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The Difference Between

What is the difference between a US Territory and a US Commonwealth?


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February 26, 2008 6:06PM

A commonwealth is a type of territory. Both commonwealths and territories are referred to as "insular areas." An insular area is a United States territory that is neither a part of one of the fifty states nor a part of the District of Columbia, the nation's federal district. Because those insular areas that are inhabited are unincorporated territories, their native-born inhabitants are not constitutionally entitled to United States citizenship under the Citizenship Clause. However, Congress has extended citizenship rights to all inhabited territories with the exception of American Samoa, and these citizens may vote and run for office in any U.S. jurisdiction in which they are resident. Residents of American Samoa are U.S. nationals, but not U.S. citizens; they are free to move around and seek employment within the whole United States without immigration restrictions, but cannot vote or hold office outside of American Samoa. Residents of insular areas do not pay U.S. federal taxes, but most pay taxes to the territorial governments at the same rates as U.S. federal income taxes. Insular areas do not choose electors in U.S. presidential elections nor do they elect voting members of the U.S. Congress. Goods manufactured in insular areas of the United States can be labeled "Made in USA." * Palmyra Atoll * American Samoa (unorganized; self-governing under authority of the U.S. Department of the Interior) * Guam (organized under Organic Act of 1950) * Northern Mariana Islands (commonwealth, organized under 1977 Covenant) * Puerto Rico (commonwealth, organized under terms of the 1950 Puerto Rico-Federal Relations Act) * U.S. Virgin Islands (organized under Revised Organic Act of 1954) * Baker Island * Howland Island * Jarvis Island * Johnston Atoll * Kingman Reef * Midway Islands (administered as the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge) - small amount of contractors present * Navassa Island * Wake Island- small amount of contractors present * Petrel Islands * Serranilla Bank