Flying to Tahiti after Reopening
Tahiti and French Polynesia opened up to US travelers May 1, 2021, and I was fortunate enough to travel with my friend Jocelyn (often incorrectly referred to in the resort as Mrs. Vong) within the first two months of reopening and enjoy some of the sights with less of a crowd.
Travel requirements changed as recently as June 24, 2021 (the day I departed, the agent thought at first I might need a separate authorization form which I did not receive), and the requirements were a bit stressful and complicated, as I had to re-submit my health authorization after an initial application. If you’re vaccinated and from an approved country (i.e. United States, France) then the process is a bit easier.
I used points to book a $50 roundtrip flight to Papeete, Tahiti (PPT).
United had a one day sale, and what would usually be a 60,000 mile flight roundtrip from SFO to PPT was on sale for 40,000 points. I transferred around 30,000 Chase ultimate rewards points, and booked a nonstop roundtrip flight from SFO. Jocelyn has 1K status and was able to link our flights and upgrade our seats to economy plus- which meant a little more legroom for the 9 hour flight and priority boarding. I’ve seen deals for roundtrip go as low as $600-700 during off season, but with the Economy+ seats, using points for a $50 flight was worth it.
These requirements are always changing and the process was a bit complicated since the website is primarily in French and I was just using google translate. Essentially, if you are vaccinated, you have to submit proof of vaccination (upload a pic of COVID vaccine card). After that, you register with the Tahiti government to attest to your personal information and an itinerary/where you will stay. You then get an ETIS QR code receipt, which the gate agent checks to authorize you to travel. You also have to take a PCR test within 72 hours of travel, and can upload results.
Flying on June 24, 2021, United actually served hot food. We left around 1:45 pm PST, and got a hot lunch served (chicken pasta) with wine (for economy +) and dessert.
Before landing at 7ish PM (THAT- 3 hours after PST), we were also served a turkey sandwich. I watched the Donut King documentary about Cambodians and the donut shop business in California, which I highly recommend.
Covid testing + Immigration
Once we landed, we walked outside to the humid tropical air. We got in line for COVID testing, where there was at least live entertainment for our arrival.
We first handed our passport to some agents to prepare paperwork for the rapid antigen test.
There were 3-5 stations, and the swab felt basically the same as a PCR test.
More staff made sure that we were not to leave for 15 minutes after the test, and corralled folks near the baggage claim. While the site said it would be $50 to test upon arrival, the cost had not been implemented yet when we arrived.
Masks and Misc Tips
Generally, travelers who are vaccinated are allowed to be maskless, but some indoor areas of resorts require masks. I don’t think too many locals are vaccinated, but since the economy depends heavily on tourism, people seem happy to be back to work. US Dollars are accepted at most places, except maybe small stands in Moorea. Lastly, I wish I learned more French- French is the primary language, then Tahitian, and then English. But everyone will greet you with the friendly "Ia ora na" (your-anna).
While international travel is more complicated (2 covid tests + other administrative paperwork), it was nice to escape to another country and be in Tahiti for a week. Definitely keep up with the country's COVID requirements, as things change weekly: i.e. different countries are restricting what other countries can enter. While some of the scene was not as lively, it was awesome to not have to worry about crazy crowds and Tahiti is one place to take advantage of that for now!