- I just traveled to French Polynesia, despite strict COVID-19 travel requirements.
- The trip required advance planning, but I felt very safe and the rules didn’t hinder my trip at all.
- I would return to paradise in French Polynesia in a heartbeat — with or without travel restrictions.
Back in January, eager to travel internationally “once the pandemic was over,” my husband and I booked a 12-day dream trip to French Polynesia for November of 2021.
Unfortunately, as we all know, the pandemic is far from over. In fact, French Polynesia closed its borders to international tourists more than once in the months that followed the booking of our trip.
Thankfully, French Polynesia reopened in May of this year with stringent entry requirements for international visitors. And our November trip was a go.
Vacationing in this idyllic island locale was as magical as I’d hoped it would be, even with COVID-19 travel and testing requirements.
With health and safety precautions in place, we were comfortable enjoying activities and amenities at resorts across three islands in French Polynesia: Tahiti, Bora Bora, and Moorea.
And I’m thankful we took this much-anticipated trip instead of postponing it until there are no coronavirus-related restrictions and requirements — whenever that might be, if ever.
Here’s how our pandemic vacation in paradise went, and why I’d recommend traveling there now.
Visitors must follow specific instructions regarding entry requirements.
On its website, the French Polynesia government spells out clearly what is required of foreign visitors.
Currently, you need to be fully vaccinated to enter French Polynesia, no matter what country you’re visiting from, if you don’t want to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival.
If you’re unvaccinated, before you arrive, you’ll also have to “declare your compelling reason” for visiting, explain what your intended quarantine arrangements are, and receive “boarding authorization delivered by the High Commission.”
As fully vaccinated US citizens flying from Aspen, Colorado (via Denver and San Francisco), to Papeete, Tahiti, my husband and I still needed to follow a strict set of criteria. We were required within 30 days of our departure to fill out an online ETIS form, detail our itinerary; agree to follow all safety protocols, and pay a “health surveillance fee” (approximately $48 per person for vaccinated travelers, and $115 for unvaccinated travelers).
Within 72 hours of departure to Tahiti, we had to also take a PCR COVID-19 test, or within 48 hours of departure, an antigen COVID-19 test.
Now, according to the latest details released on December 4, no matter whether you choose a PCR or an antigen test, you must do it within 48 hours of departure, no matter your choice.
For the most current policies in French Polynesia, be sure to check the government website. With the Omicron coronavirus variant making its way around the world, countries are reacting quickly and making changes to their entry requirements, or shutting down completely.
En route, we kept multiple copies of required travel documents at the ready.
On our way to French Polynesia, in order to avoid any potential snafus, we kept all our documentation at the ready, both in digital and hard-copy form.
Since these documents needed to be uploaded to United Airlines’ online “Travel-Ready Center” before we checked into our first flight, we weren’t asked to show any physical documentation to US airline ticket or gate agents.
On arrival in Tahiti, we presented the important QR code and got a COVID-19 self-test.
After our plane landed in Papeete, we entered the airport arrivals area where the QR code from the ETIS receipt was scanned, and we showed our passports to an immigration agent. Posted signs said we’d need to declare our COVID-19 vaccination status, but we weren’t asked to present that documentation.
After finishing with immigration, we took a free COVID-19 self-test at a staffed station to swab our mouths and noses. It was painless and fast.
While test results weren’t immediate if one of us tested positive, health officials would find us via our ETIS contact information and lodging itinerary, and we’d have to quarantine at our expense.
Within 30 minutes of deplaning, we were outside the airport, meeting our taxi driver, and on our way to begin our vacation in paradise.
Locals seemed to wear masks the most. Tourists seemed to need reminding.
Local residents largely complied with these rules across the board. Even outdoors, walking down busy sidewalks and through crowded outdoor stalls, locals regularly wore masks.
Tourists on inter-island flights and ferries were more often not wearing masks properly. While I didn’t overhear any staff in any instance enforce with, “Please wear your masks over your nose,” I did once spot a hotel employee gently reminding a pair of guests that masks were required in the breakfast buffet line (they quickly complied).
For two different hotel spa treatments, I was told I could remove it once I got on the table for my massage.
While it would have been more enjoyable to go maskless — those face coverings did make me hot and sweaty in such warm weather — it wasn’t a major detriment to the trip.
Since it meant doing our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep islanders safe, I was fine wearing face coverings as needed.
Hand sanitizers were also prevalent throughout French Polynesia.
Hand-sanitizing stations were always available in hotel lobbies, restaurants, grocery stores, and on inter-island Air Tahiti flights. It was an added touch that made me feel safer — even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that the possibility of contracting COVID-19 from surfaces is “generally considered to be very low.”
While I can’t speak to what French Polynesia was like to visit prior to the pandemic, my first trip to the country was beautifully free of crowds.
French Polynesia is a naturally uncrowded country. Together, its 118 islands and atolls total 1,544 square miles, about the size of Rhode Island, with a population of about 245,000. Annually, it sees just 300,000 tourists, compared to Hawaii’s 10.4 million visitors.
The only time we encountered lines or an excess of people was when we shopped among locals at the markets in downtown Papeete.
We also queued up among dozens to board a ferry from Tahiti to Moorea, but once on the ferry, we found space to spread out, preferring to stand outside and watch the passing scenery in the fresh air.
Personal serving utensils were common at breakfast buffets.
Every hotel I stayed at served lavish breakfast buffets, even amid the pandemic. However, at each, I was either given my own set of tongs or serving utensils to use at the various stations.
Personally, I loved this initiative. Sure, it meant more utensils to wash, but I liked that no one had to share the same ones.
Some hotel services were limited, but it didn’t affect us.
In addition to the buffet, some other amenities were impacted by COVID. At all of our hotel stays, either restaurants or boutiques had shortened hours or were closed, or a spa treatment menu was truncated, with limited appointments.
However, we didn’t have any issues making reservations for meals or massages and only experienced timely, friendly service from restaurant waitstaff or front-desk employees.
We were still able to take advantage of complimentary stand-up paddleboards and kayaks.
Many hotel outdoor offerings remained available during our visit.
We spent hours lounging on our quiet bungalow decks, reading for a bit, then hopping in the water with provided snorkels and masks to explore the extraordinary colorful fish that make their home amid the coral, or paddle around the calm lagoons.
Hotel group excursions were still plentiful, from food tours to snorkel trips and sunset cruises.
We opted for one paid excursion, a private pontoon boat rental.
We packed a picnic lunch and snorkel gear and explored the underwater world on our own for a few hours in a Bora Bora lagoon. We were far from people, creating our own adventure.
When it was time to eat, I never waited to be seated at restaurants, food arrived quickly, and the staff was gracious.
In contrast, in the United States, I’ve experienced short-staffed restaurants and exceedingly long waits for service.
In French Polynesia, staffing didn’t seem to be a problem.
Dining outside was always an option.
Outdoor dining is plentiful in French Polynesia. We loved the cozy beachfront Fare Maheata in Moorea and the busy food trucks (roulottes) near the ferry terminal in Papeete.
French Polynesia’s tropical weather made it easy to stay outdoors breathing in the fresh air.
Besides one afternoon of ongoing rain, I experienced glorious tropical weather on my trip, even at the start of the typical rainy season, which runs from November to April.
Given the warm temperatures — 80°F and partly sunny most afternoons — we spent the majority of our time outside. With coronavirus still a threat, it felt good to be outdoors, breathing fresh air, while remaining generally distant from other people.
At the end of our trip, we needed a COVID test to return to the United States.
Before flying home to the US, we had to take a COVID-19 test within three days of our departure. However, the rules have changed since then, and as of December 6, all international incoming travelers to the US must have a COVID-19 test within one day of traveling by air.
Rapid tests were offered at the airport before our return flight, which would have been convenient, but expensive. The service cost about $96. Instead, we went to a local pharmacy that was a 15-minute walk from our hotel for our test, which only took 20 minutes and cost about one-third of the price for a rapid test at the airport.
We secured signed, hard-copy test results from the pharmacist, which we needed to show an airport employee — along with our CDC vaccination cards — before boarding the first of three flights home.
Ultimately, COVID-19 travel requirements and health precautions didn’t take away from our tropical vacation in uncrowded, romantic French Polynesia.
From its friendly residents and over-the-top luxury overwater bungalows to its jaw-dropping landscapes and incredible underwater exploration, French Polynesia absolutely delivered on a bucket-list vacation my husband and I had dreamed of for years.
The pandemic-related travel requirements didn’t take away from our trip, and if anything, we appreciated the extra precautions intended to keep visitors and locals safe and healthy.
Had we chosen to postpone our trip, we wouldn’t have experienced these fun adventures.
I’m glad we didn’t let a few forms and COVID-19 tests stop us from enjoying what I believe was our best vacation ever.
Had we canceled our trip due to the hassle of pandemic-related entry and exit requirements and a few health precautions while in the country, we would have missed out on sublime sunsets, spectacular snorkeling, and romantic overwater bungalows perched above aqua lagoons.
If there’s anything that the pandemic has taught me, it’s that we cannot predict tomorrow.
I don’t regret taking the opportunity to spend time with my husband in the most beautiful locale halfway around the world.
It was the perfect restorative break from everyday life, and it only confirmed my desire to keep traveling, as often and as safely as I can, as the pandemic continues.
I can’t wait to return to paradise someday.