The Cook Islands is a nation in Oceania with links to New Zealand. Albeit not a cheap destination, it is known for its sandy beaches in Rarotonga, lagoons in Atiu, and romantic places – 😉 – in Avarua District. There are plenty of things to do in the Cook Islands.
What you may not want to do is to roam with your provider in the Cook Islands. Roaming can be expensive in many cases, which is why many travelers prefer to buy local SIM cards in Oceania, including the Cook Islands.
In this article, I will go over everything you need to know about buying a SIM card in the Cook Islands. Let's have a look.
Telecom Provider in the Cook Islands
The Cook Islands has 1 telecom provider, which is Vodafone Cook Islands. Until early 2020, the operator was known as BlueSky Cook Islands. The operator has 2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE networks.
2G can be found on all populated islands, 3G can be used on Rarotonga, Atiu, and Aitutaki, and 4G/LTE can only be found on Rarotonga and Aitutaki.
What SIM card should you buy when visiting the Cook Islands? If you want to buy a SIM card in the Cook Islands, your only choice would be Vodafone Cook Islands.
Like most countries in Oceania, you do not have to show your passport when buying a SIM card in the Cook Islands.
As a remote island nation, the nation uses satellite connections to provide mobile data. Not only is using a satellite often slower compared to data transferred through submarine cables, but it is also extremely expensive, so keep that in mind when I mention the package prices. However, 4G/LTE speeds on the Cook Islands are decent, with getting download speeds of 30 Mbps.
However, a submarine cable between the Cook Islands and Samoa has been completed and will go live later in 2020. From then, speeds should be much faster and should, theoretically, make mobile data cheaper on the Cook Islands if Vodafone feels like decreasing its prices.
With that said, let’s see what Vodafone Cook Islands has to offer.
Tip: Looking for cheap flights? Book with AirWander and add stopovers! Not in a hurry yet? Set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog and get notified when ticket prices for your preferred route(s) drop!
Vodafone Cook Islands (formerly BlueSky)
Vodafone Cook Islands, just Vodafone, is the sole operator in the Cook Islands. You can buy a Vodafone SIM card in Vodafone shops or at the international airport. As you do not pay a premium for buying a SIM card at the airport, I would recommend getting one there.
A Vodafone SIM card is sold for 25 NZD ($16.30) and comes with 20 NZD in credit. You can top up from 1 NZD with e-charges, which are sold in Vodafone shops. You can check your balance by dialing *888# and select View Balance. You can also use PayPal to recharge. The following data packs are sold:
- 3 NZD: 100 MB for 24 hours. Package name: 24HR$3
- 5 NZD: 200 MB for 3 days. Package name: 3DAY$5
- 10 NZD: 450 MB for 7 days. Package name: 7DAY$10
- 30 NZD: 1.5 GB for 10 days. Package name: 10DAY$30
- 50 NZD: 3 GB for 14 days. Package name: 14DAY$50
To activate a package, dial *888#, choose Buy bundles, and select the package of your choice. For example, if I want to buy the 3DAY$5 pack that gives me 200 MB for 3 days, I would dial *888#, press Buy bundles, and select 3DAY$5.
You can also get a Vodafone Travel SIM for 49 NZD. It comes with 3 GB, 300 (international) SMS, and 30 (international) minutes to many destinations in the world, all valid for 30 days. You cannot renew this SIM card or activate a regular data package on the Vodafone Travel SIM. You can check your Travel SIM balance by texting bal (as in balance)to 888.
If you need to change your Vodafone Cook Islands APN settings manually, then you need to add the following under APN: “kotaa”.
Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in the Cook Islands
Now you know everything about buying a SIM card in the Cook Islands, but what are your other options? Although buying a local SIM card is almost always the cheapest option, the cheapest option would be using free WIFI connections in the Cook Islands, but you can also roam with your provider in the Cook Islands, use an international SIM card in the Cook Islands, or use a mobile hotspot in the Cook Islands. Let’s see what our options are.
Using Free WIFI hotspots in the Cook Islands
Using something free is always better than paying for something. However, sometimes, free stuff may be of bad quality. Sure, you do not have to pay anything for using a free hotspot (unless you are required to purchase a beverage or meal at an establishment), but it may be a challenge to find a free hotspot. Moreover, the connection may be so slow that it is practically useless.
In the case of the Cook Islands, free hotspots do not seem to exist. Hotels may even charge you more than 20 NZD for 1 GB of hotel data. Other places may use Vodafone hotspots, which can be found in hotels and restaurants on Rarotonga and Aitutaki.
Vouchers for Vodafone's WIFI network are sold as e-vouchers in Vodafone stores or from resellers. You can also get a voucher by dialing *888# and select Buy Vodafone WiFi. The same can be done through the Vodafone app. The following vouchers are available:
- 5 NZD: 200 MB for 3 days
- 10 NZD: 500 MB for 7 days
- 25 NZD: 1.5 GB for 14 days
- 50 NZD: 3 GB for 30 days
Do note that public hotspots are unsecure. Hackers love to steal sensitive information on unprotected connections because it is apparently easy to do so. That is why I use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when using a public hotspot, and I would encourage you to do so too.
What a VPN does is creating an encrypted tunnel between your device and the hotspot so that your data will stay private. I use NordVPN, and you can get up to 70% off when you get a NordVPN subscription. Get your NordVPN subscription now!
Roaming with Your Provider in the Cook Islands
Roaming is a term used in wireless telecommunication that indicates a mobile device is outside the range of its home network and has connected to a different, available cell network. Let’s say your provider is Tuvalu Telecom, then you would be roaming with Tuvalu Telecom in the Cook Islands.
Roaming may be the most convenient way of using your phone abroad. You do not have to buy a new SIM card, which, in turn, means you do not have to swap SIM cards. As a result, your friends and family from home can easily reach you on your cell. With many providers, the only thing you need to do is to turn on the data roaming setting on your phone, and you are good to go.
No idea how roaming works? I made this comprehensive guide about what roaming is and how it works. It is worth the read – promised!
Although roaming with your provider may be the most convenient way of staying connected in the Cook Islands, it can also be the most expensive option. There have been many horror stories where people have racked up roaming bills up in the thousands and even more than ten thousand.
Luckily, many providers have affordable roaming plans, allow you to roam for free in some destinations like the Cook Islands, or allow you to use your plan’s allowance in the Cook Islands. For example, with Virgin Mobile Canada, you can use your plan’s allowance for 12 Canadian dollars per day. This may be affordable in some destinations for a small number of days, but it will be expensive for prolonged periods.
If you are unsure about the roaming options of your provider, I have written many articles about roaming with various operators around the world. I analyze them in-depth and give you my advice on whether you should roam with your provider or not. If yes, I also state for how long you should roam to take the most advantage of the offer.
One thing that should be avoided at all costs is to Pay As You Go roaming where you pay per minute, SMS, or MB. This is how many people get expensive roaming bills because the roaming prices for data are usually extremely high.
If you want to roam, make sure to get a roaming plan. Unless your provider offers extremely low Pay As You Go roaming rates, which is only a handful of providers, then you can consider doing so. Furthermore, if your provider lets you roam for free in the Cook Islands, then you should go for it. Just note that your speeds will be lower as a roamer than if you were to buy a local SIM card.
Using an International SIM Card in the Cook Islands
International SIM cards are SIM cards that work internationally. Most SIM cards do work abroad, but then you have to roam with your provider. International SIM cards, however, let’s you use one SIM card in many destinations around the world for, often, the same price. This way, your friends and families can still reach out to you while traveling.
International SIM cards are, however, much more expensive than buying a local SIM card in many cases, but they are often cheaper than to roam with your provider. There are many international SIM card providers out there, but a few providers I can recommend are OneSimCard, SimOptions, Surfroam, BNESIM, and SimCorner.
International SIM cards are useful for those who frequently travel for leisure or for business. That way, everyone can reach you on one number instead of a handful of local numbers scattered around the world.
Moreover, many destinations in the world require you to register yourself before you can buy a local SIM card. In some countries, the process is quick, while others require much more of your time. Furthermore, the registration process may be cumbersome in countries.
Finally, the language barrier may be off-putting to some. It can be a challenge dealing with a salesperson who does not understand you. They may try and sell you the most expensive option out there. Luckily, you know the prices of SIM cards and packs in the Cook Islands, so you cannot be taken advantage of.
My recommendation, however, is to get a local SIM card if you are only visiting one destination. If you are visiting multiple destinations in one trip, an international SIM card could be handy. If you want to learn more about international SIM cards, check out my international SIM card comparison article, where I analyze 10 international SIM card providers so that you do not have to.
Using a Mobile Hotspot in the Cook Islands
A mobile hotspot is a portable, battery-powered wireless router that allows you to connect your phone, laptop, or tablet without needing multiple SIM cards for those devices to be connected to the internet. They are compact and lightweight so that you take them along with you whenever you need internet access on the go.
Many companies have created mobile hotspots (just have a quick search on Amazon, for example, you will find many). Skyroam and Vision Global Wireless are reputable pocket WIFI providers I know. You can get a discount if you rent a router through Skyroam by using coupon code PHONETRAVELWIZ. Cellular access with Skyroam starts at $8 a day while using a Vision Global device starts at $2 a day. Both services cover more than 130 destinations around the world.
I often recommend mobile hotspots to those who are traveling in groups or with families. They can save groups a lot of money if they are visiting destinations where buying multiple SIM cards would become an expensive endeavor.
I recently wrote an article analyzing the 7 Best Mobile Hotspots for Travelers like yourself, which should be an interesting read if pocket WIFI is something you are considering. I do reviews of individual devices every now and then, so check out my mobile hotspot category to stay up to date.
The Best Way to Stay Connected When Traveling in the Cook Islands
Getting a SIM card from Vodafone would be your only when considering a SIM card in the Cook Islands. Be sure to explore the roaming options your provider offers you, as they may offer free or cheap roaming bundles.
You could also consider getting an international SIM card or using a portable hotspot. International SIM cards are attractive for those visiting multiple destinations at once or within a year. Portable hotspots will be useful when traveling with multiple people so that not each individual has to get a SIM card but can use the hotspot.
Visiting other countries in Oceania? Check out my Oceanian SIM card buying guide covering the other Oceanian destinations, such as American Samoa, Australia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Kiribati, Micronesia, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Wallis and Futuna. Going to other places around the world? Then you should also check out my sim card buying guides for other destinations around the world.
What is next?
Looking for the best companies and gadgets to enhance your travel experience? Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! Save money on plane tickets, bus rides, cruises, and accommodation. Besides that, I also list services and items I use to make my life easier – and I believe they will help you too!
Book Your Flight for the Cook Islands
It is time to book your flight. Find cheap flights with AirWander so that you can add free or cheap stopovers in destinations you have not considered yet before going to the Cook Islands. If you are not ready to take off yet, set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and they will notify you once ticket prices to the Cook Islands drop.
Book Your Accommodation for the Cook Islands
I am a huge fan of Airbnb because it allows me to live with a local or get a local place for myself. Staying in someone’s house or apartment feels much different than being in a ho(s)tel, especially in the Cook Islands. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in a hotel.
Get Your Travel Insurance for the Cook Islands
You will regret not having travel insurance once you actually need it and “forgot” to get it. Nowadays, travel insurance is cheap and comprehensive unlike back in the days. World Nomads is by far the best travel insurance for adventurous travelers like yourself. You can even get insured WHILE already traveling in the Cook Islands, which is not something many insurance companies allow you to do.
Get a Travel Debit Card
Travel Cheques are outdated. Paying with your credit card or debit card can be expensive because of all the exchange commissions banks charge you. TransferWise allows you to convert your main currency to New Zealand Dollars for a small fee (up to 8 times less than with your bank!) Getting a Transferwise Borderless account is FREE, so you will get an instant return on your investment.
Enjoy your trip!