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Common Client Questions: About the Cook Islands

September 24, 2015

We have often written about the laws of the Cook Islands, and why that country is the premier jurisdiction for offshore asset protection planning. (See our articles: https://protectyou.com/1996/01/review-of-offshore-jurisdictions-part-1/, https://protectyou.com/1999/09/the-cook-islands-stand-up-to-the-u-s/, https://protectyou.com/2003/08/legislative-update-cook-islands-2003/, https://protectyou.com/2014/07/misconceptions-and-realities-about-cook-islands-trusts/)

Clients and prospective clients often ask about the country itself.

Geography and Associations

The Cook Islands is a small island nation situated about 2,000 miles north east of New Zealand. By comparison, Hawaii is about 2,400 miles off the coast of the continental United States. The Cook Islands originally became a British protectorate at the turn of the 20th century, and remained part of New Zealand until 1965 when it became self-governing. It remains in free association with New Zealand today.

The geographical distance from the United States provides an added asset protection benefit. The costs necessary for a creditor’s attorney to appear in a Cook Islands court are high, since either a Cook Islands or New Zealand co-counsel must be utilized

The country consists of 15 islands, 13 of which are populated, which in total cover 93 square miles (about 1/3 the size of New York City). However, the spread of the islands in the Pacific Ocean results in the Cook Islands exclusive economic zone covering some 700,000 square miles of ocean.  The most populous island, Rarotonga, includes the nation’s capital city of Avarua. It is also home to the trust companies, banks, and other financial service providers.

Time Zone

Avarua falls in the UTC -10 time zone. This means that business hours in the Cook Islands (8am local time for many trust companies and banks) begins at 11am Pacific time and 2pm Eastern time. This provides for same-day action on business items sent by email, fax, or telephone.

Legal System

The Cook Islands is a part of the Commonwealth of Nations (previously known as the British Commonwealth). As a former British protectorate, its legal system is based on the same common-law English system that we utilize in the U.S. (in all states but Louisiana, which uses the French civil-law system). Membership in the Commonwealth means that the country maintains strong diplomatic ties with other commonwealth nations, and that they recognize the British monarch as their monarch (in much the same as Canada).

Most importantly for asset protection, the Cook Islands have no treaties with the United States, and will not enforce U.S. judgments.

Economy and Finance

Tourism is the largest industry in the Cooks, but the second largest is financial services. Since the enactment of the Cook Islands International Trust Act in 1984, financial services, and specifically fees generated by offshore asset protection trusts settled predominantly by Americans, account for as much as 10% of the country’s economy. The importance of this industry provides further incentive for the country and its courts to safeguard its reputation as the premier asset protection jurisdiction.

In addition to tourism and finance, the country has thriving pearl and marine export industries.

Culture and People

What contributes to the Cook Islands’ success as an offshore asset protection jurisdiction is its people. The islands are inhabited by a blend of Polynesian natives and New Zealand imports, resulting in a unique history and culture, with English and Maori being the spoken languages. Many Cook Islanders study at universities in New Zealand before returning home to engage in local businesses.

This carries over to the trust companies and financial institutions, which are staffed predominantly by New Zealand or U.S. educated attorneys, accountants, and other professionals.

Cook Islands trust companies and banks are staffed by teams with unparalleled levels of professionalism. Their modern approach to financial administration, combined with reasonable fees, and the ability to conduct financial transactions in USD, makes the Cook Islands the ideal country for delivering offshore asset protection planning services to Americans.