One of the best ways to explore the Cook Islands is by driving around on a scooter. To do that, you most likely need to apply for a Cook Islands Drivers License. This will allow you to legally rent and drive a motorcycle on the island.
The practice has faced a few challenges in recent years due to a fatal accident involving motorcycles by tourists.
If nothing else, the money you spend will give you a very personalized Cook Island souvenir!
NOTE: If you are from Australia, New Zealand, US, Canada, UK, and the EU, you can drive a car in the Cook Islands using your home license. And if you have a full motorcycle license at home, it applies as well.
If you don’t have a motorcycle license at home, this post applies to you.
Applying for a motorcycle driver’s license in the Cook Islands is simple, but there are a few things that you need to know before getting one.
It will involve a visit to the Police Department, filling out paperwork, a written test, and a quick driving test before they can issue your souvenir Cook Islands license.
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What’s the fuss about Cook Islands driver’s license?
You might wonder why more and more visitors are eagerly talking about getting the Cook Islands driver’s license to ride a motorcycle here.
Cook Islands issues a few different types and classes of driver’s license for both visitors and Cook Islands residents. This post will focus on the scooter driver’s license, which is Class A1 and valid for 30 days in the country.
The obvious benefit of the Cook Islands driver’s license is that it will give you the freedom to legally drive a motorcycle around the island nation (well, one island at a time – not in between).
Otherwise, getting around can be very restrictive. Although Rarotonga has a very simple public transportation, walking or biking is simply not very convenient, especially if you’re only there for a short time.
Rarotonga and Aitutaki are best seen by driving a motorcycle – after the lagoon cruise, of course. Trust me on this.
A side benefit is that you can end up with the unique souvenir of the Cook Islands. Plus, this driver’s license allows you to drive a motorcycle in New Zealand and Australia, and a few other countries that accept the reciprocity.
Where to get a Cook Islands driver’s license?
In Rarotonga, the Police Office is in the main town of Avarua. Once you’re inside the building by the main road, you won’t miss the driver’s license office because there’ll usually be a line of visitors applying for one.
You can also get your motorcycle driver’s license for the Cook Islands in Aitutaki. Visit the police department in the Justice Department Building in the main Aitutaki building, behind the Westpac Bank, BCI Bank, Customs and Telecom.
The cost for the driver’s license in Aitutaki is cheaper than in Rarotonga, and it’s valid until the 31st of March the following year.
Cost of a drivers license in the Cook Islands
The cost of getting a driver’s license in Cook Islands is considerably cheaper than getting one abroad. However, there are some hidden costs that you may need to consider before you’re ready to get one.
Here is the breakdown of the cost to get your motorcycle driver’s license in Cook Islands (as of April 2018).
Keep in mind that the Cook Islands Police Department does not accept credit cards or foreign currency.
- Written test: NZ$10
- Practical test: NZ$10
- Renting a scooter from Polynesian Rental Cars & Bikes next door: NZ$17.50 per day
- Refundable deposit for scooter rental: NZ$50
- Finalizing and printing your driver’s license: NZ$20
- Retake any portion of the test, if you fail: NZ$10
You need a motorcycle to do the practical part of your test. They suggest renting one from Polynesian Rental Cars & Bikes office next door.
Because you don’t have a license yet, you’ll have to push it from the rental office to the Cook Island police department next door.
If your hotel or host allows you to borrow or rent theirs, you can use it for your test. Remember though, the same rule applies: you are not supposed to drive it before you get your license!
Step-by-step: getting a Cook Islands driver’s license
As soon as you enter the Cook Islands Police Headquarters in Avarua, you will see the Driver’s License & Regulatory Office to the right of the main corridor.
On an average day, you will see other visitors crowding the entrance – waiting in line, filling out the paperwork, or doing the written test.
Wait in line to talk to the staff inside to start your driver’s license process.
You will need to present your current driver’s license if you have one, as well as your passport to verify your identity. The staff will make a photocopy of both, and then hand you a simple application form and paperwork to fill out.
Return it to them after your done, along with the NZ$20 fee for both the written and practical tests.
The next step is to do a written test. You can get the test booklet across the hall. There are 25 questions about basic driving skills, and you must answer 23 out of 25 correctly. These questions are common-sense questions about basic driving.
You shouldn’t have any problems if you already have taken such tests in your home country.
The test staff will check your answers and either pass or fail you. There is no refund if you fail your test. You will have to pay NZ$10 to retake the written exam.
If you pass the written test, the staff will sign off on your paperwork and you may continue to the next step.
Rent a motorcycle for the practical test
The next thing you do is complete the practical test. To do this, you will have to provide your own motorcycle, which can be a tricky matter.
Some Cook Islands hotels or resorts may allow you to borrow their motorcycles without a license. Definitely do not drive your scooter to the Cook Islands Police Headquarters without a license.
Assuming that you don’t have a motorcycle to conduct the practical test, here’s what you need to do.
Conveniently, you can hire a motorcycle in the Cook Islands from Polynesian Rental Cars & Bikes next door. For NZ$17.50 per day plus a refundable deposit of NZ$50, they allow you to rent their motorcycle with the written test approval paperwork.
After finishing their rental paperwork, you will need to push the motorcycle (not ride it) back next door to the Cook Islands Police Headquarters for your practical test.
Don’t forget to grab your helmet, which comes with your rental.
Unfortunately, you will not receive a refund if you fail the practical test.
And you will have to return the scooter right away.
Cook Islands driver’s license practical test
The next step is the most interesting one. You will need to wait your turn while watching nervously as those before you conduct their practical test.
When it’s your turn, give your paperwork to the police officer to start your practical test.
The practical test involves a few steps:
- Do the necessary safety checks prior to mounting your motorcycle and indicate to the testing officer that you are ready. Don’t forget to wear your helmet correctly and know how to start your motorcycle.
- Drive your motorcycle to the Give Way sign at the end of the driveway, use your turning signal, check both sides before turning back safely to the stop sign at the opposite side of the driveway alley.
- Drive your motorcycle one more time down the driveway and back just like the first time. This time though, you’ll need to navigate around cones. Do not hit them! Pay attention to the Give Way and Stop signs, and indicate and navigate your turns correctly.
This practical test can be tricky, and honestly, you just have to go for it with your bulky motorcycle!
Printing your Driver’s License
When you pass the practical test, you will have to push your motorcycle and park it at the Police Headquarters. Then, go back to the Drivers License office, hand them your paperwork, and pay NZ$20 to print your plastic license.
They need to take your picture first, then voila! – your Cook Islands driver’s license will be ready in less than three minutes.
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Cook Islands driver’s license FAQ
Here are the answers to a few questions you might have about getting your license on the Cook Islands:
Do you need a license to drive a scooter?
In Rarotonga, this is strictly enforced. Rental agencies won’t give you a motorcycle unless you have one. A New Zealand driver’s license is acceptable in the Cook Islands.
New Cook Islands regulations allow visitors with a valid motorcycle driver’s license in their home countries to use it for renting a motorcycle in the Cook Islands.
In Aitutaki (and I assume for the rest of Cook Islands), this is not enforced at all. Keep in mind that Aitutaki, for example, only has three police officers on the whole island.
Here are more of the Aitutaki Culture you need to know.
Is driving a scooter safe in the Cook Islands?
Generally speaking, traveling and driving on Cook Islands roads is safe. The roads are well maintained, and the speed limits are reasonable. In busy places, such as the center of town, school zones, and residential areas, the speed limit is 30 km/hr.
It’s 50 km/hr in rural areas.
A couple of years ago, there were fatal accidents involving drunk drivers (both tourists and locals) and pedestrians. As a result, the Cook Islands police department has made it more difficult for visitors to obtain a driver’s license.
They strictly enforce the use of helmets.
Do not drink and drive.
What’s the minimum age to apply for a Cook Islands drivers license
The minimum age to hire a vehicle in Cook Islands is 18 years old. Cook Islands residents can apply for the learners permit when they turn 16, and get their license issued when they turn 17.
You can get a visitors license if you are 18 years or older.
What currency do they accept to get your license?
The Cook Islands Police Department only accepts New Zealand dollars. You cannot use credit cards or foreign currency. New Zealand dollars only and only in cash.
What is the Cook Islands helmet policy?
In Rarotonga, visitors must wear helmets – even though locals don’t have to. So, driving around the island you can always tell who are the locals vs visitors.
If you’re caught without a helmet, the fine is NZ$100. Not only that, but they’ll also confiscate your motorcycle. The police are very good at singling out visitors without a helmet.
If you rent a scooter, the helmet comes with it.
On the island of Aitutaki (and the rest of Cook Islands), however, nobody wears a helmet. Visitors and locals can drive a motorcycle without one – though you still should wear one for safety, obviously!
What’s the license failure rate?
Out of curiosity, I asked the lady behind the counter how many Cook Islands drivers license applicants she has to process and reject in a day. On average, she said, there are 60 foreign license applications, of which 50 will pass.
So we will stick with these numbers for the unofficial statistics for this process.
Are the Cook Islands safe?
Crime on the Cook Islands is relatively low; however, petty criminals usually target tourists. Some of the most common crimes involve breaking into tourist accommodations.
Rental motorcycles and helmets are sometimes targeted. In Rarotonga, don’t leave your keys in your motorcycle, and lock up or bring your helmets inside.
Here is the Cook Islands Driver’s License official page.
Using your scooter makes it much easier to do a Cook Islands food tour!
Watch our vlog on my experience of getting the Cook Islands Drivers License here (don’t forget to hit the subscribe button for more of our exciting travel vlogs 🙂
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Halef moved from Indonesia to the US nearly two decades ago to go to college here. He hasn’t looked back. He’s been to over forty countries and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. He’s a Landscape Architect in Atlanta, GA.
This post is great! It has all of the information I need.. Thanks for taking the time to explain everything 🙂
Can’t wait to visit now!
Great Post! Will definitely be referring this guide to our lovely visitors who want to get a motorcycle license and explore our little paradise on a scooter. With our Rates they do go cheaper the longer you take the scooter, and they are a great and easy way to get around Rarotonga.
Just letting everyone know the Cook Islands is a must visit for a fun holiday. If anyone has any questions on the scooter test or hire just flick us a message through our Polynesian Rentals facebook page and we will help you out.
Meitaki Maata. (Thank you!)
Really interesting. I didn’t know this was an issue! Thanks guys!
Awesome overview. Very clear and simple. Thanks.
from the start of the process, i’e lining up to get the form to getting the freshly printed licence in my hands what is the average length of time (assuming there is 10 people ahead of me in the queue to pick up the application form) – are we talking 2 hours or 4 hours or a whole day?
Hey Merv: Thanks for reading. It didn’t take Halef any more than an hour from the time he got to the building to the time he left – and that includes going next door to rent a scooter. So, assuming there are a few people ahead of you, add a bit of time to it. Halef only had a couple of people ahead of him.
this was really helpful, thank you. i’ve read that an appt is required in advance. is that correct?
Halef didn’t have to make an appointment. But I suppose if they get bombarded with applicants, that could change on a day to day basis.
I’m heading to Aitutaki in June 2021
As the borders have reopened from New Zealand on May 14
Thanks for the information looking forward to it