posting mail to Dili

The first time I lived in Timor-Leste there was no postal service. You couldn’t really get anything delivered to you — you could use DHL or another courier service, but they were generally erratic, expensive, and unreliable.

Instead, you used secondhand information to find a friend of a friend who you’d heard might be travelling between cities soon, and if your item was small and you could get it to this outer suburb of Melbourne between this date and this other very close-in-time date, they could carry it to Dili for you, or vice versa into Australia.

But with the new Qantas flights between Australia and Timor-Leste, this has all changed.

In November the Australian Government announced the resumption of a regular mail service between the two countries, using Australia’s national postal service, Australia Post — making sending something to Dili no trickier or pricier than posting something to Singapore or Paris, which happens all the time.

This week I received a package posted to me by a friend in Australia. Here’s how we did it.

Posting a package

My friend took my items to her local post office in the suburb of Brunswick in Melbourne, Australia. Because Dili doesn’t have a home delivery service for post (or street addresses, for that matter), she used the Dili Central Post Office as my mailing address:

Dili Central Post Office

Kintal Ki’ik, Avenida Bispo de Medeiros


Timor-Leste doesn’t have post codes (zip codes), so if your online order or post office asks for one, just type in zeroes. My friend bought a box in the post office, they taped it up for her, and she wrote that address and left it with them.

My package was a reasonably big box that weighed between 2 and 2.5 kilograms and cost AUD 60, or about USD 40, to post. Smaller packages would, of course, be cheaper. The post office in Brunswick told my friend it’d take between 12 and 18 days to arrive in Dili.

Tracking a package

Australia Post tracks every parcel it handles and gives you a code to use to look up its progress. I was able to track my parcel from it leaving Brunswick, to arriving at the airport, to clearing customs, to arriving in Dili.

The Qantas flight, which carries the mail, only goes every second Wednesday. My package took a month to arrive, but that’s because the public holidays around Christmas and New Year’s made it just miss the flight that arrived on 12 January; it was instead two weeks later, on 26 January. In non-holiday times, I’d expect the post to be quicker.

Retrieving a package

I did get impatient waiting for that Australia Post website to update, and I went to the post office last week in person to check the progress of my package.

The Dili Central Post Office is a large and accessible building, located on a corner opposite the well-known Dili Convention Centre (CCD). I walked straight in, saw the information desk, and asked about my package. The man behind the counter showed me the list of parcels from the previous Australian flight — rows of signed-for and ticked-off packages dated 12 January — and told me mine would be on the flight that week. He took my phone number and said he’d call when it was in; sure enough, my phone rang the very next day.

I again went to the post office, at about 3:30pm, and walked straight in. I said my name and that I was there for a package from the Australian flight; they found it immediately and I signed my name. No ID needed, but I did have to write my phone number next to my name and signature. I didn’t need any specific vocabulary, either — I used the word ‘pakote’, package, to ask about my mail, from the word Timor Telecom uses for internet packages.

Trying it again

My experience with the mail was overall seamless, easy, and exciting. If it were in Timor-Leste for longer I would absolutely use it again — I’d shop online and have items sent here directly from websites. (At this stage I’m leaving in three weeks’ time, and while it’s entirely possible a parcel could arrive in two, I’d err on the side of caution and give it two flights, or four weeks, to make it here.)

And if you’re in Dili and want a package from Australia, or if you’d like to post something to Dili using Australia Post, feel free to get in touch and I’m happy to coordinate with friends in Australia to help deliver your parcel.

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