Cook Islands

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Thursday, 17 April 2014.   It contains new information under Local travel (travellers can use an Australian driving licence to drive the same class of vehicle indicated on their licence, for a period up to six months) and Health (symptoms of Zika virus). We continue to advise Australians to exercise normal safety precaution in the Cook Islands.

Cook Islands overall

Summary

  • We advise you to exercise normal safety precautions in the Cook Islands.
  • Exercise common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in Australia.
  • A significant number of traffic accidents resulting in hospitalisation involve motorcycle riders. Wear a helmet, stay within the legal limits of alcohol consumption and ensure your travel insurance covers motorcycle or scooter use.
  • 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.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
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Entry and exit

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. For the most up-to-date information on the Cook Islands, contact the Cook Island authorities directly at the:

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration
PO Box 105
Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Tel: (682) 29347
Fax: (682) 21247
Website: www.mfai.gov.ck
Email: admin@immigration.gov.ck

Visas are not required for visits of less than 31 days. Departure tax is incorporated into the cost of airline tickets and a separate payment is not required for departures by air.

Make sure your passport has at least six months validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Safety and security

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. You can find more information about this threat in our General advice to Australian travellers.

Crime

The most prevalent crime against tourists is the theft of attractive items such as cash, jewellery, cameras, mobile phones and MP3 players. Unattended items on the beach or in unsecured storage, including items stored in scooters/motorcycles, are a particular target.

Money and valuables

Before you go, organise a variety of ways to access your money overseas, such as credit cards, travellers' cheques, cash, debit cards or cash cards. Australian currency and travellers' cheques are not accepted in many countries. Consult with your bank to find out whether your ATM card will work in the Cook Islands. There are limited ATM facilities in the Cook Islands with terminals available on Rarotonga and Aitutaki.

New Zealand dollars and Cook Island dollars are both legal currencies in the Cook Islands. The Cook Island currency is only circulated as coinage.Cook Island coins are not exchangeable outside the country but can be exchanged at the Airport bank.

Make two photocopies of valuable documents such as your passport, tickets, visas and travellers' cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.

While travelling, don't carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves.

As a sensible precaution against luggage tampering, including theft, lock your luggage. Information on luggage safety is available from Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.

You are required to pay an additional fee to have a lost or stolen passport replaced. In some cases, the Government may also restrict the length of validity or type of replacement passports.

Local travel

Driving in the Cook Islands can be dangerous, particularly at night, due to poor visibility and road conditions.

A significant number of traffic accidents resulting in hospitalisation involve motorcycle riders. For your own safety, ensure you wear a helmet and stay within the legal limits of alcohol consumption when riding a motorcycle in the Cook Islands.

For periods of up to six months, visitors to the Cook Islands can use an Australian driving licence to operate a vehicle in the Cook Islands, for the same class of vehicle identified on their licence. For example, an Australian car licence will allow a traveller to drive a car in the Cook Islands, but not a scooter. Travellers can obtain a temporary motorcycle/scooter licence by passing a practical test at the Police Headquarters in Avarua. To obtain a licence you will need to bring your current Australian driver’s licence and passport. Allow sufficient time as queues can be significant.

Visitors intending to hire a motorcycle or scooter in the Cook Islands should ensure their travel insurance cover includes the use of motorcycles and scooters.

For further advice on road safety, see our road travel page.

The safety standards Australians might expect of tour operators are not always met, especially for adventure sports and inter-islands trips. Fatal swimming accidents have occurred due to tidal changes and breaks in the reefs. Consult local residents and tour operators for advice on areas for safe swimming and water sports.

Airline safety

Please refer to our air travel page for information about aviation safety and security.

Laws

When you are in the Cook Islands, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

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

Cook Island law prohibits homosexual activity or “acts of indecency” between men, and penalties include prison sentences of up to seven years. See our LGBTI travellers page.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Information for dual nationals

Our Dual nationals page provides information for dual nationals.

Local customs

The Cook Islands is a conservative society and you should dress and behave so as not to offend, especially outside of resort areas. If in doubt, seek local advice.

Health

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. 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 a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our health page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy.

Hospital and medical facilities in the Cook Islands are limited, particularly in outer islands, and evacuation may be required in serious cases. Treatment may be expensive and you may be required to pay in advance. If medical evacuation is required to New Zealand or Australia, be aware that flights to these destinations are often heavily booked. Private or chartered evacuation is expensive.

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

Outbreaks of the mosquito-borne illnesses dengue fever and Zika virus occur from time to time in the Cook Islands. We recommend you take precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes, including using insect repellent, wearing long, loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing and ensuring your accommodation is mosquito proof.

Zika virus symptoms can include a rash, headaches, joint and muscle pain, possible nose bleeds and a fever. For further information on dengue fever see the WHO's Dengue factsheet.

It is recommended that you boil all drinking water or drink bottled water with an intact seal.

Where to get help

Australia does not have an Embassy or Consulate in the Cook Islands. You can obtain consular assistance from the nearest Australian High Commission, which is in New Zealand:

Australian High Commission
72-76 Hobson Street
Thorndon, Wellington
New Zealand
Telephone: (64 - 4) 473 6411
Facsimile: (64 - 4) 498 7103
Email: nzinbox@dfat.gov.au
Website: www.newzealand.embassy.gov.au

In an emergency, limited consular assistance which does not include the issue of Australian passports, may be obtained from:

New Zealand High Commission
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

If you are travelling to the Cook Islands, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency - whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.

In a consular emergency, if you are unable to contact the above High Commission you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

Cyclone season in the Cook Islands is between November and April when flooding, landslides and disruptions to services may occur. However, tropical storms and cyclones may occur in other months. The direction and strength of tropical cyclones can change with little warning. Up-to-date information can be obtained from the Fiji Meteorological Service, the World Meteorological Organisation Severe Weather Information Centre or the Humanitarian Early Warning Service.

Australians in areas affected by cyclones should monitor these websites, follow the advice of the local authorities and accommodation providers and ensure you have bottled water for the duration.

In the event of an approaching cyclone, you should, where possible, identify your nearest local shelter. Flights in and out of affected areas could be delayed or suspended. Available flights may fill quickly. The cyclone could also affect access to sea ports in the region. In some areas, adequate shelter from a severe cyclone may not be available to all who may choose to stay. Familiarise yourself with hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans. You should carry your travel documents at all times (i.e. passport, photo identification) or secure them in a safe, waterproof location. We also suggest that you contact friends and family in Australia with updates about your welfare and whereabouts. For further information, see our Severe weather page.

If you are travelling during cyclone season, you should contact your tour operator to check whether tourist services at your planned destination have been affected.

All oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis, but in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, there is a more frequent occurrence of large, destructive tsunamis because of the many large earthquakes along major tectonic plate boundaries and ocean trenches. See the Tsunami awareness brochure. Signage is in place throughout Rarotonga to provide direction in the event of a tsunami alert.

Information on natural disasters can be obtained from the Humanitarian Early Warning Service. If a natural disaster occurs, follow the advice of local authorities.

For parents

For general information and tips on travelling with children see our Travelling with children page.



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.