A Guide to Passing Through Immigration, Customs and Biosecurity in the Cook Islands
Your final hurdle to an adventure in the atolls of the Cook Islands is getting through Immigration, Customs and Biosecurity when you arrive on Rarotonga. With fabulous archipelago landscapes, clear waters and a fragile ecosystem, the Cook Islands take strict precautions when it comes to biosecurity. Travellers will also need to make sure they have their passports up-to-date, accommodation and an outbound flight booked, and meet any other current entry requirements. Then, the lagoons, cultural experiences and tropical islands are on your horizon!
Make the airport process as smooth as possible for yourself by following the advice in this guide Rarotonga Airport customs, biosecurity and arrivals process.
Passport, Accommodation Booking and Outbound Travel Confirmation for the Cook Islands
The first thing you will need to organise for your travels to Rarotonga and the Cook Islands is your passport. Your passport needs to be valid for at least six months after your intended departure date from the Cook Islands, unless you’re from New Zealand or Australia, then it needs to be valid for seven days after. In any case, make sure your passport is up to date!
As well as a valid passport, visitors are also required to have:
- accommodation booked (along with the name, address and phone number)
- an outbound/return travel ticket departing the Cook Islands
- any other relevant documents required for the current entry requirements (see What Documents Do I Need to Travel to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands?).
As long as you meet the above entry requirements, you will be granted a visitor’s permit on arrival. Check out Cook Islands Tourist Visa: Do You Need a Visa to Visit Rarotonga & the Cook Islands? to learn more about the entry requirements.
Do You Need a Vaccine to Visit the Cook Islands?
There are no current vaccination mandates to enter the Cook Islands. We list all the recommended and/or mandatory vaccines for a visit to the Cook Islands in our article Do You Need Vaccines to Travel to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands?
Packing for the Cook Islands
Before you depart for Rarotonga and the Cook Islands, it’s a good idea to check what items are restricted or prohibited in the Cook Islands so that you don’t risk the item being confiscated at Biosecurity on arrival. On top of that, you will need to check that any outdoor gear or sports equipment that you pack is clean.
What You Can’t Bring into the Cook Islands
- Certain foods, such as fresh vegetables, fruit, honey and more – see Taking Food to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
- Some animal products without treatment or a permit
- Certain plant products without treatment or a permit
- Dirty camping and sports equipment
- Certain biological items without treatment or a permit
- Illicit drugs and drug paraphernalia
- Weapons and firearms
- Indecent publications
- Endangered species of flora or fauna
- Alcohol and tobacco over the duty-free allowance
- Other dutiable goods over the duty-free allowance.
If you do want to bring some of these items, then make sure you declare them. More on that in the “Biosecurity” section below.
Cleaning Your Gear for Arrival in Rarotonga
Although you are allowed to bring sports and camping gear into the Cook Islands, they must be free from dirt and soil in order to pass through Biosecurity. Otherwise, you may either be requested to clean them at the airport or have the item sent for treatment at your expense. So be sure to clean equipment, such as:
- Used footwear
- Camping equipment
- Golf clubs
- Snorkelling gear
- Scuba diving gear
- Kitesurf equipment
- Fishing equipment, etc.
More Packing Advice for the Cook Islands
For more tips on what to pack for the Cook Islands, check out What to Pack for Rarotonga & the Cook Islands: Cook Islands Packing List.
The Cook Islands Passenger Arrival Card
Skipping to your final direct flight to Rarotonga, it will involve the first part of the Cook Islands Customs and Biosecurity process: completing the Passenger Arrival Card. The form to complete asks for your personal details, as well as your inbound and outbound flight details, Cook Islands accommodation details and passport number, so make sure you have all this information readily available.
The Passenger Arrival Card also asks a series of Yes/No questions concerning Customs and Biosecurity. Answer all of these questions honestly. If you are unsure of the answer, just tick “Yes” and you’ll be able to explain yourself to a Customs or Biosecurity Officer once you arrive on Rarotonga. There are sometimes Health questions to answer too, which change depending on the current public health issues.
Keep ahold of your Passenger Arrival Card until you are asked for it after landing on Rarotonga and going through the border process.
For more information on the Arrival Card and how to complete it, check out Cook Islands Passenger Arrival Card: What You Need to Know.
Duty-Free, Immigration and Customs
Once you’ve landed in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands, you won’t be swimming with turtles just yet. First up, you have the opportunity to purchase any duty-free alcohol and tobacco you might be tempted by at the duty-free store, making sure you don’t exceed the duty-free allowance. Then, you’ll need to pass through Immigration and Customs.
Declaring Items on the Passenger Arrival Card
At the Immigration Desk, an officer will ask to see at least your passport and Passenger Arrival Card. The officer may ask you questions regarding the answers you have given on the Passenger Arrival Card, especially if you have answered “yes” to any of the Customs and Biosecurity questions. The officer will then tell you if any action is required. Otherwise, your passport and Passenger Arrival Card will be returned to you and you will move to the Baggage Claim area.
For extra documents to have prepared for this step of the arrivals process, such as vaccination certificates and flight booking confirmations, check out What Documents Do I Need to Travel to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands?
Passing Through Biosecurity
Once you have picked up your bags from Baggage Claim, you will finally go through the Biosecurity process.
Declaring Risk Goods
This is your last chance to declare a “risk good” that you might have in your possession or packed in your baggage. Declarable items include:
- Goods that may be prohibited or restricted, such as medicines, drugs, weapons, indecent publications or endangered species
- Cigarettes or alcohol above the duty-free allowance for the Cook Islands
- Goods for business or commercial purposes
- Goods purchased duty-free that exceeds NZ$750
- Cash with a combined value of NZ$10,000 or more
- Food of any kind
- Animals or any kind of animal products
- Plants or any kind of plant products
- Biological cultures, organisms, soil or water
- Equipment used with animals, water or plants
- Equipment used outdoors equipment like camping gear, hiking shoes, watersports equipment, golfing equipment, etc.
- And whether you have visited a forest or properties for processing animals in the last 40 days.
Note that not all “declarable items” are prohibited, but you still need to declare them so that a Biosecurity Officer can check the item. See a complete list of declarable items in What to Declare When Arriving in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
A Biosecurity Officer will ask you questions based on answers given on your Passenger Arrival Card. You may also be prompted to put your bags through an X-ray machine or to open them for inspection.
What Happens if Risk Goods are Found in Your Baggage
If completing your Passenger Arrival Card and you realise you packed something in your bag that won’t go through Biosecurity, like fresh fruit, for instance, don’t worry. You have the opportunity to dispose of potential risk items in bins in the arrivals area of the airport.
If you declare an item and the item is not restricted or prohibited to be imported into the Cook Islands, you will be allowed to pass through Customs and Biosecurity without further action.
What Happens to Undeclared Risk Items?
When passing through Biosecurity, if any restricted, prohibited or declarable items are found in your luggage or in your possession, which you have not declared on your Passenger Arrival Card, you may face penalties.
What if You Declare an Item and it is Prohibited or Restricted?
If you have declared an item that is deemed unsafe to enter the country then you may have the item confiscated. You may be given the option for treatment of the item or exported to an overseas address, both at your own expense. For goods that you have to pay duty tax on, you’ll need to pay the duty and complete the relevant Customs forms.
The final part of the Rarotonga airport arrivals process is leaving the arrivals hall to an outside area where you’ll find airport transfers, an ATM, a phone network store, travel agents, a cafe and more.
Check out the Arriving at Rarotonga Airport, Cook Islands: A Step-by-Step Guide for what to do once you have completed the arrivals process, such as getting an airport transfer to your accommodation.
More About Rarotonga Airport Customs, Biosecurity and the Arrival Process
That’s it for our complete guide to the Rarotonga airport arrival process along the what you need to do to pass through customs and biosecurity. For more on the subject, check out our other arrivals guides:
- Arriving at Rarotonga Airport, Cook Islands: A Step-by-Step Guide
- Taking Food to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands: What You Need to Know
- What to Declare When Arriving in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
Finally, don’t miss a thing about planning a trip to the Cook Islands by checking out The Best Cook Islands Travel Guide.