Fourth time is the charm: What it's like traveling to Tahiti right now
Oh, the saga of my multiple foiled attempts to get to French Polynesia. Fortunately, this time there's a happy ending to tell you about.
I was first booked for Tahiti in March 2020, right as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down international borders. I was able to cancel the trip and get refunds and credits, and I figured I'd just rebook a few months later. Ha. As you can imagine, the second trip I planned for September 2020 was also canceled. Once borders began reopening in the winter of 2021, I tried again and was all set to go again in August. Unfortunately, the third time wasn't the charm as the delta variant of coronavirus raged and French Polynesia shut down inter-island travel again.
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This time, though, the stars aligned and my trip on Oct. 23 actually happened. In fact, just a few days ago I arrived at Fa’a’ā International Airport (PPT) in Tahiti. Despite the stress and the hoops you have to jump through, I think it's worth the investment of time and energy to come to this bucket list destination.
Here's what you need to know to visit Tahiti.
To travel to Tahiti, you'll need to be vaccinated. You'll also need a negative COVID-19 test, an ETIS visa approved ahead of time, a statement declaring you are coronavirus-free and your passport. You can technically come if you are not vaccinated, but you would need to apply for a "compelling reason" waiver and quarantine on arrival. Fortunately, I am fully vaccinated.
Related: When will international travel return? A country-by-country guide to coronavirus recovery
The COVID-19 test can be either a PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure for Tahiti or an antigen test less than 24-hours old. I opted to get to Los Angeles a day early as I knew there was a testing site at the airport that I had used before for a PCR test to go to Hawaii. Clarity Labs makes the testing process fairly easy. The company has three locations at LAX.
Related: Traveling soon? Here's how to get a COVID-19 test
As this was my first international trip since the coronavirus pandemic, I was anxious and I made sure that I filled out the application for entry very early. I initially applied back in August. That trip got postponed, but I was able to use the same ETIS and just change the dates and the itinerary. Once I submitted the information, I had my visa with its special QR code within a day via email.
The ETIS from the government is fairly self-explanatory. Be sure to check the box for English at the top unless you are fluent in French. You'll then check various boxes on various screens before you are prompted to fill out your itinerary.
You can follow along with the steps in the attached gallery. Note that you'll need all your details, including arrival and departure information, hotel phone numbers and addresses and any inter-island travel you'll be doing. Finally, you pay a 5,000 XPF fee for health monitoring costs (about $49).
I also had everything printed out at the Hyatt Regency LAX where I was staying. I'm really glad I ended up getting an early flight a full two days before my Air Tahiti Nui flight. The Thursday night flight I was originally scheduled on to LAX from Bozeman, Montana, was canceled as part of a SkyWest IT meltdown on Thursday.
Make sure you have that QR code handy for each step of the trip.
Related: Where can Americans travel internationally?
Anyway, I scheduled my PCR test at the Clarity lab outside Terminal 6 at LAX for Friday morning. It cost $125 and I had the results just about three hours later.
I tried to stop by the Air Tahiti Nui ticket counter on Friday night around 9 p.m. to check my papers, but the lines were very long and the agent at the premium counter told me he couldn't spare the time with the check-in line as long as it was.
So the next day I got to the Air Tahiti Nui tickets counters at Los Angeles International's Tom Bradley Terminal almost four hours before my flight as I was nervous about all the paperwork.
John checked me in. He didn't ask for my sworn statement about my health. He only wanted to see my negative COVID-19 test results and my ETIS visa information and most importantly the QR code for the ETIS. He did ask about my return flight information, likely because it was on a separate reservation.
Related: Booking Tahiti on points and miles
At the boarding area, they didn't ask for any of my papers. I even went to the gate agent to check, but they just wanted to verify passports and boarding passes.
After boarding, I was surprised there were no announcements about travel requirements or entry restrictions. Flight attendants did hand out visitor and immigration cards not long after we crossed 10,000 feet about 20 minutes into the flight, but those forms were to identify the nature of your business in French Polynesia and your immigration status. The forms didn't even mention COVID-19.
Shortly before landing, flight attendants made the normal landing announcements, but nothing about the entry protocols.
Arriving at Fa’a’ā International Airport (PPT)
Upon arrival at Fa’a’ā International Airport (PPT), you deplane via a set of stairs. It was gently raining when I arrived, but I still wanted to kiss the tarmac. The temperature was a perfect 72 degrees.
As soon as you enter the arrivals hall, you are greeted by an airport employee who directs you to one of two lines. To add to the ambiance, there is a three-person Polynesia band playing in the arrivals hall.
The first form you need to have ready is your visitor card. After a brief lineup, the next station wants to see your ETIS QR code.
The guy who checked my form was very friendly, asked for my name and then handed me a self-test kit with my name written on it.
He sent me along to another, longer line that snaked through the terminal to immigration. The immigration agent wanted my form for immigration status and asked me where I was staying. He checked my passport too and stamped it. He also wanted to see the printout of my negative COVID-19 test results again. When I struggled to find my test paper, he waved me through.
The final step on the arrival journey was a testing area near the baggage claim. There were several semi-private tables with a technician who walked me through the nasal self-swab after asking me to blow my nose and then a mouth swab after I coughed three times into my elbow. He sealed up the two swabs and sent me on my way. I assume, like Hawaii, they don't reach out unless you were to test positive, as I haven't heard from anyone so far.
All in all, it took about 35–40 minutes, and I was on my way to paradise.
Related: The best ways to get to Tahiti using points and miles
While I wouldn't call getting to French Polynesia easy, I do think it wasn't as cumbersome as I feared. In fact, it's not that much different from my trips to Hawaii when it still required registration, prearrival testing and testing on arrival.
Related: Everything you need to know about visiting a reopening Hawaii
On this trip, I'll get to visit Bora Bora, Moorea, Rangiroa and Tahiti. In fact, I'm finishing this article from a beautiful lagoon room at the Sofitel on Moorea.
I'll be able to spend nearly two weeks in paradise. I'd call the little bit of extra work it takes well worth the effort.