Is Tahiti Safe? Travel Safety Tips for French Polynesia

While the crime rate is incredibly low, the risk of coral poisoning, expensive medical treatment and cyclone season could cause problems. Here's what you need to know to have a safe trip in French Polynesia.

A woman snorkeling in Tahiti Photo © Getty Images/M Swiet Productions

Tahiti is the main island and economic, political and cultural center of the French Polynesian islands, which include Moorea, Bora Bora, and other preposterously beautiful Pacific islands.

These islands are so beautiful they are deservedly the destination of choice for honeymooning couples and anyone looking for a relaxing vacation. So, if you enjoy tropical weather, warm ocean lagoons teeming with colorful fish, and a relaxed Polynesian atmosphere with a touch of French flair, this could be the island getaway you're looking for.

But, before you buy a plane ticket and pack your bags, what could possibly go wrong here? Not much, is the short answer, but here's everything else you need to know to stay safe in Tahiti.

Crime and scams in Tahiti

Violent crime directed to tourists is just about unheard of, even petty crime in Tahiti is minimal.

But that doesn't mean you should tempt fate by leaving an expensive camera in full view on the beach, or the passenger seat of your rental car. Always, no matter where you are, take care of your valuables.

There are no serious scams. Some would argue that's because the place is so expensive, so there's no need.

French law governs Tahiti

If you are a perpetrator of crime instead of a victim, be aware that French Polynesia is essentially a province of France, and French law applies. This includes the principle of "garde a vue". If detained by police you do not have the right to immediate access to a lawyer, and police can hold you to ‘assist with enquiries' for up to three days.

Laws you should be aware of

You're required to carry identification at all times. Leave the passport locked up and take a photocopy or your home driver's license. If you don't carry this, it won't get you detained, just a good idea to have it at all times.

Possession of even small amounts of illegal drugs is a serious crime.

It is an offence under French law to fail to offer assistance to a person in danger – compulsory helpfulness, if you will. If you witness an accident, at the very least you should call the emergency number (dial 17 for police). You are not expected to put your own life in danger to assist someone else, so don't go diving into the water if you can't swim.

Health and medical facilities in French Polynesia

Hygiene and sanitation standards are good in the resort areas of French Polynesia, they may be less so in traditional areas and on the more remote islands. So the vast majority of visitors shouldn't be concerned about water-borne disease and parasites.

However, Dengue Fever is sometimes a problem, like elsewhere in tropical destinations. There's no vaccination, so do your best to avoid mosquito bite – wear long loose-fitting clothing, cover exposed skin in insect repellent day and night, make sure your room is mosquito-proof otherwise sleep under a mosquito net.

Tip out any stagnant water you see sitting around your accommodation.

Hospitals and medical evacuation

If you do get sick or have an accident, the hospital on Tahiti is of a moderate standard – about the same as a medium-sized provincial town, but care is very expensive.

You may also experience long delays in receiving medical attention if you are on one of the outer islands.

Medical evacuation from those islands to Papeete (Tahiti) is expensive – US $10,000 or more. Get travel insurance and read the policy carefully to make sure needs are covered.

If you require complex treatment you'll need to be evacuated to a nearby nation with the proper facilities. Small problem – you're in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, nearby is a really long, and expensive trip.

Scuba diving safety in Tahiti

Scuba diving is a popular activity all over French Polynesia, but there's only one decompression chamber, in Papeete. If you're on an outer island, it's going to be a while before help arrives – or you can be transferred to Tahiti, and it's expensive.

Can I drink tap water?

Tap water in Papeete (Tahiti's capital) is safe to drink, as well as resorts in Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora. Always check with hotel staff before you do so, just in case there is water contamination from flooding or cyclones. Avoid buying stacks of water bottles on your trip by instead boiling water (if the tap water is unsafe to drink) or bringing water purification tablets.

Natural dangers

Be sure to bring sandals or an old pair of sandshoes for walking on coral so you don't cut your feet, and look out for poisonous stonefish. Coral poisoning can be very serious, so if you do get caught up on coral while diving or snorkeling, seek medical attention as soon as you ca .

Encounters with sharks in the lagoon will be most likely when scuba diving or snorkeling but don't panic, even the sharks here are pretty laid back and are unlikely to be aggressive. Same for the stingrays. However, moray eels hide deep in the corals, and they do bite and can cause serious injury.

Cyclone season is from November to April. However, tropical storms and cyclones may occur at other times of the year due to the tropical location. Stay up to date with weather alerts, and here are our top tips on safety during wild weather.

Getting around safely

If you're a typical resort dweller, you'll find everything you need at the resort, but if you step outside the confines of the resort to see the real Tahiti, the developed islands now have modern buses for transport, sadly replacing Le Truck, which was basically a truck with wooden bench seats.

Taxis are available, but expensive.

You can hire a car, 4WD, scooter or bicycle. Your driver's license from home is all you need. But if you decide to try your hand at a motorcycle or scooter, make sure you have the proper license. Being on holiday doesn't magically give you the right (or ability) to ride on two wheels. Driving unlicensed may cause problems if you have to make a travel insurance claim for injury.

Get a travel insurance quote for French Polynesia

You can buy at home or while traveling, and claim online from anywhere in the world. With 150+ adventure activities covered and 24/7 emergency assistance.

4 Comments

  • robert Haase said

    Do they have buses running around Tihiti, Morrea, and bora bora?

  • robert Haase said

    Like they don't like medical marijuana?

  • Kerry Rackliffe said

    Good morning

    Marijuana is legal in California. I have a medical Marijuana card.
    I use hemp not marijuana based CBD oil for sleeping and pain.
    Is hemp-based CBD is legal in French Polynesia?

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