Is Tahiti Safe? Travel Safety Tips for French Polynesia

The crime rate is incredibly low in French Polynesia, however there are natural hazards and local laws to be aware of. Here's what you need to know before you visit the French Polynesian islands.


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

COVID-19 travel restrictions: Click here to find out about entry requirements for travelers to French Polynesia.

The French Polynesian islands are divided into five groups, and there are 118 islands and atolls. Of these, only 67 are inhabited. Tahiti is the most populous island.

Tahiti is the main island and economic, political and cultural center of the French Polynesian islands. Other well-known islands include Moorea, Bora Bora, Raiatea and Rangiroa.

These islands are deservedly the destination of choice for many honeymooning couples and anyone looking for a relaxing vacation. So, if you enjoy tropical weather, diverse marine life, and a relaxed Polynesian atmosphere with a touch of French flair, a trip to French Polynesia could be the island escape you're looking for.

But, before you buy a plane ticket, 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 across French Polynesia. Some would argue that's because the place is so expensive, so there's no need to overcharge tourists.

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.

  • 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. 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 (in 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 in Tahiti?

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 in French Polynesia

Pack sandals or a 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 can.

Cyclone season in French Polynesia runs 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.

Located on the southwestern coast of the island of Tahiti, Teahupo'o is one of the most renowned wave breaks in the world. The surf break often reaches up to 9ft (3m), and sometimes as high as 22ft (7m). If you aren't an experienced surfer, don't even try this wave break. Stick to somewhere with waves that are suited to your skill level, or ask the locals for their top surf spots.

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.

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.

Before you buy a travel insurance policy, check your government travel warnings and health advice – there may be no travel insurance cover for locations with a government travel ban or health advice against travel.

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  • 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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  • Nili Hudson said

    I wish I knew a good way to advise people about airport travel, but this might be a place to start since I do not blog. I am a single traveler so I am always acutely aware of how easy or challenging it is to maneuver around airports, get baggage, locate taxis, etc. Let me just state that Papeete Airport, in Tahiti is horrible. IF ANYONE IS TRAVELING and needs a luggage cart at the airport, please note that you will need a 200 CFP Franc Coin. That is IF you can locate a cart...heading into the airport it's almost impossible. Heading out, they are locked up in the baggage area, thus needing the 200 CFP coin. I'm a scuba photographer so between scuba gear and photo gear I have 4 bags totaling 200 pounds to lug around. If you want a cab, it's not impossible but beware if you're traveling to the other islands via Ferry, getting picked up in Papeete to get back to the Airport may be a problem which we encountered.
    On another note, IF you are wanting to utilize the Lounge in Papeete, NOTE: They require reservations if anything other than a "Business Class Ticket". I have an AmEx Priority Pass but could not get in as I did not have a reservation and they were booked. BTW, they are only open 3 hours prior to boarding so if you have a long layover as I did, you might want to check into a neighboring hotel. I checked into the Intercontinental. I was wonderful albeit expensive but for 10 hours I would trade most anything for sitting in a hot, sweaty, non-air conditioned airport with 4 bags, alone :-). Hope that this helps someone someday!


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