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Cook Islands

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Summary

  • Exercise normal safety precautions in the Cook Islands. Use common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour. Monitor the media and other sources for changes to local travelling conditions.
  • Motorcycle accidents are common. Helmets are compulsory. Don't travel by motorbike or motor scooter unless covered by your travel insurance. Don't drink and ride. See Local travel.

  • Cook Islands experiences cyclones and tropical storms, mostly between November and April. See Natural disasters.

  • Australia does not have an Embassy or Consulate in the Cook Islands. The Australian High Commission in New Zealand provides consular assistance to Australians in the Cook Islands.

Entry and exit

Visas

If you're travelling for tourism and will stay for less than 31 days, you won't normally need a visa. In other circumstances, you'll need a visa.

Entry and exit conditions (such as visa requirements, currency, customs and quarantine regulations) can change at short notice. Contact the Cook Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration for up-to-date information.

Other formalities

To enter the Cook Islands, you'll need to prove you have:

  • an onward or return ticket
  • sufficient funds
  • accommodation arranged.

Passport

Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after the date you intend to return to Australia.

Your passport is a valuable document and attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. Always keep it in a safe place.

Be aware of attempts to obtain access to your passport by deception.  If you are forced to hand over your passport, contact the Australian High Commission in Honiara for advice.

If your passport is lost or stolen, you must notify the Australian Government as soon as possible.

Money

Both new Cook Islands coins and New Zealand currency are legal tender in the Cook Islands. The six new Cook Islands coins (10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, $1, $2 and $5) were launched in August 2015.

Cook Island currency can only be exchanged in the Cook Islands. The airport bank has currency exchange facilities.

Credit cards are accepted at major hotels and commercial establishments. There are limited ATM facilities. ATMs are available on Rarotonga and Aitutaki. Check with your bank to make sure that your Australian cards will work overseas.

Safety and security

Crime

The crime rate is low but tourists are sometimes targeted by thieves. Unattended items on the beach or in unsecured storage, including items stored in scooters/motorcycles, are a particular target. Assaults of tourists are occasionally reported.

  • Don't tempt thieves – avoid wearing or displaying expensive watches, jewellery, cameras and mobile phones.
  • Carry only what you need. Leave other valuables, including your passport, in a secure location.
  • Pay attention to your personal possessions, particularly on beaches.
  • Look out for suspicious behaviour.

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world.

More information: Terrorist threat worldwide

Local travel

Tours and adventure activities

The safety standards you might expect of transport and tour operators, including for inter-island travel and adventure activities such as scuba diving, are not always met. Recommended safety precautions and maintenance standards may not be followed. Safety equipment such as lifejackets and seatbelts may not be provided.

If you plan to participate in adventure activities or use local transport:

  • talk to your travel insurer to check if the activity is covered by your insurance policy
  • check operators' credentials and safety equipment before booking - if appropriate safety equipment is not available, use another provider
  • don't be afraid to ask about or insist on minimal safety requirements
  • always use available safety equipment, even if others don't.

Swimming and water sports

Fatal swimming accidents have occurred due to tidal changes and breaks in the reefs. Seek advice from local residents and tour operators on areas that are safe for swimming and water sports. There are no life guards present on beaches.

Road travel

Driving can be dangerous, particularly at night. Road conditions, including line markings and street lighting, are poor.

The legal blood alcohol limit for drivers and motorcyclists in the Cook Islands is 0.08.

  • Familiarise yourself with local traffic laws and practices before driving.
  • Drive defensively.
  • Don't drink and drive.

More information: Road safety and driving

Driver's licence

For periods of up to six months, you can use an Australian driving licence to operate a vehicle, provided the vehicle is of the same class as identified on your Australian licence. Example: an Australian car licence will allow you to drive a car, but not a scooter.

 

Motorcycles

A significant number of traffic accidents resulting in hospitalisation involve motorcycle riders.

You can get a temporary motorcycle/scooter licence by passing a practical test at the Police Headquarters in Avarua. To get a licence, you'll need to take your current Australian driver's licence and passport. Allow plenty of time as queues can be long.

Under Cook Islands law, anyone riding a motorcycle, bicycle or scooter must wear a safety helmet approved for that vehicle. This also applies to passengers. Most travel insurance policies have exclusions for not complying with local laws.

  • Make sure your travel insurance covers you for the use of motorcycles and scooters before you hire one.
  • Ride defensively and within local road rules.
  • Wear an approved helmet.
  • Don't drink and ride.

Taxis

Only use registered taxis and authorised limousines, which can be arranged through your hotel or resort.

Public transport

Limited bus services operate on Raratonga. On other islands, public transport is very limited.

Sea travel

Travel by boat can be dangerous. Passenger ferry services are subject to disruption at short notice. Overcrowding of passenger ferries can occur.

Take additional precautions when travelling by boat. Precautions could include:

  • carrying your own life jackets, an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) and satellite telephone
  • avoiding single-engine boats
  • travelling in convoy with all boats at half capacity or less, and
  • registering your departures and arrivals with a trusted friend.

Air travel  

The Australian Government does not provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths.

More information: Air travel

Laws

You're subject to all local laws and penalties, including those that appear harsh by Australian standards. Research local laws before travelling, especially for an extended stay.

If you're arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you under our Consular Services Charter. But we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Drug laws

Penalties for possession and use of even small amount of illegal drugs may include fines and possible prison sentences.

More information: Carrying or using drugs

Other laws

The legal blood alcohol limit for drivers/motorcyclists is 0.08.

Cook Island law prohibits homosexual activity or 'acts of indecency' between men. Penalties include prison sentences of up to seven years.

More information: LGBTI travellers

Australian laws

Some Australian criminal laws apply overseas. If you commit these offences, you may be prosecuted in Australia. Laws include those relating to:

  • bribery of foreign public officials
  • child pornography
  • child sex tourism
  • female genital mutilation
  • forced marriage
  • money laundering
  • terrorism.

More information: Staying within the law

Dual nationals

See: Dual nationals.

Local customs

There are conservative standards of dress and behaviour. Take care not to offend, especially when outside resort areas. If in doubt, seek local advice.

Health

Travel insurance

Take out comprehensive travel insurance before you depart to cover overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation.

Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for your medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs. This can be very expensive and cost you many thousands of dollars upfront.

Confirm:

  • what circumstances and activities are and are not covered under your policy
  • you are covered for the whole time you will be away.

More information: Travel insurance

Physical and mental health

Consider your physical and mental health before travelling, especially if you have an existing medical condition.

  • At least eight weeks before you depart, see your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and implications for your health.
  • Get vaccinated before you travel.

More information:

Medication

Not all medications available over the counter or by prescription in Australia are available in other countries. Some may even be considered illegal or a controlled substance, even if prescribed by an Australian doctor.

Before you leave Australia, check if your medication is legal in each country you're travelling to and find out if any quantity restrictions or certification requirements apply. Consult your doctor about alternatives well in advance of travel.

Take legal prescription medicine with you so you remain in good health. Keep your medicines in their original packaging. Always carry a copy of your prescription and a letter from your doctor stating what the medicine is, how much you'll take and that it's for personal use only.

More information: Prescription medicines

Health risks

Mosquito-borne illnesses

Outbreaks of the mosquito-borne illnesses such as dengue fever, chikungunya and Zika virus occur from time-to-time in the Cook Islands.

Protect yourself against mosquito-borne illnesses:

  • ensure your accommodation is mosquito proof
  • take measures to avoid insect bites, including always using insect repellent and wearing long, loose fitting, light coloured clothing
  • if you're pregnant, discuss your travel plans and possible health risks with your doctor before you travel.

More information

Other infectious diseases

You could encounter water-borne, food-borne, parasitic or other infectious diseases. 

  • Boil drinking water or drink bottled water with an intact seal.
  • Avoid ice cubes.
  • Avoid uncooked and undercooked food.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly, including before preparing or eating food.

Seek medical attention if you suspect food poisoning, if you have a fever or suffer from diarrhoea.

Medical facilities

Hospital and medical facilities are limited, particularly on outer islands. More information: Ministry of Health.

Treatment can be expensive and you may be required to pay in advance.

More information: Ministry of Health National Service fee schedule.

If you become seriously ill or injured, you'll need to be evacuated to New Zealand or Australia. Medical evacuations can be very expensive. These costs are a personal responsibility.

There are no hyperbaric chambers for treatment of scuba diving related injuries. Serious cases of decompression sickness are evacuated to the nearest treatment centre in New Zealand. Registered dive companies carry basic treatment equipment to meet Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) standards.

Natural disasters

The Cook Islands experiences cyclones, tropical storms, earthquakes and tsunamis.

If a natural disaster occurs:

  • secure your passport in a safe, waterproof location or carry it on you at all times (in a waterproof bag)
  • closely monitor local media and other sources such as the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System
  • follow the advice of local authorities
  • contact friends and family in Australia with regular updates about your welfare and whereabouts.

Following a natural disaster, contact your tour operator to check whether services at your planned destination are affected.

Cyclones

Cyclone season is from November to April but tropical storms and cyclones also occur in other months. Storms and cyclones can lead to flooding, landslides and disruptions to services. The direction and strength of tropical cyclones can change with little warning.

If there is a cyclone or severe tropical storm, you may not be able to leave the area: flights in and out could be delayed or suspended, and may fill quickly. Access to sea ports could also be affected. In some areas, adequate shelter from a severe cyclone may not be available for all those who stay.

Stay up-to-date on weather conditions and forecasts, cyclone watches and warnings throughout your stay in the Cook Islands. Monitor:

If a cyclone is approaching, follow the advice for all natural disasters above and:

  • make sure you know your hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans
  • identify your local shelter
  • carry your passport at all times (in a waterproof bag)
  • ensure you have adequate supplies of bottled water.

More information:

Earthquakes and tsunamis

The Cook Islands can experience tsunamis. Signage is in place throughout Rarotonga to provide direction in the event of a tsunami alert.

If there is an earthquake in the region, or a tsunami alert is issued:

  • follow the advice of your accommodation provider and local authorities
  • monitor the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center website and local sources
  • if you're in a coastal or low-lying area, move to higher ground. 

More information: Cook Islands Emergency Management website.

Where to get help

Depending on your enquiry, your best option may be to first contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour operator, employer or travel insurer. Your travel insurer should have a 24-hour emergency number.

Emergency phone numbers

Always get a police report when reporting a crime.

Tourism services and products

For complaints relating to tourism services or products, contact your service provider directly.

Australian Government

Read the Consular Services Charter for what the Australian Government can and can't do to help you overseas.

Australia does not have an Embassy or Consulate in the Cook Islands. For consular assistance, contact the Australian High Commission in Wellington, New Zealand.

Australian High Commission, Wellington

72-76 Hobson Street
Thorndon, Wellington
New Zealand
Telephone: +64 4 473 6411
Fax: +64 4 498 7103
Email: nzinbox@dfat.gov.au
Website: newzealand.highcommission.gov.au
Facebook: Australia in New Zealand

Check the High Commission website for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision.

In an emergency, you can get limited consular assistance – which does not include the issue of Australian passports – from:

New Zealand High Commission, Rarotonga

1st floor, Philatelic Bureau Building
Takuvaine Road
Avarua (PO Box 21)
Rarotonga
Telephone: +682 22 201
Facsimile: +682 21 241
Email: nzhcraro@oyster.net.ck

Office hours:  Monday-Friday 10:00am-2:00pm

If you are unable to contact one of the above High Commissions in a consular emergency, contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305, or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Additional information

Additional resources