What is the best time of year to come to French Polynesia?
All year round! The Polynesian islands have a very sunny, tropical climate, with nearly 3,000 hours of sunshine a year in the Tuamotus! So you can plan your trip according to your interests and the highlights of the Polynesian calendar, which are spread throughout the year (scuba diving, whale season, walking, cycling, cultural events, Christmas and New Year, tropical fruits, etc.).
What is the temperature in the Polynesian islands?
The temperature, always pleasant, is cooled by the Pacific trade winds which blow all year round. The average temperature is 27°C (80°F), while the water of the lagoons is a stable 26°C (79°F). Considerably further from the equator, the island groups in the extreme south, the Austral and Gambier Islands, enjoy cooler temperatures.
In Polynesia, it's summer all year round! A distinction is made, however, between the dry season and rainy season. The dry season lasts from March to November and has temperatures of between 22 and 27°C (72 and 80°F), while the rainy season, from December to the end of February, is slightly warmer (25 to 35°C – 77 to 95°F), but is also subject to tropical showers, warm cloudbursts rarely lasting more than half an hour.
If these temperatures seem rather high, it is worth knowing that the Pacific trade winds blow continually in the islands, pleasantly cooling off the air temperature.
Considerably further from the equator, the island groups in the extreme south, the Austral and Gambier Islands, enjoy cooler temperatures than the Society and Marquesas Islands. The Tuamotus, meanwhile, break all the records, with up to 3,000 hours of sunshine a year.
The vegetation is particularly lush in the rainy season, or "season of plenty", from November to March. It is also the best time for those who like trying new flavours, because all the tropical fruits are in season.
If you are flying via Los Angeles, your passport must be valid for at least six months after your return date. If you are travelling with children, they will need their own passport to travel via the United States.
Citizens of the following countries are permitted to stay for up to three months without a visa: Countries of the European Union, Andorra, Australia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, Norway, Saint Martin, Switzerland and the Holy See.
Citizens of the following countries are permitted to stay for up to one month without a visa:
Argentina, Bolivia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Uruguay and the United States.
Citizens of all other countries must apply for a visa from the French Embassy or Consulate in their country of residence, including foreign nationals with a temporary residence permit entitling them to stay one year in metropolitan France. Visas must bear the words Valable pour la Polynésie Française ("Valid for French Polynesia").
Foreign nationals with a residence permit for metropolitan France do not require a visa.
With the exception of EU citizens and foreign nationals with a ten-year residence permit for metropolitan France, all foreign nationals coming to French Polynesia must be in possession of a return ticket or pay, upon arrival, a repatriation guarantee.
For further information, please visit: www.polynesie-francaise.pref.gouv.fr
Authorisation for travel via the United States
Since 12 January 2009, it has been a requirement for citizens of countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) - including the United Kingdom and France - who are travelling to the United States, even if only in transit, to obtain travel authorisation prior to departure. That authorisation must be applied for through the ESTA secure website. Applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel to the USA, although you are strongly recommended to allow at least 72 hours before your departure.
Once obtained, unless it is cancelled, travel authorisation is valid for two years from the authorisation date, or until your passport expires, whichever comes first.
You will be required to show proof of your travel authorisation at check-in, otherwise you will be refused boarding. Passengers are therefore requested to carry a printed copy of their travel authorisation on every flight to or via the United States.
Passengers are also recommended to update their travel authorisation before making any new journeys to or via the USA. This can be done online using your ESTA reference number.
All goods must be declared and the applicable duties paid at customs. Please note that special rules apply to certain items entering or leaving French Polynesia.
A list of these items can be found at: www.tahiti-aeroport.pf
The Department for Customs and Duties also publishes information on the website of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Finance and Industry: www.polynesie-francaise.pref.gouv.fr
Packing your bags
Take summer clothes, beachwear and sportswear, preferably cotton. Pack a woollie for the evenings, which can be cooler by the lagoons, on cruises or up in the mountains.
Footwear: flip-flops, sandals, trainers and possibly boat shoes.
Essentials: swimwear, sunglasses, sun hat, high-protection sunscreen (strong reflections from the lagoons) and insect repellent (handy depending on the island and the season). These items can of course be purchased in supermarkets, specialist shops in Tahiti and the main tourist islands, and hotel shops.
Although French is the official language, the native languages, such as Tahitian, continue to be widely spoken in each island group. English is also commonly spoken, particularly in tourist destinations.
Tahiti and most of the islands are GMT-10, making them:
-11 hours behind UK time in summer and 10 hours in winter
-2 hours behind US/Pacific time
-6 hours behind Santiago de Chile
+ 19 hours ahead of Tokyo
+ 21 hours ahead of Sydney
+ 22 hours ahead of Auckland
The Marquesas Islands are GMT-9.30 and the Gambier Islands are GMT-9.
Currency and change
The currency in French Polynesia is the CFP franc (XPF). It is pegged to the euro, with an exchange rate fixed at € 1 = XPF 119.33. There are bureaux de change at Tahiti International Airport and in most banks and Polynesian hotels. They will issue you with the local 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 franc pieces, and 500, 1,000, 5,000 and 10,000 franc notes.
The following are accepted: any currency which is legal tender, international credit cards and travellers' cheques (commission is charged on the latter). Most shops, restaurants and hotels accept MasterCard, Visa, American Express and Diners Club cards, which can also be used to withdraw cash from ATMs.
N.B.: Some remote atolls and islands have neither bureaux de change nor ATMs and do not accept credit cards. Before leaving Tahiti, make sure you have enough money to fund your stay in the islands.
No vaccines are required, other than for travellers coming from high-risk countries (please consult your airline for details). The island of Tahiti has health-care facilities and services. Papeete, Taravao (Tahiti peninsular) and Uturoa (Raiatea) have full hospital complexes (hospitals and clinics). The other tourist islands have at least a health centre.
Water and electricity
The tap water is drinkable in Papeete and throughout the island of Bora Bora. On the other islands, please ask.
If in doubt, drink mineral water from sealed bottles.
Electricity: 110V or 220V (AC 60 Hz), depending on the island and accommodation type. Check before connecting all electrical appliances.
Post and telecommunications
Papeete's central post office, located near the yacht quay and Parc Bougainville, opens on weekdays from 7 am to 6 pm and on Saturdays from 8 am to 11 am. It has a philatelic centre.
Shop opening hours
Shops generally open Monday to Friday, from 7.30 am to 5 or 6 pm (either non-stop or with a lunch break), and on Saturday morning, or in some cases Saturday afternoon.
Most shops are closed on Sunday, but there is a bustling market in Papeete, from 5 o'clock in the morning. There you will find a wide variety of flowers, fruit, pareos, hats, mother-of-pearl, objets d'art and other souvenirs.