Insular area

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Locations of the insular areas of the United States, color-coded to indicate status
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The 50 states and the District of Columbia
Incorporated, unorganized territory
Unincorporated territory with Commonwealth status
Unincorporated, organized territory
Unincorporated, unorganized territory US insular areas SVG.svg
Locations of the insular areas of the United States, color-coded to indicate status
  Incorporated, unorganized territory
  Unincorporated territory with Commonwealth status
  Unincorporated, organized territory
  Unincorporated, unorganized territory

An insular area of the United States is a U.S. territory that is not one of the 50 states and is not a Federal district. Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution grants to the United States Congress the responsibility of overseeing these territories. [lower-alpha 1] As of 2020, there are 14 U.S. Territories: 3 in the Caribbean Sea and 11 in the Pacific Ocean. [1] These territories are classified by whether they are incorporated (by Congress extending the full body of the Constitution to the territory as it applies to the several states) and whether they have an organized territorial government established by the U.S. Congress through an organic act. [2] All territories but one are unincorporated, and all but four are considered to be unorganized. Five U.S. territories have a permanent, nonmilitary population. Each of them has a civilian government, a constitution, and enjoys some degree of local political autonomy.


American Samoa Ofu Beach American Samoa US National Park Service.jpg
American Samoa


The first insular areas that the United States occupied were Baker Island, Howland Island and Navassa Island (1857) then Johnston Atoll and Jarvis Island (both in 1858) would be claimed. After the War between the United States and Spain in 1898, several territories were taken that are still under U.S. sovereignty (Puerto Rico and Guam, both in 1898). [3] Palmyra Atoll was annexed along with the Republic of Hawaii (formerly a Kingdom) that same year. American Samoa was reclaimed the following year (1899). In 1917, at the height of World War I, Denmark sold the Danish Virgin Islands to the United States. [4]

The former British-American condominium of Canton and Enderbury, consisting of the atolls of Canton and Enderbury in the northeast of the Phoenix Islands, became part of this new island state on July 12, 1979, the day of independence from the State of Kiribati.

The U.S. Navy annexed Kingman Reef in 1922. Spain had sold the Northern Mariana Islands to Germany in 1899. [5] The islands passed to Japan, which in turn lost them to the United States in 1945 after the end of World War II. The Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, located on the southern side of Guantanamo Bay and taken from Spain in 1898, is not a U.S. outlying territory but a U.S. military base on formally "leased" land on the island of Cuba. [6]

The Marshall Islands became self-governing in 1979 and fully independent along with the Federated States of Micronesia in 1986. Palau achieved independence in 1994. [7] The three countries maintain sovereignty with free association status with the United States, which provides them with defense assistance and economic resources.


Congress has extended citizenship rights by birth to all inhabited territories except American Samoa, and these citizens may vote and run for office in any U.S. jurisdiction in which they are residents. The people of American Samoa are U.S. nationals by place of birth, or they are U.S. citizens by parentage, or naturalization after residing in a State for three months. [8] Nationals are free to move around and seek employment within the United States without immigration restrictions, but cannot vote or hold office outside American Samoa. [9]


Residents of the five major populated insular areas do not pay U.S. federal income taxes but are required to pay other U.S. federal taxes such as import and export taxes, [10] [11] federal commodity taxes, [12] social security taxes, etc. Individuals working for the federal government pay federal income taxes while all residents are required to pay federal payroll taxes (Social Security [13] and Medicare). According to IRS Publication 570, income from other U.S. Pacific Ocean insular areas (Howland, Baker, Jarvis, Johnston, Midway, Palmyra, and Wake Islands, and Kingman Reef) is fully taxable as income of United States residents. [14]

Associated states

The U.S. State Department also uses the term insular area to refer not only to territories under the sovereignty of the United States, but also those independent nations that have signed a Compact of Free Association with the United States. While these nations participate in many otherwise domestic programs, and full responsibility for their military defense rests with the United States, they are legally distinct from the United States and their inhabitants are neither U.S. citizens nor nationals. [1]

Current U.S. insular areas by status

The following islands, or island groups, are considered insular areas:

Capitol of Puerto Rico, the largest insular area Capitolio de Puerto Rico (28755163211) (cropped).jpg
Capitol of Puerto Rico, the largest insular area

Organized incorporated territories


Unorganized incorporated territories

One (uninhabited)

Organized unincorporated territories

Four (inhabited)

Unorganized unincorporated territories

One (inhabited)

Ten (uninhabited)

Wake Island Lagoon Wake Island Lagoon Paradise by Matthew Piatkowski.jpg
Wake Island Lagoon

Freely associated states

Three sovereign UN member states which were all formerly in the U.S. administered United Nations Trust Territory and are currently in free association with the U.S. The U.S. provides national defense, funding, and access to social services.

Former territories

See also


  1. Although an archaism, some older federal statutes and regulations still in force refer to insular areas as possessions.
  2. The Panama Canal itself was under joint U.S.–Panamanian control from 1979 until it was fully turned over to Panama on December 31, 1999.

Related Research Articles

Jarvis Island Coral island located in the South Pacific Ocean

Jarvis Island is an uninhabited 1+34-square-mile (4.5 km2) coral island located in the South Pacific Ocean, about halfway between Hawaii and the Cook Islands. It is an unincorporated, unorganized territory of the United States, administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service of the United States Department of the Interior as part of the National Wildlife Refuge system. Unlike most coral atolls, the lagoon on Jarvis is wholly dry.

Kingman Reef reef and unincorporated U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean

Kingman Reef is a largely submerged, uninhabited, triangle-shaped reef, 9.0 nautical miles east-west and 4.5 nmi (8 km) north-south, in the North Pacific Ocean, roughly halfway between the Hawaiian Islands and American Samoa. It has an area of 3 hectares and is one of the unincorporated territories of the United States in Oceania.

Palmyra Atoll Uninhabited Pacific atoll and unorganized incorporated U.S. territory

Palmyra Atoll, also referred to as Palmyra Island, is one of the Northern Line Islands. It is located almost due south of the Hawaiian Islands, roughly one-third of the way between Hawaii and American Samoa. The nearest continent is almost 3,355 miles to the northeast. The atoll is 4.6 sq mi (12 km2), lying in the equatorial Northern Pacific Ocean. Its 9 miles (14 km) of coastline has one anchorage known as West Lagoon.

United States Minor Outlying Islands Statistical designation defined by the International Organization for Standardizations ISO 3166-1 code

United States Minor Outlying Islands is a statistical designation defined by the International Organization for Standardization's ISO 3166-1 code. The entry code is ISO 3166-2:UM. The minor outlying islands and groups of islands consist of eight United States insular areas in the Pacific Ocean and one in the Caribbean Sea.

In the United States, a territory is any extent of region under the sovereign jurisdiction of the federal government of the United States, including all waters. The United States asserts sovereign rights for exploring, exploiting, conserving, and managing its territory. This extent of territory is all the area belonging to, and under the dominion of, the United States federal government for administrative and other purposes. The United States total territory includes a subset of political divisions.

In the United States, an unorganized territory is a region of land under U.S. sovereignty that is not within the bounds of a U.S. state and that is without a government established by the United States Congress through an organic act. The term was historically applied either to a newly acquired region not yet constituted as an organized incorporated territory, or to a region previously part of an organized incorporated territory left "unorganized" after part of it had been organized and achieved the requirements for statehood. The U.S. currently exercises sovereignty over ten unorganized territories: American Samoa, Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Atoll, Navassa Island, Palmyra Atoll, and Wake Island.

This article contains links to lists of hospitals in the United States, including U.S. States, the District, insular areas, and outlying islands. Links to more detailed state lists are shown. According to a report by the Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina in 2017, 79 mostly rural hospitals have closed since 2010, mostly across the Southern United States.

In 45 of the 50 states of the United States, the county is used for the level of local government immediately below the state itself. Louisiana uses parishes, and Alaska uses boroughs. In several states in New England, some or all counties within states have no governments of their own; the counties continue to exist as legal entities, however, and are used by states for some administrative functions and by the United States Census bureau for statistical analysis. There are 3,242 counties and county equivalent administrative units in total, including the District of Columbia and 100 county-equivalents in the U.S. territories.

Political divisions of the United States States, the District of Columbia, territories; and their subdivisions

Political divisions of the United States are the various recognized governing entities that together form the United States – states, the District of Columbia, territories and Indian reservations.

Territories of the United States Sub-national administrative divisions overseen by the United States government

Territories of the United States are sub-national administrative divisions overseen by the United States government. The various U.S. territories differ from the U.S. states and Indian tribes in that they are not sovereign entities. In contrast, each state has a sovereignty separate from that of the federal government and each federally recognized Native American tribe possesses limited tribal sovereignty as a "dependent sovereign nation". Territories are classified by incorporation and whether they have an "organized" government through an organic act passed by the Congress. U.S. territories are under U.S. sovereignty and, consequently, may be treated as part of the United States proper in some ways and not others. Unincorporated territories in particular are not considered to be integral parts of the United States, and the Constitution of the United States applies only partially in those territories.

Commonwealth is a term used by two unincorporated territories of the United States in their full official names. The territories are: the Northern Mariana Islands, whose full name is Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico, which is named Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in English and Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico in Spanish, translating to "Free Associated State of Puerto Rico." The term was also used by the Philippines during most of its period under U.S. sovereignty, when it was officially called the Commonwealth of the Philippines.

Office of Insular Affairs Subsidiary of the Department of the Interior

The Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) is a unit of the United States Department of the Interior that oversees federal administration of several United States insular areas. It is the successor to the Bureau of Insular Affairs of the War Department, which administered certain territories from 1902 to 1939, and the Office of Territorial Affairs in the Interior Department, which was responsible for certain territories from the 1930s to the 1990s. The word "insular" comes from the Latin word insula ("island").

Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument Group of unorganized United States Pacific Island territories

The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument is a group of unorganized, mostly unincorporated United States Pacific Island territories managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service of the United States Department of the Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States Department of Commerce. These remote refuges are "the most widespread collection of marine- and terrestrial-life protected areas on the planet under a single country's jurisdiction". They protect many endemic species including corals, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, seabirds, water birds, land birds, insects, and vegetation not found elsewhere.

Under United States Law, an unincorporated territory is an area controlled by the U.S. federal government that is not "incorporated" for the purposes of United States constitutional law. In unincorporated territories, the U.S. Constitution applies only partially. In unincorporated territories, "fundamental rights apply as a matter of law, but other constitutional rights are not available," raising concerns about how citizens in these territories can influence politics in the United States. Selected constitutional provisions apply, depending on congressional acts and judicial rulings according to U.S. constitutional practice, local tradition, and law. As such, these territories are often considered colonies of the United States.

Index of United States–related articles Wikipedia index

The following is an alphabetical list of articles related to the United States of America.

Howland Island and Baker Island are two uninhabited U.S. atolls in the Equatorial Pacific that are located close to one another. Both islands are wildlife refuges, the larger of which is Howland Island. They are both part of the larger political territory of the United States Minor Outlying Islands and they are also both part of the larger geographic grouping of the Phoenix Islands. Each is a National Wildlife Refuge managed by a division of Interior, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. On January 6, 2009, President George Bush, included both islands to the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Outline of Oceania Overview of and topical guide to Oceania

The following outline is provided as an overview and topical guide to Oceania.


  1. 1 2 "Definitions of Insular Area Political Organizations". Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior. Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  2. "Definitions of Insular Area Political Organizations". Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior. Retrieved March 11, 2018.
  3. Tagliaferro, Linda (2004-01-01). Puerto Rico in Pictures. Twenty-First Century Books. ISBN   978-0-8225-0936-3.
  4. Statistical Abstract of the United States 2001: The National Data Book. U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistical Administration, Bureau of the Census. 2001. ISBN   978-0-934213-84-4.
  5. Goldberg, Walter M. (2017-12-08). The Geography, Nature and History of the Tropical Pacific and its Islands. Springer. ISBN   978-3-319-69532-7.
  6. Hansen, Jonathan M. (2011-10-11). Guantánamo: An American History. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN   978-0-8090-4897-7.
  7. J, Clinton, William (1994-01-01). Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton, 1994. Best Books on. ISBN   978-1-62376-794-5.
  8. PBS Newshour, "American Samoans don't have right to U.S. citizenship", Associated Press, June 5, 2015, viewed August 13, 2015.
  9. US Department of Interior. "Insular Area Summary for American Samoa" Archived 2015-08-20 at the Wayback Machine . viewed August 13, 2015.
  10. "Puerto Ricans pay import/export taxes". Archived from the original on April 1, 2010. Retrieved August 14, 2010.
  11. U.S. State Dept. "Foreign Relations of the United States" . Retrieved May 18, 2016. The people of Puerto Rico will continue to be exempt from Federal income taxes on the income they derive from sources within Puerto Rico, and into their treasury, for appropriation and expenditure as their legislature may decide, will be deposited the proceeds of United States internal revenue taxes collected on articles produced in Puerto Rico and the proceeds of United States tariffs and customs collected on foreign merchandise entering Puerto Rico.
  12. "Puerto Ricans pay federal commodity taxes". Archived from the original on 2010-04-01. Retrieved 2011-10-30.
  13. "Topic Number 903 - U.S. Employment Tax in Puerto Rico". December 18, 2009. Retrieved January 11, 2019.
  14. Publication 570 (PDF). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Internal Revenue Service. 2017. Retrieved April 12, 2018.