The standard left hand rule applies to driving in the Cook Islands. Rental cars are available on the main islands and scooters are everywhere. Helmets are required for tourists. Do NOT drink and drive – the laws are strict and enforced. Taxis are limited, as is night lighting on our roads.
In Rarotonga you can catch the island bus. It goes clockwise and anti-clockwise and will pick up and drop off upon request. Once you set your clock to island time, cycling is a great way to get around and bikes are available for hire.
International visitors (over 16 years) can now drive in the Cook Islands for up to six months using their full overseas licence, provided it does not expire, is revoked, suspended or disqualified in that time. On an overseas licence, you will only be allowed to drive the class of motor vehicle that you are entitled to drive in your home country. The overseas licence must be in English or a certified translation provided.
Scooters & motorbikes
If a visitor wants to ride a scooter or motorbike in the Cook Islands and is not licensed to do so at home, he or she will have to obtain a Cook Islands Driving Licence (either Class A covering motorbikes/scooters or Class AB covering both regular vehicles and motorbikes/scooters). This involves a theory and practical test at the Police Headquarters in Avarua and the payment of a NZ$20 licence fee plus NZ$10 for the theory test, NZ$10 for the practical and NZ$50 for a handling and skills test.
New safety helmet law
As of 5 October 2016, all visitors on a visitor’s drivers licence must wear a safety helmet while travelling on a motorcycle in Rarotonga. This is compulsory for Rarotonga only and does not apply to visitors driving a motorcycle in the outer islands. We urge all visitors to comply with this new law for your own safety and to avoid any fines from the Police.
The Cook Islands unit of currency is the New Zealand dollar, supplemented by local notes and coins. The unique local coins and notes are not negotiable outside the Cook Islands, but are keenly sought by collectors worldwide.
ANZ, BSP and BCI banks in downtown Avarua are open Monday-Friday from 9am-3pm. ANZ extends its closing time on Fridays to 4pm. BSP in Avarua is also open from 9am-12 noon on Saturdays.
ATMs are conveniently located around Rarotonga and Aitutaki and EFTPOS is available at most hotels and stores. Western Union has an office in Avarua offering money exchange and transfers.
Cook Islands’ time is GMT-10 hours. Do your calculation before arrival, as booking accommodation to start a day too late is a common mistake.
Visa & immigration
When you come to the Cook Islands, a valid passport and a return ticket will allow you a stay of up to 31 days. Extensions may be granted on a monthly basis – for up to 6 months. New Zealand citizens are eligible for a 90-day stay on arrival.
For extensions, apply 2 weeks before your permit expires. This does not guarantee admission to the Cook Islands. Immigration officers at a port of entry will have the final determination.
For further information on immigration, please visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration's website at www.mfai.gov.ck. You must have sufficient funds for your maintenance and confirmed booking/payments and contact information of the accredited accommodation you intend to stay at, as camping is not permitted in the Cook Islands.
Holders of Passports with Less than 6 Months’ Validity With the exceptions indicated below, holders of passports that are valid for less than 6 months beyond the intended period of stay in the Cook Islands must seek authority to travel to the Cook Islands from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration in Rarotonga.
Exceptions: This travel restriction does not apply to Cook Islanders and Permanent Residents of the Cook Islands. New Zealand (NZ) and Australian passport holders may also travel to the Cook Islands without seeking authority from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration provided their passports are valid for at least seven days beyond their intended period of stay in the Cook Islands.
ATTENTION: Sailors wanting to berth their yachts in the docks of Avatiu Harbour need to obtain moorings from the Harbourmaster at the Ports Authority, PO Box 84, Rarotonga, Cook Islands. If you are departing the Cook Islands by marine craft, you are required to pay departure tax. For more information visit www.mfem.gov.ck and www.ports.co.ck.
Personal effects including sports equipment and clothing are exempt from duty.
Duty free items include:
- 200 cigarettes or 250gms of tobacco or 50 cigars or a mixture of not more than 250 grams in total
- 2 litres of spirits or a combination of spirit/liqueur and wine no more than 2.5 litres OR 4.5 litres of beer
- Goods in excess of NZ$250 are liable for duty
Any food items must be declared on arrival. For more information visit www.agriculture.gov.ck.
A range of medical and dental services are available in Rarotonga. Aitutaki and Atiu also have limited medical aid with very small hospitals. Emergency services operate on Rarotonga and there is an optometrist plus several pharmacies for prescriptions. Physiotherapists are also available.
Caution: There are no snakes and most of the insects are harmless – but look out for centipedes, which can sting. The coral reefs and passages to the open ocean should be treated with caution. Visitors must meet their own medical costs during their time in the Cook Islands, including medical evacuation to New Zealand if specialist care is required. We recommend visitors take out health insurance to cover unexpected costs.
If you are a stamp collector, the colourful Cook Islands stamps are distinctive and sought after by enthusiasts. Mail is available from the Post Office, which opens Monday to Friday 8am to 4pm.
The telecommunications network in the Cook Islands is operated by Bluesky. There is an outlet located at the CITC Shopping Complex in the main strip of Avarua which is open 8am-4pm Monday to Friday, and Saturday 8:30am-1pm. Local SIM cards are available from the main office, down the road from the Cooks Corner bus stop (also in Avarua), and open 7am-11pm daily. There is also an outlet in Muri which is open 10am-6pm Monday to Friday, and Sunday noon til 4pm.
International telephone, mobile telephone, facsimile and internet services (including broadband) are available through these Bluesky outlets. Several internet cafés are located on Rarotonga and Aitutaki, with WiFi hotspots (where you can login with prepaid vouchers) also widely located around these islands.