Photos of Marshall Islands

Radars supporting the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Test Site located on the island of Roi-Namur, part of Kwajalein Atoll, in the Marshall Islands. Photo courtesy of the US Missile Defense Agency.

Introduction

Background

Humans arrived in the Marshall Islands in the first millennium B.C. and gradually created permanent settlements on the various atolls. The early inhabitants were skilled navigators who frequently traveled between atolls using stick charts to map the islands. Society became organized under two paramount chiefs, one each for the Ratak (Sunrise) Chain and the Ralik (Sunset) Chain. Spain formally claimed the islands in 1592. Germany established a supply station on Jaluit Atoll and bought the islands from Spain in 1884, although paramount chiefs continued to rule. 

Japan seized the Marshall Islands in 1914 and was granted a League of Nations Mandate to administer the islands in 1920. The US captured the islands in heavy fighting during World War II, and the islands came under US administration as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI) in 1947. Between 1946 and 1958, the US resettled populations from Bikini and Enewetak Atolls and conducted 67 nuclear tests; people from Ailinginae, Rongelap, and Utrik Atolls were also evacuated because of nuclear fallout, and Bikini and Rongelap remain largely uninhabited. In 1979, the Marshall Islands drafted a constitution separate from the rest of the TTPI and declared independence under President Amata KABUA, a paramount chief. In 2000, Kessai NOTE became the first commoner elected president. In 2016, Hilda HEINE was the first woman elected president.

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

Geography

Location

Oceania, consists of 29 atolls and five isolated islands in the North Pacific Ocean, about halfway between Hawaii and Australia; the atolls and islands are situated in two, almost-parallel island chains - the Ratak (Sunrise) group and the Ralik (Sunset) group; the total number of islands and islets is about 1,225; 22 of the atolls and four of the islands are uninhabited

Geographic coordinates

9 00 N, 168 00 E

Area

total: 181 sq km

land: 181 sq km

water: 0 sq km

note: the archipelago includes 11,673 sq km of lagoon waters and encompasses the atolls of Bikini, Enewetak, Kwajalein, Majuro, Rongelap, and Utirik

comparison ranking: total 217

Area - comparative

about the size of Washington, DC

Land boundaries

total: 0 km

Coastline

370.4 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

contiguous zone: 24 nm

exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

Climate

tropical; hot and humid; wet season May to November; islands border typhoon belt

Terrain

low coral limestone and sand islands

Elevation

highest point: East-central Airik Island, Maloelap Atoll 14 m

lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m

mean elevation: 2 m

Natural resources

coconut products, marine products, deep seabed minerals

Land use

agricultural land: 50.7% (2018 est.)

arable land: 7.8% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 31.2% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 11.7% (2018 est.)

forest: 49.3% (2018 est.)

other: 0% (2018 est.)

Irrigated land

0 sq km (2022)

Population distribution

most people live in urban clusters found on many of the country's islands; more than two-thirds of the population lives on the atolls of Majuro and Ebeye

Natural hazards

infrequent typhoons

Geography - note

the islands of Bikini and Enewetak are former US nuclear test sites; Kwajalein atoll surrounds the world's largest lagoon and is used as a US missile test range; the island city of Ebeye is the second largest settlement in the Marshall Islands, after the capital of Majuro, and one of the most densely populated locations in the Pacific

People and Society

Population

total: 82,011

male: 41,581

female: 40,430 (2024 est.)

comparison rankings: female 200; male 200; total 200

Nationality

noun: Marshallese (singular and plural)

adjective: Marshallese

Ethnic groups

Marshallese 95.6%, Filipino 1.1%, other 3.3% (2021 est.)

Languages

Marshallese (official) 98.2%, other languages 1.8% (1999 est.)

major-language sample(s):


Bok eo an Lalin kin Melele ko Rejimwe ej jikin ebōk melele ko raurōk. (Marshallese)

The World Factbook, the indispensable source for basic information.



note: English (official), widely spoken as a second language

Religions

Protestant 79.3% (United Church of Christ 47.9%, Assembly of God 14.1%, Full Gospel 5%, Bukot Nan Jesus 3%, Salvation Army 2.3%, Reformed Congressional Church 2.2%, Seventh Day Adventist 1.7%, New Beginning Church 1.4%, other Protestant 1.6%), Roman Catholic 9.3%, Church of Jesus Christ 5.7%, Jehovah's Witness 1.3%, other 3.3%, none 1.1% (2021 est.)

Age structure

0-14 years: 30% (male 12,538/female 12,072)

15-64 years: 64.3% (male 26,750/female 25,944)

65 years and over: 5.7% (2024 est.) (male 2,293/female 2,414)

2023 population pyramid:
2023 population pyramid

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: 59.9

youth dependency ratio: 53

elderly dependency ratio: 6.8

potential support ratio: 14.7 (2021)

Median age

total: 25.5 years (2024 est.)

male: 25.4 years

female: 25.6 years

comparison ranking: total 169

Population growth rate

1.26% (2024 est.)

comparison ranking: 76

Birth rate

21.2 births/1,000 population (2024 est.)

comparison ranking: 61

Death rate

4.3 deaths/1,000 population (2024 est.)

comparison ranking: 211

Net migration rate

-4.3 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2024 est.)

comparison ranking: 197

Population distribution

most people live in urban clusters found on many of the country's islands; more than two-thirds of the population lives on the atolls of Majuro and Ebeye

Urbanization

urban population: 78.9% of total population (2023)

rate of urbanization: 0.61% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

total population growth rate v. urban population growth rate, 2000-2030

Major urban areas - population

31,000 MAJURO (capital) (2018)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 1.04 male(s)/female

15-64 years: 1.03 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.95 male(s)/female

total population: 1.03 male(s)/female (2024 est.)

Infant mortality rate

total: 20.6 deaths/1,000 live births (2024 est.)

male: 24 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 17.1 deaths/1,000 live births

comparison ranking: total 77

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 75.2 years (2024 est.)

male: 73 years

female: 77.5 years

comparison ranking: total population 130

Total fertility rate

2.67 children born/woman (2024 est.)

comparison ranking: 61

Drinking water source

improved: urban: 100% of population

rural: 99.8% of population

total: 100% of population

unimproved: urban: 0% of population

rural: 0.2% of population

total: 0% of population (2020 est.)

Physician density

0.42 physicians/1,000 population (2012)

Hospital bed density

2.7 beds/1,000 population

Sanitation facility access

improved: urban: 96.6% of population

rural: 65.4% of population

total: 89.7% of population

unimproved: urban: 3.4% of population

rural: 34.6% of population

total: 10.3% of population (2020 est.)

Obesity - adult prevalence rate

52.9% (2016)

comparison ranking: 4

Tobacco use

total: 28.5% (2020 est.)

male: 48.7% (2020 est.)

female: 8.3% (2020 est.)

comparison ranking: total 36

Children under the age of 5 years underweight

11.9% (2017)

comparison ranking: 45

Education expenditures

13.6% of GDP (2020 est.)

comparison ranking: 1

Literacy

definition: age 15 and over can read and write

total population: 98.3%

male: 98.3%

female: 98.2% (2011)

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)

total: 10 years

male: 10 years

female: 10 years (2019)

Environment

Environment - current issues

inadequate supplies of potable water; pollution of Majuro lagoon from household waste and discharges from fishing vessels; sea level rise

Environment - international agreements

party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Climate Change-Paris Agreement, Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban, Desertification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping-London Protocol, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands, Whaling

signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements

Climate

tropical; hot and humid; wet season May to November; islands border typhoon belt

Land use

agricultural land: 50.7% (2018 est.)

arable land: 7.8% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 31.2% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 11.7% (2018 est.)

forest: 49.3% (2018 est.)

other: 0% (2018 est.)

Urbanization

urban population: 78.9% of total population (2023)

rate of urbanization: 0.61% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

total population growth rate v. urban population growth rate, 2000-2030

Revenue from forest resources

0% of GDP (2018 est.)

comparison ranking: 187

Air pollutants

particulate matter emissions: 7.21 micrograms per cubic meter (2019 est.)

carbon dioxide emissions: 0.14 megatons (2016 est.)

methane emissions: 0.03 megatons (2020 est.)

Waste and recycling

municipal solid waste generated annually: 8,614 tons (2013 est.)

municipal solid waste recycled annually: 2,653 tons (2007 est.)

percent of municipal solid waste recycled: 30.8% (2007 est.)

Total renewable water resources

0 cubic meters (2017 est.)

Government

Country name

conventional long form: Republic of the Marshall Islands

conventional short form: Marshall Islands

local long form: Republic of the Marshall Islands

local short form: Marshall Islands

former: Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, Marshall Islands District

abbreviation: RMI

etymology: named after British Captain John MARSHALL, who charted many of the islands in 1788

Government type

mixed presidential-parliamentary system in free association with the US

Capital

name: Majuro; note - the capital is an atoll of 64 islands; governmental buildings are housed on three fused islands on the eastern side of the atoll: Djarrit, Uliga, and Delap

geographic coordinates: 7 06 N, 171 23 E

time difference: UTC+12 (17 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

etymology: Majuro means "two openings" or "two eyes" and refers to the two major northern passages through the atoll into the Majuro lagoon

Administrative divisions

24 municipalities; Ailinglaplap, Ailuk, Arno, Aur, Bikini & Kili, Ebon, Enewetak & Ujelang, Jabat, Jaluit, Kwajalein, Lae, Lib, Likiep, Majuro, Maloelap, Mejit, Mili, Namorik, Namu, Rongelap, Ujae, Utrik, Wotho, Wotje

Independence

21 October 1986 (from the US-administered UN trusteeship)

National holiday

Constitution Day, 1 May (1979)

Constitution

history: effective 1 May 1979

amendments: proposed by the National Parliament or by a constitutional convention; passage by Parliament requires at least two-thirds majority vote of the total membership in each of two readings and approval by a majority of votes in a referendum; amendments submitted by a constitutional convention require approval of at least two thirds of votes in a referendum; amended several times, last in 2018

Legal system

mixed legal system of US and English common law, customary law, and local statutes

International law organization participation

accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction with reservations; accepts ICCt jurisdiction

Citizenship

citizenship by birth: no

citizenship by descent only: at least one parent must be a citizen of the Marshall Islands

dual citizenship recognized: no

residency requirement for naturalization: 5 years

Suffrage

18 years of age; universal

Executive branch

chief of state: President Hilda C. HEINE (since 3 January 2023) 

head of government: President Hilda C. HEINE (since 3 January 2023)

cabinet: Cabinet nominated by the president from among members of the Nitijela, appointed by Nitijela speaker

elections/appointments: president indirectly elected by the Nitijela from among its members for a 4-year term (no term limits); election last held on 2 January 2023 (next to be held in 2027)

election results: 2023: Hilda C. HEINE elected president; National Parliament vote - Hilda C. HEINE (independent) 17, David KABUA (independent) 16

2020: David KABUA elected president; National Parliament vote - David KABUA (independent) 20, Hilda C. HEINE (independent) 12

note: the president is both chief of state and head of government

Legislative branch

description: unicameral National Parliament or Nitijela (33 seats; members in 19 single- and 5 multi-seat constituencies directly elected by simple majority vote to serve 4-year terms); note - the Council of Iroij, a 12-member group of tribal leaders advises the Presidential Cabinet and reviews legislation affecting customary law or any traditional practice); members appointed to serve 1-year terms

elections: last held on 20 November 2023 (next to be held in November 2027)

election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by part - independent 33; composition - men 29, women 4, percent of women 12.1%

Judicial branch

highest court(s): Supreme Court (consists of the chief justice and 2 associate justices)

judge selection and term of office: judges appointed by the Cabinet upon the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission (consists of the chief justice of the High Court, the attorney general and a private citizen selected by the Cabinet) and upon approval of the Nitijela; the current chief justice, appointed in 2013, serves for 10 years; Marshallese citizens appointed as justices serve until retirement at age 72

subordinate courts: High Court; District Courts; Traditional Rights Court; Community Courts

Political parties and leaders

traditionally there have been no formally organized political parties; what has existed more closely resembles factions or interest groups because they do not have party headquarters, formal platforms, or party structures

International organization participation

ACP, ADB, AOSIS, FAO, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICCt, IDA, IFAD, IFC, ILO, IMF, IMO, IMSO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ITU, OPCW, PIF, Sparteca, SPC, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHRC, WHO

Diplomatic representation in the US

chief of mission: Ambassador Charles Rudolph PAUL (since 27 February 2024)

chancery: 2433 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008

telephone: [1] (202) 234-5414

FAX: [1] (202) 232-3236

email address and website:
info@rmiembassyus.org

consulate(s) general: Honolulu, Springdale (AR)

Diplomatic representation from the US

chief of mission: Ambassador (vacant); Chargé d’Affaires Lance POSEY (since 18 August 2023)

embassy: Mejen Weto, Ocean Side, Majuro

mailing address: 4380 Majuro Place, Washington DC  20521-4380

telephone: [692] 247-4011

FAX: [692] 247-4012

email address and website:
MAJConsular@state.gov

https://mh.usembassy.gov/

Flag description

blue with two stripes radiating from the lower hoist-side corner - orange (top) and white; a white star with four large rays and 20 small rays appears on the hoist side above the two stripes; blue represents the Pacific Ocean, the orange stripe signifies the Ralik Chain or sunset and courage, while the white stripe signifies the Ratak Chain or sunrise and peace; the star symbolizes the cross of Christianity, each of the 24 rays designates one of the electoral districts in the country and the four larger rays highlight the principal cultural centers of Majuro, Jaluit, Wotje, and Ebeye; the rising diagonal band can also be interpreted as representing the equator, with the star showing the archipelago's position just to the north

National symbol(s)

a 24-rayed star; national colors: blue, white, orange

National anthem

name: "Forever Marshall Islands"

lyrics/music: Amata KABUA

note: adopted 1981

National heritage

total World Heritage Sites: 1 (cultural)

selected World Heritage Site locales: Bikini Atoll Nuclear Test Site

Economy

Economic overview

upper middle-income Pacific island economy; US aid reliance; large public sector; coconut oil production as diesel fuel substitute; growing offshore banking locale; fishing rights seller; import-dependent

Real GDP (purchasing power parity)

$249.595 million (2022 est.)
$251.292 million (2021 est.)
$248.528 million (2020 est.)

note: data in 2017 dollars

comparison ranking: 219

Real GDP growth rate

-0.68% (2022 est.)
1.11% (2021 est.)
-2.85% (2020 est.)

note: annual GDP % growth based on constant local currency

comparison ranking: 196

Real GDP per capita

$6,000 (2022 est.)
$6,000 (2021 est.)
$5,700 (2020 est.)

note: data in 2017 dollars

comparison ranking: 161

GDP (official exchange rate)

$258.774 million (2022 est.)

note: data in current dollars at official exchange rate

Inflation rate (consumer prices)

0% (2017 est.)
-1.5% (2016 est.)

comparison ranking: 8

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: 4.4% (2013 est.)

industry: 9.9% (2013 est.)

services: 85.7% (2013 est.)

comparison rankings: services 18; industry 207; agriculture 132

GDP - composition, by end use

government consumption: 50% (2016 est.)

investment in fixed capital: 17.8% (2016 est.)

investment in inventories: 0.2% (2016 est.)

exports of goods and services: 52.9% (2016 est.)

imports of goods and services: -102.3% (2016 est.)

Agricultural products

coconuts (2022)

note: top ten agricultural products based on tonnage

Industries

copra, tuna processing, tourism, craft items (from seashells, wood, and pearls)

Industrial production growth rate

10.24% (2022 est.)

note: annual % change in industrial value added based on constant local currency

comparison ranking: 20

Labor force

10,670 (2013 est.)

comparison ranking: 212

Youth unemployment rate (ages 15-24)

total: 26% (2019 est.)

male: 31%

female: 14.2%

comparison ranking: total 60

Population below poverty line

7.2% (2019 est.)

note: % of population with income below national poverty line

Gini Index coefficient - distribution of family income

35.5 (2019 est.)

note: index (0-100) of income distribution; higher values represent greater inequality

comparison ranking: 93

Household income or consumption by percentage share

lowest 10%: 2.8%

highest 10%: 27.5% (2019 est.)

note: % share of income accruing to lowest and highest 10% of population

Remittances

11.59% of GDP (2022 est.)
13.36% of GDP (2021 est.)
13.89% of GDP (2020 est.)

note: personal transfers and compensation between resident and non-resident individuals/households/entities

Budget

revenues: $148 million (2019 est.)

expenditures: $153 million (2019 est.)

Budget surplus (+) or deficit (-)

1.3% (of GDP) (2013 est.)

comparison ranking: 27

Public debt

41.73% of GDP (2019 est.)
44.12% of GDP (2018 est.)
47.95% of GDP (2017 est.)

note: central government debt as a % of GDP

comparison ranking: 129

Taxes and other revenues

17.23% (of GDP) (2020 est.)

note: central government tax revenue as a % of GDP

comparison ranking: 111

Current account balance

$76.263 million (2021 est.)
$90.281 million (2020 est.)
$86.133 million (2019 est.)

note: balance of payments - net trade and primary/secondary income in current dollars

comparison ranking: 61

Exports

$130.016 million (2021 est.)
$88.042 million (2020 est.)
$91.394 million (2019 est.)

note: balance of payments - exports of goods and services in current dollars

comparison ranking: 210

Exports - partners

Germany 30%, Denmark 15%, UK 14%, Malta 6%, Indonesia 5% (2022)

note: top five export partners based on percentage share of exports

Exports - commodities

ships, refined petroleum, fish, coated flat-rolled iron, wood carpentry (2022)

note: top five export commodities based on value in dollars

Imports

$206.025 million (2021 est.)
$132.845 million (2020 est.)
$129.682 million (2019 est.)

note: balance of payments - imports of goods and services in current dollars

comparison ranking: 213

Imports - partners

China 33%, South Korea 31%, Japan 12%, Taiwan 4%, Brazil 4% (2022)

note: top five import partners based on percentage share of imports

Imports - commodities

ships, refined petroleum, additive manufacturing machines, centrifuges, iron structures (2022)

note: top five import commodities based on value in dollars

Debt - external

$97.96 million (2013 est.)
$87 million (2008 est.)

comparison ranking: 193

Exchange rates

the US dollar is used

Energy

Electricity access

electrification - total population: 100% (2022 est.)

electrification - urban areas: 96.1%

electrification - rural areas: 100%

Carbon dioxide emissions

293,700 metric tonnes of CO2 (2017 est.)

comparison ranking: total emissions 199

Communications

Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 2,000 (2014 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 5 (2014 est.)

comparison ranking: total subscriptions 214

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 16,000 (2021 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 38 (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: total subscriptions 218

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: the National Telecommunications Act, through Bill No. 66, ushered in a new era in telecommunications in the Marshall Islands; this will enable an open, competitive market for telecommunications that is regulated by a Telecommunications Commissioner; telecom officials announced that they would be able to offer satellite internet services beginning in mid-2023; the World Bank has been promoting telecommunications reform here for a decade and has a multi-million-dollar telecommunications reform grant program in progress (2022)

domestic: fixed-line roughly 5 per 100 persons and mobile-cellular is nearly 38 per 100 persons (2021)

international: country code - 692; satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (Pacific Ocean); US Government satellite communications system on Kwajalein

Broadcast media

no TV broadcast station; a cable network is available on Majuro with programming via videotape replay and satellite relays; 4 radio broadcast stations; American Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) provides satellite radio and television service to Kwajalein Atoll (2019)

Internet users

total: 16,254 (2021 est.)

percent of population: 38.7% (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: total 214

Broadband - fixed subscriptions

total: 1,000 (2020 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 2 (2020 est.)

comparison ranking: total 207

Communications - note

Kwajalein hosts one of four dedicated ground antennas that assist in the operation of the Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation system (the others are at Cape Canaveral, Florida (US), on Ascension (Saint Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha), and at Diego Garcia (British Indian Ocean Territory))

Transportation

National air transport system

number of registered air carriers: 1 (2020)

inventory of registered aircraft operated by air carriers: 3

annual passenger traffic on registered air carriers: 24,313 (2018)

annual freight traffic on registered air carriers: 130,000 (2018) mt-km

Airports

33 (2024)

comparison ranking: 114

Roadways

total: 2,028 km

paved: 75 km

unpaved: 1,953 km (2007)

comparison ranking: total 174

Merchant marine

total: 4,180 (2023)

by type: bulk carrier 1,939, container ship 277, general cargo 66, oil tanker 1039, other 859

comparison ranking: total 6

Ports

total ports: 3 (2024)

large: 0

medium: 0

small: 0

very small: 3

ports with oil terminals: 2

key ports: Enitwetak Island, Kwajalein, Majuro Atoll

Military and Security

Military and security forces

no regular military forces; the national police (Marshall Islands Police Department, MIPD), local police forces, and the Sea Patrol (maritime police) maintain internal security; the MIPD and Sea Patrol report to the Ministry of Justice; local police report to their respective local government councils (2024)

Military - note

defense is the responsibility of the US; in 1982, the Marshall Islands signed a Compact of Free Association (COFA) with the US, which granted the Marshall Islands financial assistance and access to many US domestic programs in exchange for exclusive US military access and defense responsibilities; the COFA entered into force in 1986, and its funding was renewed in 2003; the Marshall Islands hosts a US Army missile test site 

the Marshall Islands have a "shiprider" agreement with the US, which allows local maritime law enforcement officers to embark on US Coast Guard (USCG) and US Navy (USN) vessels, including to board and search vessels suspected of violating laws or regulations within its designated exclusive economic zone (EEZ) or on the high seas; "shiprider" agreements also enable USCG personnel and USN vessels with embarked USCG law enforcement personnel to work with host nations to protect critical regional resources (2024)

Transnational Issues

Trafficking in persons

tier rating: Tier 2 Watch List — Marshall Islands does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so; officials identified a labor trafficking victim, conducted awareness-raising activities, and continued to investigate a government official allegedly complicit in trafficking; however, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts, compared with the previous reporting period, to expand its anti-trafficking capacity; the government did not prosecute any traffickers for the third consecutive year and has not convicted any traffickers since 2011; officials did not use standard operating procedures to identify trafficking victims and penalized victims for immigration offenses committed as a direct result of being trafficked; law enforcement officials, who have a limited understanding of trafficking, did not receive anti-trafficking training, nor did the government provide adequate financial and technical resources for anti-trafficking efforts; therefore, Marshall Islands was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List (2023)