There are HOW MANY US Territories?



“Super Typhoon Yutu, with sustained winds of 180 mph, is on a trek through the Northern Mariana Islands. The storm is roaring across the U.S. islands of Saipan and Tinian, part of the island chain, and will become one of the most intense storms on record to hit U.S. soil.” The Washington Post October 24, 2018

Wait, what?  Those islands are US soil?  Really?  Maybe I used to know that…… or maybe it is something they tried to teach me in school.

So, that “surprise” has had me wondering about what other places there might be that I didn’t know were part of the U.S. in some way, and I finally got around to checking and I think I have it figured out.  I thought it was worth sharing.

As you might expect – we’re dealing with US government matters here – it’s complicated. Just to confuse things, there are different names used for places that are not among the 50 states plus the District of Columbia: Territory, Commonwealth, Protectorate, Possession and Insular Area. 

Insular Area seems to be the official term that encompasses all of them but Territory is probably the term most in common usage.  There are currently fourteen -- three in the Caribbean Sea and eleven in the Pacific Ocean.

They are classified by whether they are incorporated or unincorporated and whether they are organized or unorganized.  All but one are unincorporated, and all but four are considered to be unorganized. Five have a permanent, nonmilitary population. Each of the populated insular areas has a civilian government, a constitution, and enjoys some degree of local political autonomy.

Basically, Incorporated means that Congress has acted to apply the full Constitution to the area as if it was one of the 50 states. OK, so that makes sense, except that the only incorporated place is Palmyra Atoll -- The U.S. Territory of Palmyra Island -- which is technically uninhabited. It is mostly owned by the federal government and the Nature Conservancy and administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Under the “unincorporated” heading are areas where Congress has determined that only selected parts of the United States Constitution apply which leads to other complicating factors such as differing citizenship, voting and other rights for residents.  The rule: Congress has extended citizenship rights by birth to all inhabited territories and these citizens may vote and run for office in any U.S. jurisdiction in which they are residents.  The exception: 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. Nationals are free to move around and seek employment within the United States without immigration restrictions but they are not U.S. “citizens” so they cannot vote or hold office outside American Samoa. That follows, since they are self-governing under their own Constitution enacted by the residents (it’s officially unorganized because the US government did not create their government).

Then there’s “organized” or “unorganized.”  Organized essentially means that US Congress has established some form of government for them, usually with a Bill of Rights and a three-branch government similar to what the US Constitution establishes.

Organized unincorporated territories – there are Four (all inhabited)
  • Guam (organized under the Guam Organic Act of 1950)
  • Northern Mariana Islands (Commonwealth, organized under 1975 covenant). Comprised of fourteen islands in the northwestern Pacific Ocean.  The vast majority of the population resides on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota Islands
  • Puerto Rico (Commonwealth, organized under the Puerto Rico Federal Relations Act of 1950)
  • United States Virgin Islands (1954 Revised Organic Act of the Virgin Islands). The U.S. Virgin Islands consists of the main islands of Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas, and many other surrounding minor islands.
Unorganized unincorporated territories -- Eleven (one inhabited, ten uninhabited)
  • American Samoa - The largest and most populous island is Tutuila, with the Manuʻa Islands, Rose Atoll, and Swains Island also included in the territory. Note: there is also an independent Samoa.
Then there are the 10 uninhabited islands. They have been added to the US under – get this – The Guano Islands Act of 1856. Yep, it’s all about bird poop! 




It happens that the stuff is (or was more so in the past) pretty valuable, which has resulted in some disputes:
  • Baker Island
  • Howland Island
  • Jarvis Island
  • Johnston Atoll
  • Kingman Reef 
  • Midway Atoll (administered as a National Wildlife Refuge)
  • Bajo Nuevo Bank (disputed with Colombia, Honduras and Jamaica) 
  • Navassa Island (disputed with Haiti)
  • Serranilla Bank (disputed with Colombia, Jamaica and Nicaragua)
  • Wake Island (disputed with Marshall Islands)
There are a few odd-ball things that don’t fit any of the above, including three Freely Associated States. The freely associated states are sovereign states with a Compact of Free Association with the United States where the U.S. provides national defense, funding, and access to social services but that’s all:  
  • Federated States of Micronesia
  • Marshall Islands
  • Palau
Another location that might be thought of as a territory is actually leased land:  Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo). It is a United States military base and detention camp located 45 sq miles of land and water at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

So there you go, more than you ever wanted to know?

(Sources: Wikipedia, US Department of the Interior and other government sites)


By the way, should you be interested in property in any of these places, feel free to let me know.  CLICK HERE and I'll get started!

PS- If you have any family, coworkers, neighbors, friends or enemies who may be interested in buying or selling a home or other property, please forward my contact information to them.

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JIM AT THE TOP
Jim Pedicord RE/MAX Top Realty
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