TRAVEL TO FRENCH POLYNESIA
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WELCOME TO FRENCH POLYNESIA
The territory of French Polynesia (under French administration) is in the South Pacific Ocean, halfway between California and Australia. There are some 118 islands formed by undersea volcanoes and spread across over 1 930 500 square miles (an area five times as large as France).
There are five archipelagoes Society Islands, Marquesas Islands, Tuamotu Islands, Austral Islands, and Gambier Islands.
The capital is Papeete on the island of Tahiti which is the largest of the islands.
Tahiti also has the international airport Fa'a'ā International Airport.
The French Polynesian terrain is a mix of high mountainous islands and low islands surrounded by reefs. The highest point is Mount Orohena 6790 ft (2241 meters). There are deep valleys created by rivers and waterfalls, coastal strips with white coral sands, reefs and lagoons.
Society Islands – are the most inhabited western island group. The islands are divided into the Leeward Islands (Bora Bora, Huahine, Maupiti and Raiatea) and the Windward Islands (Moorea, Tahiti). These islands are surrounded by coral reefs and lagoons. This island group makes up 40% of the land are area. It is also the most highly populated set of islands with 90% of the population. The landscape is mountainous covered in lush vegetation with deep valleys surrounded by narrow coastal beaches with white coral sands, lagoons or ocean. There are barrier reefs circling this island group.
Marquesas Islands – are the Northeastern archipelago. Here you will find Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa. You’ll find steep mountains inhabited by wild horses, goats and pigs.
Tuamotu Islands – are a central archipelago made up of low flat islands and atolls. Rangiroa is located here.
Austral Islands – are a small southern archipelago which includes Tubuai Islands and Bass Islands. These islands were the last inhabited islands and are off the beaten track.
Gambier Islands – are located to the south-east and contain Mangareva Island and surrounding islands.
The population of French Polynesia is 285 000 people, approximately 70% live in Tahiti. Moorea and Raiatea are the next populated islands. Nearly 80% of residents are of Polynesian or mixed Polynesian ethnicity, approximately 12% are of European ancestry and 8% Chinese descent. Most people French Polynesians speak both French and Tahitian which is the dominant Polynesian language. In some of the more isolated islands older residents speak the local Polynesian language and these can differ from island to island. Tahitian is beginning to replace local languages as the cultural identity between islands becomes more homogeneous.
Learn more about the most requested destinations and recommended activity options.
FRENCH POLYNESIA TRAVEL INFORMATION
BEST TIME TO VISIT FRENCH POLYNESIA
Weather in French Polynesia
French Polynesia has a tropical but moderate climate, it is always humid between 80 and 90%.
November to April is the warm rainy season (summer).
May to October is a cooler dry season (winter).
There is some slight variation in weather because the islands are widely dispersed. In all areas except Marquesas and northern Tuamotus the rains are heavy with an annual rainfall of as much as 120 inches in the coastal areas. Temperatures vary little in French Polynesia, for example, the average annual temperature in Papeete (the capital) is between 79 F (26 C) and the high average is 91 F (33 C) in March. The low average drops to 70 F (21 C) in August. The islands further south have lower average temperatures. The lagoon waters average 84 F (29 C) in summer and 79 F (26 C) in winter.
When is the best time to visit French Polynesia?
You can visit French Polynesia any time of the year however the weather is at its driest and most comfortable during June/August. This can be the busiest time to visit so consider months either side. During the rainy season November to April you can visit but there will be tropical showers that come through more often than other times as it’s the rainy season. In between the rains are sunny periods but the humidity is higher.
French Polynesia has one main time zone (THAT).
Tahiti – French Polynesia Time (THAT) is GMT/UTC – 10 hours during Standard Time. French Polynesia does not use daylight savings time. French Polynesia is in the same time zone as Hawaii.
TRAVELING IN FRENCH POLYNESIA
How will I get around in French Polynesia?
On the island of Tahiti there are transport options, the cheapest being the local bus service. Taxi’s, scenic tours and escorted excursions are also available for booking. To truly enjoy French Polynesia you should travel to other islands than Tahiti. You can island hop using a combination of flights and boats. Depending on your itinerary it may be necessary to over night in Tahiti after you land there and then take flights to smaller islands the next day. You may have to take a flight and a boat ride to reach your destination. Air Tahiti offers regular flights between the islands. There is a daily ferry service that operates between Tahiti and Moorea. If you want to see multiple islands in one trip, you can get around by boat, a cruise or private catamaran. Once on the different islands transportation will depend on what’s available.
VISA & ENTRY INFORMATION
Do you need a visa to enter French Polynesia?
US Citizens do not need a visa to enter French Polynesia.
What you need to be able to enter French Polynesia.
You need a passport with six months remaining after your departure from French Polynesia.
CUSTOMS & QUARANTINE
What items can’t I bring into French Polynesia?
The following items are prohibited in both checked and unchecked luggage: live animals and plant material; compressed gas and explosives; flammable liquids; narcotics; and poisons, irritants and other substances or materials that are oxidizing, toxic, radioactive or magnetized. Safety regulations prohibit certain articles from being carried into the aircraft cabin, including firearms, ammunition, knives, scissors and other sharp or pointed instruments. (Tahiti.com).
How much duty free can I bring into French Polynesia?
All passengers arriving in French Polynesia must clear Immigration and Customs at Faa'a International Airport (PPT). Each person may legally bring the following items into French Polynesia duty free: 200 cigarettes, 200 cigarillos, or 100 cigars; 50 grams of perfume; 500 grams of coffee; 100 grams of tea; 10 rolls of film; and 2 liters of alcohol. Returning home, U.S. customs allow an exemption of $800 in goods per resident, including one quart of liquor and 200 cigarettes; Canadian customs also allow an $800 exemption, including 1.1 liters of alcohol and 200 cigarettes. (Tahiti.com). Pets and plants are subject to strict regulations.
BANKING, MONEY & SHOPPING
What is the currency in French Polynesia?
The currency in French Polynesia is the Pacific Franc (franc cours pacifique) abbreviated to XPF or CFP. Euros are widely accepted and usually used at all the larger resorts.
What is the currency conversion for USD to CFP?
You can calculate the conversion rate using XE Currency Converter
Should I get money out before I go to French Polynesia and what is the best way to pay for things?
The bank and ATM at Faa'a International Airport is open for the arrival of all international flights, so you can exchange money on arrival. There are international banks in Papeete. International hotels will also exchange currency for a higher exchange rate.
Banks have limited hours on Saturdays and are always closed on Sunday’s. You will find plenty of ATM’s downtown. Credit cards are widely accepted in tourist areas throughout the main islands. Visa and Mastercard are the most accepted cards. Some hotel and restaurants won’t accept American Express. Cash is usually required at stores and restaurants in more isolated areas such as Manihi and Fakarava.
Do I tip for services in French Polynesia?
Tipping is not customary or expected in French Polynesia. You can choose to tip for excellent service and it will be gratefully accepted.
Can I bargain with retailers and in markets for a better price?
Bargaining is not expected however sometimes it’s possible to get a discount on black pearls or artists works when buying directly with the supplier.
OTHER USEFUL INFORMATION
What language is spoken in French Polynesia?
Most people French Polynesians speak both French and Tahitian which is the dominant Polynesian language. These are the official languages however English is widely spoken. In some of the more isolated islands older residents speak the local Polynesian language and these can differ from island to island.
Are there any etiquette or customs I should be aware of?
The culture in French Polynesia is very laid back. Dress is casual with common attire being sarongs, shorts and T-shirts. If you’re attending a church service then you will need to wear appropriate clothing.
When visiting a local home, it is expected and polite for you to remove your shoes before entering. Leave them at the front door.
What is the power in the Cook Islands and will I need an adapter?
The voltage in French Polynesia is 220 volts (60 Hz). Hotels use either 110 or 22OV and the outlets require Type E and C plus like the ones used in Europe. You can see what the plugs look like at World Standards. Bring an adapter or converter with you and double check the voltage requirements before plugging in your device. The adapter or converter is one suitable for Europe/Asia.
What is the emergency number in French Polynesia?
Ambulance 15, Fire 120 and Police 20.
What is the mobile coverage like in French Polynesia?
French Polynesia uses GSM (Global System for Mobiles) so you will need a GSM enabled phone to access cell signals. If necessary you can rent a phone or buy a local SIM card from the local mobile network Vinia (www.vini.pf) when you arrive.
Where can I find WiFi?
You can find internet access most places in Tahiti. Not all hotels are fully wifi enabled with some only offering wifi in common areas. It’s likely you’ll need to use the ethernet cable in your hotel room. Note, not all hotels offer free internet access.
Can I use a drone in French Polynesia?
You can fly a drone in French Polynesia but you have to abide by the regulations. The rules for flying a drone in French Polynesia are the same as flying one in France. More information can be found at the French Transports Ministry (Ministère de l’Environnement, de l’Energie et de la Mer)