All landline communications in and out of French Polynesia are handled by the Office des Postes et Télécommunications (OPT; www.opt.pf). Although relatively expensive, the system is modern and efficient.
How to Make Calls -- To call French Polynesia: Dial the international access code (011 from the U.S.; 00 from the U.K., Ireland, or New Zealand; or 0011 from Australia), French Polynesia's country code 689, and the local number (there are no area codes within French Polynesia).
To make international calls from within French Polynesia: First dial 00, then the country code (U.S. or Canada 1, U.K. 44, Ireland 353, Australia 61, New Zealand 64), then the area code and phone number. Calls to the U.S., Europe, Australia, and New Zealand are 103CFP (US$1.30/65p) per minute, when dialed directly.
You can make them through your hotel, though with a surcharge, which can more than double the fee.
The least expensive way to make international calls from French Polynesia may be to use a Top Phone prepaid card (tel. 50.82.08; www.top-phone.pf), available at many shops and at the Business Center in Tahiti-Faaa International Airport terminal (tel. 83.63.88). The cards come in denominations beginning at 1,000CFP (US$13/£6.30), which includes 45 minutes of talk time to the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand. That's about 22CFP (US30¢/15p) per minute, assuming you use all 45 minutes. There is no refund for unused time.
For operator assistance: Dial tel. 3600 if you need assistance making an overseas call. The operators speak English.
To make domestic calls within French Polynesia: No prefix or area code is required for domestic long distance calls, so dial the local number.
For directory assistance: Dial tel. 3612 for local directory information (service des renseignements). The operators speak English. You can look up local numbers online at www.annuaireopt.pf (it's in French).
Toll-Free Numbers -- There are no toll-free numbers in French Polynesia. Calling a 1-800 number in the U.S. or Canada from French Polynesia is not toll-free. In fact, it costs the same as an overseas call.
Pay Phones -- Public pay phones are located at all post offices and are fairly numerous elsewhere on Tahiti, less so on the other islands. You must have a télécarte to call from public pay phones (coins won't work). The cards are sold at all post offices and by most hotel front desks and many shops in 1,500CFP, 2,000CFP, and 5,000CFP (US$19, US$25, and US$63/£9.50, £13, and £32) sizes. Insert the cards with the electronic chip facing up. Digital readouts on the phones tell you how many unites you have left on a card.
Phoning Like a Local -- The custom in the Tuamotu and Marquesas islands is to group telephone numbers in two, such as 960 569, but in most of French Polynesia, the local phone numbers are presented as three two-digit numbers -- for example, 42.29.17. If you ask someone for a number, he or she will say it like this: "quarante-deux, vingt-neuf, dix-sept" in French, or "forty-two, twenty-nine, seventeen" in English.
Known as "mobiles" (moo-beels) over here, cellphones are prevalent throughout the islands. No international wireless company operates in French Polynesia, however, and many American phones won't work since French Polynesia uses the Global System for Mobiles (GSM) technology. Although this quasi-universal system is gaining in popularity, only T-Mobile and Cingular/AT&T Wireless use it in the U.S., while some Rogers customers in Canada are GSM. All Europeans and most Australians use GSM. Call your wireless company to see if your phone is GSM.
If you do have a GSM phone, you may be able to use it in the islands if your home provider has a roaming agreement with Vini (tel. 48.13.13; www.vini.pf), the sole local cellphone company (until 2009, when it will be joined by Mara Telecom). Call your wireless operator and ask for "international roaming" to be activated for French Polynesia.
There's one big problem if you want to both make and receive calls from within French Polynesia. I can make local calls within French Polynesia on my home cellphone, but calling me requires expensive international calls for French Polynesians. In other words, their calls to my cellphone were routed to the United States and then back to French Polynesia!
You can get around this if (1) your GSM phone transmits and receives on the 900mHz band; (2) it has been "unlocked" from its SIM card, the removable computer chip that stores your and your provider's information; and (3) you buy a local SIM card from Vini.
Prepaid SIM cards are available at stores displaying the VINI sign. The least expensive costs about 4,500CFP (US$56/£28) and includes 30 minutes of outgoing calls. Incoming calls are free, but outgoing calls using the least expensive card cost 183CFP (US$2.30/£1.15) a minute, and that's assuming you use all of your 30 minutes.
The Travel Insider (www.thetravelinsider.info) has an excellent explanation of all this, as well as a phone-unlocking service. Click on "Road Warrior Resources" and "International Cellphone Service."
In a worst-case scenario, you can always rent a phone from Vini.
You can also buy or rent cellphones to take to French Polynesia. The chief advantage to renting a phone or SIM card in advance is that you will have it when you arrive.
I am familiar with Mobal (tel. 888/399-2418; www.mobal.com), which sells GSM phones that work here and about 150 other countries for as little as US$49 (£25) and SIM cards for less. There are no monthly fees or minimum usage requirements. Calls are billed to your credit card as you make them -- US$1.95 (£1) per minute for both incoming and outgoing calls within French Polynesia, US$3.95 (£2) from here to the U.S. and Canada, US$5.95 (£3) to other countries. Mobal gave me a U.K. cellphone number, however, so people in French Polynesia have to make expensive international calls to reach my Mobal phone. For this reason, I buy a local Vini SIM card for my unlocked phone. I still carry my Mobal phone for emergencies, and I can use it when I am traveling in other countries.
CellularAbroad (tel. 800/287-3020; www.cellularabroad.com) of Santa Monica, California, rents GSM phones and sells prepaid SIM cards for French Polynesia.
Telegraph, Telex & Fax
Telegraph, telex, and fax services are provided by the post offices. Most hotels have fax machines available for guest use (be sure to ask about the charge to use it).
Skype (Voice-Over Internet Protocol)
I save a lot of money by using Skype (www.skype.com), a broadband-based telephone service (in technical terms, Voice-over Internet protocol, or VoIP), to make free international calls from my laptop or in some cybercafes. Talking worldwide on Skype is free if the people you're calling also have it on their computers (that is, computer-to-computer calls). You can also make calls to landline phones for a fee, which is based on the country you are calling, not where you are calling from. Skype calls to landline phones in most Western countries cost about US2¢ (1p) per minute. Check Skype's website for details.
Internet & E-Mail
E-mail is as much a part of life in French Polynesia as it is anywhere else these days. Although ADSL connections are available here (ADSL is not as fast as DSL or cable access in the U.S. and other countries, but is much speedier than dial-up connections), most Internet connections are still dial-up, which will seem glacially slow if you're used to DSL or cable.
Access is also relatively expensive. MANA (tel. 50.88.88; www.mana.pf) is the only local Internet service provider (ISP), and it charges by the minute rather than by the month -- and many hotels slap a whopping fee on top of that. (My dial-up Internet and phone bills for checking my e-mail and banking sites from Tahiti hotel rooms have topped US$50/£25!) Consequently, don't expect people here to reply to your e-mail immediately. Patience definitely is a virtue when dealing with folks in French Polynesia.
Without Your Own Computer -- All but a few hotels and resorts have computers from which guests can send and receive e-mail and surf the Web. It's less expensive to go a cybercafe.
With Your Own Computer -- Some hotels now have wireless Internet connections, or wired high-speed dataports in their rooms, which I point out in the hotel listings in this guide.
Some cybercafes have wireless connections. MANA, the local provider, has hotspots on Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa, Bora Bora, Nuku Hiva, and Hiva Oa. MANA sells prepaid access cards at its office in Fare Tony, on boulevard Pomare between the Vaima Centre and the main post office. Hotels within range and some shops also sell them. One hour costs 990CFP (US$12/£6.25).
Since no international service provider has a local access number in the islands, you can't just plug in your laptop, program in the local access number, and go online. On the other hand, you can use your own computer from any hotel room by dialing up MANA's snail-pace "Anonymous" service. To do so, you must configure your laptop, as follows:
When setting up a new Network Connection in Windows, type in 0,368888 as the local access telephone number (0 is the number used to reach an outside line in all hotels here). When you make your first connection, enter both your name and your password as anonymous. (If your first try fails, retype both in all capital letters.) MANA charges 100CFP (US$1.25/65p) per minute for access time, and the cost of the local call also will be billed to your room. The hotel may well add an additional charge, so it can become very expensive very quickly.
If you bring your laptop, be sure to include a connection kit with French power and phone adapters as well as spare phone and Ethernet cables.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.