Territories of the United States

Territories of the United States are sub-national administrative divisions overseen by the U.S. federal government. The various U.S. territories differ from the U.S. states and Native American tribes in that they are not sovereign entities.[note 2] 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".[9] Territories are classified by incorporation and whether they have an "organized" government through an organic act passed by the Congress.[10] 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.[11] Unincorporated territories in particular are not considered to be integral parts of the United States,[12] and the Constitution of the United States applies only partially in those territories.[13][14][10][15]

Territories of the United States
  Incorporated, unorganized territory
  Unincorporated territory with Commonwealth status
  Unincorporated, organized territory
  Unincorporated, unorganized territory
Largest settlementSan Juan, Puerto Rico
LanguagesEnglish, Spanish, Chamorro, Carolinian, Samoan
2 disputed territories
Joe Biden
List of current territorial governors
22,294.19 km2 (8,607.83 sq mi)
4,100,954 in 2010[1]
3,569,284 in 2020[2][3][4][5][6][7][note 1]
CurrencyUnited States dollar
Date formatmm/dd/yyyy (AD)
  1. "Commonwealth" does not describe a political status, and has been applied to states and territories. When used for U.S. non-states, the term describes a self-governed area with a constitution whose right of self-government will not be unilaterally withdrawn by Congress.[8]

The U.S. currently administers three[13][16] territories in the Caribbean Sea and eleven in the Pacific Ocean.[note 3][note 4] Five territories (American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands) are permanently inhabited, unincorporated territories; the other nine are small islands, atolls, and reefs with no native (or permanent) population. Of the nine, only one is classified as an incorporated territory (Palmyra Atoll). Two additional territories (Bajo Nuevo Bank and Serranilla Bank) are claimed by the United States but administered by Colombia.[14][18][19] Historically, territories were created to administer newly acquired land, and most eventually attained statehood.[20][21] Others, such as the Philippines, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau, later became independent.[note 5]

Many organized, incorporated territories existed from 1789 to 1959. The first were the Northwest and Southwest territories and the last were the Alaska and Hawaii territories. Thirty-one territories (or parts of territories) became states. In the process, some less-populous areas of a territory were orphaned from it after a statehood referendum. When a portion of the Missouri Territory became the state of Missouri, the remainder of the territory (the present-day states of Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota, most of Kansas, Wyoming, and Montana, and parts of Colorado and Minnesota) became an unorganized territory.[22]

Politically and economically, the territories are underdeveloped. Residents of U.S. territories cannot vote in U.S. Presidential elections, and they have only non-voting representation in the U.S. Congress.[14] Territorial telecommunications and other infrastructure is generally inferior to that of the continental United States and Hawaii, and some territories' Internet speed was found to be slower than the least developed countries in Eastern Europe.[23] Poverty rates are higher in the territories than in the states.[24][25]