, there are department stores and secondhand clothing markets here for you to replenish your wardrobe with if you forget something, or decide you need more colour in your life — though, an important addition here from my friend Georgia is that if you wear an Australian size 12 or above, you may struggle to find things in the markets that will fit you. But nice fabrics and skilled tailors abound in Dili, and custom-made outfits are in closer reach price-wise than they would be back home.

As a clothing starting point, I suggest bringing the below.

Tops
  • a few loose-cut t-shirts made from cotton, bamboo, or hemp, in black or white or patterns, not grey (sweat stains are very visible on grey!) — for wearing to the beach, at home, to the supermarket, and to exercise: this, this.
  • a few loose-cut singlets with thicker straps (not spaghetti straps) in those same colours and fabrics I just mentioned — for wearing to the beach, at home, to the supermarket and to work: this, this.
  • a few nicer tops, in any fabric — for wearing to work, events or meetings: this, this, this.
  • a linen button-up — throw it over your bathers at the beach, or wear it backwards when you’re on a scooter to protect your real outfit from dust: this.
Bottoms
  • several pairs of cotton, linen or cotton-linen blend trousers — for wearing to work, events, and places where you don’t want your knees on show: this, this, this.
  • a couple of skirts — longer ones for work and events (this, this), and a couple of casual ones to switch with shorts at the beach, in the supermarket, and at lunchtime: this, this.
  • several pairs of shorts — soft cotton or linen ones (this, this) for hanging out, more tailored ones for wearing out of the house (this, this), and not-too-skimpy short denim shorts (this).
Underneath
  • more pairs of underwear than you think you’ll need (soft, comfortable, not too tight — I am a black cotton briefs gal, personally).
  • comfortable, non-delicate bras you won’t mind losing to a terrible washing machine (I wear these and these).
  • one-piece bathers (I have these!) — in my experience, people will stare at you at the beach, and even though it’s just a strip of fabric’s difference between a bikini and a one-piece, it’s more comfortable for me having my stomach covered.
  • whatever you like to sleep in — think light, comfortable, soft, unrestricted.
Shoes

In my first packing list I opined you need exactly five pairs of shoes in Dili — five years, four visits, and three lists on, I still stand by this.

Those five pairs are:

  • a pair of thongs (flip flops) — you’ll wear these frequently and can buy them here when your first pair passes on.
  • high-quality, sturdy, waterproof sandals, for everyday wear — I have these Tevas and these Saltwater Sandals (which have endured through frequent and heavy wear since 2017), and think Birkenstocks would also be a good choice.
  • a pair of sneakers (joggers, runners, running shoes), for walking in the hills and exercising — don’t buy something special, because they’ll get beaten up.
  • nicer, flimsier sandals — to wear to events, out to dinner, if you work in a more formal office where waterproof sandals aren’t appropriate (no heels, though).
  • a pair of hiking sandals — Timor-Leste has beautiful walks and hikes, but you don’t need hiking boots (too hot, wet, and the trails aren’t treacherous enough) — you can, and I do, hike in sneakers, but they get soaked easily and are a pain to take on and off when you want a mid-walk ocean swim.
Other
  • several nicer dresses, to wear to events, meetings, work, parties — in any fabric; I prefer rayon, cotton, or linen blends: this, this, this, this, this, this.
  • several comfortable, soft dresses, to thrown on after the beach or to wear to brunch — cotton is my preference: this, this.
  • a couple of hats — Dili is a very sunny city; I have a baseball cap for exercising and two hats (like this and this), which I alternate wearing every day.
  • a jumper and a rain jacket — you won’t use either of these very often in Dili, but on a cool morning or after it rains in the evening, you’ll be glad you brought it (the jumper you can wear on the plane to save space): this, this.
  • clothes for exercising in — I wear baggy t-shirts over these running shorts, but don’t love the skin-tight pants in Dili and am currently looking for something looser.
  • a quick-dry Turkish towel for field trips, dive trips, beach trips.

Colour considerations

Something important I’ve neglected to add in previous packing lists is a note on the colour black in Timor-Leste. Black’s a mourning colour, and when a close family member dies, it’s customary for women to wear all black for 12 months. You won’t really see Timorese women wearing black outside of these mourning clothes, and once when I was wearing a black dress and black sandals I was asked by my landlord, “who died?”

That is to say — when purchasing or packing the items I’m listing here, consider colour. I do like a black t-shirt (but never with black shorts or pants), but apart from that try to avoid the colour — partly to avoid looking like a mourner, and partly because black absorbs heat and it’s not the most comfortable colour to wear. Wear marigold pants, neon skirts, summer florals, and patterned sets.

Essential house items

In five years of coming to Timor-Leste I’ve never met someone who’s moved into an unfurnished house — furnished here including sheets, towels, pillows, pots and pans, cutting boards, toasters and kettles, plates and cutlery, etc. Keep this in mind when you’re packing for your place.

Another thing to consider is something I wrote in my first packing list:

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.

I do stand by this, but I would now add a caveat: just because it’s here doesn’t mean it’s easy to find. You might need to be up for a challenge.

You’ll be able to find almost every household item you need, but sourcing it all might take you a few weeks, and a couple of visits to Vinod Patel and downstairs at Leader Supermarket, and a couple of tips from friends of where they’ve seen certain items… for a while I’ve been searching for a silicon ice cube tray (I know they’re sold here somewhere), but after a month of no luck, I’ve just admitted defeat and asked an Australian friend to buy one in Melbourne and carry it back to Dili for me.

What I would recommend packing is:

  • high-quality bedding, if you have a particular preference (I’ve always been fine sleeping on the sheets that come with my house, but if you prefer silk sheets or a particular pillow softness, it’s probably safer to bring your own).
  • a nice, insulated water bottle, if you want to carry cold water on you.
  • high-end alcohol, if you have a particular preference (there are a lot of liquor stores here and beer, wine and spirits are available everywhere, but by way of example the fanciest gin I’ve seen is Hendrick’s, and Gordon’s is very common — that is to say if you prefer top-shelf spirits, make good use of your duty-free on arrival).
  • powerboards and adaptors from your own country — these are sold everywhere in Dili (check hardware stores and department stores), but if your electric toothbrush and phone charger and laptop and Kindle are all from your country and all need the same socket, it makes sense to bring a board or two they can all connect to, which you’ll then plug into the wall (the most common wall outlet here is Indonesian, but some houses and businesses also have Australian).
  • a Kindle or other e-reader, because books are only sold here in Tetun, Portuguese and Indonesian languages (Beachside cafe also has a good bookshelf with secondhand English-language novels free to borrow).
  • and, as I wrote in my last packing list, any product in your home country that’s current or relatively trendy: Timor-Leste’s imports seem to be a few years behind what’s in vogue. There, I suggested bamboo toothbrushes, soy candles, beeswax wraps, pore strips, epilator, claw clips, anything made from charcoal.

Small, personal appliances, like hair dryers and smoothie blenders are also widely available here. (Perhaps bring your own if you already own one and like it, but don’t buy anything special to bring over — Dili shops sell appliances with Indonesian plugs that go straight into the wall without you having to bother with an adaptor, which is handy, and while they’re probably a bit more more expensive than you’d be able to find at home, they’re not over-priced.)

Essential personal items

Medical and personal items that you can’t find easily in Dili and should pack include:

  • your prescription medicines.
  • any vitamins or supplements you take regularly.
  • tampons or a menstrual cup (pads are easily and widely available).
  • any specific brands you use for makeup, shampoo and conditioner, face cleansers, sunscreen, etc — these products are widely available in many brands, but most are Indonesian brands that are unfamiliar to me (Dove and Nivea I recognise), and you won’t be able to find your specific brand from home unless you carry it over.
  • medicines to treat thrush and UTIs — not because they’re unavailable, but because it’s nice to be able to treat yourself at home if you have either of these conditions.
  • 80% strength DEET — mosquito repellent is widely available in every supermarket and kiosk, but I am skeptical about the efficacy of the 13% strength bottles you see in every store. I bring tropical-strength mosquito repellent from Australia when I come.

Medical and personal items that you do not need to pack include:

  • Gastrostop, or any medicine that stops diarrhoea — you will get sick a couple of times, but there are no long train trips in Timor-Leste and it’s best to let it run its course.
  • more than one packet of Pandadol, Tylenol, name-brand painkillers — you can buy these medicines easily in Dili.
  • malaria medicine — some travel doctors will send you here with malaria pills; look, maybe it’s a good idea to bring them; I’m not a doctor. But no one I know in Timor-Leste had had malaria for like, 15 years; there are many ways of stopping mosquito bites (coils, DEET, no water around the house, long sleeves); and the malaria pills make you more prone to sunburn, which sounds like a much bigger problem in sunny Dili.
  • a lot of makeup — I am not a big wearer of makeup anyway, but the tropical climate and casual atmosphere make it almost a moot point. I have mascara and an eyebrow pencil that I use maybe once a week when I’m going out for dinner.
  • any other chemist item — you can buy dental floss, nail clippers, combs, hairbrushes, razors, toothbrushes, condoms, nail polish and tweezers easily in Dili. 

Final thoughts

I hope this list helps — please do let me know if you use it, or if you’ve just moved to Dili and have some additions or feedback. And if you’re preparing to move, here are a few older posts from this blog that might help you next:

Good luck, and welcome to Dili.

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