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French Polynesia Driving Guide

French Polynesia is a unique beautiful country. Explore all of it by driving when you get your International Driving Permit

2021-07-30 · 9 mins

When it comes to beyond stunning tropical white sand beaches and islands, Bora Bora and Tahiti should be on your top bucket list. French Polynesia boasts mythical charm that everyone could only dream of seeing in their lifetime. Its archipelagic beauty with a hundred islands and inhabited atolls makes the country an attractive diving site. With crystal clear waters, turquoise lagoons, tropical forests, and great hospitality, French Polynesia’s beauty is truly unmatched.

To fully get the most out of your vacation, driving in French Polynesia is a good way to get around. Driving in French Polynesia gives you the freedom to move around the country with flexibility. Renting a car in French Polynesia is easy, and an international driver’s permit (IDP) enables you to hire a rental car that will take you to your dream destinations in the country.

How Can This Guide Help You?

This guide is outlined to provide you with all the necessary information you will need to prepare for your trip to one of the most beautiful places on earth. You’ll be able to discover the country’s top destinations and spots that you may have never heard of but are worth visiting. And since driving is such an integral part of your journey, you’ll also learn about traffic laws when you’re driving in Polynesia, a summary of the road situations, and more.

The more you get to know the country by heart, the more you’d feel at home once you’re here. There are endless fun things to do here to expand your purpose while you’re on your dream vacation. If you wish to know where to rent a car and obtain an IDP, this article will guide you on how to secure your license, and everything you could think of that may help you with your driving essentials.

General Information

French Polynesia, commonly referred to as The Islands of Tahiti, is an overseas territory of France consisting of five archipelagos and lies in the Pacific Ocean. Its capital is Papeete, and it sits on the largest island of Tahiti in the Society group of islands. Get to know the country more by its history, language, geography, its people, and what makes it a top tourism spot. As a foreign tourist, it's essential to know French Polynesia to gain an understanding of its culture.

Geographic Location

In the southern Pacific Ocean, about halfway between South America and Australia, nestled an archipelago country that is French Polynesia. The country has five island groups called the Tuamotu Archipelago, the Society Islands, the Marquesas Islands, the Tubuai Islands, and the Gambier Islands. Within these major island groups, the country has 118 islands with 67 atolls, which are mostly inhabited.

Other known groups of islands in French Polynesia are Bora Bora, Tahiti, Tetiaroa, Maupiti, Maiao, Hiva Oa, Nuku Hiva, Moorea, Mehetia, Raiatea, Tubuai, Tupai, and Tahaa. Clipperton Island, although not a part of the country’s territory, is administered by French Polynesia. The country is the largest in population and geographic area out of all three of France’s overseas territories in the southern Pacific Ocean.

Languages Spoken

As you may have guessed, French is the official language in French Polynesia. French was declared as the only official language of the country in 1996, but in that same year, the laws also vaguely stated that Tahitian and other Polynesian languages can be spoken and used. The Tahitian Language is a vernacular language of the Society Islands, while French is widely spoken by all of French Polynesia.

There are also other languages spoken in the country, though French and Tahitian are commonly used. English is also used here, mostly in hotels, restaurants, and shops. If you cannot speak French or the Tahitian language, you need not worry about the language barrier as most staff in tourism establishments speak and understand English. But a little French could go a long way so learning how to speak and understand helpful phrases would be helpful.

Land Area

French Polynesia’s total land area of 4, 167 square kilometers are scattered throughout the Southern Pacific. It’s slightly less than one-third the size of the state of Connecticut. Tahiti, the most populated and largest chain of islands at 1,043 square kilometers makes up the country. Makatea in the Tuamotu Archipelago is one of the three great phosphate rock islands that sit in the Pacific Ocean; others are the Banaba Island or Ocean Island in Kiribati and Nauru.

The four island groups Society Islands, Marquesas Islands, Tubuai Islands, and the Gambier Islands are volcanic archipelagos, while the Tuamotu Archipelago has the largest chain of atolls in the world, measuring about 1,570 kilometers in length. The country’s terrain is a mixture of jagged high islands, and the low islands are packed with reefs. The country’s highest point is Mont Orohena at 2,241 meters on the island of Tahiti.

History

The Marquesas Islands have been first settled by Polynesians from Tonga and Samoa around 300 C.E. as archeological evidence suggests. When British explorer Samuel Wallis came to the now Tahiti in 1767, Louis Antoine de Bougainville, a French navigator followed, then Captain James Cook visited in 1769, and named Tahiti and islands in the Society group. Members of London Missionary Society who arrived in 1797 were the first European settlers.

In 1880, the island became a French colony and became its territory in 1945. In the 19th century, French nuclear testing was held in the territory that would eventually spark international protests. The pursuit of greater autonomy in the 1970s and 1980s added power to the territorial government. Between 2003 and 2004, the islands became France’s collectivity, and as an “overseas country”, which allows an increased autonomy of the islands.

Government

The government of French of Polynesia takes place in the framework of parliamentary representative democracy, in which the president who exercises executive power is the chief of state and heads a multi-party system. The legislative power is harnessed by both the government and the 49-member Assembly of French Polynesia. Representatives are elected through a national election, collectivity is represented in both French National Assembly’s houses.

The French Polynesian government serves its more than 280,000 population. Nearly 80 percent of its population identifies as Polynesians and it’s the largest ethnic group in the country. The remaining percentage of settlers are Chinese, local, and metropolitan French.

Tourism

French Polynesia is often viewed as a top tourist spot by hungry-footed visitors in search of leisure travel to the beautiful islands of the country. Historically, its economic growth relied on tourism, along with the military. French Polynesia, with its pristine and alluring nature, attracts visitors around the world. This paradise of a country brings in approximately a quarter-million tourists every year, which is nearly the size of its population, and the graph keeps going up.

International Driver’s Permit FAQs

An international driver’s permit (IDP) is a United Nations-regulated travel document that you need to carry with you when you drive a car in a foreign country. It’s a valid translation of your native driver’s license into twelve widely-spoken languages, which are commonly understood by local authorities of the country you are visiting. An IDP is helpful whenever you want to drive a rental vehicle, as most car rental companies ask for this as the main requirement.

If you plan on traveling soon and driving in French Polynesia, today is the best time to get an IDP. The International Driver’s Association (IDA) offers fast shipping of IDP for driving in French Polynesia. A zipcode must be provided upon check out for the IDA to hasten and avoid delays for your IDP shipping. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding IDP in French Polynesia.

Is a Native Driver’s License Valid in French Polynesia?

Your native driver’s license is not valid in French Polynesia unless it’s printed in French and English. Driving in French Polynesia now requires you to have an international driver’s permit or license. But your native driver’s license is useful and serves as a document to support your IDP application through the IDA website. You will be asked to upload a copy of your native driver’s license and a passport-size photo of yourself.

Do I Need an IDP in Tahiti?

Tahiti is large, and it’s essential to drive your own vehicle on the island. Tahiti is still a part of French Polynesia so it’s highly recommended that you get a hold of your international driver’s permit to rent a car and get around. Remember to also carry your IDP along with your native driver’s license and passport while driving in Tahiti. The IDA offers IDP for driving in French Polynesia, and the cost starts at only $49.

If you’re planning on vacationing soon and driving in Polynesia, now is the best time to secure an IDP so you can get it ahead of your travel date. The IDA ships worldwide, so even if you process your IDP application while you’re in the country, you’d still get a printed copy of your permit. To get your IDP for driving in French Polynesia, the address of your accommodation should be indicated upon check out.

Does an IDP Replace My Native Driver’s License?

Your IDP does necessarily replace your native driver’s license. Your valid driver license serves as a supporting document for your IDP application. The purpose of your IDP is to explain to a local authority that you are driving in the country legally. It’s translated documentation that is recognized in 150 countries, so even if you don’t speak French or English, your international driver’s permit will speak for you.

The IDA offers bundles for as low as $49 for a one-year validity, $55 for a two-year validity, and $59 for a three-year validity. These bundles give you a digital and printed copy of your IDP, which is shipped worldwide, so ensure that when you check out your IDP for driving in French Polynesia, the address of your home or accommodation is provided. There’s also the digital-only option where you get a copy for $29, $35, and $39 for the same range of validities.

When Can I Apply for an IDP?

You can apply for an IDP whenever you want to, as long as it's feasible for you. If your travel date is soon and you plan on driving in French Polynesia, today is a good time to apply as the delivery of your printed copy takes thirty days from the date of your approval, which is the same day as your application. The processing of your IDP is fast and easy to follow, and you can get your permit in two hours.

To avoid the hassle of delivering your IDP for driving in French Polynesia, a zip code of your exact location must be provided upon check out. An IDP obtained from the International driver's Association meets the standard in the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic, which makes it honored and accepted in 150 countries worldwide.

What If I Misplace My IDP?

What happens if you misplace or lose your IDP? The good news is that the IDA has a replacement waiver for which you are given a replacement copy at zero cost. The only fee you will need to pay is the shipping cost. To process your IDP replacement, contact the IDA‘s customer service and provide your name, IDP number, and address.

Renting A Car in French Polynesia

French Polynesia may have many tiny islands that you may think that driving a car is unnecessary, but in a country where the number of visits is as many as its population, squeezing yourself in circling tour buses and taxis may cause hassle. Driving a rental gives you more flexibility with your time and plans. You will be able to explore the road off-grid, and off-the-beaten paths are reachable within your means.

Below is helpful information on where to rent a car, what kind of vehicle you should get, the documents required to rent, as well as age requirements. Cost of the rental car and insurance fee, and knowing which waiver covers you are also essential to know.

Car Rental Companies

Booking from a trusted car supplier plays an important role in your driving experience in French Polynesia. Car rental companies like Hertz, Avis, Europcar, Keddy, and Sunnycars are big names when it comes to rental cars. These car rental companies have different locations in the country, mostly near the international airport. You can book with them online before your travel date, or you can pick your rental vehicle right at the airport.

If you’re in Tahiti, the major car suppliers you’ll find are Europcar, Avis, and Hertz. On the other islands of French Polynesia 000like Bora Bora, Moorea, Huahine, and Rangiroa in the Tuamotu Archipelago, Europcar and Avis are popular. You’ll also find smaller local car-hire agencies on some islands, but their rates are almost the same as the car companies mentioned above.

Documents Required

To be eligible for a rental car, you must meet the legal driving age and renting age requirement in French Polynesia. Most rental companies will ask for your native driver’s license, passport, and an international driver’s permit. Your chosen car supplier may charge you more if you’re below the minimum age requirement for renting a car, which will be discussed down below, so read on further.

Vehicle Types

Car rental companies in French Polynesia have a fleet of vehicles that suit your budget and vacation style. You can choose from an SUV, mid-size, full-size, luxury, convertible, economy, and van. If you’re traveling with a group or family, you may opt for a full-size, van, or SUV, depending on the number of people in your group. According to Kayak, the Economy Hyundai Accent and the likes is the most frequently booked vehicle in French Polynesia.

You can always consult your car supplier about the kind of vehicle you’ll need if you’re not sure which one you should get. Many rental companies in French Polynesia will help you assess which vehicle type fits your purpose of driving.

Car Rental Cost

Finding reliable car rental companies with the best offers is a challenge, but there are popular car rental suppliers around that offer good deals at a low price. A rental fee with Hertz can cost as low as $29 per day, while the average fee for car rentals in French Polynesia can cost around $77 per day. On a week of car rental fee, you could pay $379 per week, while a long-term rental fee could cost you $1,624 per month.

A young driver’s surcharge can also add up to the price of your rental car. It’s worth noting that the cost of your rental fee is based on what kind of vehicle you’re renting and the season. You can always check out the best deals online to compare prices or get a quotation.

Age Requirements

Most car rental companies in the world require you to be 25 years old to rent a vehicle. In French Polynesia, you must be at least 21 years old, though you may be subject to the young driver’s surcharge if you're below 25 years old. The young driver’s surcharge is usually hefty per day fee. The extra charge gives car rental companies additional protection as younger drivers seem to get into accidents more. The said fee still depends on your car rental supplier.

Car Insurance Cost

When driving in French Polynesia, the cost of your car insurance depends on where you get it from. Most car rental companies include car insurance within their fee. It will also cost more if you add other special equipment like a child seat, an air condition unit, an airbag, or a spare tire. It’s always best to consult with your car supplier and let them discuss what the rental cost is inclusive of.

If in rare cases that the car rental company does not include car insurance within their fee, you could purchase it separately from a third-party provider. Also, you can check with the credit card company you use to pay your rental fee, and see if they include additional liability coverage for rental cars within their offer.

Car Insurance Policy

Car insurance is essential when driving a rental car. Car insurance may cover fees for when your vehicle gets stolen or damaged within your care. If you don’t have car insurance, you will be liable for any damage or loss, whether you like it or not. Car insurance lets you get rid of the responsibility to pay burdening fees. Always read on the car rental company or insurance provider’s latest car insurance policy.

Such car insurance are the collision damage waiver (CDW), which waives damages caused by road accidents, and the loss damage waiver (LDW), which waives damages and provides theft protection. A super collision damage waiver (SCDW) may even be included, which covers your remaining excess to $0, and again, it depends on the agreement of your provider. Personal Accident Insurance (PAI) is also a good investment as it waives your medical fees.

Bora Bora French Polynesia Photo by Benedikt Brichta

Road Rules in French Polynesia

As a foreign driver, you must follow the road rules in any foreign land to avoid getting penalized and fined for not adhering to a country’s traffic laws. Driving in French Polynesia is an easy and enjoyable task as you get around the country at your own pace while enjoying the naturally scenic views on the islands. As a French territory, road rules in French Polynesia meet the standards in France.

Below are detailed information on the road rules for driving in French Polynesia. Summary of the driving directions, standards, and tips to prepare yourself before you set off are included in this section. Make it a habit to carry your insurance, passport, native driver’s license, as well as IDP at all times as driving unlicensed may cause problems, especially if you claim insurance for damages and injuries.

Important Regulations

Being a driving tourist in French Polynesia, you must pay close attention to every traffic sign, signal, and important regulation imposed on the road. Traffic regulations are ordained to maintain organization and safety for both the drivers, passengers, and pedestrians on the road.

Drunk-driving

It’s no wonder that distracted driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is one of the leading causes of car accidents. When driving in French Polynesia, limit your alcohol intake to 0.05%, as this is the permitted blood alcohol level. Failure to follow the suggested blood alcohol content (BAC) limit will result in a fine. Avoid drinking at all if you know you will have to drive your vehicle.

Hands-free

The use of cellphones while driving is also one of those circumstances that cause accidents on the road. If you can, keep your phones away while driving. If you must answer a phone call, you should invest in a hands-free device. When driving in French Polynesia, video taking while behind the wheel is dangerous, so it’s best to just leave the vlogging for the tourist spots. Treat this as road etiquette as it can save you, your passengers, fellow drivers, and pedestrians’ life.

Seatbelt Laws

Seat belts are one of the most important safety gears you must not ignore when you’re driving. Some drivers underestimate the life-saving power of wearing a seat belt. In French Polynesia, seat belts are required for drivers and all passengers in a moving vehicle. Failure to adhere will result in a fine or penalty.

Check if your vehicle is in good condition before driving

A good, working vehicle will take you everywhere without the headache, so ensure your rental car is road-worthy. Check to see if your tires and spare tires, lights, seat belts, mirrors, horns, and brakes are working. Also, check to see if safety features like an airbag are working.

General Standards of Driving

Automatic and manual cars are offered by car rental companies but many tourists, if not most, drive cars with automatic transmission. Choosing a rental car still depends on your preference, after all, it’s you who will be driving the vehicle. If you want to opt for an automatic car though, Avis will take care of you as they are one of the most booked rental companies in French Polynesia. Consult with your chosen car supplier for your driving needs.

Speed Limits

Speed limits are imposed to maintain safety among drivers and passengers as speeding often results in serious accidents, and it could sometimes be fatal. In French Polynesian islands, the general speed limits are 40 km/h or 24 mph in the towns and villages. When traversing an open road, maintain a speed limit of 80 km/h or 48 mph. Speed limits can differ from each island, though. On Bora Bora, for example, you must maintain a speed limit of 60 km/h.

Driving Directions

In the city of Papeete, there are few roundabouts you need to get around with. Always give way to the left. Be careful when entering a roundabout, so you don’t get into an accident that may even involve pedestrians. Always check on all sides of the road when entering a roundabout; stop if you need to, to let another vehicle pass unless a traffic police officer allows you to continue. Drive slowly and adjust your speed limit to the movement of traffic in a roundabout.

Traffic Road Signs

Most traffic road signs in French Polynesia are similar to that of France. Signages here are written in French words, so, if you have driven in France before, it will be easier for you to understand and get around here. Listed down below are some of the road signs you may see and encounter while driving in French Polynesia



  • Arrêt - Stop
  • Aucun arrêt - No stopping
  • Cédez le passage - Yield
  • Ralentir - Slow down
  • Aucun parking - No parking
  • Tournez à gauche - Turn left
  • Tourner à droite - Turn right
  • Chaussée glissante - Slippery road
  • Giratoire - Roundabout
  • Autoroute - Motorway
  • Limite de vitesse - Maximum speed
  • La limitation de vitesse - Speed limit
  • Un accident - Accident
  • Sens unique - One way
  • Aucune entrée - No entry
  • Aucun dépassement - No overtaking
  • Ralentir travaux - Slow down, road works ahead
  • Passage piéton - Pedestrian crossing
  • Priorité à droite - Priority to the right
  • Signaux de la circulation - Traffic signals
  • Deux voie de circulation - Two way traffic

Right of Way

Most of French Polynesia’s road networks are often narrow, and have one road, especially in the Society Islands where main roads wrap the coast all the way around. Drivers traversing the main road have the right of way. At marked pedestrian lanes or crosswalks, always yield the right of way to pedestrians. Vehicles coming from the right side of the road have priority.

The legal driving age in French Polynesia is 18 years old, and the maximum age for driving is 70. Meeting the minimum age requirement grants you a valid driver’s license, which is a useful document when you apply for an international driver’s license. The maximum age for driving is imposed to ensure safety as older drivers tend to lose the sharpness of focus on the road; health is also considered to ensure a driver is fit to drive.

Laws on Overtaking

Overtaking, if not done right, can result in accidents on the road. It could also spark an argument with a fellow driver, so doing so with caution is important. If you aim to overtake another vehicle, make sure that the road you are heading on is clear of traffic. Give your fellow drivers signals to inform them about your plan, and your presence on the road. If another driver tries to overtake you, let them pass by and drive further away from you.

Driving Side

In French Polynesia, drivers drive on the right side of the road. This rule is also similar to France's driving side and most countries in Europe. If you’re from the United Kingdom, you may practice getting used to driving on the right-hand side, but if you’ve ever driven in most EU countries, you’ll find driving in French Polynesia, easy. It’s even an advantage for you if you’re an American driver who drives on the right side of the road.

Driving Etiquette in French Polynesia

Driving in French Polynesia is a good way to get around the island country at ease. It’s the key to explore and reach the hidden gems on each island. But what would you do if unexpected events like a car breakdown happen? As a foreign driver, traffic police officers and police checkpoints you may encounter might cause you a faint of heart, but don’t be nervous, as these officials just want to ensure drivers’ and passengers’ safety on the road.

Below are things you can do to help alleviate stressful situations while on the road. Whether you’re feeling lost, or you met with cops and police checkpoints, there are strategies you can use or practice to have a successful driving experience.

Car Breakdown

A car breakdown happens almost inevitably, and that is why it’s important to check or test your rental car before you set off. You can check both the tires and spare tires, headlights, rear mirrors, and if it has sufficient fuel. It’s also essential that you know how to change a tire. If you don’t, you can call your car provider, and they should be able to help you. If your car breaks down, never pull leave your valuable inside as this could attract thieves.

Immediately stop your car in a safe space, and figure out what went wrong, so you’ll be able to tell your car provider about the issue of your car. You could also ask locals to help direct you to a nearby repair shop. When you do approach locals, do nicely. When you’re driving in Polynesia, the language barrier wouldn’t be a problem if you speak English, as they can speak and understand it as well. Here are helpful French phrases you can use.:

  • Bonjour Madame/Monsieur/Mademoiselle - Hello Mrs./Mr./Miss
  • Pardon/Excusez-moi - Excuse me
  • Excusez-moi de vous déranger, but I have a problem - I‘m sorry to bother you, but I have a problem
  • Pouvez-vous m'aider? - Can you help me?
  • S'il vous plaît - Please
  • Je cherche un atelier de réparation - I’m looking for a repair shop
  • Merci - Thank you
  • Merci bien - Thank you very much

Police Stops

If a police officer stops you, don’t automatically take it as an offense. The police may stop you for many reasons. If you believe you are not responsible for any traffic violation, then this shouldn’t worry you. When a police officer stops you, slowly pull over to the side of the road. Don’t get intimidated to ask questions, and if in turn, they ask for your documents, show them your passport, native driver’s license, and IDP.

A police officer may also check if the vehicle you’re driving is insured. They may also check if you and your passengers are wearing your seat belts, so it’s important to follow the regulation on seat belts.

Asking Directions

When driving in French Polynesia, maps are helpful with driving directions. If you don’t have maps ready with you, asking locals would be a good option to find your way to your destination. French Polynesians are lovely people who welcome tourists in the country with warmth and hospitality. When driving in French Polynesia, language in the main island of Tahiti can be used, though the majority speak French. Here are helpful Tahitian phrases you can use.:

  • La ora na – Hello
  • Maita’ i oe – How are you?
  • Maita’ i vau – I am fine
  • Ua ite oe i te parar Marite? – Do you speak English?
  • Fa’aite mai ia’u ite e’a – Show me the way to…
  • Aita i papu ia’u – I don’t understand
  • ‘Aita pe’ ape’a – No worries
  • Mauruuru – Thank you
  • ‘Ia ha’amaita’i mai te Atua ia ‘oe – God bless you
  • Nana – Bye bye

Checkpoints

Typically at checkpoints, police officers may ask for your driving documents such as your international driving permit, native driver’s license, and as a foreign driver, you will have to show your passport. It’s essential that you have these documents ready at all times, even when you’re just going to buy some snacks from a nearby store. Drunk driving is a real problem on the main islands, so if you’re asked to do a breathalyzer, comply with the police officers.

When driving in French Polynesia borders, police rarely cause hassles to foreigners. They may set up checkpoints on busy islands of Tahiti, Moorea, and Raiatea. When driving in Polynesia, border police may ask for your visa and other travel documents.

Other Tips

There are more serious and unfortunate events that could happen on the road where drivers just wouldn’t know how to respond to and deal with. Situations like car accidents because people are involved sometimes panic. Below are ways you could alleviate pressure and stress during a road accident.

What if I Get Into an Accident?

Road accidents happen, and sometimes they occur when you least expect it, so it’s important to always follow road etiquette to safely get around. Accidents can get you feeling nervous and anxious about the situation, but if you can, depending on the severity of the crash, call anyone in your contacts for help. You can call your car-hire company for assistance, or you can dial the country's emergency hotline at 71.

What to Do if I Witness a Collision on the Road?

If you ever witness a road accident, even if you’re not involved in it, immediately report the incident to the authorities. French Polynesia is essentially a province of France, so the French laws apply in its territories. Under French law, it’s an offense to reject assistance to a person in danger. At the very least, you must call the emergency hotline for help.

Driving Conditions in French Polynesia

French Polynesia is an archipelago with tiny islands, which means that the transportation system here is limited, as most of its citizens and tourists take a boat or a ferry to get from one island to another. As the center of its economy, Tahiti is pretty much the only major island where renting a car is even an option. Other islands in the Society group such as Bora Bora and Moorea are places where you can rent a car as well.

It’s an essential preparation to know the usual condition of the roads in the country, so you’d know what to expect during your road trip. Below are some facts on accident statistics, road situations, what it’s like to be on the French Polynesian roads, and the culture on its roads

Accident Statistics

According to the open data extracted from the national road traffic accident database on French Road Safety Observatory (ONISR) published by onisr.securite-routiere.gouv.fr, in 2019, there were 551 road accidents in France’s overseas territories including French Polynesia. The database also includes 851 vehicles involved in road accidents that same year. Most of vehicular accidents are the result of overspeeding and drunk-driving.

Common Vehicles

Many roads on French Polynesia islands are challenging to traverse as they are poorly-maintained. The country, being located in the South Pacific Ocean, is prone to cyclones, so bad weather is your challenge, along with unpaved roadways. Some roads on the islands become tough to drive through after the rain, and many roads have sharp bends and slopes, which, as you can imagine, can get challenging to get around.

Because of the conditions of some roads in the rural areas, a four-wheel drive or 4WD vehicle is highly recommended as these types of vehicles are sturdy enough to endure the stresses on difficult roads. You can always find these types of vehicles on the main islands.

Toll Roads

There are no toll roads established in French Polynesia, but the French government is working towards building toll roads in its overseas territories. Many roads, even in Tahiti, and other larger towns and islands, are freeway roads. This means that you can use the road free of toll fees.

Road Situations

The road quality in the country varies between islands. When driving in French Polynesia expect the roads to be narrow and winding with often no street lights, except in Tahiti. You may also find it challenging to drive at night as some traffic lights are on the left side of the road, making them difficult to spot or see. Many roads in the rural areas are unpaved, while roads on Tahiti, Bora bora, Moorea, Raiatea, Tahaa, and Huahine are reasonably paved and well-maintained.

There are sealed roads surrounding Tubuai, Raivavae, and Rurutu, while there are hardly any in Marquesas islands, though paved roads exist in large villages. Smaller roads inland have varying conditions, and will most likely deteriorate after the rain. In Papeete, there’s an expressway starting near the town center at Pomare Boulevard and runs through Punaauia. Papeete can get congested with all kinds of vehicles, but traffic gets light when you exit.

Driving Culture

Local drivers are generally safe drivers, even though overtaking is a common occurrence on the road. Many drivers in Tahiti drive fast, as they are more familiar with the conditions of the roads, and they know their way to get around unpaved ones that you may find difficult to traverse. Even though French Polynesian drivers do it faster, you don’t need to get into a race with them. The locals are very warm and friendly, so you can always negotiate with them about road safety.

Other Tips

When driving in French Polynesia, distances are measured and written in kilometers and speed limits are in kilometers per hour. However, a French term of measurement is used in metropolitan areas in French Polynesia to provide directional points. The measurement term is called the PK sign. It’s the same sign they use in major towns and cities in France.

Where Are PK Signs Used?

When driving in French Polynesia, distances in the islands of Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora in the Society group are measured in PK signs or pointe kilometrique in French, which translates to kilometer point. PK signs are used to measure distances from designated starting points to places such as restaurants, hotels, lodges, or addresses on the main coastal road. These signs go in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions.

When you’re driving in French Polynesia, maps with the PK distances are useful around islands in the Society Islands. PK signs are not complicated and are easy to understand, and pretty sure you’ll get the hang of it.

Things to Do in French Polynesia

French Polynesia is known for its diving sites due to its archipelagic geography, making the island country a great diving spot. A heaven on Earth, the Harper’s Bazaar dubbed Bora Bora as one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and it truly is that it’s almost not real. With calm blue lagoons, relaxing rainforests, white sand beach, and tropical blooms, it’s no wonder why many honeymooners splurge on a romantic vacation to the heart-shaped country.

There are things beyond visiting the island country for leisure; you can stay, work, and reside in this paradise of a country as you’d wish. But before you do those things, there are factors you need to consider before flocking here to work and live. There are certain permits that you are required to have to enjoy the perks of staying in French Polynesia, doing what you love, and seeing what you love. Find out what’s in it for you by reading further.

Drive as a Tourist

As you may have already known, you can drive in French Polynesia, as long as you have all the legal documents that allow you to get on the road. You need to carry your native driver’s license, international driving permit, and passport at all times. Adhering to traffic rules and complying with the local authority will also get you far; failure to follow will get you fined or penalized. Being able to use the roads of a foreign land is a blessing, so count it as one.

Work as a Driver

When driving in French Polynesia, jobs in the transportation industry are limited as the country doesn’t have that much of a strong transportation system. As mentioned earlier, tourists either take the ferry or boat or rent a car for driving in French Polynesia. Jobs you intend to have will require you to have work authorization, and in some cases, a work visa. Both the employer and foreigner who don’t comply will be subject to criminal liabilities and possible prosecution.

To get a work permit, consult with the Service de l'Emploi, de la Formation et de l'Insertion professionnelle (SEFI) before your arrival. You can also visit the nearest French Embassy for the processing of your work visa. Any foreign nationals wishing to engage in any paid labor in the country are required to obtain such permits. The same provisions also apply to nationals of the European Union, and foreign spouses of French nationals.

Work as a Travel Guide

French Polynesian islands are popular vacation spots for decades, and its economy heavily relies on tourism, thanks to the natural beauty it possesses. To work as a travel guide, you must first obtain the proper legal documents needed to work for a company based in French Polynesia. If working here is your principal intention, you must work it out together with your employer by supporting your work visa application

Local job protection here is strictly imposed, but once you get in, you have the world. Working as a travel guide in French Polynesia is an awesome experience and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s not every day that you get to do a job you love and enjoy doing while sharing that same joy and fulfillment with others who want to see this paradise of a country.

Apply for Residency

Applying for residency in French Polynesia comes with a few caveats. For EU and EEA nationals, Andorra, San Marino, Switzerland, Monaco, or Vatican City, you are allowed a stay of longer than three months, but you need to register with the town hall where you reside, within those three months. If you're a family member of an EU or EEA national, you may apply for a residence authorization before your short-term visa expires.

If you’re a national of another country, you may apply for residence authorization within two months of your arrival. There are two types of residence permits: one that’s valid for 6 to 12 months, and a residence card that’s valid for 10 years. The latter is granted to foreigners who can prove their five-year stay in the country. All applications must be done with the administration of the High Commission of the French Republic in French Polynesia.

Show the following documents to support your application:

  • a completed residence permit form
  • a valid passport
  • two passport photos
  • a photocopy of your with your long-stay visa and entry stamp
  • 9,000 FCP revenue stamp for temporary residence permits, 20 000 FCP revenue stamp for residence cards

Other Things to Do

Aside from landing a job in the tourism and transportation industry, or applying for a residence permit, workers employed in French Polynesia can also obtain a residence permit, as long as their employment contract permits it. Find out how you can apply for such a permit below

Can I Apply for a Residence Permit as an Employee?

It’s possible to apply for a residence permit, especially if you’re on a long-term contract with a company that is based in French Polynesia. To apply for a residence permit, here are the document checklist you must provide:

  • two copies of an application dated and signed by you, along with a passport photo
  • two photocopies of your passport page where it shows your identity, passport’s expiry date, and photo
  • two photocopies of date of entry into French Polynesia for the first application
  • two front and back photocopies of your current residence permit, only if it needs to be renewed
  • a photocopy of your employment contract, dated and signed by both you and your employer
  • a photocopy of your last authorization only if it’s for renewal
  • a photocopy of your work authorization granted by the French Polynesian Ministry of Employment, or if asked, the receipt for renewal or application for work authorization issued by SEFI.
  • proof of social and health coverage in French Polynesia

Top Destinations in French Polynesia

French Polynesia is known for its diving sites due to its archipelagic geography, making the island country a great diving spot. A heaven on Earth, the Harper’s Bazaar dubbed Bora Bora as one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and it truly is that it’s almost not real. With calm blue lagoons, relaxing rainforests, white-sand beaches, and tropical blooms, it’s no wonder why many honeymooners splurge on a romantic vacation to the heart-shaped country

Some say taking a trip to French Polynesia is an extravagant purchase, and yes, it can get expensive. But there’s also a true saying which goes, “Money can’t buy happiness,” and happiness and French Polynesia are kind of the same thing. So, time to dust off your passport and bask in this naturally beautiful paradise of a country. Below are the top destinations in French Polynesia that your eyes will never get a sight of, anywhere else in the world.

Bora Bora Photo by Paulina Cadoret

Bora Bora

If you’re the type to follow travel pages on Instagram and other social media platforms, chances are that you’ve seen a photo of breath-taking Bora Bora. It’s the most touristy French Polynesian island, and a top-visited spot. Bora Bora is a tourist’s favorite, and everyone loves to come here for its over-the-water bungalows and to see the bluest-hued waters that are almost taken straight out of a painting. Indeed, visiting the Bora Bora is heavenly.

You have to take a ferry to reach the island instead of driving in French Polynesia. Videos or vlogs about Bora Bora’s beautiful beaches and impossibly clear waters are inviting. So make sure you don’t reject that invitation and miss out on this unwavering beauty when you visit French Polynesia.

Driving Directions:

  1. From Fa'a'ā International Airport, head southwest.
  2. Drive from Boulevard de la Reine Pōmare IV to Papeete.
  3. Continue straight.
  4. Take the ferry.

Things to Do

When you’re in Bora Bora, you’ll find yourself looking for more things to do here because your heart will for sure tell you that you don’t want to leave this magical island, ever. To make the most out of Bora Bora, you can enjoy a beach day at Matira Beach, feed the underwater life, snorkel in the salty Pacific waters, go on a boat excursion, or simply relax in a luxurious villa. Bora Bora is so pretty, you might never want to leave.

  1. Enjoy a beach day at Matira Beach
    The beach is the largest access beach in Bora Bora, which makes it a popular go-to relaxation spot for visitors. The shallow blue waters and rarely crowded shoreline make the place a perfect resting spot. Resorts, eateries, and food shops are found everywhere so spending a beach day here is convenient.
  2. Go on a shark or stingray feeding.
    The crystal clear waters of Bora Bora makes it easy to spot wildlife under the sea. Get a chance to interact with the native blacktip reef sharks and stingrays, all while snorkeling and seeing an army of colorful fish. Going underneath with these underwater creatures may sound scary, but the native sharks are small and harmless, and it’s the same for the stingrays. You can arrange a guided feeding session with tour operators here.
  3. Snorkel in the Bora Bora Lagoonarium.
    This family-owned attraction is a natural aquarium, meaning it's not man-made but a portion of an actual lagoon, which happens to be packed with wildlife. Beneath its surface, you’ll find sharks, rays, turtles, and varieties of ocean fish. The lagoonarium is completely safe to snorkel on, though make sure you are capable of swimming, of course.
  4. Go on a boat excursion.
    If you want to give your body a break from all the swimming and snorkeling, a boat excursion around Bora Bora is a must-do. You can peep hidden lagoons and coves, and you can also learn about the island’s history. It’s best to arrange a guided tour to sail the sea as tour packages usually come with bonus activities such as deep-sea fishing and feeding.
  5. Experience the bungalow craze.
    Remember the many times you’ve come across pictures of luxurious huts and villas over the blue waters? Awesome, that’s Bora Bora you’re seeing. These connecting huts vary in prices, depending on the kind, style and amenities included. If you want to know what it’s like to stay in one of these bungalows, go back to the photographs you’ve seen in your social media feed. Magical, isn’t it?
Moorea Photo by Reiseuhu

Moorea

Moorea, a volcanic island, is the second-largest Windward island in the Society Islands. When it comes to jagged mountain peaks covered in dense jungle, and sand beaches with some smooth white and others with volcanic, deep black sands, Moorea fits the description. Tourists love to come here to bask in nature and soak up its relaxing, laid-back island vibe. Its glorious beaches and coral reefs are packed with underwater life.

Driving Directions:

  1. From Fa'a'ā International Airport, head southwest.
  2. Drive from Boulevard de la Reine Pōmare IV to Papeete.
  3. Continue straight.
  4. Take the ferry.
  5. Turn left.
  6. Turn right.
  7. Drive to Route du Belvédère.

Things to Do

To make the most out of your visit to the island, go on a mountain hike, lagoon sailing, and kayaking, or swim with harmless sea creatures. If you want to take a break from the saltwater, you can take a road trip to the Belvedere Viewpoint, then take a sip of refreshing cocktails after a thirst inducing drive,

  1. Go on a rewarding mountain climb.
    Get your heart pounding and climb up the shark-toothed Mount Rotui and the high Mount Tohivea. The views of Cooks Bay and Opunohu Bay stretching their covering arms across the ocean makes mountain climbing a rewarding experience.
  2. Sail the lagoon in a glass-bottomed kayak.
    One of the best and most unique experiences you can have in French Polynesia is to experience blue lagoons in a transparent kayak. You can also anchor your boat, and snorkel, and swim with sharks. A guided kayak adventure can be arranged with a tour operator, so you can enjoy a romantic private tour that’s exclusively for you.
  3. Go on a road trip to Belvedere Viewpoint.
    If you want to get a stunning view of Opunohu Valley and Cook and Opunohu Bays, drive up the dirt road to reach Belvedere Lookout, or you can simply park your car and hike Three Coconuts Pass, instead. A guided hike with a local is a good way to explore the area. Don’t forget to bring lots of water, especially if you go here during mid-day.
  4. Swim with sharks, whales, and rays.
    Nothing more playful than being interactive with under-the-sea creatures. You can swim with humpback whales, leopard rays, gray and black reef sharks, dolphins, and pink whip rays that are spotted here all year round.
  5. Relax and sip cocktails on the beach.
    You can bring cocktails, and sip them by the beach. If refreshment is for you, there are tourist establishments around where you can stay for a day trip. Snacks and beverages are also available here, though expect them to cost more.
Tahiti Photo by Kazuo ota

Tahiti

Tahiti is the main island and the largest among French Polynesia’s 118 islands, and it’s densely populated as 80 percent of the country’s population settles here. Tourists love to come to Tahiti for luxurious holiday vacations. Papeete, the capital city and the economic center, is located here so expect to see more Polynesians while exploring around. Tahiti also shows the French side of the country that is very French through the churches and other establishments.

Things to Do

To make the most out of your visit to Tahiti island, you can simply explore Papeete, blend in with nature, or go on an adventure in Tahiti Iti. Nature lovers will love everything Tahiti has to offer.

  1. Explore the capital city.
    If you’re into buildings, the pink establishment of Temple Paofai will impress you. It’s a church in Papeete that is hard to miss. Take a stroll here for an unforgettable and colorful scene on a Sunday morning, with graceful singing, and ladies dressed in white with decorative straw huts.
  2. Indulge in nature the Tahitian way.
    If you take a stroll through the coastal line, you’ll see the Arahoho Blowhole, a Tahitian wonder where the sea swells through the rocks. Getting here is easy as you'll see signages. You can park your vehicle while soaking up the beautiful views of the hole.
  3. Go on a nature adventure in Tahiti Iti.
    If you want to take a quiet hike, Tahiti Iti is the place to be. It’s the southern half of the main island where you can relax in the calming and clean lagoon, or you can go surfing. Its impressive waves at Teahupoo offer a great opportunity for surfing.

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