A dependent territory, dependent area or dependency is a territory that does not possess full political independence or sovereignty as a sovereign state yet remains politically outside the controlling state's integral area.
A dependency is commonly distinguished from country subdivisions by not being considered to be an integral territory of the governing state. Administrative subdivisions instead are understood as typically representing a division of the state proper. A dependent territory conversely often maintains a great degree of autonomy from the controlling central state. Historically, most colonies were considered dependencies. Those dependent territories currently remaining generally maintain a very high degree of political autonomy. Not all autonomous entities, though, are considered to be dependencies, and not all dependencies are autonomous. Most inhabited dependent territories have their own ISO 3166 country codes.
Some political entities inhabit a special position guaranteed by international treaty or other agreement: creating a certain level of autonomy (e.g., differences in immigration rules). These are sometimes considered or at least grouped with dependencies, but are officially considered by their controlling states to be integral parts of the state. Examples are Åland (Finland) and Hong Kong (China).
The lists below indicate (or can be interpreted to indicate) the following:
- Dependent territories
- 2 states in free association, 1 territory and 1 dependency claim in the listing for New Zealand;
- 1 uninhabited territory and 2 dependency claims in the Antarctic listing for Norway;
- 13 Overseas Territories (10 autonomous, 2 used primarily as military bases, and 1 uninhabited), 3 Crown dependencies, and 1 dependency claim in the listing for the United Kingdom;
- 13 unincorporated territories (5 inhabited, 8 uninhabited) and 2 dependency claims in the listing for the United States.
- Similar entities
- 6 external territories (3 inhabited, 3 uninhabited) and 1 dependency claim in the listing for Australia;
- 2 special administrative regions in the listing for China;
- 2 constituent countries with autonomy in internal affairs in the listing for Denmark;
- 1 autonomous territory governed according to an act and international treaties in the listing for Finland;
- 6 autonomous collectivities and 2 uninhabited territories (1 of which includes a dependency claim) in the listing for France;
- 3 constituent countries with autonomy in internal affairs in the listing for the Netherlands;
- 1 internal territory with limited sovereignty in the Arctic listing for Norway.
- 1 incorporated territory of the United States
Lists of dependent territories
This list includes all territories that have not been legally incorporated into their governing state, including several territories that are not on the list of non-self-governing territories of the General Assembly of the United Nations. Dependency claims without general international recognition, including all claims in Antarctica, are listed in italics.
|In free association||Administration||ISO 3166 country codes|
|Cook Islands||Self-governing state in free association with New Zealand since 1965. Cook Islands' status is considered to be equivalent to independence for international law purposes, and the country exercises full sovereignty over its internal and external affairs. Under the terms of the free association agreement, however, New Zealand retains some responsibility for the foreign relations and defence of the Cook Islands. These responsibilities confer no rights of control and are exercised only at the request of the Cook Islands Government. The government of New Zealand does not consider the Cook Islands to be sovereign due to its continued use of New Zealand citizenship.||CK-|
|Niue||Self-governing state in free association with New Zealand since 1974. Niue's status is considered to be equivalent to independence for international law purposes, and the country exercises full sovereignty over its internal and external affairs. Under the terms of the free association agreement, however, New Zealand retains some responsibility for the foreign relations and defence of Niue. These responsibilities confer no rights of control and are exercised only at the request of the Government of Niue. The government of New Zealand does not consider Niue to be sovereign due to its continued use of New Zealand citizenship.||NU-|
|Territory||Administration||ISO 3166 country codes|
|Tokelau||Territory of New Zealand. As it moves toward free association with New Zealand, Tokelau and New Zealand have agreed to a draft constitution. A UN-sponsored referendum on self-governance in February 2006 did not produce the two-thirds supermajority necessary for changing the current political status. Another one was in October 2007, which failed to reach the 2⁄3 margin.||TK-|
|Ross Dependency||No permanent population. New Zealand's Antarctic claim. Unlike Tokelau and the associated states (Cook Islands and Niue), it is constitutionally part of New Zealand.||within AQ|
Summary: Norway has 1 dependent territory and 2 dependency claims.
|Dependency||Administration||ISO 3166 country codes|
|Bouvet Island||No permanent population. Dependency administered from Oslo by the Polar Affairs Department of the Ministry of Justice and the Police.||BV-|
|Peter I Island||No permanent population. Dependencies (subject to the Antarctic Treaty System) administered from Oslo by the Polar Affairs Department of the Ministry of Justice and the Police.||within AQ|
|Queen Maud Land|
Summary: the United Kingdom has 13 Overseas Territories (10 autonomous, 1 restricted to military personnel, 1 uninhabited, 1 group of Sovereign Base Areas), 3 Crown dependencies (autonomous), and 1 dependency claim.
Summary: the United States has 11 dependent territories and 2 dependency claims. The uninhabited Palmyra Atoll is administered similarly to some of these territories, but unlike the others is a fully incorporated part of the United States.
|Unincorporated organized territories
|Administration||ISO 3166 country codes|
|Guam||Unincorporated organized territory of the U.S.; policy relations conducted through Office of Insular Affairs, Department of the Interior. Appears on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.||US-GU or
|Northern Mariana Islands||Commonwealth in political union with the U.S.; federal funding administered by the Office of Insular Affairs, Department of the Interior.||US-MP or
|Puerto Rico||Unincorporated organized territory of the U.S. with commonwealth status; policy relations conducted through Office of the President.||US-PR or
|U.S. Virgin Islands||Unincorporated organized territory of the U.S.; policy relations conducted by the Office of Insular Affairs, Department of the Interior. Appears on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.||US-VI or
|Unincorporated unorganized territories
|Administration||ISO 3166 country codes|
|American Samoa||Unincorporated unorganized territory administered by the Office of Insular Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior. Appears on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.||US-AS or
|Unincorporated unorganized territories
|Administration||ISO 3166 country codes|
|Baker Island||Unincorporated unorganized territories of the U.S. administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Interior.||US-UM-81 or
|Howland Island||US-UM-84 or
|Jarvis Island||US-UM-86 or
|Johnston Atoll||US-UM-67 or
|Kingman Reef||US-UM-89 or
|Midway Atoll||Unincorporated unorganized territory of the U.S. administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Interior. No permanent population.||US-UM-71 or
|Navassa Island||Unincorporated unorganized territory of the U.S. administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Interior from the Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. Claimed by Haiti and privately via the Guano Islands Act.||US-UM-76 or
|Wake Island||Unincorporated unorganized territory of the U.S. administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Interior. Claimed by the Marshall Islands. No permanent population.||US-UM-79 or
|Bajo Nuevo Bank||Administered by Colombia. Claimed by the U.S. (under Guano Islands Act) and Jamaica. A claim by Nicaragua was resolved in 2012 in favor of Colombia by the International Court of Justice (U.S. not a party nor recognizes Court's jurisdiction).||within CO-SAP|
|Serranilla Bank||Administered by Colombia; site of a naval garrison. Claimed by the U.S. (since 1879 under Guano Islands Act), Honduras, and Jamaica. A claim by Nicaragua was resolved in 2012 in favor of Colombia by the International Court of Justice (U.S. not a party nor recognizes Court's jurisdiction).|
Lists of similar entities
The following entities are, according to the law of their state, integral parts of the state but exhibit many characteristics of dependent territories. This list is generally limited to entities that are either subject to an international treaty on their status, uninhabited, or have a unique level of autonomy and are largely self-governing in matters other than international affairs. As a result, it does not include most entities with no unique autonomy, such as the overseas regions of France, the Home Nations of the United Kingdom, or Alaska and Hawaii, or only limited unique autonomy, such as the Autonomous Regions of Portugal, autonomous communities of Spain, or Zanzibar. Dependency claims without general international recognition, including all claims in Antarctica, are listed in italics.
Summary: Australia has six territories in its administration and one dependency claim.
Although all territories of Australia are considered to be fully integrated in its federative system, and the official status of an external territory does not differ largely from that of a mainland territory (except in regards to immigration law), debate remains as to whether the external territories are integral parts of Australia, due to their not being part of Australia in 1901, when its constituent states federated (with the exception of Coral Sea Islands which was part of Queensland). They are often listed separately for statistical purposes.
|External territories (inhabited)||Administration||ISO 3166 country codes|
|Christmas Island||Administered from Canberra by the Attorney-General's Department.||CX-|
|Cocos (Keeling) Islands||CC-|
|Norfolk Island||Commonwealth responsibilities administered from Canberra through the Attorney-General's Department.||NF-|
|External territories (uninhabited)||Administration||ISO 3166 country codes|
|Ashmore and Cartier Islands||Administered from Canberra by the Attorney-General's Department.||within AU[-ACT?]|
|Coral Sea Islands[note 2]|
|Australian Antarctic Territory||Administered from Canberra by the Australian Antarctic Division of the Department of the Environment.||within AQ|
|Heard Island and McDonald Islands||HM-|
Summary: China has two special administrative regions (SARs) that are governed according to the constitution and respective basic laws. The SARs greatly differ from mainland China in administrative, economic, legislative and judicial terms, including by currency, left- versus right-hand traffic, official languages and immigration control.
|Special Administrative Regions||Administration||ISO 3166 country codes|
|Hong Kong||Former British colony. Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China since 1997 according to the Sino-British Joint Declaration, an international treaty registered with the United Nations. The Hong Kong Basic Law provides for the territory to enjoy a high degree of autonomy per the “one country, two systems” model under the central government of China. Although the territory is not part of Mainland China, it is officially considered an integral part of the People's Republic of China.||CN-HK or
|Macau||Former Portuguese colony. Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China since 1999 according to the Sino-Portuguese Joint Declaration, an international treaty registered with the United Nations. The Macau Basic Law provides for the territory to enjoy a high degree of autonomy per the “one country, two systems” model under the central government of China. Although the territory is not part of Mainland China, it is officially considered an integral part of the People's Republic of China.||CN-MO or
The Kingdom of Denmark contains two self-governing countries.
|Constituent country||Administration||ISO 3166 country codes|
|Faroe Islands||Self-governing overseas administrative division since 1948. Part of Denmark, but not of the European Union.||FO-|
|Greenland||Self-governing overseas administrative division since 1979. Part of Denmark. Withdrew from the European Economic Community in 1985.||GL-|
|Division||Administration||ISO 3166 country codes|
|Åland Islands||The Åland Islands are governed according to the Act on the Autonomy of Åland and international treaties. These laws guarantee the islands' autonomy in Finland, which has ultimate sovereignty over them, as well as a demilitarized status.||AX- or
Summary: France has overseas six autonomous collectivities and two uninhabited territories (one of which includes an Antarctic dependency claim). This does not include its “standard” overseas regions (which are also overseas departments) of Réunion, Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, and Mayotte—although also located overseas, they have the same status as metropolitan France's regions. Nonetheless, all of France's overseas territory is considered an integral part of the French Republic.
|Overseas collectivities||Administration||ISO 3166 country codes|
|Saint Barthélemy||Seceded from Guadeloupe to become an overseas collectivity in 2007.||FR-BL- or
|Collectivity of Saint Martin||Seceded from Guadeloupe to become an overseas collectivity in 2007. It is the only overseas collectivity that is fully part of the European Union.||FR-MF- or
|Saint Pierre and Miquelon||Territorial collectivity since 1985; overseas collectivity since 2003.||FR-PM- or
|Wallis and Futuna||Overseas territory since 1961; overseas collectivity since 2003.||FR-WF- or
|French Polynesia||Overseas collectivity since 2003; overseas country since 2004. Appears on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.||FR-PF- or
|Special collectivity||Administration||ISO 3166 country codes|
|New Caledonia||“Sui generis” collectivity since 1999. Appears on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.||FR-NC- or
|Minor territory (uninhabited)||Administration||ISO 3166 country codes|
|Clipperton Island||Island administered by the Minister for Overseas Territories. No permanent population.||FR-CP|
|Overseas territory (uninhabited)||Administration||ISO 3166 country codes|
|French Southern and Antarctic Lands||TAAF (Terres australes et antartiques françaises) is an Overseas territory since 1955, administered from Paris by an Administrateur Supérieur. No permanent population.||FR-TF- or
|(includes dependency claim of Adélie Land)||Includes the French territorial claim in Antarctica: Adelie Land.||within AQ|
Summary: The Kingdom of the Netherlands (“Kingdom”) comprised three Caribbean countries with autonomy in internal affairs (listed below) and one country (the Netherlands) with most of its area in Europe but for three Caribbean municipalities. The three municipalities in the Caribbean—Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius—are not listed because they are directly administered by the Government of the Netherlands. All Kingdom citizens share the same nationality and are thus citizens of the European Union (but only the Netherlands is part of Eurozone).
|Country||Administration||ISO 3166 country codes|
|Aruba||Defined as a “country” (“land”) within the Kingdom by the Statute of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Aruba obtained full autonomy in internal affairs upon separation from the Netherlands Antilles in 1986. Part of the Kingdom but not in Europe, its citizenship nonetheless includes status as Citizens of the European Union. (The Kingdom government coincides almost exactly with the Government of the Netherlands, and is responsible for defense, foreign affairs, and nationality law.)||NL-AW- or
|Curaçao||Defined as a “country” (“land”) within the Kingdom by the Statute of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Curaçao and Sint Maarten were part of the Netherlands Antilles until it was dissolved in October 2010. Part of the Kingdom but not in Europe, their citizenship nonetheless includes status as Citizens of the European Union. (The Kingdom government coincides almost exactly with the Government of the Netherlands, and is responsible for defense, foreign affairs, and nationality law.)||NL-CW- or
|Sint Maarten||NL-SX- or
Summary: Norway has, in the Arctic, one inhabited archipelago whose Norwegian sovereignty is limited—Svalbard. Unlike the country's Antarctic dependent territory (Bouvet Island) and dependency claims (see above), Svalbard is part of the Kingdom of Norway.
|Division||Administration||ISO 3166 country codes|
|Svalbard||This Arctic archipelago is the northernmost permanent civilian settlement in the world. Not incorporated into any county, it is administered by a governor appointed by the Norwegian government. Since 2002, main settlement Longyearbyen has elected a local government; other settlements include the Russian mining community of Barentsburg, the research station of Ny-Ålesund, and the mining outpost of Sveagruva. The Svalbard Treaty of 1920 recognizes Norwegian sovereignty (since 1925 a full part of the Kingdom of Norway) but established Svalbard as a free economic zone and a demilitarized zone.||SJ|
The United States one territory (Palmyra Atoll) that is considered to be an integral part of the United States,[note 3] but is still treated like a dependency in many ways. For example, Palmyra Atoll has no government and no permanent population; it is grouped within ISO 3166-2: UM as one of the U.S. Minor Outlying Islands (along with eight unincorporated territories), and it has its country article on the CIA World Factbook. Additionally, like the other territories, Palmyra Atoll has its own country-level GEC code (LQ).
Officially, Palmyra Atoll is an "incorporated, unorganized" territory. The CIA World Factbook says Palmyra Atoll is "part privately owned by the Nature Conservancy and part US Government-owned and administered as a nature preserve". At any time, Palmyra Atoll has between four and twenty staff and scientists, but has no permanent population.
|Administration||ISO 3166 country codes|
|Palmyra Atoll||Governed by the United States as an incorporated unorganized territory.||US-UM-95 or|
Three Crown dependencies are in a form of association with the U.K. They are independently administrated jurisdictions, although the British Government is solely responsible for defense and international representation and has ultimate responsibility for ensuring good government. They do not have diplomatic recognition as independent states, but neither are they integrated into the U.K. (nor the European Union). The U.K. Parliament retains the ability to legislate for the Crown dependencies even without agreement of their legislatures. No Crown dependency has representation in the U.K. Parliament.
Although British Overseas Territories, Bermuda and Gibraltar have similar relationships to the U.K. as the Crown dependencies. While Britain is officially responsible for defense and international representation, these jurisdictions maintain their militaries and have been granted limited diplomatic powers, in addition to having internal self-government.
Puerto Rico (since 1952) and the Northern Mariana Islands (since 1986) are non-independent states freely associated with the United States. The mutually negotiated Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) in Political Union with the United States was approved in 1976. The Covenant was fully implemented on November 3, 1986, under Presidential Proclamation no. 5564, which conferred United States citizenship on legally qualified CNMI residents. Under the Constitution of Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico is described as a Commonwealth and Puerto Ricans have a degree of administrative autonomy similar to citizens of a U.S. state. Puerto Ricans "were collectively made U.S. citizens" in 1917 as a result of the Jones-Shafroth Act. The commonly used name in Spanish of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico, literally "Associated Free State of Puerto Rico", which sounds similar to "free association" particularly when loosely used in Spanish, is sometimes erroneously interpreted to mean that Puerto Rico's relationship with United States is based on a Compact of Free Association and at other times erroneously held to mean that Puerto Rico's relationship with United States is based on an Interstate compact. This is a constant source of ambiguity and confusion when trying to define, understand and explain Puerto Rico's political relationship with the United States. For various reasons Puerto Rico's political status differs from that of the Pacific Islands that entered into Compacts of Free Association with the United States. As sovereign states, these islands have full right to conduct their foreign relations, while the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has territorial status subject to United States congressional authority under the Constitution's Territory Clause, "to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory… belonging to the United States.". Puerto Rico does not have the right to unilaterally declare independence, and at the last referendum (1998) the narrow majority voted for "none of the above", which was a formally undefined alternative used by commonwealth supporters to express their desire for an "enhanced commonwealth" option.
This kind of relationship also can be found in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which is termed a federacy. The European continental part is organized like a unitary state; however, the status of its Caribbean countries (Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten) can be considered dependencies or “associated non-independent states.”
The Kingdom of Denmark also operates similarly: another federacy. The Faroes and Greenland are two self-governing territories or regions within the Kingdom. The relationship between Denmark proper and these two territories is semi-officially termed the Rigsfællesskabet (“Unity of the Realm”).
Overview of inhabited dependent territories
- Associated state
- List of autonomous areas by country
- List of current dependent territory leaders
- List of sovereign states
- List of former sovereign states – Section: Former colonies, possessions, protectorates and territories
- List of administrative divisions by country
- Territorial claims in Antarctica
- United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories
- Minister of the Colonies
- Ministry of the Colonies
- United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1514
- "United Nations Trusteeship Council".
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The Federal Government, through the Attorney-General's Department administers Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Christmas Island, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, the Coral Sea Islands, Jervis Bay, and Norfolk Island as Territories.
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- Dependencies and Areas of Special Sovereignty, US Department of State. "Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius now fall under the direct administration of the Netherlands". Retrieved 17 June 2016.
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- The Louisiana Purchase and American Expansion: 1803–1898. By Sanford Levinson and Bartholomew H. Sparrow. New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. 2005. Page 166, 178. "U.S. citizenship was extended to residents of Puerto Rico under the Jones Act, chap. 190, 39 Stat. 951 (1971) (codified at 48 U.S.C. § 731 (1987)")
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- This article incorporates public domain material from the CIA World Factbook website https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/index.html.
- George Drower, Britain's Dependent Territories, Dartmouth, 1992
- George Drower, Overseas Territories Handbook, TSO, 1998