Revision Date: October 2018
The aim of this post is to outline the process for obtaining a travel permit to visit the remote New Zealand territory of Tokelau. The application process is long and convoluted (1-2 months) and would discourage all but the most dedicated of travelers. I arrived in Samoa thinking I could jump on the next boat but, once briefed on the process, realised this would not be possible with even the one month I had. I plan to visit in 2019.
The information contained in this post is based on a meeting I had at the Tokelau Apia Liaison Office in Samoa with Margaret Pedro, the Manager of Support Services for the Tokelau Department of Transport & Support Services. The Support Services team is responsible for the processing of all tourist permit applications.
The only people exempt from this process are New Zealand passport holders (who are not Tokelauan), who can remain in the territory for up to 10 days without a permit.
The only way of reaching Tokelau is on board the MV Mataliki passenger ship, which sails two or three times per month from its home port of Apia, Samoa – 500 km south of Tokelau.
It’s important to stress that you cannot show up in Apia and expect to sail to Tokelau on a whim. The approval process (once you have submitted the required documents and paid the required fee) can take up to one month!
Did you know?
- The first people to settle on Tokelau were Polynesians.
- Tokelau has fewer than 1,500 inhabitants, the fourth-smallest population of any sovereign state or dependency.
- Tokelau came under the administration of New Zealand in 1925.
- Tokelau is a self-administering territory of New Zealand.
- The Government of Tokelau website provides a wealth of information and news on Tokelau.
- The highest point on Tokelau is five metres above sea level.
- The atolls of Tokelau are at risk from rising sea levels caused by global warming.
- Tokelau is the only country in the world which generates 100% of its power from Solar sources.
- Internet and telephone services are provided through Teletok, a monopoly, government-owned operator.
Location & Geography
Tokelau is located halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii. Other nearby islands include Samoa and American Samoa (507 km to the south); Tuvalu (1,178 km to the west); Tonga (1,379 km to the south) and Kiribati (733 km to the northeast).
The territory consists of three atolls, with the most northern being Atafu, then Nukunonu, to the southeast, then the most southern atoll of Fakaofo. Nukunonu atoll is 4.7 sq. km in area, while Fakaofo is 4 sq. km and Atafu is 3.5 sq. km.
Tokelau Apia Liaison Office
The Tokelau government does not maintain diplomatic missions anywhere in the world, however, the closest such thing is the Tokelau Apia Liaison Office and it’s here where you’ll find the very helpful and friendly Support Services team, which is part of the Tokelau Department of Transport & Support Services.
The team is managed by Margaret Pedro, but all Visitor Permit, ferry and accommodation enquiries must be made through Ruby Fuimao, who can be contacted via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact details for Support Services:
- Manager: Margaret Pedro
- Office Address: Fugalei street (opposite Savalalo road), Apia, Samoa
- Postal address: PO Box 865, Apia, Samoa
- Email: email@example.com
- Direct Phone: +685 20822 / 20823
- Mobile Phone: +685 7774 464
Visitor Permit Process
When you wish to apply for a Visitor’s Permit, you should email Ruby Fuimao who will confirm the current requirements.
Currently the following documents need to be submitted to the Support Services team:
- A completed copy of the form titled “Application for a Permit to Visit, Reside, or Work in Tokelau“.
- A police report from your country of residence (the Support Services team will provide specific information about this requirement).
- A medical certificate from your GP (the Support Services team will provide specific information about this requirement).
Application Processing Fee
At the time of document submission, the Support Services team will provide bank details of an account where you’ll need to deposit the application processing fee of NZ$100.
Ferry & Accommodation Bookings
The Support Services team will consult with you to make tentative ferry and accommodation bookings. Once your application has been approved, those bookings will be finalised.
Once you’ve paid your processing fee and submitted all completed documents, the Support Services team will forward your application to the Council of Elders (Taupulega) on each atoll you wish to visit.
Each of the three atolls are governed separately, with each Taupulega making its own determination regarding immigration matters, hence if you apply to visit all three atolls, you’ll need approval from all three councils. The application process requires the council to meet and discuss your application and can take up to one month.
Once your application is approved, the Support Services team will liaise with you to finalise your ferry and accommodation bookings. Then you’re on your way!
Accommodation options are available on all three islands. The Support Services team will organise and confirm accommodation at the time you make your booking, depending on your requirements.
Getting There & Away
The only way to reach Tokelau is aboard the government vessel, MV Mataliki, which carries both passengers and (non-dangerous) freight from its home port of Apia to Tokelau. A published sailing schedule is available online, but is subject to change and does change. On average the ferry makes two or three round trips each month from Apia.
The Support Services team will confirm sailing dates once you are ready to book a ticket. Boats are often booked-out in advance and priority is given to locals. It’s best to be flexible and book well in advance.
Travel time from Apia to the various atolls ranges from 24-32 hours. The ferry leaves Apia in the early morning on the day of departure, arriving the following morning (24 hours later) on the southern atoll of Fakaofo. After a 4 hour transit stop, the ferry continues onto Nukunonu, arriving later the same day. After another 4 hour transit stop the ferry sails to the most northern atoll of Atafu, arriving the next morning. After another 4 hour transit stop, the ferry sails back to Apia, without stopping, arriving the following day.
It is possible to travel on the ferry from Apia back to Apia, spending just the transit time on the islands, however, you will still be required to obtain a visitors permit for those islands you wish to set foot upon.
The Support Services team have advised that, the only tourists that will be allowed to board the ferry in Apia are those who have an approved Visitors Permit for Tokelau (whether staying on the islands or not).
The return fare (which includes all meals) is NZ$286, which can be paid to the Support Services team at their office in Apia.
The 2nd ship in the Tokelau government fleet is the MV Kalopaga, a cargo ship which was built in Malaysia and launched in March of 2018. Dangerous freight and other cargo is shipped to the atolls aboard this ship.
Other travel reports from the Pacific region include:
- Central Pacific Island Hopping
- French Polynesia
- Galapagos Islands
- Marshall Islands
- New Caledonia
- Solomon Islands
Follow me on Instagram
Author: Darren McLean
Owner of taste2travel.com – an avid traveler, photographer, travel writer and adventurer.
I hope you enjoy reading my content.