Building Guidance

Thinking of developing your land or building your home?

Before you build your home, it is important to familiarize yourself with construction-related laws in the Cook Islands. It is the duty of anyone responsible for building work to understand and meet their obligations.

A Land Development Guide has been developed under the International Waters Ridge to Reef Project.  The guide was produced in collaboration between agencies involved in the development process to provide people an easy to understand document of the permitting processes involved in land development and connection of utility services.  From that, the guide provides helpful tips to think about to future proof your home or accommodation and to provide environmental benefits.

The International Waters Ridge to Reef Project was carried out under the Infrastructure Cook Islands.  The aim of the Project is to improve land practices.  The outcome sought by this guide is to encourage developers large and small early in the planning stage to think about incorporating sustainable ways to go about their development and remove the mystery of the permitting process.

Apply for a Building Permit

In order to construct any structure in the Cook Islands, you must apply for a Building Permit. Be clear with your building team who will be responsible for filing a building permit, such as a contractor or builder, with a full understanding of when each permit needs to be obtained. It’s important that any building development complies with the relevant Cook Islands Building Codes and Regulatory to certify that the final building is safe and fit for purpose. There are three agencies involved in the granting of a Building Permit.

These are;
1) National Environment Service (NES)
NES ensure that there is minimal to no significant environmental impact of any new building or development. Collect an Environmental Significance Declaration form from NES.

Submit the completed form with four copies of the building and site plans and wastewater design report.

The information on these documents will be used to determine whether or not an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Report is required. NES is mainly concerned about soil and beach erosion, pollution, waste management, adaptation to climate change and conservation of our natural resources. Once the declaration has been reviewed, and if no environmental concerns have been identified, a permit will be issued. Click here for NES Website information and contact details.

Note: if approved, one of the four approved copies of your building and site plans will be held with NES for their records.

2) Ministry of Health

Ministry of Health review and approve the design and installation of the sanitation and sewerage systems for new developments or buildings in Rarotonga and Aitutaki.

There are different types of sanitation and sewerage systems to choose from. All you do is submit an application to the Ministry of Health to review and approve the sanitation and sewage system design. This is to ensure it is in compliance with the health, environment and building regulations.

Click below for all relevant documents related to the outline of new requirements for quality sewage systems.

Relevant documents





Click here for Ministry of Health’s website and contact details.

Note: if approved, one of the three approved copies of your building and site plans will be held with the Ministry of Health for their records. A site sanitation design plan will be issued.


3) Infrastructure Cook Islands (ICI)
Once approval of the sanitation and sewage system design for the building or development has been received from Ministry of Health, the next stage is to submit a final application to Infrastructure Cook Islands for final approval that the design complies with the Building Regulations and Cook Islands Building Code. Infrastructure Cook Islands administer the application of the Building Acts and Regulatory and the associated Cook Islands Building Code. This includes minimum dimensional requirements and site layouts, structural integrity and safety, electrical installation and safety and mechanical ventilation requirements, among other key design aspects.

If you wish to purchase the Cook Islands Building Code 2019, please contact the ICI office on +682 20321.  Please note, this comes with the Cook Islands Building Manual (for domestic residential dwellings only). 

Click here to apply for ICI’s Builders Permit. Ensure all details are completed.

Note: if approved, one of the two approved copies of your building and site plans and sanitation design plan will be held with ICI for their records. It is prudent for the applicant to then make three scanned copies of these approved documents (one for the builder, one for the plumber and one for the electrician), and to keep the original signed documents for their own records.

Casper Mateariki (ICI’s Building Inspector)

Regulatory Review Requirement

Once approval has been granted by ICI, a Building Permit will be issued, allowing you to commence with the construction phase of the new building or development. Regulatory reviews may be required by all three agencies. Throughout construction, ongoing inspections of the site works may be required. Permits should be accounted for in your budget, and can also affect your timeline. Some people don’t see the point in obtaining all of these permits, but this process is only carried out to ensure the safety of all that will access the structure or development.

Frequent communication with everyone involved in your build project, combined with your understanding of the process, will ensure the proper steps are being taken.

If you’re doing it yourself, be informed, educated, and compliant from the start, or else your project could end up having to be altered or even completely removed later on. Do your research and build smart.