How to Drive in Tonga

You need to get a Tongan driving license to rent a car. How hard can it be? I mean, all you need to do is go down to the office, show your regular drivers license, pay a small fee and away you go. Simple… right?

rent a car in Tonga

Getting a temporary Tongan drivers license

It took us two full days of what turned out to be semi-aimless wandering to achieve this small task. Two full days.

Paying the fee isn’t hard. Proving you can drive isn’t hard. Whats difficult is actually locating the damned office.

Our (dated) guide book told us we needed to go to the police station. Easy right. We walked up to the guarded entrance. “Is this where we get a Tongan drivers license?” Our question was met with complete and utter confusion. They had no idea what we were talking about.

Try the fire station they told us.

How Nuku’alofa is a very small city, but despite that, no one seemed to know where anything was. The fire station attendants were just as confused as we were when we wandered in with our guide book and crumpled map. “Try the big blue building… that’s where all the government offices are”, we were told.

Six flights of stairs later and we were still in the wrong place. No one at the myriad of government offices knew where you get a drivers license either.

How I thought! How do none of these people know where the licensing office is?!? How do they… you know…. drive?

The tourist office didn’t know. The expat cafe and booking agent didn’t know either. Ok, I thought, why not go to the source. We tramped over to a car rental place….. aannnddd…. they knew!

We wandered down a quiet and desolate road, past an abandoned petrol station, and to a small unmarked office building. We didn’t know what we were queuing for, but when we got to the front of the line the lady didn’t seem phased when we handed her Dan’s drivers license. 15 minutes later (and two days of searching), we had a Tongan drivers license.

temporary tongan drivers license

The hardest part of driving in Tonga, is finding the licensing office
We had heaps of trouble actually finding the transport office where you can get a temporary Tongan drivers license. We are not going to tell you where we eventually found it – because it appears that it’s location is always changing – and we don’t want to lead you astray. Instead our top tip is to ask at the car rental location if they can take you to licensing office.

 Find your rental car

There are only a few rental car agencies in Nuku’alofa so it isn’t too hard to do your comparative shopping. Most of the car rental agencies are fairly close to each other as well.

We went for a cheapest rental we could find…. which was fine… except if you do this you might want to make sure you have a basic idea of how cars work. Most of Tonga is small villages and rural areas, so if anything goes wrong with your vehicle you might be on your own for a while…

…which is what happened to us. We were at the blowholes, and when we were ready to leave we went to start our car… and…. nothing. Luckily Dan has a basic knowledge of how cars work and we were able to start the vehicle by Dan pushing two wires together while I turned the key in the ignition…. no joke….  and that was how we had to start the car from that point onwards. (Which sort of added to the story of the experience, and is one of our funniest memories from Tonga.)

Driving in Tonga is really the best way to get around and see the main island of Tongatapu. If you are not able to hire a car, we strongly recommend finding a day tour which will take you around to some of the islands most unforgettable sights. Stay tuned for our next post …. a guide to road tripping Tongatapu.

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