Investment and Residence in the Cook Islands
NON-COOK Islanders seeking permission to reside or do business in the Cook Islands have to take account of three statutes:-
- The Development Investment Act 1995-6.
- The Leases Restrictions Act 1976.
- The Entry Residence and Departure Act 1977.
The most important is the Development Investment Act which lays down that all foreign organisations or companies that want to set up an enterprise must first obtain approval and register their planned activities.
The Leases Restrictions Act does not allow freehold ownership of land. Any person/s may lease land for up to five years. Any longer period up to a maximum of 60 years has to be approved by a Committee established under the Act. The Committee's principal function is to regulate leasehold to people other than Cook Islanders and permanent residents.
The Entry Residence and Departure Act demands that anyone other than Cook Islanders and permanent residents who wish to live and work in the islands must first obtain a work and residence permit.
Section 17 of the Development Investment Act states:-
"No foreign enterprise shall carry on business in the Cook Islands in any activity unless that foreign enterprise is registered in respect of that activity pursuant to this Act".
'Foreign enterprise' means business with more than one-third foreign ownership. Registration applications must be made to the Cook Islands Development Investment Board. There are various incentives and concessions for tariff protection, import duty and levy concessions, tax concessions by way of accelerated depreciation, allowance for counterpart training and recruitment of Cook Islanders from overseas.
The Board takes account of an Investment Code which spells out the Government's general investment policy. The Code states:-
"Generally provision should be made in the case of a new foreign investment for the acquisition of equity by or on behalf of Cook Islanders, or for joint ventures with enterprises owned or controlled by Cook Islanders".
The term "Cook Islanders" includes Cook Island Maoris and Permanent Residents. The Development Investment Board Monetary Board may waive these requirements if the investor can demonstrate that attempts were not successful to attract Cook Islanders' participation.
If the enterprise wishes to lease land to carry on its business and if the land is central to the activity, for instance, hotel/motel accommodation, the Board may require the lease arrangement to provide for the lessors to be paid a share from the activity. This is a brief guide only and a solicitor should be consulted for advice.
Development Investment ActThe Development Investment Act does not allow any foreign enterprise (a business with more than one-third foreign ownership) to carry on business in the Cook Islands in any activity unless it is registered.
Registration applications must be made to the Cook Islands Development Investment Board. There are various incentives and concessions for tariff protection, import duty and levy concessions, tax concessions by way of accelerated depreciation, allowance for counterpart training and recruitment of Cook Islanders from overseas.
The board's investment code says that generally provision should be made in the case of a new foreign investment for the acquisition of equity by or on behalf of Cook Islanders, or for joint ventures with enterprises owned or controlled by Cook Islanders.
Foreign investment in the Cook Islands
The Business Trade Investment Board outlines as follows the steps and information required for the successful registration of a foreign enterprise in the Cook Islands.
Foreign Enterprise Registration Checklist
Joint venture foreign company:-
- Business plan
- Completed registration application form
- Completed due diligence form
- Two references (from lawyer, accountant, banker)
- Police character reference from home country
- Health report form (includes HIV report; avian flu report if from
- Copy of passport details and photo
- Curriculum Vitae
- NZ$750.00 fee
Reserved investment areas:-
- Copy of articles of association
- Copy of memorandum of association
- Land involved
- Copy of deed of lease
- Purchase an existing business
- Copy of sale and purchase agreement
Some areas of investment are reserved for Cook Islanders only:-
- Commercial agricultural or food production
- Pearl farming
- Commercial aquaculture or harvesting of pearl shell, shell fish or
other reef or lagoon products
- Fresh fish processing
- Fresh fish exporting
Manufacturing and production
- Food processing including freezing and drying, or drink bottling
- Screen printing of fabrics or other piece goods
- Making of traditional or cultural handicrafts and artefacts
(including commercial reproductions)
- Recordings of cultural performances
- Visitor accommodation
- Motor vehicle rentals
- Tourist tours or transfers
- Cinema operations
- Bakeries or pastry shops
- Grocery retail outlets (including sundry stores, superettes, and
- Ownership of galleries for paintings or other visual arts
- Restaurants, cafés, or other food preparation and sale operations
- Retail of traditional or cultural handicrafts and artifacts
(including commercial reproductions)
- Sale or supply of computer hardware or related services
- Trucking and cartage operations
- Laundry or drycleaning
- Audio or video production, hire, or sale
The following exceptions have been established in cases where foreigners may
wish to invest into the Cook Islands economy, specifically in the Reserved
1. The foreign enterprise wishes to acquire an existing business,
notwithstanding that it may be listed in Reserved Investment areas, where
the owner of the business has made a genuine and demonstrable effort to the
satisfaction of the BTIB to sell the business to Cook Islanders, but
2. The foreign enterprise wishes to establish a new business in an
- Has been unable to do so; or
- Has been able to do so only at a price so far below the
price obtainable by selling to the foreign enterprise, that in all the
circumstances it would be unreasonable to require the owner of the business
to sell to a Cook Islander.
3. Existing Cook Islands enterprises do not have the resources to carry
out the specific project (eg specialised construction project) comprising
- There is a demonstrable demand for that activity; and
- No Cook Islander is currently carrying on business in that
4. The foreign enterprise is a joint venture involving Cook Islanders
(the greater the ownership and participation by Cook Islanders, the more
likely it is to obtain approval).
Local partners seeking foreign assistance, in terms of financial investment,
asset-based investment or expertise, may do so but must register with BTIB.
Registry of business and investment opportunities
Through this registry, the Business Trade Investment Board aims to link
local partners with an international network of buyers, investors and
financing sources, and to increase economic growth and employment in the
The BTIB is developing a registry of investment opportunities, expansion
programmes needing partners and new ideas.
It can also help with applications for development funding from regional and
international agencies like the Marketing Support Fund from the Pacific
In the Cook Islands the ownership of a building requires that you either own
the freehold title to the land on which the building is situated or you have
a lease of that land.
The Unit Titles Act enables ownership of a defined part of a building
(referred to as a 'unit') without the owner having to be the lessee of the
The form of subdivision known as a unit title was created under the Unit
Titles Act 1972. Used to create a number of different properties (which may
be flats, units or semi-detached dwellings) over an existing parcel of land,
it is specially useful in situations where there are upper and lower limits
to the property such as in a high-rise development where levels are an
intrinsic part of the definition of the title. Unit titles are also useful in
smaller single level developments as the boundaries between buildings or
dwellings and can be easily defined.
Solicitors in the Cook Islands include:-
Browne Harvey @ Associates PC, PO Box 429, Rarotonga. Phone: 682 24 567 Fax: 682 561, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gibson's Law PC, PO Box 144, Rarotonga. Phone: 682 24 828 E-mail: email@example.com
Little & Matysik PC, PO Box 167, Avarua, Rarotonga. Phone: 682 21 619 Fax No: 682 21 615. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tim Arnold PC, PO Box 486, Rarotonga. Phone: 682 23 569 Fax: 682 23 568. email@example.com
Accountants in the Cook Islands include:-
KPMG Peat Marwick, Rarotonga. Phone: 682 20 486 Fax: 682 21 486
Trends Limited, PO Box 1040, Rarotonga. Phone 682 20 537 Fax: 682 24 537
Banks in the Cook Islands include:-
ANZ Banking Group Ltd, PO Box 907, Rarotonga. Phone: 682 21 750 Fax: 682 21 760
Bank of the Cook Islands, PO Box 113, Rarotonga. Phone: 682 29341 Fax: 682 29343 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Westpac Banking Corporation, PO Box 42, Rarotonga. Phone: 682 22 014 Fax: 682 20 802 e-mail: email@example.com
Real Estate Agents and Property Consultants in the Cook Islands include:-
Cook Islands Realty Ltd, PO Box 880, Rarotonga. Phone: 682 23 358. firstname.lastname@example.org
Cook Islands Real Estate, PO Box 3159, Rarotonga, Cook Islands. Phone: 682 55678. email@example.com
Rarotonga Realty, PO Box 149, Rarotonga. Cook Islands. Phone: 682 26664. firstname.lastname@example.org
The Cook Islands is a neutral tax country for offshore banking. See Offshore industry in the Cook Islands