What could be better than a long flight from Papeete to Paris to let my mind wander and look back on my life in Tahiti for more than 4 years now, as I’m writing this article (I’m finishing it on my way back, actually)? I had already written a very complete article to help people wishing to live in Tahiti. The problem is that it focused more on the practical and economical sides of a change of life in the tropics. I realize with a little hindsight that it did not answer all the questions people have. Every day, I receive dozens of e-mails with questions as simple as: What is it like to live in Tahiti? Is the rainy season that hard? Is it really hot? How is the integration with locals going? Can I go every month visit the islands? Are there many leisure activities? How expensive is the life over there? etc.
In short, so many simple questions, so to speak, when you don’t know what you are getting into. According to our own experience, we do ask ourselves more or less questions, often with apprehension, stress or fear. I will try to answer all the questions that have been asked by email, and those that I think are worth answering. There will be very few practical and economical points discussed here. Here is even a small table of contents to make it easier for you to find what you are looking for, if you’re not motivated enough to read the whole article!
The title of the article is deliberately a bit biased because the vast majority of people who come to Fr. Polynesia will actually end their journey in Tahiti. This is where most of the economic activity of the territory is located… I also wanted to specify that this is my personal vision of things. When it comes to expatriation and experiences, everyone will have their own point of view on many subjects. They are not absolute truths, but overall, I don’t think I am too far from the reality. I do know the territory pretty well since I have had the opportunity to travel quite a bit for my work. It’s the third time I’ve been to the French overseas departments and territories, after having spent almost 4 years on the island of Mayotte (twice), 7 months in New Caledonia and now in French Polynesia. So, here is a complementary article that should delight future expatriates who are thinking of taking the plunge. So let’s get started, a bit loosely yet but you’ll excuse me, right?
I’ll simply start with the beginning as an introduction. Coming to live in French Polynesia will be very fundamentally different whether it is the first time you’re leaving France (or the place you live) or not. I had already lived in other French overseas departments and territories before coming here, so for me, that wasn’t really such a big surprise when I moved to the other side of the Pacific. I already knew more or less what to expect and what living on an island implies. And that’s finally what we’ll talk about in this article. How is it different? How do you live? What will change compared to your habits?
Having left the island of Mayotte and its local specificities that you may know, the arrival in Fenua did not surprise me much. If you have never been out of Paris (or any other major town), you may feel kind of a “shock” there.
Actually, I have to admit that the title is a bit provocative, but I do receive a lot of messages from people who seem to be in blissful ignorance! I obviously can’t blame them as TV shows usually tend to show only the “good side of French Polynesia”. Let’s be clear right from the beginning: what you can see on TV is only the vision of the territory you will have when on vacations, not the one of your daily life when living in Fr. Polynesia!
I receive a lot of emails from people telling me that they are looking to escape from France to avoid the consumer society, traffic jams, hassle, that they are looking for calm, a gentle life, etc. It is a very beautiful thing, but I often warn people well in advance that they will likely find much of that here too. Of course, life is much smoother, calmer, more relaxing and, if you have the means, you can often go to the islands of Polynesia to enjoy paradisiacal settings. But this is actually not really representative of Polynesia, as I know it anyway.
Not everyone can live like a king in French Polynesia, far from it, and you will realize by going to the islands or to the valleys of Tahiti that many people do live very modestly, not to say in very precarious conditions. So, as I often say, French Polynesia is not heaven on earth, but you can still get close to it.
It seems to me really important to warn people of this kind of euphoria many people have, to leave everything and come to “live in paradise”. On the spot, they also realize the disadvantages of the territory, the ones any expatriate living here for several years knows way too well: expensive life, distance with the family, traffic jam, consumer society, etc. In short, as many points I’ll try to develop in this article. Don’t be mistaken: I’m not complaining at all, I do like the life I lead here, but you shouldn’t come here wearing blinders either!
I get a lot of questions from people about the rainy season, the cyclones, and the heat. Strangely, I never found that it could be a determining factor for expatriation, knowing that you have 28°C all year round, so… but yet it seems to worry a lot of people.
The reality, then? Fr. Polynesia is relatively spared (because of its location in the Pacific) by big typhoon passages. This does not mean that there are not any. Those who suffered the passage of cyclone Oli (2010) or Veena (1983) still remember it. It is therefore quite possible to encounter a large cyclone on the territory, but the occurrence is much lower than in the West Indies or Reunion Island, for example. Since I am here, nothing important to declare.
The rainy season is present every year, from November to April (cyclonic period). I find it even more marked at the end of December and during the months of January/February, which remain the rainiest. Generally, this is not too much of a problem as it is also the hottest period, so you just have to imagine a hot and very humid climate during this time of the year. What does it mean? You sweat as soon as you walk 100m. It is also during this period that there are some floods. Know that it can rain 10 days in a row, or even more, it happens … After, the climate evolves, moves, changes and nothing is set in stone. This year, in 2019, for example, we had some really bad months of May and June, when normally the weather is very nice!
As for the heat, it all depends on whether you have already lived in the tropics. Coming from Mayotte, I found the island of Tahiti almost cool. If you come from the North of Europe or the US, you will probably find it hot and heavy the first days. It’s all about feeling and getting used to it. Which is usually done very quickly…
For the few who seemed to be worried about this subject, nothing to fear on this side. You have 4 Carrefour on the island (large supermarket), some Super U and quite a lot of small “stores” where you will find all the necessary. The question is not whether you will find (overall), but at what price! We’ll come back to this later, but the cost of living is expensive in Tahiti, and despite what you may think, very few expatriates only live with bananas and fish all year round. Most of them keep their (French) habits more or less by adapting to local products (because of the price). This is my case in majority. After, it will depend on your situation, if you come alone or with your partner, if you are a government employee, etc.
One of the advantages of French Polynesia (as in many tropical islands where I’ve been) is the possibility to buy fruits and vegetables on the roadside, or in the small markets around the island. It’s a lot nicer to give money to the locals than to supermarkets… Personally, one thing that annoys me a bit is the current price of local products compared to what I used to pay. I think it’s not that cheap for an island full of banana, breadfruit or mango…
Another point to note is the excesses of junk food on the territory. I’m not here to be like a righter of wrongs, but you’ll quickly notice the number of snack bars and other small shops selling sandwiches (called “casse-croute” here) and others. The impact in the last decades is clearly a very strong increase in the obesity and diabetes rates of the population. You just have to see how McDonald’s are full at any time of the day.
when you do live here, you’re spoiled with aquatic activities!
This is a point that is often addressed by email. What do we do for leisure on a rock in the middle of the Pacific? Don’t we get bored, etc.? I’m not necessarily the right person to talk about it since I don’t really have any hobbies here – except keeping this blog and practicing some photography, but I can tell you a few words about it anyway…
Living on an island, people will tend to turn to the seaside. I’m thinking in particular of the beach, swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, paddle, vaa’a (local canoe). As it’s more or less always hot here anyway, it’s pretty nice to be able to practice these sports all year round.
On the land side, you would think that hiking would be developed on an island like Tahiti, but actually not that much. The country’s philosophy has always been to grow luxury tourism in Bora Bora. There are very few marked hiking trails, and it is very often recommended to hire a guide to go hiking. Personally, I find that paying to walk is a bit too much. Nevertheless, there is for example the very good site of Wikilocs, where anyone can add his GPS tracks of hiking paths. We start to see a lot of them here on Tahiti, Moorea, and some other islands. I usually try to add my tracks when I walk for work.
Apart from nature activities (sea/mountain), you have more or less all the classic sports here in clubs: tennis, rugby, soccer, etc. No worries on that side.
I personally think this is a tricky point to approach. Everyone will have their own vision of things according to their experience, their family and financial situation. It’s hard for me to generalize here anyway. One of the things that really struck me as soon as I arrived, and even more as I live here, is the omnipresent American influence on the territory. On the program: Mac Do, big polluting 4×4, American style clothes, wholesale stores etc.
In other words, the Polynesian culture that we expect to discover is not very present in Tahiti. If you make the effort to get out of the urban areas and go to the depths of the valleys or to the peninsula, then you will still find some of this culture… This is my overall feeling since I have been living here for almost 4 years now. Living in Tahiti, or at least in the urban area of the island, is almost the same as living in France, but with sunshine and 28°C all year round. Young people hardly speak Tahitian anymore, and the local culture is slowly being lost. And I’m not the only one saying it: this is the reality. You will often read in my articles that the “real French Polynesia”, the one I imagined before coming here, is not really in Tahiti anymore. I would even say that the more you move away from Tahiti, the more you find yourself in islands that still have the charm of the past. I’m talking about the one that still existed in the 60s in Tahiti, the one that made the charm of the island. Things have changed very quickly, in just 50 years. If there was work for me in the Marquesas or the Gambier, I would definitely go and live there for a better, more peaceful, more authentic life than what we have here in Tahiti.
Otherwise, mentalities are generally cool here and integration is very easy if you don’t arrive with the feeling of thinking you own the place… Tahitians are really smiling, friendly and always ready to help you. It’s really appreciable and far from what you can experience in France. I must admit that to fully integrate into a Tahitian family is however more difficult…
If I had to compare with Mayotte, where I used to live, I would say that the two islands are not comparable at all. French Polynesia is much more “trendy” than Mayotte, in my opinion. So, it influences a lot the encounters you can make on the island and the relationships with people. Some do have money and don’t mind showing it…
When I think about going out, I simply mean bars, clubs and restaurants, in majority. I must admit that I am not a big fan of bars and clubs anymore. The arrival of my little Tahitian didn’t help, but I clearly rather spend some quiet time with friends now.
And I must say it: we don’t come to French Polynesia to party, and it’s certainly not the most ideal place for that. However, you will find a lot of nice places to go and drink some beers with friends or even as a couple. We go there from time to time, and there is a way to enjoy ourselves in beautiful surroundings.
As far as food is concerned, there is something for every taste and every budget. I go out quite a bit to the “roulottes”, a local institution in the territory that reminds me of the “brochettis” in Mayotte. This is a custom I really like in Fr. Polynesia: being able to sit around a plastic table anywhere around the islands, eating local food without breaking the bank and having a good time.
Lovers of nice restaurants will find everything they’re looking for, while often leaving a huge bill at the end of the meal, which is very rarely justified to my taste (once again). As in many areas in French Polynesia (tourism, we’ll come back to that later), you pay without necessarily getting the quality you deserve…
For those who tried to search for “Polynesian beach” on Google, I bet you only had beautiful white sand beaches bounded with coconut trees as results. I’d rather stop you right away: these beaches are not in Tahiti! Tahiti and Fr. Polynesia are often confused. Tahiti is a volcanic island like all the other Polynesian islands. There are almost only black sand beaches on the island, which is sometimes just as beautiful.
There are some beautiful white sand beaches, on the west coast, at PK 18 (the beach of the “popas/expats” of the island) and others. Overall, I just wanted to make this little aside. The beautiful postcard beaches you are thinking about are not on the island, and you will have to take a boat to Moorea to find this great feeling of paradise (as many people consider). For those wishing to go to the beautiful beaches you find in magazines, you will have to max out your credit card for a weekend in the islands!
Personally, I enjoy basking in the weekend at Venus Point, rather frequented by locals. A beautiful black sand beach, perfect for a sunset with a view on Moorea.
The article I mentioned in the introduction already covers the main points you need to know about expatriating here on the territory. I explain the main expenses: accommodation, utilities, car purchase, etc.
To give a more personal vision of my feelings about this point, I would say that everything depends on your condition here. Expatriates on assignment from France will not have any worries about money on the territory, being indexed. For those who are going to work in the private sector, things can sometimes be more complicated, even if salaries are still higher than in France.
In my eyes, the difference in salary you can have largely justifies the cost of living here. I had already done the calculation myself, by comparing the average expenses in France and in Polynesia compared to the local salaries and in my case, I was a winner.
So yes, even if I lived in New Caledonia or Mayotte, and knowing other overseas departments, the territory is still very expensive. For those wondering, the cost of living is much higher than on Reunion Island or in the West Indies. There are very few affordable things here in Polynesia, and its geographical situation making importation mandatory for almost everything does not help.
I sometimes receive requests from people who want to come and live on love alone in Tahiti. This does not exist (at least not anymore). Considering the cost of anything here on the spot, you better be prepared.
I’m talking about culture in the general sense of the word, not only about the Polynesian culture. I am often asked if there are things to do and if you don’t feel lost on that point? It is certain that if you come from Paris and you were used to go out 3 times a week to concerts, museums, cinema and others, you might be a bit disappointed here. But at the same time, I feel like saying: do we come to Polynesia for culture? Not sure…
I often reassure people by explaining them that there are still some small movie theaters where all the movies appear (with some delay…). You also have concerts and shows from time to time during the year. A few stage plays here and there, too. Exhibitions in general are rarer, but we do have some.
Culture lovers will have to switch from an afternoon at the museum to an afternoon at the beach, in 28°C water…and maybe that’s not so bad, isn’t it?
I had the opportunity to dive for almost 4 years on the island of Mayotte, and a little bit in Africa, and I must say that it remains by far my most beautiful dives. Polynesia is however very well known in this field. I am often asked: what is the reality? I have done about ten dives in Tahiti, and I must say that it’s nothing to write home about…
It all depends on where you dived before coming here, but as a general rule, from what I could see, there is not much underwater. One thing that stood out at the beginning was the very low diversity of corals and their condition in general. I had discussed with a diving instructor when I arrived, who explained to me that the geographical situation (far from everything) did not allow a development of the coral diversity. I didn’t look into it, but one thing for sure is that coral diversity is very disappointing in Tahiti, and even in the few dives I did in Rangiroa.
Not to mention that in Tahiti, the general practice is still “feeding” and even if it is theoretically forbidden now, it seems to always be practiced. I did a few dives in Tahiti around an iron barrel filled with tuna heads for 40 minutes and believe me: it is disappointing. So yes, of course, it does attract the big ones, but that’s not my vision of the “underwater world”.
The most famous diving spots in the territory are mainly Fakarava and Rangiroa. I have only dived in Rangiroa for now. The advantage of these dives (which can be a bit challenging, it must be said) is that you will see big stuff. Don’t look for beautiful corals, nudibranchs and porcelain crabs! You are often dropped in the middle of the current and you can observe the manta rays, eagle/leopard rays, sharks of all kinds, dolphins, etc.
With a bit of luck, if you like big fish, you can enjoy the dive of your life by meeting all the big fish of the underwater world (or almost) in the same hour… pretty cool, right?
This is something that seems to worry a lot of people when they travel, or even when they are expatriated. So, what about animals? I reassure everyone, we are far from the Amazon rainforest with anaconda, alligators, piranhas, and cheetahs, eh! 😉 There are mosquitoes here, it’s a reality, and in some corners more than others depending on the islands. But in general, nothing very nasty. If you’ve ever lived in the tropical zone, you already know more or less.
Apart from that, as far as I know, there is no real danger from spiders/snakes, that kind of thing. The only thing left is in the water. Many people tell me about stonefish, and it is true that there are some. When I went to Bora Bora, not long ago, a 7-years-old boy died because of a sting on a beach, so yes it happens.
Otherwise, no real problem underwater, despite the evident presence of sharks on all the islands. Then again, we are in the middle of the Pacific! The only accidents reported here are fishermen who let the product of their fishing hang on their hip, or people rinsing fishes at the edge of the water…But otherwise, to my knowledge once again, there has never been a shark attack, as we have seen on the Reunion Island.
This is also a reality of the territory. Those who thought there was no traffic jam will be disappointed. I’m mainly talking about Tahiti, because on all the other islands, you won’t have to worry about that. On Tahiti however, it can get complicated depending on where you live. To sum up in a simple way, there is only one road that goes around the island, so everyone uses it in the morning to come to work in the urban area – let’s say between Mahina (east coast) and Punaauia (west coast). We can say that these are the two areas where traffic jams start.
I often advise to book an Airbnb upon arrival, for example in the city center, to study the situation. If you already know in advance where you are going to live, you can already adjust your search accordingly. To give you an idea, I’m living on Pamatai, which is the first exit of the main road towards the west coast, a few kilometers from downtown. It takes me about 30 min to go to work. If you are in the same direction as everyone else (going back to Papeete), you can easily plan about 1 hour of traffic jam, or even more in the morning, depending on what time you leave. The way back will be more or less the same.
So, it’s up to you to choose where to stay. Let’s say that living in the city center is great as you can do everything on foot, you are closer to stores, offices, and you don’t have to drive that much. But in return, you often have the noise, and you are in a “less beautiful” environment which is the town. If you want a better setting, you will often have to go at least a few kilometers away. You can then find nice and cool housing estates in the hills, but traffic jams will be your daily routine.
To summarize my opinion on this topic, and on the tropics in general, I often say “Polynesia is far from being paradise, but it is not so bad”. To each his own here, but on the whole, the living environment is really very nice. The atmosphere is great, as well is the climate, and you spend your weekends feeling like you’re on vacation. That’s pretty good. The best thing to do afterwards, if your budget allows it, is to make the most of long weekends by going for example to Moorea or to any other Polynesian island.
Unfortunately, you will quickly realize that this clearly has a cost and few people can really get out of Tahiti very often. If you are on assignment from France and living in couple, for example, you will obviously be able to consider it thanks to your indexed salaries, but this is far from being the case for everyone.
Many people considering moving to Tahiti ask me about schools. I didn’t mention it at the beginning of this article, so I’m adding a little bit more (June 2020). Concerning the school standard, I would say that it’s like everywhere else: it depends on the schools/colleges/academies. Some have more or less a good reputation. I can’t really advise you on high schools, as I only have two children – one in kindergarten at the time of writing and the other who’s just been born (haha). Unfortunately, you will have to try and test the schools. Private or public, it’s really a matter of taste. My “big one” is in a private school because I didn’t have the possibility to enroll him in public school when I wanted to, in a STP (school for little ones).
As a practical matter, the schedules vary slightly depending on the school, but generally speaking, children start at 7:00/7:30am and finish at 3:00/3:30pm. You can then either have the children picked up by certain daycare centers (for an extra fee) or leave them in daycare centers directly at school (not all of them do this and it will also cost you an extra fee). Generally, children do not have classes on Wednesday and Friday afternoons. They often finish at 11:30 on these two days. You have the option of having them eat at school (canteen) or not. Note that there are also local “pedagogical days”. Don’t ask me exactly what it is (haha), but there are maybe 5/7 of them in the year (on Friday). So, if you work, you’ll have to manage, either the little one go to the daycare or with the family for those who have some, or you take a day off.
Here is a more personal paragraph about tourism on the territory. As mentioned above, you may think that Polynesia is very touristic, being known for its beautiful hotels with overwater bungalows. But actually, that’s not totally true. With only 200.000 tourists a year, and a large part of them being cruise tourists, it is not as crazy as we can think.
Coming to French Polynesia is expensive, and even if there are some ways to limit your expenses on many points (see the article on how to travel cheap in Polynesia), it is still a high cost, especially for a family coming from France or Europe (it will cost you less from the US, as the airfare is lower). I think many people come for cruise tourism or honeymoon (even if I don’t have the exact figures).
As for many things in the territory, traveling within Polynesia is extremely expensive. The current monopoly of the local airline Air Tahiti doesn’t help, and the airfare is way too expensive for the traveled kilometers. It’s kind of a vicious circle in my opinion because first, there is not enough tourism to open a second local airline. And as long as there are not more people coming here, the possibilities to travel with another airline are almost impossible, you see?
Another point is the lack of tourist development regarding boat travel. Many people ask me by email or comment about it. Let’s say it straight away, I think 95% of the tourists take the plane, because:
- They often do not have enough time to take the boat (trips are longer)
- There are so few boats between the islands and archipelagos that it is complicated to travel with.
As I write these few lines, I am trying to get to the Leeward Islands by cargo boat. The cost is ridiculous, and you only have to spend one night in the boat to get there. I think it’s something to do. If I had more time off, I would consider going to the central and eastern Tuamotus to discover all these remote atolls. But it takes time (more than money actually).
Last but not least, I think that the quality-price ratio of tourism in Polynesia is generally average. When we see prices we pay for some guesthouses or luxury hotels, compared to the “quality” they offer, that is something to be skeptical about. The global cost of living on the territory is inevitably connected, but it is tough when arriving here to see how much you pay for a bungalow for two (80-100€/night), while the same thing (or even better) is worth 5$ in Southeast Asia. Of course, these two territories are not comparable, but it is something that shocked me a bit when I arrived. You have to be aware of it.
Polynesia is certainly very beautiful, I must admit, but I put myself in the place of a family who would like to come here on a 2 or 3-weeks’ vacation. The budget is very important while they can see more or less the same thing in terms of landscapes/turquoise waters/coconut trees for much less in the Philippines, Madagascar or Indonesia. It’s a matter of taste!
For all future expatriates in the territory, this is finally one of the aspects that will count the most. Given the number of contacts I have every day, I can say there are several kind of people:
- Those who don’t have any job and who want to try anyway (with more or less savings in their pockets),
- Those who come with at least one job for two (often the case of government employees from France),
- Those who come as a couple with 2 jobs already, and what a luxury!
- Those who would like to come here with the idea of starting their own business.
I’m not here to go into detail about this since I’ve already talked about it in the article about moving to Tahiti, but I’m repeating myself a bit. Coming to live here is expensive and don’t even think about coming with 2000€ in your pocket, you likely won’t stay more than a month and you’ll be on the first plane back to France. In my opinion, the ideal is to come already having a job, a project or enough savings.
Those who come with at least a job and a decent salary will have more peace of mind than those who come with “ifs”. I am not saying that you should not come to Fr. Polynesia if you do not have a job, but I strongly advise you to get information and to plan your arrival here, if you don’t want to quickly go bust. Quite the opposite, I would be the kind of person to push anyone with the project to change his life and live his dreams to take actions and do it!
Coming here without a job is a risk, but at the same time, as I often say, if you never take any risk in your life, nothing much will happen to you either. So, go for it, but at least in a thoughtful way.
For those who contact me with life projects, it is also a very good idea, as long as you have thought it through. There is plenty to do here in the territory and there is room for almost everyone, I think. Setting up a small business here is very easy, and you are not bothered by charges the same way you can be in France. So, it’s time to start, and I’d like to say no matter what field you’re in.
My brother lives in Martinique, an island context more or less similar, and he recently started his own landscaping company. If, like him, you are serious, attentive and you do things properly, it can only work…
A few words for those who will have the chance to come to Fr. Polynesia while being assigned from France, alone or as a couple: make the most of these few years to discover Polynesia. As a general rule, you have more means than those who come to work in the private sector, and you will have the possibility to “see more”. Do not hesitate to go and get lost in the remote islands and archipelagos, such as the Marquesas or Gambier for example.
For sites related to job search locally, you can look at the Whizzin website website (or its Facebook page), petites-annonces.pf, Big-ce (employment and classifieds). There is also the SEFI website (local job center), on which you can look at the offers on the territory, it can give an idea. I would like to point out that you cannot apply through the site from France, because you need a DN number (local social security number) and you only have this DN once you have a job (either on your own, or in the private/public sector for example). There are also temporary employment agencies, the best known being Pro Interim.
For Swiss and Belgians (and other European people), if you want to work in French Polynesia, you will need authorizations. If I understood correctly, you will need either a work permit or a foreign trader card. It all depends on the type of job you’ll do. About these points, you’ll have more details on the SEFI website.
I have already had a few people asking me about the Internet connection in Polynesia. I must admit that when I arrived in the territory, fiber was not present yet. But since about 2017, most of the island of Tahiti is covered, as well as the nearby islands (Raiatea, Bora, etc.). Little by little, fiber is even arriving in the remote archipelagos of the Marquesas and Tuamotu, but you’ll have to be patient anyway. If you live in Tahiti, in general, internet connection will always be very good – maybe a little bit lower when you are at the depth of some valleys or at the peninsula, but still okay.
For 3G/4G, you will have it on the whole island of Tahiti and on most of the Leeward Islands. As soon as you move away though, it will be much more complicated. At the time of writing this article in 2019, it was still very complicated in the Tuamotus, Australs and Marquesas.
Here’s one thing you’ll have to admit when coming to live here: a lot of things are done through Facebook, which do work very well for the territory. Are you looking for a car? Do you want to know at what time this concert is? Looking for sushi for Friday night? Chances are you’ll find the information on Facebook. You’ll realize that there are a lot of FB accounts and pages on a lot of various subjects. I often use them for apartment hunting, things to buy or sell, traffic news, store openings, take-out orders. In short, get ready to create a Facebook account and get started!
For those who are preparing a trip, want to come and exchange in live with us and take advice in addition to the articles on the blog, I invite you to join us on our Facebook group “Travel in Polynesia“.
I get questions about this from time to time. Again, I think it depends on your experiences. I lived in the island of Mayotte before coming here, so my vision of Polynesia may be a bit distorted, but overall, it’s a bit of a Care Bears’ island, I think. Yes, there are certainly robberies and assaults from time to time, but it’s still relatively rare and isolated, and often in the suburbs.
Those who have been here for a long time say that it really deteriorated, and I can believe it, but it is still very cool overall. I think you are proportionally much more likely to be assaulted or robbed in Paris or New-York, for example.
This is also a question and theme that comes up a lot in emails. Moorea is only located 17 km in front of the island of Tahiti. The latter is connected by boat, for about 45 minutes of travel. There are 2 cases here that will occur.
- Those who are going to work in Tahiti but who plan to live in Moorea and commute: this is a possibility that some people choose, and I do know some. The advantages I see are essentially the fact that you have a much better living environment, in a peaceful and heavenly island. It’s a bit like the countryside of Tahiti, in a way. The counterpart is that you will have to do almost 2 hours of boat every day, without counting the time it will take you to get to the ferry. So, you should plan almost 3 hours of transportation per day. The downside is that the shuttles stop quite early in the evening (around 5pm) and so you can’t go to a movie/restaurant in Papeete and then go back to Moorea. This complicates things anyway.
- Rarer case, those who go to work directly on Moorea. If you are in this case, I don’t think the question really arises. If I worked on Moorea, I would live there then, it’s quite obvious to me. The environment is greater, no traffic jams, life is more relaxed/cool. In short, it’s even better.
Small clarification as Marie says in comment. Since 2019, the Aremiti 6 boat connects Tahiti to Moorea in 25 minutes, which allows you to save overall 30 minutes on each trip. Nevertheless, if you count the travel time “Home – Moorea” -> ” Moorea Pier” (many people live 15/20 min away), the time from the Tahiti pier to your work, and the way back, I would say that you are still there for 2 hours of transportation per day, or almost. Of course, if you live on PK18 in Punaauia or Mahinarama, you will also have to spend these 2 hours a day, but in traffic jams… A matter of taste then!
But the majority of us will not have this chance, and we will be satisfied to go to Moorea a few times in the year during a weekend or a long weekend. It is already very good and a very exotic island compared to Tahiti. However, yes, it’s always about money! Depending on how you spend the weekend, the bill can rise very quickly, between the pedestrian tickets + car, 1 or 2 nights in a guesthouse, 1 or 2 restaurants… It goes very quickly, and you will clearly not be able to do that every weekend. While knowing that there is still a way to do it economically, taking only pedestrian tickets, taking the bus at your arrival to be dropped off at the campsite, spending 2 nights in a tent in a great setting, eating at the local snack bar or at the pension. In short, it’s already planned, and I even just bought a tent!
Many of you are asking me questions about this: how often can we go to the islands? How many times a month can we go to the islands? Well, that kind of things. The majority of people who come to Polynesia will live on the island of Tahiti, and believe me if I tell you that you will want to go and discover the other islands! Several difficulties:
1 – The cost to go out and travel in the islands: even if you have possibilities to travel cheaper as a resident, for example with the tourism fairs or by using “séjour dans les îles” (package flight + hotel for locals), a weekend in the islands is mostly expensive, at least in the way that most people do it (which is 1 return flight to an island, a few nights in a guesthouse, a few restaurants or snacks and a few activities (paddling, diving, etc.). As an example, a 2-nights/3-days mini trip to Huahine (the closest island to Tahiti) will cost 250€ per person, or 500€ for a couple without children. At this price, you are on half board, but you have no rental car, no lunch and no activities. With a child and adding the extra expenses, the 3 days will quickly cost you 1000€ or even more…
2 – The lack of vacations: this is a critical point for me and for anyone coming to work in the administration. You will be limited with your 5 weeks of vacations per year. Not to mention the fact that the money and time you spend in the Polynesian islands, you don’t spend it on destinations around that you dreamed of: New Zealand, Easter Island, New Caledonia, Chile, etc. Which brings me to the next point. There are a few exceptions to this rule, since you can accumulate up to 8 weeks of vacation depending on your position in the administration (Haut-Commissariat for example) …
3 – The desire to discover elsewhere
I know that this is often my concern. My heart is torn between the desire to discover the islands and atolls of Polynesia around Tahiti and the one to go to the countries around, but I am stuck with my 5 weeks of vacation and the associated cost. Then, I do have to make choices as it’s impossible to do everything. Either we lack time, or money, or both…
This is a critical point associated with the previous paragraph. To show you the complexity of things, here is the idea. You are an expatriate in the middle of the Pacific, the plane ticket to come/go to France is expensive (even if they have dropped) and you probably only have 5 weeks of vacations. Added to that, your desire to discover the islands here as well as the countries around, your family in France, etc. You now have my permanent headache…
This is a crucial point for any expat, and you will clearly have to make choices or concessions if you are a couple. To return or not? For how long? Yes, but then I won’t have any time off for my vacations in New Zealand? Or I won’t have enough money? But I would have gone to see my parents anyway… And so on.
In short, there are no ready-made answers to this question. Everything will depend on a mix of your salary/willingness to go back to France, to discover Polynesia or to go abroad/your family situation.
Even if I say that the vast majority of people will come to live on the island of Tahiti, some of you (and you are probably right) will have the chance or will make the choice to go live elsewhere, on one of the other islands of the territory. As far as authenticity is concerned, you can only get better than Tahiti, that’s for sure.
A few points to know anyway:
- Living in the islands means having a better lifestyle than in Tahiti in my opinion. There is no traffic jam, no pollution, less people, more encounters, better contacts with Polynesians, etc.
- You also have to think about isolation. It all depends on where you go of course, but living in the Marquesas, even if I dream about it, can be complicated on some points. You are still isolated from Tahiti, more than 4 hours away by plane. There is only one hospital and not always with a doctor. If something serious happens to you, you are sent straight back to Tahiti. Then, there is the cost of getting back to Tahiti to take another flight to another country for example. Getting back from Tahiti to Paris with three people is already not that cheap, but if you leave from the Marquesas Islands, you have to add 1500€ each time…
- Personally, I think that if you want to learn about the culture and if you are looking for a more real contact with Polynesians, going to live on an island is a great choice. I was able to set foot on all the archipelagos, and the more I moved away from Tahiti, the more authenticity I found. The real Polynesia, as I like it.
So, there are good and bad things about it. The key is to be aware of these things. So, charmed?
Last point for now in this very, very long article: family. When you literally move to the other side of the world, this is a point that you will have to take into account and manage, whether you want to or not. Among the things to know:
- The absence of family for some,
- The reproaches and misunderstandings about the fact that you are away from them,
- The fact that some people will not understand why you don’t want to spend 2/3 hours in a train after a 24-hours flight, 12 hours of jet lag and 4000€ spent to come to France,
- The fact that when you return, you will have to live with your parents, often at their home, and adapt to their rhythm of life, which is inevitably very different from yours,
- Dealing with the death of your relatives or friends will be much more difficult when you’re 20.000 km away,
- The financial aspect of going back to see your family, or for them to come and see you on the other side of the world,
In short, as you can see, there are a lot of little points to take into consideration, right?
Right, I’ve just finished the summary of all the questions I’ve been asked a lot. Don’t hesitate, if you come across this article and you had the courage to read it (in 12 times), to let me know about subjects you would like me to talk about more precisely. Things that I have forgotten or that deserve to be detailed. There are some, for sure. I insist, but feel free to comment the article to tell me what you think about it. It’s important and it’s always nice to get feedback, whether you live here or are about to take the plunge!
In the meantime, I wish you a very good preparation of your future expatriation, if it is the case. So, when are you coming?
As always, if you liked the article, feel free to share the article on your social networks. Thanks 😎
See you soon,