The international driver's license isn't recognized in Samoa and you're supposed to get a local driver's license from the Ministry of Works, Transport, and Infrastructure licensing office (open weekdays 0800 to 1600) opposite the Flea Market in Apia. A temporary 30-day driving permit is available with no photos required. The car rental company will probably also want to see your home driver's license.
Many side roads are too rough for a car and most agencies will tell you the insurance isn't valid if you drive on them. Make reservations ahead if you want a 4WD. A few of the car rental agencies are evasive about what is and isn't covered by the optional collision insurance, and some rental cars don't carry any collision insurance at all. Even with collision insurance you're still responsible for the "excess" or minimum deductible amount.
Check the car very carefully before you drive off, and don't under any circumstances leave your passport as security on a car rental. Be suspicious; we get more than the usual number of complaints about car rentals at Apia (if you get the feeling that a company is unreliable, trust that impression and look elsewhere). On the positive side, car rental rates in Samoa are the lowest in the South Pacific and they are often negotiable! Despite occasional shortages, gasoline prices in Samoa and American Samoa are also among the best in the region.
On September 7, 2009, Samoans began driving on the left, as is the case in New Zealand, Australia, and Japan. Speed limits are 40 kph in Apia or 56 kph on the open road (25 kph around schools). Drive very slowly and avoid hitting any people or animals. Some cars create a nuisance by driving way too slow, forcing you to pass, and you should honk whenever passing anything.Many drivers resist using their headlights after dark, and outside Apia pedestrians dominate the roadways.
You'll often see people walking along a paved highway oblivious to approaching traffic, especially in the late afternoon. If you're forced to swerve dangerously to miss them or have to stop to avoid hitting another car, they'll just laugh. If you do hit something valuable like a large pig, drive back to Apia and turn yourself in to the police. If you stop you could be stoned, and heaven help you if you hit a Samoan! One Apia car rental company has this line in their brochure: "Stopping to verify the extend (sic) of possible injuries sustained to a third party could prove fatal to yourself." If you do become involved in a roadside dispute, don't react to excited bystanders—ask to speak to the pulenu'u right away.
Occasionally, Samoan children throw stones at cars they think are driving through their village too quickly, and the rental agency will hold you responsible for the broken windshield. If you park a rental car in a village without permission, you risk having it vandalized. All rental vehicles have an R on the license plate and are easily recognized.
Except for two gas stations near Fasito'outa out toward Faleolo Airport, fuel isn't usually available outside Apia, so plan ahead. Ask the car rental company which gas station they recommend, as some stations have tanks that let rainwater leak in. If you want to take the car to Savai'i make sure it's allowed before signing the rental contract (many agencies won't allow you to do this). You can reserve a car space on the ferry at the office of the Samoa Shipping Corporation near the main wharf in Apia. However, taking a rental car from Upolu to Savai'i is always risky because if there's any problem with the car you'll be responsible for getting it repaired or towed back to Upolu.
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