The Complete Guide to Hiring a Car in Tonga
Renting a car is an amazing way to explore the islands of Tongatapu, ‘Utu Vava’u (Vava’u), Lifuka and Foa (Ha’apai) and ‘Eua! See the natural and historical sights at your own pace, stay out of town at an idyllic resort, get off the beaten track, and enjoy the many more reasons to hire a car in Tonga (scroll to the bottom of this article; we’ve got plenty!). So you know what to expect in terms of the vehicles available, the requirements, the car rental companies, the costs and more, prepare yourself with this complete guide to hiring a car in Tonga.
5 Things You Need to Know About Hiring a Car in Tonga
Car rental in Tonga is likely to work a little differently from other destinations you might have visited. With that in mind, here are a few things that you might want to know about hiring a car in Tonga.
- Although the legal driving age in Tonga is 18 years old, almost all car rental companies in Tonga require drivers to be 21 years of age or older. You’ll need to present an ID, such as your full driving licence
- Most of Tonga’s rental cars are secondhand Japanese imports, typically ranging from around eight years old to 25 years old! Budget cars at the cheapest prices will be the oldest cars, which should be fully inspected before agreeing to rent
- Car insurance is not really a thing in the Tonga car rental world. There are only two car rental companies that we know of that offer some form of insurance. In most cases, renters are fully liable for any damage caused to the vehicle during the rental period
- Note that some car rental companies in Tonga only accept cash
- Typically, car rental depots are open between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm, Monday to Friday. On a Saturday, they are likely to close around 1 pm. And no car rental businesses are open on a Sunday as per Tongan law.
What You Need to Hire a Car in Tonga?
There are two main requirements needed for hiring a car in Tonga relating to the driver’s age and your overseas driving license.
How Old Do You Need to Be to Hire a Car in Tonga?
Drivers must meet the minimum age requirements of the car rental company, which in Tonga is no younger than 21 years old.
Do You Need a Visitor’s Driving License?
Before you hit the road in Tonga, you’re going to need to determine if you are required to get a Visitor’s Driving Licence. This allows certain travellers with overseas licences to drive in the country legally.
Travellers from visitor visa-exempt countries with a full valid driving licence are legally allowed to drive in Tonga on their overseas licence. Those from other countries will be required to obtain a Visitor’s Driving Licence. Either way, you need to present your driving license when hiring a vehicle in Tonga, not only to prove that you are qualified to drive but also as a form of ID.
For clarification on whether you can drive in Tonga on an overseas license, check out Can You Drive in Tonga with an Overseas License?
Where Can You Hire a Car in Tonga?
Out of Tonga’s 170ish islands, car hire is only available on the islands of Tongatapu, ‘Utu Vava’u (Vava’u), Lifuka (Ha’apai) and ‘Eua.
Car Hire in Tongatapu
There are less than 10 car hire companies on Tongatapu, most of which are based in Nuku’alofa. Airport delivery is available, while those based in Nuku’alofa will also deliver to the wharf or anywhere in the city for free. Car rentals on Tongatapu are more likely to have additions like baby seats available, while some also accept credit card payments.
In terms of driving on Tongatapu, roads are mostly sealed and well-maintained with just a few short dirt and gravel roads – the road to Hufangalupe Landbridge often being the main one that catches visitors out (but you can walk this road instead).
For a full comparison of all of the car rental companies on Upolu, head to the 7 Best Car Rentals in Nuku’alofa & Tongatapu.
Car Hire in Vava’u
Also with less than 10 car hire companies is Vava’u. Car hire companies are based around Neiafu on Vava’u’s largest island, ‘Utu Vava’u, but offer delivery to the local airport. Car rental companies in Vava’u have limited fleets so it is best to book ahead if you can.
The main roads of Vava’u are sealed, some with a few potholes, while there are also a few well-maintained gravel roads to the island’s main attractions. A 2WD vehicle is suitable for most. See the 7 Best Car Rentals in Vava’u for a full comparison of rental companies.
Car Hire on ‘Eua
Car rental on the island of ‘Eua is available through some grocery stores and accommodations. Most can only be paid in cash, so be sure to bring enough with you to the island, as there is no ATM (and BSP agents often run out of cash). Expect small fleets with just three types of vehicles available: compact cars, SUVs and minivans.
‘Eua’s roads connecting villages are sealed, but roads to attractions on the south coast, north coast and ‘Eua National Park are dirt roads. You’ll get away with an SUV for visiting the south coast, but a 4WD is essential for the ‘Eua National Park and the north coast. There is the odd 4WD available for hire. Otherwise, these hard-to-reach sights are visited on ‘Eua’s 4WD sightseeing tours – see the 5 Best Off-Road Tours in Tonga.
See your rental options on ‘Eua in The Best Car Rentals on ‘Eua.
Car Hire in Ha’apai
For those who want to explore the causeway-connected islands of Lifuka and Foa in the island group of Ha’apai, car rentals are available. Around five Chinese grocery stores are offering rental vehicles, which can be arranged directly or through the Ha’apai Visitor Information Centre. All of them are based in Pangai, the main town on Lifuka.
The roads on Lifuka and Foa Islands are sealed and suitable for just about any 2WD. Our recommended rental company can be found in the 10 Best Car Rentals in Tonga.
The Vehicles You Can Hire in Tonga
A wide range of vehicle types is available to hire in Tonga, however, more so on Tongatapu than in the other island groups. Almost all rental cars are secondhand Japanese imports, usually of the brands Toyota or Honda. While some rental cars are relatively recent models, most rental cars are around 10-15 years old.
Vehicles available to hire in Tonga include:
- Compact cars, such as a Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit or something similar
- Medium cars, such as a Toyota Corolla or something similar
- SUVs, such as a Toyota Rav4, Nissan X-Trail or something similar
- 4WDs, such as a Toyota Hilux or something similar
- People-movers, such as a Toyota Voxy or something similar
- Minivans, such as a Toyota Hiace or something similar
- Scooters, see The Guide to Renting a Scooter in Tonga for more information.
We list all of the vehicle models in our car rental comparisons, starting with the 10 Best Car Rentals in Tonga.
The Cost of Car Rentals in Tonga
Car rentals can be pretty affordable in Tonga. Each rental vehicle in Tonga has a day rate, as well as other associated costs. Additional costs include fuel, airport or accommodation drop-off and/or, in the rare instance, an insurance add-on.
An Important Note About Car Rental Insurance in Tonga
With the exception of two companies that we are aware of, insurance is not offered for car rentals in Tonga. This means that you are fully liable for any damage caused to the car during your rental period.
Day Rates for Car Rentals in Tonga
Note that some companies reduce their day rates when hiring for 7+ days.
- Compact car/day – TOP$50-$70
- Medium car/day – TOP$100-$120
- SUV/day – TOP$120-$200
- 4WD/day – TOP$170-$300
- People-mover/day – TOP$150
- Minivan/day – TOP$150-$300
Additional Costs for Renting a Car in Tonga
- Petrol/litre – TOP$3.60-$3.80
- Diesel/litre – TOP$3.90-$4
- Airport delivery (Tongatapu, Vava’u) – TOP$50-$60
- Airport/wharf delivery (‘Eua) – FREE
- Nuku’alofa delivery (Tongatapu) – Free
- Insurance/day – TOP$25 (if available)
- Baby seat/day – TOP$0-$25 (if available)
- Unlimited kilometres – FREE
- Roadside assistance – FREE (if available)
- Bond (refundable) – TOP$200-$500.
Get a full car rental cost breakdown in our guide, How Much Does it Cost to Rent a Car in Tonga? For the cost of scooter rentals, on the other hand, check out Scooter Hire in Tonga: Where to Rent, Cost & More.
Other Things to Know About Car Rental in Tonga
There are a few more things you need to know about car rental in Tonga before you pick up the keys. As mentioned, some of the cars available to rent in Tonga are very old, so it’s best to check the vehicle thoroughly before agreeing to hire. Nevertheless, old dodgy cars are an exception to the rule, where most vehicles are well-maintained by car rental companies.
Another thing to note is that some car rental companies in Tonga only accept cash as payment. Many businesses in Tonga don’t accept credit or debit card, including some car rental companies. Always be sure to check with the company whether they accept card before pick-up, or else be sure to bring enough cash including for the security deposit.
Car rental offices are typically open from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm Monday to Friday, closing around 1 pm on Saturday and no offices open on Sunday.
Official car rental companies will go through a rental agreement and car inspection with you. However, there have been some reports, especially in Vava’u, that some companies or locals that offer car rentals don’t go through this process.
Finally, although the legal driving age in Tonga is 18 years old, almost all car rental companies in Tonga require drivers to be 21 years and over.
Hitting the Road
Your car rental only really gets started when you put your keys in the ignition and hit the road! However, Tonga’s roads might have different rules than what you are used to. Certain rules, like driving on the left side of the road and giving way to vehicles turning right might throw you off, so make sure you’re aware of the traffic laws.
Some important road rules to remember include:
- Drive on the left side of the road
- The speed limit in urban areas/villages is 50 kph
- The speed limit outside of urban areas is 70 kph
- At roundabouts, give way to vehicles approaching from the left
- Give way to vehicles turning right
- You can park on the side of the road only on the leftmost side
- You can’t park on footpaths, bus stops, in front of an access road, within 6 m (20 ft) of a pedestrian crossing, or within 30 ft of an intersection
- You can’t overtake within 10 m (30 ft) of an intersection
- You can’t overtake if a vehicle has stopped/slowed down to give way
- Observe road signage.
10 Reasons to Rent a Car in Tonga
Finally, is a car rental in Tonga right for you? Find out the reasons to rent a car in Tonga in the list below!
1. Experience the Freedom to Go Where You Want When You Want
Like anywhere in the world, car hire allows you to travel Tonga with the ultimate freedom. You’re not confined to the bus routes and schedules. You’re not stuck to the schedule and sights determined by tour companies. Enjoy experiencing Tonga at your own pace!
2. Stay Out of Town
Many travellers stay in the main towns, simply because they wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else otherwise. However, with your own car, you can take advantage of some of the stunning villas, apartments and resorts outside of the main towns. This often means staying in more idyllic surroundings that are much quieter than the bustling towns. That’s what a South Pacific holiday is about, after all!
3. You Can Do Something on a Sunday
Tonga shuts down on a Sunday, including all of the public transport. Having your own car rental means you won’t get stuck on a Sunday, giving you things to do such as sightseeing! Note that some sights and beaches have restrictions on a Sunday, which you can learn more about in the 10 Things to Do in Tonga on a Sunday.
4. It’s Affordable
You don’t have to empty your wallet to hire a car in Tonga. Most car rental day rates start at TOP$50 or $70, but it’s even possible to find as cheap at TOP$30 a day! Some car rental companies also offer weekly deals, making long-term rental better value. Find more ways to shave the cents in the 10 Ways to Save Money on Car Rental in Tonga.
5. They Offer Drop-Off Services
Most car rental companies in Tonga offer vehicle drop-off services, which is ultra-convenient if you can’t make your way to their depots. Most will offer a drop-off service at the airport, while others will drop off your chosen car right at your accommodation if it’s in town! Too easy!
6. Driving in Tonga is Relaxing
Forget inner-city traffic chaos. Tonga is a whole new level of relaxing when it comes to driving. The speed limits are around 50 kph (30 mph) in towns and only up to 70 kph (40 mph) outside of towns, so it gives you a great excuse to take it easy and embrace Tonga time! Hell, Tonga doesn’t even have any traffic lights! Still, the roads are well-maintained providing a smooth ride around the islands.
7. You Won’t Spend Hours Stuck in the Car
Even on Tonga’s two largest islands, they are still pretty small at less than 265 km² (100 mi²). It takes about one hour to drive from the westernmost tip of Tongatapu to the easternmost tip, but even then, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be in the car for that long. There’s so much to see and stop for on any road trip in Tonga. Check out our Road Trip Itinerary for Tongatapu, Ha’apai, ‘Eua and Vava’u for ideas.
8. Get Off the Beaten Track
Tonga is pretty much off the tourist trail already, but you can explore further with your own rental car! Drive to beaches you would never get to visit on a tour, pass through remote villages, and discover things well off the beaten track!
9. You Can Even Hire a Driver
Don’t fancy driving yourself? Well, there is at least one rental car company that also offers drivers for hire in Tongatapu! Tell your driver where you want to go, where you’ll still get to explore the island at your own pace. Alternatively, treat it more like a tour where your driver will be your guide around the island. See Hiring a Driver in Tonga for more information.
10. Get a Visitor’s Driving Licence as a Souvenir
Yes, in order for some visitors to legally drive in Tonga (those that have to apply manually for a visitor visa), they need to obtain a Visitor’s Driving Licence. Sure, some might think this is a bit of a nuisance, but at least you get a souvenir at the end of your trip. Admittedly, the Visitor’s Driving Licence is just a piece of printed cardboard, but… Anyway, learn more about it in the How to Get a Tonga Visitor’s Driving Licence.
More About Renting a Car in Tonga
That’s it for our guide on what you need to hire a car in Tonga. Of course, there’s always more to learn, so check out more of our articles on the subject.
- Do You Need an International Driving Permit for Tonga?
- Should You Rent a Car or Use a Taxi in Tonga?
- The Driving Times in Tonga You Need to Know
Finally, be sure to bookmark our Tonga Transport Guide: 10 Ways to Get Around Tonga for even more transport tips.