Photos of French Polynesia

Considered by many as one of the natural wonders of the world, the island of Bora-Bora is a single island surrounded by an extensive coral reef and a beautiful blue lagoon captured in the center of this low-oblique photograph. The coral reef north of Bora-Bora is Tupai Atoll. The two islands southeast of Bora-Bora - Tahaa (northern island) and Raiatea (larger southern island) - are encircled by a single coral reef system. Image courtesy of NASA.

Introduction

Background

French Polynesia consists of five archipelagos - the Austral Islands, the Gambier Islands, the Marquesas Islands, the Society Islands, and the Tuamotu Archipelago. The Marquesas were first settled around 200 B.C. and the Society Islands around A.D. 300. Raiatea in the Society Islands became a center for religion and culture. Exploration of the other islands emanated from Raiatea and by 1000, there were small permanent settlements in all the island groups. Ferdinand MAGELLAN was the first European to see the islands of French Polynesia in 1520, and successive European voyagers traveled through them over the next two centuries. In 1767, British explorer Samuel WALLIS was the first European to visit Tahiti, followed by French navigator Louis Antoine de BOUGAINVILLE in 1768, and British explorer James COOK in 1769. King POMARE I united Tahiti and surrounding islands into the Kingdom of Tahiti in 1788. Protestant missionaries arrived in 1797 and Pomare I’s successor converted in the 1810s, along with most Tahitians. In the 1830s, Queen POMARE IV refused to allow French Catholic missionaries to operate, leading France to declare a protectorate over Tahiti and fight the French-Tahitian War of the 1840s in an attempt to annex the islands. POMARE IV requested British assistance to fight France, and while the UK did not provide material support, it did diplomatically pressure France to simply maintain its protectorate status.

In 1880, King POMARE V ceded Tahiti and its possessions to France, changing its status into a colony. France then claimed the Gambier Islands and Tuamotu Archipelago and by 1901 had incorporated all five island groups into its establishments in Oceania. A Tahitian nationalist movement formed in 1940, leading France to grant French citizenship to the islanders in 1946 and change it to an overseas territory. In 1957, the islands’ name was changed to French Polynesia and the following year, 64% of voters chose to stay part of France when they approved a new constitution. Uninhabited Mururoa Atoll was established as a French nuclear test site in 1962 and tests were conducted between 1966 and 1992 (underground beginning in 1975). France also conducted tests at Fangataufa Atoll, including its last nuclear test in 1996.

France granted French Polynesia partial internal autonomy in 1977 and expanded autonomy in 1984. French Polynesia was converted into an overseas collectivity in 2003 and renamed an overseas country inside the Republic in 2004. Proindependence politicians won a surprise majority in local elections that same year but in subsequent elections have been relegated to a vocal minority. In 2013, French Polynesia was relisted on the UN List of Non-Self Governing Territories.

Visit the Definitions and Notes page to view a description of each topic.

Geography

Location

Oceania, five archipelagoes (Archipel des Tuamotu, Iles Gambier, Iles Marquises, Iles Tubuai, Society Islands) in the South Pacific Ocean about halfway between South America and Australia

Geographic coordinates

15 00 S, 140 00 W

Area

total: 4,167 sq km (118 islands and atolls; 67 are inhabited)

land: 3,827 sq km

water: 340 sq km

country comparison to the world: 174

Area - comparative

slightly less than one-third the size of Connecticut

Land boundaries

total: 0 km

Coastline

2,525 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

Climate

tropical, but moderate

Terrain

mixture of rugged high islands and low islands with reefs

Elevation

highest point: Mont Orohena 2,241 m

lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m

Natural resources

timber, fish, cobalt, hydropower

Land use

agricultural land: 12.5% (2018 est.)

arable land: 0.7% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 6.3% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 5.5% (2018 est.)

forest: 43.7% (2018 est.)

other: 43.8% (2018 est.)

Irrigated land

10 sq km (2012)

Population distribution

the majority of the population lives in the Society Islands, one of five archipelagos that includes the most populous island - Tahiti - with approximately 70% of the nation's population

Natural hazards

occasional cyclonic storms in January

Geography - note

includes five archipelagoes: four volcanic (Iles Gambier, Iles Marquises, Iles Tubuai, Society Islands) and one coral (Archipel des Tuamotu); the Tuamotu Archipelago forms the largest group of atolls in the world - 78 in total, 48 inhabited; Makatea in the Tuamotu Archipelago is one of the three great phosphate rock islands in the Pacific Ocean - the others are Banaba (Ocean Island) in Kiribati and Nauru

People and Society

Nationality

noun: French Polynesian(s)

adjective: French Polynesian

Ethnic groups

Polynesian 78%, Chinese 12%, local French 6%, metropolitan French 4%

Languages

French (official) 70%, Polynesian (official) 28.2%, other 1.8% (2012 est.)

major-language sample(s):
The World Factbook, une source indispensable d'informations de base. (French)

The World Factbook, the indispensable source for basic information.

French audio file:

Religions

Protestant 54%, Roman Catholic 30%, other 10%, no religion 6%

Age structure

0-14 years: 21.69% (male 32,920/female 31,100)

15-24 years: 14.72% (male 22,640/female 20,793)

25-54 years: 44.24% (male 66,921/female 63,636)

55-64 years: 10.31% (male 15,610/female 14,823)

65 years and over: 9.04% (male 12,854/female 13,824) (2020 est.)

This is the population pyramid for French Polynesia. A population pyramid illustrates the age and sex structure of a country's population and may provide insights about political and social stability, as well as economic development. The population is distributed along the horizontal axis, with males shown on the left and females on the right. The male and female populations are broken down into 5-year age groups represented as horizontal bars along the vertical axis, with the youngest age groups at the bottom and the oldest at the top. The shape of the population pyramid gradually evolves over time based on fertility, mortality, and international migration trends. <br/><br/>For additional information, please see the entry for Population pyramid on the Definitions and Notes page.

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: 45.5

youth dependency ratio: 32.3

elderly dependency ratio: 13.2

potential support ratio: 7.6 (2020 est.)

Median age

total: 33.3 years

male: 33 years

female: 33.5 years (2020 est.)

country comparison to the world: 98

Birth rate

13.69 births/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 135

Death rate

5.51 deaths/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 181

Net migration rate

-0.66 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 128

Population distribution

the majority of the population lives in the Society Islands, one of five archipelagos that includes the most populous island - Tahiti - with approximately 70% of the nation's population

Urbanization

urban population: 62.1% of total population (2021)

rate of urbanization: 0.65% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

Major urban areas - population

136,000 PAPEETE (capital) (2018)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 1.06 male(s)/female

15-24 years: 1.09 male(s)/female

25-54 years: 1.05 male(s)/female

55-64 years: 1.05 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.93 male(s)/female

total population: 1.05 male(s)/female (2020 est.)

Infant mortality rate

total: 4.46 deaths/1,000 live births

male: 5.37 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 3.51 deaths/1,000 live births (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 183

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 78.19 years

male: 75.86 years

female: 80.63 years (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 71

Drinking water source

improved: total: 100% of population

unimproved: total: 0% of population (2017 est.)

Physicians density

2.13 physicians/1,000 population (2009)

Sanitation facility access

improved: total: 96.9% of population

unimproved: total: 3.1% of population (2017 est.)

Major infectious diseases

degree of risk: high (2020)

food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea

vectorborne diseases: malaria

Unemployment, youth ages 15-24

total: 56.7%

male: 54.5%

female: 59.7% (2012 est.)

country comparison to the world: 3

Environment

Environment - current issues

sea level rise; extreme weather events (cyclones, storms, and tsunamis producing floods, landslides, erosion, and reef damage); droughts; fresh water scarcity

Air pollutants

carbon dioxide emissions: 0.77 megatons (2016 est.)

Climate

tropical, but moderate

Land use

agricultural land: 12.5% (2018 est.)

arable land: 0.7% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 6.3% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 5.5% (2018 est.)

forest: 43.7% (2018 est.)

other: 43.8% (2018 est.)

Urbanization

urban population: 62.1% of total population (2021)

rate of urbanization: 0.65% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

Major infectious diseases

degree of risk: high (2020)

food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea

vectorborne diseases: malaria

Waste and recycling

municipal solid waste generated annually: 147,000 tons (2013 est.)

municipal solid waste recycled annually: 57,330 tons (2013 est.)

percent of municipal solid waste recycled: 39% (2013 est.)

Government

Country name

conventional long form: Overseas Lands of French Polynesia

conventional short form: French Polynesia

local long form: Pays d'outre-mer de la Polynesie Francaise

local short form: Polynesie Francaise

former: Establishments in Oceania, French Establishments in Oceania

etymology: the term "Polynesia" is an 18th-century construct composed of two Greek words, "poly" (many) and "nesoi" (islands), and refers to the more than 1,000 islands scattered over the central and southern Pacific Ocean

Government type

parliamentary democracy (Assembly of French Polynesia); an overseas collectivity of France

Dependency status

overseas country of France; note - overseas territory of France from 1946-2003; overseas collectivity of France since 2003, though it is often referred to as an overseas country due to its degree of autonomy

Capital

name: Papeete (located on Tahiti)

geographic coordinates: 17 32 S, 149 34 W

time difference: UTC-10 (5 hours behind Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

etymology: the name means "water basket" and refers to the fact that the islanders originally used calabashes enclosed in baskets to fetch water at a spring in the area

Administrative divisions

5 administrative subdivisions (subdivisions administratives, singular - subdivision administrative): Iles Australes (Austral Islands), Iles du Vent (Windward Islands), Iles Marquises (Marquesas Islands), Iles Sous-le-Vent (Leeward Islands), Iles Tuamotu-Gambier; note - the Leeward Islands and the Windward Islands together make up the Society Islands (Iles de la Societe)

Independence

none (overseas lands of France)

National holiday

Fete de la Federation, 14 July (1790); note - the local holiday is Internal Autonomy Day, 29 June (1880)

Constitution

history: 4 October 1958 (French Constitution)

amendments: French constitution amendment procedures apply

Legal system

the laws of France, where applicable, apply

Citizenship

see France

Suffrage

18 years of age; universal

Executive branch

chief of state: President Emmanuel MACRON (since 14 May 2017), represented by High Commissioner of the Republic Dominique SORAIN (since 10 July 2019)

head of government: President of French Polynesia Edouard FRITCH (since 12 September 2014)

cabinet: Council of Ministers approved by the Assembly from a list of its members submitted by the president

elections/appointments: French president directly elected by absolute majority popular vote in 2 rounds if needed for a 5-year term (eligible for a second term); high commissioner appointed by the French president on the advice of the French Ministry of Interior; French Polynesia president indirectly elected by Assembly of French Polynesia for a 5-year term (no term limits)

Legislative branch

description: unicameral Assembly of French Polynesia or Assemblée de la Polynésie française (57 seats; elections held in 2 rounds; in the second round, 38 members directly elected in multi-seat constituencies by a closed-list proportional representation vote; the party receiving the most votes gets an additional 19 seats; members serve 5-year terms)




French Polynesia indirectly elects 2 senators to the French Senate via an electoral college by absolute majority vote for 6-year terms with one-half the membership renewed every 3 years and directly elects 3 deputies to the French National Assembly by absolute majority vote in 2 rounds if needed for 5-year terms

elections:

Assembly of French Polynesia - last held on 22 April 2018 and 6 May 2018 (next to be held in 2023)
French Senate - last held in September 2017 (next to be held in September 2020)
French National Assembly - last held in 2 rounds on 3 and 17 June 2017 (next to be held in 2022)



election results:

Assembly of French Polynesia - percent of vote by party - Tapura Huiraatira 45.1%, Popular Rally 29.3%, Tavini Huiraatira 25.6%; seats by party - Tapura Huiraatira 38, Popular Rally 11, Tavini Huiraatira 8; composition - men 27, women 30, percent of women 52.6%
French Senate - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - Popular Rally 1, People's Servant Party 1; composition - men 246, women 102, percent of women 29.3%
French National Assembly - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - Tapura Huiractura 2, Tavini Huiraatura 1; composition - men 353, women 224, percent of women 38.8%; note - total Parliament percent of women 20%

Judicial branch

highest courts: Court of Appeal or Cour d'Appel (composition NA); note - appeals beyond the French Polynesia Court of Appeal are heard by the Court of Cassation (in Paris)

judge selection and term of office: judges assigned from France normally for 3 years

subordinate courts: Court of the First Instance or Tribunal de Premiere Instance; Court of Administrative Law or Tribunal Administratif

Political parties and leaders

A Tia Porinetia [Teva ROHFRITSCH]
Alliance for a New Democracy or ADN (includes The New Star [Philip SCHYLE], This Country is Yours [Nicole BOUTEAU])
New Fatherland Party (Ai'a Api) [Emile VERNAUDON]
Our Home alliance
People's Servant Party (Tavini Huiraatira) [Oscar TEMARU]
Popular Rally (Tahoeraa Huiraatira) [Gaston FLOSSE]
Tapura Huiraatira [Edouard FRITICH]
Tavini Huiraatira [James CHANCELOR]
Union for Democracy alliance or UPD [Oscar TEMARU]

International organization participation

ITUC (NGOs), PIF (associate member), SPC, UPU, WMO

Diplomatic representation in the US

none (overseas lands of France)

Diplomatic representation from the US

embassy: none (overseas lands of France)

Flag description

two red horizontal bands encase a wide white band in a 1:2:1 ratio; centered on the white band is a disk with a blue and white wave pattern depicting the sea on the lower half and a gold and white ray pattern depicting the sun on the upper half; a Polynesian canoe rides on the wave pattern; the canoe has a crew of five represented by five stars that symbolize the five island groups; red and white are traditional Polynesian colors

note: identical to the red-white-red flag of Tahiti, the largest and most populous of the islands in French Polynesia, but which has no emblem in the white band; the flag of France is used for official occasions

National symbol(s)

outrigger canoe, Tahitian gardenia (Gardenia taitensis) flower; national colors: red, white

National anthem

name: "Ia Ora 'O Tahiti Nui" (Long Live Tahiti Nui)

lyrics/music: Maeva BOUGES, Irmine TEHEI, Angele TEROROTUA, Johanna NOUVEAU, Patrick AMARU, Louis MAMATUI, and Jean-Pierre CELESTIN (the compositional group created both the lyrics and music)

note: adopted 1993; serves as a local anthem; as a territory of France, "La Marseillaise" is official (see France)

Government - note

under certain acts of France, French Polynesia has acquired autonomy in all areas except those relating to police, monetary policy, tertiary education, immigration, and defense and foreign affairs; the duties of its president are fashioned after those of the French prime minister

Economy

Economic overview

Since 1962, when France stationed military personnel in the region, French Polynesia has changed from a subsistence agricultural economy to one in which a high proportion of the work force is either employed by the military or supports the tourist industry. With the halt of French nuclear testing in 1996, the military contribution to the economy fell sharply.

After growing at an average yearly rate of 4.2% from 1997-2007, the economic and financial crisis in 2008 marked French Polynesia’s entry into recession. However, since 2014, French Polynesia has shown signs of recovery. Business turnover reached 1.8% year-on-year in September 2016, tourism increased 1.8% in 2015, and GDP grew 2.0% in 2015.

French Polynesia’s tourism-dominated service sector accounted for 85% of total value added for the economy in 2012. Tourism employs 17% of the workforce. Pearl farming is the second biggest industry, accounting for 54% of exports in 2015; however, the output has decreased to 12.5 tons – the lowest level since 2008. A small manufacturing sector predominantly processes commodities from French Polynesia’s primary sector - 8% of total economy in 2012 - including agriculture and fishing.

France has agreed to finance infrastructure, marine businesses, and cultural and ecological sites at roughly $80 million per year between 2015 and 2020. Japan, the US, and China are French Polynesia’s three largest trade partners.

Real GDP (purchasing power parity)

$5.49 billion (2017 est.)

$5.383 billion (2016 est.)

$6.963 billion (2015 est.)

country comparison to the world: 175

Real GDP growth rate

2% (2015 est.)

-2.7% (2014 est.)

-2.5% (2010 est.)

country comparison to the world: 135

Real GDP per capita

$17,000 (2015 est.)

$20,100 (2014 est.)

$22,700 (2010)

country comparison to the world: 102

GDP (official exchange rate)

$4.795 billion (2015 est.)

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: 2.5% (2009)

industry: 13% (2009)

services: 84.5% (2009)

GDP - composition, by end use

household consumption: 66.9% (2014 est.)

government consumption: 33.6% (2014 est.)

investment in fixed capital: 19.4% (2014 est.)

investment in inventories: 0.1% (2014 est.)

exports of goods and services: 17.5% (2014 est.)

imports of goods and services: -37.5% (2014 est.)

Agricultural products

coconuts, fruit, roots/tubers nes, pineapples, cassava, sugar cane, eggs, tropical fruit, tomatoes

Industries

tourism, pearls, agricultural processing, handicrafts, phosphates

Labor force - by occupation

agriculture: 13%

industry: 19%

services: 68% (2013 est.)

Budget

revenues: 1.891 billion (2012)

expenditures: 1.833 billion (2011)

Fiscal year

calendar year

Current account balance

$207.7 million (2014 est.)

$158.8 million (2013 est.)

country comparison to the world: 57

Exports

$1.245 billion (2014 est.)

$1.168 billion (2013 est.)

country comparison to the world: 153

Exports - partners

Japan 23.1%, Hong Kong 21.5%, Kyrgyzstan 15.9%, US 15.9%, France 12.4% (2017)

Exports - commodities

cultured pearls, coconut products, mother-of-pearl, vanilla, shark meat

Imports

$2.235 billion (2014 est.)

$2.271 billion (2013 est.)

country comparison to the world: 167

Imports - partners

France 27.9%, South Korea 12.1%, US 10.1%, China 7.3%, NZ 6.7%, Singapore 4.2% (2017)

Imports - commodities

fuels, foodstuffs, machinery and equipment

Exchange rates

Comptoirs Francais du Pacifique francs (XPF) per US dollar -

110.2 (2017 est.)

107.84 (2016 est.)

107.84 (2015 est.)

89.85 (2014 est.)

90.56 (2013 est.)

Energy

Electricity access

electrification - total population: 100% (2020)

Communications

Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 63,769

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 21.78 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 153

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 305,233

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 104.25 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 179

Telecommunication systems

general assessment:

French Polynesia has one of the most advanced telecom infrastructures in the Pacific islands; high penetration of mobile broadband coverage; almost half of mobile connections on 3G, growing subscribership to 4G LTE; universal mobile penetration; host of uplink systems for the Galileo satellite network, creating hub for communications in the region and vastly improving international connectivity; submarine cable connections increase international bandwidth; additional domestic submarine cable will connect remote islands (2021)

(2020)

domestic: fixed-line subscriptions 22 per 100 persons and mobile-cellular density is roughly 104 per 100 persons (2019)

international: country code - 689; landing points for the NATITUA, Manatua, and Honotua submarine cables to other French Polynesian Islands, Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and US; satellite earth station - 1 Intelsat (Pacific Ocean) (2019)

note: the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a significant impact on production and supply chains globally; since 2020, some aspects of the telecom sector have experienced downturn, particularly in mobile device production; many network operators delayed upgrades to infrastructure; progress towards 5G implementation was postponed or slowed in some countries; consumer spending on telecom services and devices was affected by large-scale job losses and the consequent restriction on disposable incomes; the crucial nature of telecom services as a tool for work and school from home became evident, and received some support from governments

Broadcast media

French public overseas broadcaster Reseau Outre-Mer provides 2 TV channels and 1 radio station; 1 government-owned TV station; a small number of privately owned radio stations (2019)

Internet users

total: 211,101

percent of population: 72.7% (July 2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 174

Broadband - fixed subscriptions

total: 59,790

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 21 (2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 134

Transportation

National air transport system

number of registered air carriers: 2 (registered in France) (2020)

inventory of registered aircraft operated by air carriers: 19 (registered in France)

Airports - with paved runways

total: 45

over 3,047 m: 2

1,524 to 2,437 m: 5

914 to 1,523 m: 33

under 914 m: 5 (2017)

Airports - with unpaved runways

total: 9

914 to 1,523 m: 4

under 914 m: 5 (2013)

Heliports

1 (2013)

Roadways

total: 2,590 km (1999)

paved: 1,735 km (1999)

unpaved: 855 km (1999)

country comparison to the world: 167

Merchant marine

total: 24

by type: general cargo 14, other 10 (2020)

country comparison to the world: 143

Ports and terminals

major seaport(s): Papeete

Military and Security

Military and security forces

no regular military forces

Military - note

defense is the responsibility of France; France maintains forces in French Polynesia

Transnational Issues