French Polynesia is big. An overseas collectivity of France, the region’s 118 islands and atolls—the Society Islands (Tahiti is home to the capital city, Papeete); the Tuamotu Archipelago; and the Gambier, Marquesas, and Austral island groups—are spread across more than 1,600 square miles of the South Pacific. From the West Coast of the US, the passage stretches 3,000 to 3,400 nautical miles to the Marquesas, the northeasternmost islands. And from the Panama Canal, it’s a 3,800-mile voyage. The last thing you want is to sail all the way there and be denied entry, which happened to a gaggle of yachts in 2020 when French Polynesia locked down. Cruisers had few choices—peel off north to Hawaii, look for a sliver of a weather window to sail back against the trade winds to Panama, or come up with another option.
But all that was pre-vaccine. Going into the 2022 May-to-October cruising season, over 70 percent of French Polynesia residents have had at least one vaccine dose, and testing and treatment are available across the region. Still, to clear into French Polynesia, you’ll need to observe the French government’s requirements.
Do It Yourself: It’s possible to do all the legwork and the clearance process on your own. Cruisers are allowed to enter the territory provided they follow the steps listed on the government’s Entry Maritime flyer, a one-page PDF (see box). The document lays out the conditions of access, and steps to follow before your departure for the region and for the steps needed 48 hours before and after arrival. In general, if your crew numbers fewer than five people and everyone is fully vaccinated, you can enter French Polynesia without the need to quarantine. If your boat has more than five crew, there are options.
Official ports of entry are Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas, Tahiti in the Society Islands, and Mangareva in the Gambier Islands. You’ll need to contact the French Polynesian Authority for Maritime Affairs (DPAM) and the Department for Maritime Affairs of French Polynesia (SAM) and send your vaccination certificates. You’ll also need to email a Maritime Health Declaration 48 hours before making landfall. See the box above for information.
Upon entry into French Polynesia, the maximum allowable stay is three months. But there is much to see and do. On Ocean, our Dolphin 460 cruising cat, we applied for a Long Stay visa at the French embassy in Panama City in hopes of securing a six-month stay. This is a multistep online and in-person undertaking. See the box for websites and contacts.
Use an Agent: Employing a yacht agent costs money, but their expertise with the clearance process will spare you some hassles and help non-French speakers navigate the language barrier. Yacht agents such as Tahiti Crew (tahiticrew.com) offer an array of services for different boats, budgets and cruising plans.
Pacific Puddle Jump: The Pacific Puddle Jump is an offshore sailing rally with a cruiser-friendly entry fee of $125. It has been drawing boats from US West Coast ports since 1997. Rally founder and director Andy Turpin notes, “The government’s maritime agency, DPAM, has approved a special arrangement whereby participants in the 2022 Pacific Puddle Jump may obtain advance approval (several months before arrival) to enter French Polynesia, regardless if the maritime borders remain officially closed.” The Pacific Puddle Jump website offers lots of up-to-date clearance information for cruisers.