Palau car hire



Visitors are drawn to Palau mainly by the prospect of swimming in a lake full of jellyfish and diving or snorkelling around the stunning Rock Islands. Having made the long journey to reach this Pacific island it’s only natural that many will also want to see a little bit more of the country and hiring a car to drive around the main island of Babeldaob appears to be a sensible option. Touring independently by car however is not as simple as it seems, thanks to a level of bureaucracy that appears geared towards deterring any thought of unescorted travel around the country.




Car rental itself is not a problem. Several international agencies compete with local two-bit rental companies meaning that prices remain reasonably competitive. It’s when you set off and leave the main town of Koror that you run into the Palau permit madness.




That a country with a population of only 20,000 is divided into 16 states is strange enough. To then build in a requirement that all visitors who enter any of the states should first register at the municipal office for that state and pay a nominal visitor permit fee (usually $5) is beyond comprehension.




If you drive the 50 mile loop around Babeldaob (the main island on which the majority of states lie) you’ll pass through no fewer than 10 states. According to the Palau Visitors Authority advice you should report immediately at each individual state office, pay for a Visitors Permit and then pay an additional fee (usually $5) for each historic or cultural site you intend to visit. Those travelling with Palauan tour operators will pay these fees as part of their tour price.




I asked the staff at the Visitors Authority what visitors should do if the State Offices are closed (as they are on Sundays and public holidays) and they told me that visitors should not visit states if they cannot register and buy a permit on arrival. In other words, do not rent a car on a Sunday and expect to tour the island legally as you won’t be able to pay your dues to the local administrators.




That the policy is poorly enforced is one thing. We drove around the island over a holiday period (Dec 31st and Jan 1st) and were only asked to pay a fee at one cultural site and never asked to show a permit. We were able to park and take a look around all other sites without anyone seeing anyone around.  If you drive around the island on a Sunday you might well find the same situation.




But consider this. If you intend to observe Palauan law and register at each State Office on your tour of the island, a circuit of the island will cost you at least $50 in state fees. On top of that each person will need to pay out another $50-100 to visit a handful of historic and cultural monuments and places of interest (or most probably, mild curiosity). Worse still, you will take up the bulk of your trip trying to find the State Offices when you cross any state boundary (typically every 5 miles).




The remote states of Palau do have sites of interest that justify taking a car and exploring them at your leisure. How much you choose to observe the letter of the law will determine whether you spend your time actually visiting those sites rather than chasing after the paper trail created by Palau’s bureaucrats.


You can get Palau included in your RTW here