The 7 traits of successful expats in PNG

This year marks my fifteenth year in recruitment, and four years recruiting expats into Papua New Guinea.

In this time, I have had the opportunity to meet a wide variety of expats and hear their stories about living and working in PNG.

From my experience, it takes a certain kind of person to be successful as an expatriate. At the end of the day, I won’t just look for someone that is a great fit on paper.

After placing 30+ expats per year across wide variety of roles and industries in virtually every region of PNG, here are the traits that are consistently found in the candidates who thrive.

1.      Resilience

Living life as an expat provides you with a unique opportunity to experience a different corner of the world than your own, but it won’t always be easy. You may find yourself having to get a little more hands-on than you would at home, or getting a little more creative with the resources you have.

Sunrise at Bogia. Image by:

Away from the comforts of home and your usual support network, resilience is incredibly important. If you are the kind of person who is willing to stick it out and looks for an opportunity to learn something from every challenge, you are likely to flourish in an expat role.

2.      Cultural adaptability

Papua New Guinea is one of the world’s most culturally and linguistically diverse nations in the world. It is estimated there are over 800 languages across PNG, each belonging to people with their own unique culture and traditions.

While working in PNG, you will be exposed to and immersed in many of those different cultures. As an expat, it is your responsibility to respect and honour the culture in every way that you can and integrate into the community.

If your partner or family is joining you, it is so important that they feel they can make PNG their home too.  This is why it is so essential to find ways to get involved in the community and make sure you aren’t just staying within expat circles or living behind compound walls. The families that seem to thrive are those that really embrace the culture and from a sense of connectedness with their communities.

This means finding ways to get involved in the community, join sports teams and taking time out to understand how concepts like Wantok guide day-to-day life.

3.      Mentoring capability

It might not be in your job description, but as an expat in PNG you need to be willing to be a mentor to your team and embrace what mentorship looks like.

If you are hired, it’s because your experiences and attitude make you the best person for the job. It’s up to you to use those experiences and the skills you have learned to help others reach their full potential. By creating moments to teach and build capability, you can create a lasting impact that lives on well after you have left.

4.      Flexibility: you don’t sweat the small stuff

At home, you have probably formed a comfortable routine without even realising it. Most of us know where to call in and pick up milk on the way home, the shortcut to work and which hairdresser at the barber/salon is likely to give you a lopsided haircut.

When you move abroad, this all goes out the window. And that’s okay.

#9836 over POM. Image by:

Being an expat means living with a degree of uncertainty and embracing the work-around. Whether it is project delays due to weather or foreign currency availability, you?re likely to face a hurdle or two while you?re living abroad.

The most successful expats, and the ones that make PNG their home, seem to take everything in their stride and are willing to adapt when circumstances change.

5.      Positivity

One of the traits I look for in candidates seems to go hand-in-hand with flexibility: and that’s positivity.

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I can’t stress how important it is to adopt a glass-half-full mentality. When you are isolated from your usual environment, it can become easier to grow frustrated with the slower pace in PNG or react negatively to forces you can’t control.

Expats are often in positions of leadership and can determine the morale of a whole team, so positivity is incredibly important. If you can wake up and treat each day as a new opportunity, you won’t let anything get in the way of doing what you need to do.

6.      Organisation

Eastern Fields off the coast of PNG. Image by:

Many of the candidates we place work in industries like construction and aviation where organisation and precision are essential.  The pace in PNG is a little slower than what most people are used to, so it is important to be able to plan ahead and be ready to engage Plan B (or Plan C) to keep on schedule.

Beyond the workplace, you will need to be able to keep on top of important dates, documents, passwords and visas. This is easier said than done. If your role involves a lot of travel, or is based at a remote site, it is important to stay organised and have systems in place in case something gets lost, or goes wrong.

7.      Willingness to create change

This is perhaps one of the most important qualities of all.

PNG is still growing and developing as a nation. As an expat, you have the privilege of collaborating with brilliant teams of people that are hungry for knowledge, and willing to learn all that you are willing to teach.

But that’s the thing. You have to be willing to teach and make a difference.

The most successful expats seem to be those that genuinely want to leave their team, their workplace and their community in a better place than when they arrived.

What this change looks like is up to you ? whether it’s creating better OH&S policies to keep your team safe, or spending time mentoring or training someone you see the potential in.

Working as an expat in PNG can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life, but it takes the right attitude to really make your new life a success.

If you are considering a move, take out a couple of minutes to read through the expat guides on our website to find out more about living and working in PNG:

Or join my expat group on LinkedIn to stay in the loop:


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