Cook Islands travel guide
About Cook Islands
Find lazy days dripping with sunshine in the tranquil Cook Islands, 15 sandy freckles in the South Pacific. There are no two ways about it, people come to the Cook Islands for the beaches: pristine ribbons, lapped by sparkling aquamarine waters. For those eager to dive straight in, the Cook Islands' best beaches are at Muri Lagoon and Titikaveka.
Despite covering a vast area, the Cook Islands host a tiny population, and secluded spots are easy to come by. Some islands, such as Rarotonga (where the international airport is situated) and Aitutaki, do feature a number of developed resorts. Mountainous Rarotonga also offers plenty of verdant scenery, should you – unlikely though it sounds – grow tired of the tropical beach paradise.
Situated between Samoa and French Polynesia, the inhabitants of the Cook Islands are Polynesian, with a proud and interesting culture. Calling themselves the Cook Island Maori, they trace their roots on the southern islands back a millennium to Tahiti and the Marquesas, while Samoans and Togans are responsible for settling the northern islands. The Cook Islanders also hold the tradition that New Zealand Maori migrations originated from their islands.
Named after Captain James Cook, who came here in 1770, the Cook Islands didn't come under British control until 1888. In 1965, the inhabitants chose self-government in free association with New Zealand, which had assumed administrative control over the islands at the turn of the century.
Apart from the interesting culture, it's the natural beauty of the Cook Islands that most captivates visitors. The islands are both volcanic and 'near atolls', which is to say land that's mostly lagoon and edged by islets. You'll find Rarotonga teeming with jungle, while Aitutake is the most photogenic island – a true paradise. Expect powdery sand, an abundance of tropical fruits, palm trees and no worries.
237 sq km (91.5 sq miles).
20,948 (UN estimate 2016).
41.5 per sq km.
Avarua (on Rarotonga).
Self-governing territory in free association with New Zealand. New Zealand retains responsibility for external affairs.
HM Queen Elizabeth II since 1952, represented locally by Queen's Representative Tom Marsters since 2013.
Prime Minister Mark Brown since 2020.
Coronavirus travel health
Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for the Cook Islands on the TravelHealthPro website.
See the TravelHealthPro website for further advice on travel abroad and reducing spread of respiratory viruses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Entry and borders
See Entry requirements to find out what you will need to do when you arrive in the Cook Islands.
Be prepared for your plans to change
No travel is risk-free during COVID-19. Countries may further restrict travel or bring in new rules at short notice, for example due to a new COVID-19 variant. Check with your travel company or airline for any transport changes which may delay your journey home.
If you test positive for COVID-19, you may need to stay where you are until you test negative. You may also need to seek treatment there.
Plan ahead and make sure you:
- can access money
- understand what your insurance will cover
- can make arrangements to extend your stay and be away for longer than planned
Travel in the Cook Islands
There are no domestic travel restrictions in place in the Cook Islands. The government’s recommendations on physical distancing and good hygiene measures remain in place, see the Cook Islands COVID-19 website for further detail.
For health-related questions or concerns while in the Cook Islands, call the Healthline on 0800 1801. For all COVID-19 related enquires contact the health department at the local government authorities.
For information on financial support you can access whilst abroad, visit our financial assistance guidance.
The crime rate in the Cook Islands, Tokelau and Niue is low, but you should take the same precautions as you would at home. Do not leave valuables unattended or in plain sight. Unattended items on the beach or in unsecured storage, including items stored in scooters/motorcycles, are a particular target.
Occasional assaults of tourists are reported in the Cook Islands, you should take the same precautions as you would at home.
Driving is on the left.
You can drive in the Cook Islands with a valid UK driving licence. In Niue, you must apply for a local driving licence from the Police Department. Distances around the three Atolls of Tokelau are short and can be covered by boat and on foot.
Driving on islands in the South Pacific can be challenging, particularly at night. Road conditions and street lighting are poor and there are few footpaths. Beware of pedestrians and animals on the roads.
The legal blood alcohol limit for drivers and motorcyclists in the Cook Islands is 0.08. Do not drink and drive. Familiarise yourself with local traffic laws and practices before driving and drive defensively.
Watersports and adventure activities
If you intend to hire motorbikes, jet skis or any other motorised vehicle, you should comply with local licensing laws. Talk to your travel insurer to check your insurance policy covers such activity and seek advice on any restrictions that may apply. You should wear a helmet when using motorbikes or scooters.
Swimming, snorkeling and diving are common activities. Take local advice before swimming. At certain times of the year, some beaches in Niue are closed for traditional fishing activities.
Maritime safety is a concern in some Pacific countries. The safety standards you might expect of transport operators in the UK may not be replicated in the Pacific. Sufficient safety equipment may not be provided and safety regulations are not always adhered to. Ferries are often overcrowded.
Tokelau follows New Zealand maritime standards. There are strict controls on the number of passengers.
The FCDO cannot offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation has carried out an audit of the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Cook Islands.
A list of accidents and incidents in the region can be found on the Aviation Safety Network website.
There is no airport on Tokelau. Access is by boat only.
The Cook Islands are a Parliamentary democracy based on the UK model. Officially the Islands are an independent nation in free association with New Zealand, which means the Cook Islands government has full executive powers.
Tokelau is a dependent territory of New Zealand. It has its own unique political institutions, including a national legislative body and an Executive Council. It runs its own elections every three years. The relationship between Tokelau and New Zealand is managed by the Administrator of Tokelau. This is a statutory position held by a New Zealand public servant, and appointed by the New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Niue’s system of government is based on the Westminster system. The Niue Assembly consists of 20 members, 14 of whom are elected by village constituencies and 6 from the common roll. The 20 members elect a Premier and the Premier selects three cabinet ministers from the 19. Members elect a Speaker from outside their ranks. A general election is held every three years.
The political situation across the islands is generally calm.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in the Cook Islands, Tokelau or Niue, attacks cannot be ruled out.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
This page has information on travelling to Cook Islands, Tokelau and Niue.
This page reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British Citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel.
The authorities in Cook Islands, Tokelau and Niue set and enforce entry rules. If you’re unsure how Cook Islands, Tokelau and Niue’s entry requirements apply to you, contact its UK embassy, high commission or consulate.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or Travel Company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
Tourists do not need a visa for visits of up to 31 days. You must have an onward or return ticket and a valid visa for the next country you’re travelling to. If you’re staying longer than 31 days in The Cook Islands or Niue you may need a visa or entry on arrival permit. For Tokelau, permission normally needs to be acquired from the Taupulega (Council) and tickets have to be bought from the Tokelau office in Samoa for the boats. Space on the vessels is in high demand. The travel can be onerous in heavy seas.
Extensions may be granted on a monthly basis for up to 5 months. For extensions, you will need to apply at least 2 weeks before your permit expires.
If you plan to join a tourist boat, yacht or other sea-going vessel to travel beyond the Cook Islands, you must apply for permission to enter via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (MFAI).
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents are valid for entry, transit and exit from Cook Islands, Tokelau and Niue. However, the closest office for issuing is in New Zealand.
If you’re fully vaccinated
The Cook Islands air and sea borders are now open. For more information around entry requirements please see the Travel Entry Requirements outlined by the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation.
The Niue borders remain highly restricted to all inbound passengers please see the Government of Niue official website for current border settings.
COVID-19 Travel restrictions remain in place for Tokelau, please see the Government of Tokelau’s website for the latest COVID-19 entry.
Proof of vaccination status
You must present proof that you have been fully vaccinated to enter the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau.
You will need an official vaccination certificate from the country of administration as proof of vaccination status. See the website for further information. You can use the UK COVID Pass to demonstrate your vaccination record.
If you’re not fully vaccinated
You need to be fully vaccinated to enter the Cook Islands and Niue. COVID-19 Travel restrictions remain in place for Tokelau, please see the Government of Tokelau’s website for the latest COVID-19 entry.
If you’re not fully vaccinated, you may still be able to enter the Cook Islands if you fit into one of a few exemption categories as listed on the official website.
Children and young people
Children aged 16 and under are exempt from vaccination requirements to enter the Cook Islands.
If you’re transiting through New Zealand
Transiting is when you pass through one country on the way to your final destination.
In most cases, transit passengers must hold an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) or transit ETA before travel. These are applied for online. See Information about NZeTA for further detail.
If the passport holder is not from a visa-waiver or transit visa-waiver country or territory, or covered by one of the situations listed above, then they will need to apply for a transit visa.
The process for applying for a transit visa is available on the Immigration New Zealand website - transits.
Some airlines have mandatory pre-departure PCR COVID-19 testing requirements. You should contact your individual airline for further information relating to the additional COVID-19 requirements.
Exemptions to the rules may apply for certain individuals entering the Cook Islands:
- A Cook Islander or Permanent Resident (must provide evidence).
- A person under the age of 16 years.
- A person who holds a vaccination medical exemption from either the Cook Islands Secretary of Health or the New Zealand Director-General of Health.
Check your passport and travel documents before you travel
If you are visiting the Cook Islands, Tokelau and Niue, your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date you arrive. Entry is normally refused if you have a passport which is damaged or has pages missing.
Check with your travel provider to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
Laws and customs are very different from those in the UK. Be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend. You’re strongly advised to familiarise yourself with, and respect local laws and customs.
Shopping, food and drink all have any tax included in the price. Tipping isn’t expected.
Maximum penalties for possession or importation of even small quantities of drugs are severe, these include deportation or imprisonment.
Plug sockets and plugs are the same as in Australia and New Zealand. Sometimes the plug has only two pins with no earth (otherwise described as “ungrounded”).
Homosexuality is illegal in Cook Islands and the laws are occasionally enforced, but is not illegal in Tokelau or Niue. Homosexuality is generally accepted within society and a laissez faire attitude is taken to tourists. However, public displays of affection would be considered offensive. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
If you have a health condition, or you are pregnant, you may need specialist healthcare abroad. Check whether your destination country can provide the healthcare you may need and ensure you have appropriate travel insurance for unexpected medical evacuation or local treatment.
See the Coronavirus travel health and Healthcare sections in the Coronavirus page for COVID-19 health information.
Preparing for travel
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
While travel can be enjoyable, it can sometimes be challenging. There are clear links between mental and physical health, so looking after yourself during travel and when abroad is important. Information on travelling with mental health conditions is available in our guidance page. Further information is also available from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).
Medical facilities in the Cook Islands and the islands of Niue and Tokelau are limited. In the event of a medical emergency, evacuation to mainland New Zealand is likely to be the only option for treatment. Make sure your insurance policy includes provision for medical evacuation and covers you for all eventualities, including for any pre-existing conditions and any adventure or watersports activities within your travel plans.
Hospitals may not be as well-equipped as those in United Kingdom and may lack specialist equipment (including neo-natal equipment for premature babies). Hospital payment may be required before any treatment is received. Outside the capital there may be limited capacity to respond to emergency situations. Not all Pacific islands have diver decompression chambers and divers needing emergency treatment may need medical evacuation.
There is a risk of mosquito-borne diseases, including dengue. You should take steps to avoid mosquito bites. Check the relevant TravelHealthPro country page for more information and advice.
Ciguatera is an illness caused by eating fish containing certain toxins. It can cause nausea, vomiting, and tingling fingers or toes and sometimes serious illness. There is no way to tell whether fish has been contaminated, but reef fish tend to concentrate the toxins more than others. Deep water fish like tuna, mahi mahi or wahoo are better options.
In the Cook Islands, Rarotonga and Aitutaki have reticulated water supply systems. Water usage is not charged. On the other islands of the Southern Group, limited reticulation is provided and augmented by rainwater catchment and storage. The atolls of the Northern Group rely on rainwater from roof catchments.
Tokelau and Niue’s water supply is still at the household level. Rainwater harvesting from roofs is the primary source of water in Tokelau. Boiling water and only drinking bottled water is strongly recommended.
The South Pacific cyclone season begins on 1 November and runs until 30 April each year. A number of severe storms can be expected across the region in each cyclone season, although the precise risk varies between countries, as well as from season to season. On average there are around nine tropical cyclones each season, some of which will be classified as ‘severe’ (category 3 or higher).
You should monitor local and international weather reports and follow the advice of local authorities, including any evacuation orders. If you’re staying in a hotel, you should also follow the guidance of hotel management or your tour operator.
See our tropical cyclones page for advice about how to prepare for travel during cyclone season and what to do ahead of a storm.
While all oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis, there is a heightened risk for low-lying island countries in seismically active regions, such as in the Pacific. You should follow any instructions issued by the local authorities in respect of tsunami threats.
The New Zealand Dollar (NZD) is used.
The Cook Islands also has its own distinctive notes and coins which are in circulation alongside the NZD and of equal value. They are not legal tender outside the Islands. The only ATMs are on Rarotonga and Aitutaki. Credit and some debit cards are widely accepted on the capital island and some places on Aitutaki. Rely on cash on the other islands.
There are no banks on Tokelau. You’re advised to take sufficient cash with you.
In Niue, most businesses accept New Zealand debit cards, MasterCard and Visa. Some businesses offer cashback. There are no ATMs in Niue, but you can withdraw extra cash from Kiwi bank in Alofi. Kiwi bank accepts only NZ debit cards, MasterCard and Visa.
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can not provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can not offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry, or contact us on Twitter or Facebook. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.