Why invest in the Cook Islands ?

The Cook Islands has been the sleeping (and creeping) giant in the South Pacific, known more as a layback tourist vacation destination for most New Zealanders and a handful of Australians, Europeans, North Americans and Canadians.

Our total number of tourist per year have been building steadily but still less than 100,000 annually.

The only major airline to date is Air New Zealand, with a couple of outside players like Pacific Blue and Air Tahiti – however good marketing over time and as critical mass has taken effect, the word about the nature of our people, the pristine and safe location of the Cook Islands, and the beauty of this island chain has seeped out to all the corners of the traveling globe so that future tourism prospects for the Cook Islands are high and a dramatic rise is imminent.

cook islands

The Cook Islands –

General information and finance centre

Cook Islands Geography – Things you should know:

  1. The Cook Islands are a widely scattered group of islands located in the south-east Pacific Ocean approximately half way between Hawaii and New Zealand
  2. Geologically they can be subdivided into 2 distinct groups. The southern Cook Islands compromise of Raratonga, Aitutaki,  Atiu, Takutea, Mauke, Mitiaro and Manuae. The northern Cook Islands comprise of Penrhyn, Manihiki, Pukapuka, Palmerston, Rakahanga, Suvorov and Nassau
  3. The main administrative and commercial center is the capital city Avarua on the island of Raratonga
  4. The climate is tropical, moderated by trade winds
  5. The Islands typhoon season is from November to March
  6. 10 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time
  7. Direct flights are between Rarotonga to Los Angeles, Auckland, Fiji, Tahiti and Honolulu
  8. Telecommunications are excellent

Cook Islands Business Environment

Business licenses are required to operate domestically, but not by offshore companies.

Unless the entity falls within one of the stated exceptions the general rule is that all foreign companies or organizations that wish to set up a commercial operation in the Islands must first obtain approval from the Government and register their planned activities. A foreign enterprise is a business of which more than one third of the equity is owned by foreigners.

A foreigner wishing to lease land for more than 5 years needs to obtain the approval of a Government committee set up under the Act. A foreigner cannot lease land for more than 60 years and is forbidden from owing a freehold. A foreigner is defined as anyone who is not a permanent resident or a citizen of the Cook Islands.

Confidentiality is tight in the Cook Islands. Under the International Trusts Act 1984 an International Trust must be registered annually for the first 5 years after its creation the registration requirements do not include disclosure to the registry of the names or details of the beneficiaries or settlor or the provision of a copy of the trust deed setting out the terms under which property was settled.


Cook Islands Entry and Residence

The Entry, Residence and Departure Act 1977 states that anyone other than a Cook Islands citizen or permanent resident who wishes to live and work on the Islands must first obtain a work and residence permit.

In February 2008, Parliament passed the Entry, Residence and Departure Amendment Bill 2008, which amended the 1971-72 Act with respect to Permanent Residence (PR) and now allows the granting of up to 650 PR certificates.

The amendment also required applicants not only to be of “good character” but to have a proven record of having made a “significant positive contribution to or investment in the Cook Islands in terms of skills, expertise, community work or financial investment.”

Cook Islands Investments by Foreigners

The Development Investment Act of 1977, has traditionally been regarded as the basis for all incentives and concessions. Under the Act, any foreign enterprise (i.e, one with less than 66% local shareholding) must apply to the Monetary Board (in effect the Cook Islands Cabinet) to establish a new business.

Foreign inward investment is generally encouraged. Incentives and concessions are available where the Government believes the investment will contribute significantly to the development of the Cook Islands and include such measures as:

* the imposition of tariffs on competing imports;
* tax relief by way of an accelerated depreciation allowance on capital goods;
* exemptions from customs duty and import levy;
* permission to lease land;
* work permits;
* tax concessions;
* training incentives, including allowances for the training and recruitment of Cook Islanders who are living abroad.

In addition to these incentives, the Government heavily encourages joint ventures with the indigenous population, and the Development Investment Code identifies desired investment sectors where the Government has deemed that development by potential overseas investors is desirable for the economic development of the Cook Islands. These areas do not necessarily attract incentives, however they are encouraged and welcomed by the Government.

Cook Islands Banking

The law relating to banking, the obtaining of a banking licence and banking confidentiality is contained in the Offshore Banking Act 1981 and the Banking Act 2003 (as amended).

The Banking Act 2003 provides for the following categories of licenses:

  • Domestic Authorizes licensees to carry on domestic banking business in and from within the Cook Islands.
  • International Authorizes licensees to carry on international banking business in or from within the Cook Islands.
  • Restricted International Authorizes licensees to carry on international banking business of a type and nature specified in the license and approved by the FSC.

Domestic banks with a presence are:

  • ANZ Banking Group Limited
  • Bank of the Cook Islands Limited
  • Westpac Banking Corporation

International Banks in the Cook Islands are:

  • ANZ Banking Group
  • Banktec (Cook Islands) Limited
  • Capital Security Bank Ltd
  • Pacific Trade Bank Ltd
  • WSBC Bank (Others may have be added as of May 2009)

Cook Islands Trust Management

Cook Island trusts are known locally as International Trusts and are governed by the provisions of the International Trusts Act 1984 (The Act), which was last amended in 2004.

All International Trusts must have a resident licensed trustee with management powers. Normally this means that the International Trust is required to use one of the 5 registered trust companies which operate out of the Islands. To obtain the protection of the Islands’ laws the trust must be registered by the licensed trustee company within 45 days of its creation and they must certify that the trust is an International Trust under the Act.