The Best Payment Methods in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands
So you’re going through the “essentials” planning stage for your trip to the Cook Islands? Don’t worry, it’s going to be pretty simple when it comes to figuring out what payment method you’re going to choose. While everywhere in the Cook Islands accepts cash in the local currency, New Zealand Dollars, most merchants also accept Visa and MasterCard should you want to pay with credit, debit, EFTPOS or a travel money card. If you want to go old school, you could even redeem a traveller’s cheque at the local banks… Ok, maybe the latter isn’t our top recommendation, but we compare all of the ways to pay in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands in this guide.
How much will you spend in the Cook Islands? Find out in our complete guide to Spending Money to Take to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
Currency in the Cook Islands
First things first, you need to know the currency in the Cook Islands. Rarotonga and the Cook Islands use the New Zealand Dollar, usually seen written as “NZD” or “NZ$”.
Coins come in values of 10c, 20c, 50c, $1 and $2.
Notes come in values of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100.
The country also uses its own issued Cook Islands banknotes and coins, which come in coins of 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, $1, $2 and $5 and banknotes of $3, $10, $20 and $50. However, these notes and coins can only be used in the Cook Islands and cannot be exchanged overseas.
See our complete article on What is the Currency of the Cook Islands? for more information.
Cash (New Zealand Dollars)
Cash is the most accepted payment method in the Cook Islands. However, like anywhere in the world, most travellers don’t like to travel with all the cash they will need for one holiday for obvious security reasons. We recommend withdrawing cash every few days, where possible. This way, you avoid credit card surcharges with every transaction you make (see the “Credit and Debit Cards” section below). What’s more, those travelling to less populated areas, like the outer islands other than Aitutaki will have no choice but to use cash.
How to Get New Zealand Dollars in the Cook Islands
ATMs are available in abundance on Rarotonga and only in two cases in Aitutaki. There are no ATMs on the other outer islands. You can withdraw New Zealand Dollars from ATMs using overseas debit and credit cards (Visa and MasterCard) but note there will be foreign exchange fees applied by your bank, as well as a withdrawal fee of around NZ$5 from the ATM.
Tip: There is no ATM withdrawal fee for New Zealand-issued bank cards at the BCI Bank ATM in Avarua; not the ones on the main street but around the corner.
Another way to get New Zealand Dollars in the Cook Islands is to exchange currency at the local banks. There are three banks on Rarotonga and one bank in Aitutaki that offer foreign exchange. No banks on the other outer islands offer foreign exchange.
Finally, foreign exchange bureaus are available in Avarua and Muri on Rarotonga. Compare all of your foreign exchange options in the Cook Islands using The Best Places to Exchange Currency in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
Credit and Debit Cards (EFTPOS)
For ease and security, paying by credit or debit card (or EFTPOS, if you’re Kiwi) is a popular payment option in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands. However, using debit and credit cards in the Cook Islands is limited to the most populated areas, Rarotonga and Aitutaki. The rest of the islands do not accept credit or debit card, so be sure to have enough cash on you if spending time in these areas. Get an idea of how much money in our guide, How Much Spending Money Do You Need for Rarotonga & the Cook Islands?
Which Credit and Debit Cards are Accepted in the Cook Islands?
Visa and MasterCard cards are accepted in the Cook Islands, as long as they have a four-digit PIN code.
Credit and Debit Card Charges
Your credit or debit card’s issuing bank will likely have a fee for a “foreign currency service”, which is 1-3% of the transaction in your home currency. This fee is often also applied when using an ATM in the Cook Islands. Note that many Cook Islands businesses apply a credit card fee of 2.5-3% for each transaction.
Learn more about using a bank card to pay your way through the Cook Islands in our complete guide, Can You Use Your Credit or Debit Card in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands?
Travel Money Cards
A way to make cash withdrawals and card payments in the Cook Islands without the conversion fees is with a travel money card.
Also known as foreign exchange cards or pre-paid travel cards, these are like credit cards with a pre-approved amount of credit but are accessible in multiple currencies. When making a payment, they work the same as a credit or debit card as long as they are issued by a common type of card accepted in the Cook Islands, i.e. Visa and MasterCard.
Make sure your travel money card has New Zealand Dollars as a currency option. Note that you will still have to pay a credit card surcharge applied by local businesses for using a non-Cook Islands bank card.
For the very limited number of travellers still using traveller’s cheques, they can be redeemed at Rarotonga’s banks. However, you will not be able to redeem cheques outside of Rarotonga. For this reason, as well as the processing fees and unfavourable exchange rates, we don’t recommend using traveller’s cheques in the Cook Islands.
Frequently Asked Questions About How to Pay in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands
Let’s go over some of the most asked questions about ways to pay in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands. If your question hasn’t been answered already, then you might get it answered here!
How Do I Pay in Rarotonga?
You can pay in Rarotonga with New Zealand Dollars, Cook Islands banknotes and coins (same value as NZD), Visa or MasterCard.
Should I Bring Cash to Rarotonga?
We recommend bringing enough cash (New Zealand Dollars) for your first three to four days on Rarotonga. Then you can withdraw New Zealand Dollars from the local ATMs with your credit or debit card (Visa or MasterCard) for the next few days, etc.
Can You Use a Debit Card in Rarotonga?
Yes, you can use a debit card at most stores, restaurants and accommodations in Rarotonga as long as it is Visa or MasterCard and has a four-digit PIN encoded.
Can I Use My Credit Card in Rarotonga?
Yes, you can use a credit card at most stores, restaurants and accommodations in Rarotonga as long as it is Visa or MasterCard and has a four-digit PIN encoded.
How Much Cash Can You Take to the Cook Islands?
You can any amount under NZ$10,000 (or the foreign equivalent) in cash to the Cook Islands. If you take NZ$10,000 or more, you need to complete a border cash report and pay the appropriate duty. See What to Declare When Arriving in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands for more information.
Does Rarotonga Have ATMs?
There are approximately 15 ATMs around Rarotonga. 10 of them are operated by BSP Bank, which you can check the locations of in Information, Shops & Services on Rarotonga.
More About How to Pay in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands
That’s it for our complete guide on the best ways to pay in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands. For more money tips, check out our other awesome guides:
- 20 Tips to Save Money in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
- How Much Does a Trip to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands Cost?
- Rarotonga & the Cook Islands Tipping & Tax Guide for Travellers
Finally, plan your entire trip with frugality in mind with The Complete Backpacking Guide to the Cook Islands on a Budget.