How to travel safely in Tahiti (French Polynesia)

There are more natural hazards to be aware of than man made ones..

Tahiti is the main island of the group including Moorea, Bora Bora, and other preposterously beautiful Pacific islands, which make up French Polynesia.

These islands are so beautiful they are deservedly the destination of choice for honeymooning couples…. But there's plenty for anyone who enjoys tropical weather, warm ocean lagoons teeming with friendly fish, a relaxed Polynesian outlook with a touch of French flair.

What could possibly go wrong! Well, as it turns out, not much.

Crime & Scams

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

But that doesn't mean you should tempt fate by leaving an expensive camera in full view on the beach or the seat of your rental car. Always, everywhere, take care of your valuables.

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

French Law

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 3 days.

Laws you might break:

You're required to carry identification at all times. Leave the passport locked up and take a photocopy or your home driver's license. (This is not going to get you detained though).

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 good Samaritan-ism. 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 & Medical

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 needn't be concerned about water-borne disease and parasites.

However, Dengue Fever is sometimes a problem (as it is anywhere tropically warm). 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 & 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 - $US10,000 or more.

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, way.

Scuba Safety

Scuba diving is a popular activity all over French Polynesia, but here's only one decompression chamber, in Papeete. Again, 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 The Water?

Tap water in Papeete is safe to drink, but there's plenty of bottled water available and it's a safer option.

Natural Dangers

Be sure to bring sandals or an old pair of sandshoes for walking on coral so you don't cut your feet or step on a stonefish. Coral poisoning can be very serious.

(Here sharkey, sharkey, sharkey!)

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

Cyclone season is from November to April. However, tropical storms and cyclones may occur in other months.

Getting Around

Mostly you'll find everything you need at your resort, but if you want to do some exploring, the developed islands have a bus service (really a truck with wooden bench seats) imaginatively named Le Truck.

(Image: TravelPod. et viola! Le Truck.)

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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