7 Outlying States and Territories of the U.S.

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If living off the United States mainland appeals to you, you’ll find a variety of places to explore in the 7 outlying states and territories of the U.S.

This article – the second in a two-part series spotlighting the outermost reaches of Canada and the U.S. – takes a closer look at the two outlying states of Alaska and Hawaii and five inhabited territories. (Several other uninhabited U.S. territories in the Pacific Ocean serve as National Wildlife Refuges and scientific research stations.)

Perched on the periphery, the outlying states of Alaska and Hawaii and territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa don’t get as much attention as the mainland states. It’s time to celebrate them!

Read on to discover the difference between territories and states and about the people, climate, economy and fun facts of these unsung outlying states and territories. You’ll also learn where you can get more information about moving to one of these far-out places.

Because, you never know – you just might find the place you’re looking for!

Alaska

Bordered by Canada, the Arctic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, Alaska is the largest state in the U.S., spanning over 650,000 square miles. Alaska includes over 2,600 named islands, many of which are volcanic. Glaciers cover 16,000 square miles of land. Alaska is home to 3.5 million lakes and boasts over 6,600 miles of coastline – more than 50% of the entire U.S. coastline. At one person per square mile, Alaska also has the lowest population density in the U.S.

The population of Alaska is 728,903. Nearly half the population lives in the city of Anchorage. The only cities in Alaska with more than 10,000 residents are Anchorage, Juneau (the state capital) and Fairbanks. Alaska has the largest Native American population of all U.S. states. Alaska Natives include the Iñupiat, Yupik, Aleut, Eyak, Tlingit, Tsimshian, Haida, and Athabaskan cultures. In addition, Alaska has one of the largest Asian populations and the highest percentage of men of any state.

Fun Facts

  • The state recognizes 20 Alaska Native languages.
  • 65% of Alaska is owned by the U.S. government and is under protection as national forests, national parks and wildlife refuges.
  • Alaska is home to the most northern point (Point Barrow) and the most western point (Cape Wrangell is further west than Hawaii) in the U.S.

Climate and economy

Alaska’s climate varies from maritime to subarctic to arctic. Average summer temperatures range from 72°F in the Interior to 45°F in the Far North, while average winter temperatures range from 20°F in Southeast Alaska to -20°F in the Far North. One-third of Alaska sits above the Arctic Circle, but winter days are short and summer days are long all over the state.

Alaska’s primary industry is oil and gas. One-quarter of the oil produced in the U.S. comes from Alaska, and oil revenues supply almost 85% of the state budget. Tourism is also a major industry. Other important industries include timber; coal, silver and zinc mining, and fishing. Alaska harvests nearly 6 billion pounds of wild seafood each year.

The outlying state of Hawaii is the longest, most remote island chain in the world. The eight main Hawaiian Islands of Oahu, Hawaii (Big Island), Maui, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Niihau and Kahoolawe are located at the southeastern end of the island chain, which stretches over 1,500 miles and includes the 124 uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals and atolls that make up the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Hawaii has a population of about 1.4 million. About 75% of the population lives on the island of Oahu, where the state capital of Honolulu is located. Another population center is Hilo, the capital city of the island of Hawaii. More ethnic and cultural groups are represented in Hawaii than in any other state. Caucasians (Haoles) and Japanese-Americans each constitute about one-third, Filipino-Americans about 16% and Chinese-Americans about 5% of the population.

Fun facts

  • Hawaii is the only state that grows coffee.
  • The state has its own time zone, Hawaiian Standard Time, which runs two hours behind Pacific Standard Time.
  • Kilauea volcano on the Big Island is the world’s most active.

Climate and economy

Hawaii has a moderate tropical climate. Temperatures vary little, except at higher elevations. Rainfall fluctuates dramatically throughout the state. Summer (kau) lasts from May through October, with average temperatures of 82°F. In winter (ho‘oilo), which lasts from November to April, average temperatures are 72°F. Hawaii’s main industry is tourism. Defense is also a large part of Hawaii’s economy. The state is home to several Army, Navy, Marine, Coast Guard, and Air Force bases. Other important industries include agriculture, commercial fishing, and manufacturing.

Puerto Rico is an archipelago consisting of the main island of Puerto Rico and over 140 smaller islands in the Caribbean Sea, including Caja de las Muertos, Vieques and Culebra. The largest U.S. territory by far, Puerto Rico has ten times more people than all other territories combined. It’s also physically the closest territory to the United States mainland.

The population of Puerto Rico is about 3.2 million. Eighty percent of the population lives in the capital city of San Juan, located on the main island. Nearly all Puerto Rico residents are descended from Spanish colonists, Africans and Native Americans. The official languages are English and Spanish; however, Spanish is the dominant language. Puerto Rico is the only U.S. territory that does not have English as its primary language.

Fun facts

  • Puerto Rico is one of the most densely populated islands in the world, with an average of nearly 1,000 people per square mile.
  • Known for its rare trees and birds, El Yunque in Puerto Rico is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. Forest Service.
  • Casa Bacardi in Puerto Rico is the largest rum distillery in the world, producing more than 100,000 liters of rum every 24 hours.

Climate and economy

Puerto Rico has a mildly tropical climate. Average summer temperatures are 83°F and winter temperatures are 70°F. The rainy season lasts from May through October, although rain tends to fall year-round. Hurricanes are likely to occur between August and October. The main driver of Puerto Rico’s economy is manufacturing. Leading industries include pharmaceuticals, electronics, clothing, and food products. The service industry, including tourism, is also important to the local economy.

Guam

The island of Guam sits about 3,800 miles west of Hawaii in the western Pacific Ocean. Guam covers 210 square miles and has a population of about 168,000. The largest village is Dededo, with 45,000 residents. Hagåtña (Agana) is the capital. Guam’s population is native Chamorro (37%), Filipino (26%), Pacific Islander (7%), Caucasian (6%) and other Asian ethnicities. U.S. military personnel and their families comprise about one-fourth of the population. English and Chamorro are the official languages of Guam.

Fun facts

  • The beaches on the island of Guam are covered in coral instead of sand.
  • Guam has the largest U.S. military base in the Pacific, occupying 29% of the island.
  • Because of its western location from the International Date Line, Guam is the first to experience the new day in the United States.

Climate and economy

Guam has a tropical climate with temperatures averaging between 70°F and 90°F. The island experiences a dry season from December through June and a rainy season from July through November. September and October are the rainiest months. Typhoons (tropical cyclones) occur at irregular intervals. Guam’s economy is supported primarily by tourism and the U.S. military.

U.S. Virgin Islands

Located about 40 miles east of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Sea, the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) consist of the main islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix, as well as several dozen smaller islands. St. Croix is the largest island. Most of the USVI’s 105,000 residents live in the city of Saint Croix and the capital of Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas. Virgin Islands National Park takes up 60% of the island of St. John. The population of USVI is primarily Afro-Caribbean (76%), Puerto Rican and Dominican. The official language of the USVI is English, although French, French Creole, Spanish and Spanish Creole are also spoken.

Fun facts

  • The USVI is the only U.S. territory with coasts on both the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Because the USVI has few fresh water sources, most urban areas get their water from seawater desalination plants on St. Croix and St. Thomas.
  • The USVI is the only part of the United States that drives on the left, even though almost all vehicles are American and have left-hand drive.

Climate and economy

The U.S. Virgin Islands has a subtropical climate with average temperatures between 83°F and 89°F. The rainy season extends from May to December. Tropical storms and hurricanes are most likely to occur between August and October. Tourism is the primary industry in the USVI.

Northern Mariana Islands

The Northern Mariana Islands consist of a 375-mile chain of fourteen islands in the western Pacific Ocean. Saipan, Tinian, and Rota are the only islands that are permanently populated. More than 90% of the population of about 50,000 lives on Saipan, the capital and largest island, which is located roughly 120 miles north of Guam. The population of the Northern Mariana Islands is primarily Asian and Pacific Islander. The official languages are English, Chamorro, and Carolinian.

Fun facts

  • The Mariana Trench, located to the east of the Northern Mariana Islands, is the deepest point in the world’s oceans.
  • The northernmost islands in the Northern Mariana Islands chain are mostly uninhabited due to volcanic threat.
  • The island of Saipan is listed in the Guinness Book of Records for having the world’s most equable temperature, at 80° F year-round.

Climate and economy

The Northern Mariana Islands have a tropical climate with a dry season that lasts from December through May. The rainy season runs from July to November and can include typhoons. All islands experience occasional earthquakes. The average year-round temperature is 84° F although coastal and mountain temperatures can vary considerably on Saipan and Rota. The main industry in the Northern Mariana Islands is tourism.

American Samoa

Located 2,600 miles south of Hawaii, American Samoa comprises the eastern half of the Samoa island chain in the South Pacific. American Samoa consists of seven islands with a combined land area of 76 square miles. Two islands – Rose Atoll, a National Wildlife Refuge, and Swains Island – are uninhabited. Nearly all 55,000 residents of American Samoa live on the largest island of Tutuila where Pago Pago, the capital, is located. Native Pacific Islanders make up over 90% of American Samoa’s population. The official languages are English and Samoan.

Fun facts

  • American Samoa is the only U.S. territory south of the equator.
  • Rose Atoll in American Samoa is the southernmost point in the U.S. and its territories.
  • American Samoa has the highest rate of military enlistment of any U.S. state or territory.

Climate and economy

American Samoa has a tropical climate. Temperatures range from is 79° F to 91° F. Humidity is high and rain showers are frequent. Average annual rainfall can range from 125 inches to 300 inches. Tropical storms are more prevalent during the rainy season, which lasts from November to May. Tuna canning is American Samoa’s primary private industry, with processed fish products as the primary exports.

How U.S. territories differ from states

Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Northern Mariana Islands residents are full U.S. citizens and can travel and move freely within the U.S. American Samoa residents are considered U.S. nationals and must apply for full citizenship. Unlike other U.S. territories, Americans need a passport to enter American Samoa, which has its own immigration and passport stamps.

The U.S. dollar is the official currency of all U.S. territories. None of the U.S. territories pays federal taxes. Citizens of all U.S. territories can vote in primary, but not general elections for President. Like the District of Columbia, each territory elects a member to the U.S. House of Representatives who is allowed to vote in committee, but not on the floor.

Moving to an outlying U.S state or territory

There are tax implications of moving from a U.S. state to a U.S. territory – and vice versa – which you can learn about here. For citizens of countries other than the U.S., the same federal immigration regulations apply to U.S. states and territories.

Do this before you move to the outer limits.

Moving to an outlying state or territory isn’t for everyone.  Make sure you’re the right place personality type BEFORE you start exploring places to move off the beaten path. Take the free Place Personality Type quiz here!

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I founded Your Place Finder in 2017 to help retirees and almost retirees like you anticipate and overcome the pitfalls and challenges – and reap the rich rewards – of finding the perfect location to move for retirement.

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