Photos of Northern Mariana Islands

A US Marine Corps KC-130J Hercules aircraft lands on Tinian Island's North Field runway, 30 May 2012, during Exercise Geiger Fury 2012. The aircraft was the first to land on the runway since 1947. Runways Baker, Charlie, Dog, and the historic Able - the runway used by the B-29 Enola Gay on its mission against Hiroshima - are slated to be restored by US Marines. Photo courtesy of US Marine Corps / Lance Cpl. Benjamin Pryer.

Introduction

Background

Austronesian people settled the Northern Mariana Islands around 1500 B.C. These people became the indigenous Chamorro and were influenced by later migrations, including Micronesians in the first century A.D. and island Southeast Asians around 900. Spanish explorer Ferdinand MAGELLAN sailed through the Mariana Islands in 1521, and Spain claimed them in 1565. Spain formally colonized the Mariana Islands in 1668 and administered the archipelago from Guam. Spain’s brutal repression of the Chamorro, along with new diseases and intermittent warfare, reduced the indigenous population by about 90% in the 1700s. With a similar dynamic occurring on Guam, Spain forced the Chamorro from the Northern Mariana Islands to resettle there. By the time they returned, many other Micronesians, including Chuukese and Yapese, had already settled on their islands.

In 1898, Spain ceded Guam to the US after the Spanish-American War but sold the Northern Mariana Islands to Germany under the German-Spanish Treaty of 1899. Germany administered the territory from German New Guinea but took a hands-off approach to day-to-day life. Following World War I, Japan administered the islands under a League of Nations mandate. Japan focused on sugar production and brought in thousands of Japanese laborers, who quickly outnumbered the Chamorro on the islands. During World War II, Japan invaded Guam from the Northern Mariana Islands and used Marianan Chamorro as translators with Guamanian Chamorro, creating friction between the two Chamorro communities that continues to this day. The US captured the Northern Mariana Islands in 1944 after the Battle of Saipan and later administered them as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI).

On four occasions in the 1950s and 1960s, voters opted for integration with Guam, which Guam rejected in 1969. In 1978, the Northern Mariana Islands was granted self-governance separate from the rest of the TTPI, and in 1986, islanders were granted US citizenship, with the territory coming under US sovereignty as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). In 2009, the CNMI became the final US territory to elect a nonvoting delegate to the US Congress.

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

Geography

Location

Oceania, islands in the North Pacific Ocean, about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines

Geographic coordinates

15 12 N, 145 45 E

Area

total: 464 sq km

land: 464 sq km

water: 0 sq km

note: consists of 14 islands including Saipan, Rota, and Tinian

comparison ranking: total 196

Area - comparative

2.5 times the size of Washington, DC

Land boundaries

total: 0 km

Coastline

1,482 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

Climate

tropical marine; moderated by northeast trade winds, little seasonal temperature variation; dry season December to June, rainy season July to October

Terrain

the southern islands in this north-south trending archipelago are limestone, with fringing coral reefs; the northern islands are volcanic, with active volcanoes on several islands

Elevation

highest point: Agrihan Volcano 965 m

lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m

Natural resources

arable land, fish

Land use

agricultural land: 6.6% (2018 est.)

arable land: 2.2% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 2.2% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 2.2% (2018 est.)

forest: 65.5% (2018 est.)

other: 27.9% (2018 est.)

Irrigated land

1 sq km (2012)

Population distribution

approximately 90% of the population lives on the island of Saipan

Natural hazards

active volcanoes on Pagan and Agrihan; typhoons (especially August to November)

Geography - note

strategic location in the North Pacific Ocean

People and Society

Population

total: 51,118

male: 27,044

female: 24,074 (2024 est.)

comparison rankings: female 209; male 209; total 209

Nationality

noun: NA (US citizens)

adjective: NA

Ethnic groups

Asian 50% (includes Filipino 35.3%, Chinese 6.8%, Korean 4.2%, and other Asian 3.7%), Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander 34.9% (includes Chamorro 23.9%, Carolinian 4.6%, and other Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander 6.4%), other 2.5%, two or more ethnicities or races 12.7% (2010 est.)

Languages

Philippine languages 32.8%, Chamorro (official) 24.1%, English (official) 17%, other Pacific island languages 10.1% (includes Carolinian (official), Chinese 6.8%, other Asian languages 7.3%, other 1.9% (2010 est.)

Religions

Christian (Roman Catholic majority, although traditional beliefs and taboos may still be found)

Age structure

0-14 years: 22.1% (male 6,066/female 5,231)

15-64 years: 67.7% (male 18,206/female 16,377)

65 years and over: 10.2% (2024 est.) (male 2,772/female 2,466)

2023 population pyramid:
2023 population pyramid

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: 46

youth dependency ratio: 31.7

elderly dependency ratio: 14.3

potential support ratio: 7 (2021)

Median age

total: 32.4 years (2024 est.)

male: 31.8 years

female: 33.2 years

comparison ranking: total 116

Population growth rate

-0.34% (2024 est.)

comparison ranking: 214

Birth rate

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

comparison ranking: 104

Death rate

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

comparison ranking: 172

Net migration rate

-13.4 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2024 est.)

comparison ranking: 226

Population distribution

approximately 90% of the population lives on the island of Saipan

Urbanization

urban population: 92.1% of total population (2023)

rate of urbanization: 0.36% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

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

Major urban areas - population

51,000 SAIPAN (capital) (2018)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.17 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 1.16 male(s)/female

15-64 years: 1.11 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 1.12 male(s)/female

total population: 1.12 male(s)/female (2024 est.)

Infant mortality rate

total: 11.9 deaths/1,000 live births (2024 est.)

male: 14.4 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 9 deaths/1,000 live births

comparison ranking: total 110

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 77.1 years (2024 est.)

male: 75 years

female: 79.5 years

comparison ranking: total population 98

Total fertility rate

2.56 children born/woman (2024 est.)

comparison ranking: 67

Gross reproduction rate

1.18 (2024 est.)

Drinking water source

improved: urban: NA

rural: NA

total: 100% of population

unimproved: urban: NA

rural: NA

total: 0% of population (2020 est.)

Sanitation facility access

improved: urban: NA

rural: NA

total: 97.9% of population

unimproved: urban: NA

rural: NA

total: 2.1% of population (2020 est.)

Literacy

total population: NA

male: NA

female: NA

Environment

Environment - current issues

contamination of groundwater on Saipan may contribute to disease; clean-up of landfill; protection of endangered species conflicts with development

Climate

tropical marine; moderated by northeast trade winds, little seasonal temperature variation; dry season December to June, rainy season July to October

Land use

agricultural land: 6.6% (2018 est.)

arable land: 2.2% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 2.2% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 2.2% (2018 est.)

forest: 65.5% (2018 est.)

other: 27.9% (2018 est.)

Urbanization

urban population: 92.1% of total population (2023)

rate of urbanization: 0.36% 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: 177

Waste and recycling

municipal solid waste generated annually: 32,761 tons (2013 est.)

municipal solid waste recycled annually: 11,794 tons (2016 est.)

percent of municipal solid waste recycled: 36% (2016 est.)

Government

Country name

conventional long form: Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

conventional short form: Northern Mariana Islands

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

abbreviation: CNMI

etymology: formally claimed and named by Spain in 1667 in honor of the Spanish Queen, MARIANA of Austria

Government type

a commonwealth in political union with and under the sovereignty of the US; republican form of government with separate executive, legislative, and judicial branches

Dependency status

commonwealth in political union with and under the sovereignty of the US; federal funds to the Commonwealth administered by the US Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs, Washington, DC

Capital

name: Saipan

geographic coordinates: 15 12 N, 145 45 E

time difference: UTC+10 (15 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

etymology: the entire island of Saipan is organized as a single municipality and serves as the capital; according to legend, when the first native voyagers arrived in their outrigger canoes they found an uninhabited island; to them it was like an empty voyage, so they named the island saay meaning "a voyage," and peel meaning "empty"; over time Saaypeel - "island of the empty voyage" - became Saipan

Administrative divisions

none (commonwealth in political union with the US); there are no first-order administrative divisions as defined by the US Government, but there are 4 municipalities at the second order: Northern Islands, Rota, Saipan, Tinian

Independence

none (commonwealth in political union with the US)

National holiday

Commonwealth Day, 8 January (1978)

Constitution

history: partially effective 9 January 1978 (Constitution of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands); fully effective 4 November 1986 (Covenant Agreement)

amendments: proposed by constitutional convention, by public petition, or by the Legislature; ratification of proposed amendments requires approval by voters at the next general election or special election; amendments proposed by constitutional convention or by petition become effective if approved by a majority of voters and at least two-thirds majority of voters in each of two senatorial districts; amendments proposed by the Legislature are effective if approved by majority vote; amended several times, last in 2012

Legal system

the laws of the US apply, except for customs and some aspects of taxation

Citizenship

see United States

Suffrage

18 years of age; universal; note - indigenous inhabitants are US citizens but do not vote in US presidential elections

Executive branch

chief of state: President Joseph R. BIDEN Jr. (since 20 January 2021)

head of government: Governor Arnold PALACIOS (since 9 January 2023)

cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate

elections/appointments: president and vice president indirectly elected on the same ballot by an Electoral College of 'electors' chosen from each state; president and vice president serve a 4-year term (eligible for a second term); under the US Constitution, residents of the Northern Mariana Islands do not vote in elections for US president and vice president; however, they may vote in Democratic and Republican party presidential primary elections; governor directly elected by absolute majority vote in 2 rounds if needed; election last held on 8 November 2022 with a runoff held on 25 November 2022 (next to be held in 2026)

election results: Arnold PALACIOS elected governor in second round; percent of vote in first round - Ralph TORRES (Republican) 38.8%; Arnold PALACIOS (independent) 32.2%, Tina SABLAN (Democrat) 28%; percent of vote - Arnold PALACIOS 54%, Ralph TORRES 46%; David APATANG (independent) elected lieutenant governor

Legislative branch

description: bicameral Northern Marianas Commonwealth Legislature consists of:
Senate (9 seats; members directly elected in single-seat constituencies by simple majority vote to serve 4-year terms)
House of Representatives (20 seats; members directly elected in single-seat constituencies by simple majority vote to serve 2-year terms)

the Northern Mariana Islands directly elects 1 delegate to the US House of Representatives by simple majority vote to serve a 2-year term

elections: CNMI Senate - last held on 8 November 2020 (next to be held on 5 November 2024)
CNMI House of Representatives - last held on 8 November 2022 (next to be held on 5 November 2024)
Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands delegate to the US House of Representatives - last held on 8 November 2022 (next to be held on 5 November 2024)

election results: CNMI Senate - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - Republican Party 6, independent 3; composition - men 6, women 3, percentage women 33.3%

CNMI House of Representatives - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - Republican Party 9, Democrat Party 8, independent 3; composition - men 17, women 3, percentage women 15%; total Commonwealth Legislature percentage women 20.7%

Northern Mariana Islands delegate to US House of Representatives - seat won by independent; composition - 1 man

note: the Northern Mariana Islands delegate to the US House of Representatives can vote when serving on a committee and when the House meets as the "Committee of the Whole House" but not when legislation is submitted for a “full floor” House vote

Judicial branch

highest court(s): Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) (consists of the chief justice and 2 associate justices); US Federal District Court (consists of 1 judge); note - US Federal District Court jurisdiction limited to US federal laws; appeals beyond the CNMI Supreme Court are referred to the US Supreme Court

judge selection and term of office: CNMI Supreme Court judges appointed by the governor and confirmed by the CNMI Senate; judges appointed for 8-year terms and another term if directly elected in a popular election; US Federal District Court judges appointed by the US president and confirmed by the US Senate; judges appointed for renewable 10-year terms

subordinate courts: Superior Court

Political parties and leaders

Democratic Party [Daniel QUITUGUA]
Republican Party [James ADA]

Diplomatic representation from the US

embassy: none (commonwealth in political union with the US)       

Flag description

blue with a white, five-pointed star superimposed on a gray latte stone (the traditional foundation stone used in building) in the center, surrounded by a mwáár or head lei (wreath); blue symbolizes the Pacific Ocean, the star represents the Commonwealth; the Chamorro latte stone and the Carolinian mwáár (head lei) represent elements of Marianas culture; the mwáár is composed of the flowers from four flowering plants: flores mayo (Plumeria), ylang-ylang or langilang (Cananga odorata), angagha or peacock flower (Caesalpinia pulcherrima), and teibwo or Pacific basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum)

National symbol(s)

latte stone; national colors: blue, white

National anthem

name: "Gi Talo Gi Halom Tasi" (In the Middle of the Sea)

lyrics/music: Jose S. PANGELINAN [Chamoru], David PETER [Carolinian]/Wilhelm GANZHORN

note: adopted 1996; the Carolinian version of the song is known as "Satil Matawal Pacifico;" as a commonwealth of the US, in addition to the local anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner" is official (see United States)

Economy

Economic overview

US Pacific island commonwealth economy; growing Chinese and Korean tourist destination; hit hard by 2018 typhoon; dependent on energy imports; exempt from some US labor and immigration laws; longstanding garment production

Real GDP (purchasing power parity)

$1.242 billion (2016 est.)
$933 million (2015 est.)
$845 million (2014 est.)

note: GDP estimate includes US subsidy; data are in 2013 dollars

comparison ranking: 205

Real GDP growth rate

-29.68% (2020 est.)
-11.32% (2019 est.)
-19.27% (2018 est.)

note: annual GDP % growth based on constant local currency

comparison ranking: 221

Real GDP per capita

$24,500 (2016 est.)
$18,400 (2015 est.)
$16,600 (2014 est.)

comparison ranking: 81

GDP (official exchange rate)

$858 million (2020 est.)

note: data in current dollars at official exchange rate

Inflation rate (consumer prices)

0.3% (2016 est.)
0.1% (2015 est.)

comparison ranking: 10

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: 1.7% (2016)

industry: 58.1% (2016 est.)

services: 40.2% (2016)

comparison rankings: services 213; industry 3; agriculture 184

GDP - composition, by end use

household consumption: 43.1% (2016 est.)

government consumption: 28.9% (2016 est.)

investment in fixed capital: 26.3% (2016 est.)

investment in inventories: (2016 est.) NA

exports of goods and services: 73.6% (2016 est.)

imports of goods and services: -71.9% (2016 est.)

Agricultural products

vegetables and melons, fruits and nuts; ornamental plants; livestock, poultry, eggs; fish and aquaculture products

Industries

tourism, banking, construction, fishing, handicrafts, other services

Industrial production growth rate

4.3% (2014 est.)

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

comparison ranking: 75

Labor force

27,970 (2010 est.)

note: includes foreign workers

comparison ranking: 203

Unemployment rate

11.2% (2010 est.)
8% (2005 est.)

comparison ranking: 172

Budget

revenues: $389.6 million (2016 est.)

expenditures: $344 million (2015 est.)

Budget surplus (+) or deficit (-)

3.7% (of GDP) (2016 est.)

comparison ranking: 11

Public debt

7.1% of GDP (2017 est.)

comparison ranking: 199

Taxes and other revenues

31.4% (of GDP) (2016 est.)

comparison ranking: 24

Exports

$128 million (2020 est.)
$500 million (2019 est.)
$660 million (2018 est.)

note: GDP expenditure basis - exports of goods and services in current dollars

comparison ranking: 211

Exports - partners

South Korea 48%, Thailand 9%, Germany 6%, Cyprus 6%, India 6% (2022)

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

Exports - commodities

scrap iron, refined petroleum, scrap copper, hydraulic engines, integrated circuits, peas, scrap aluminum (2021)

Imports

$536 million (2020 est.)
$735 million (2019 est.)
$754 million (2018 est.)

note: GDP expenditure basis - exports of goods and services in current dollars

comparison ranking: 200

Imports - partners

Singapore 42%, Japan 20%, South Korea 16%, Hong Kong 7%, Taiwan 3% (2022)

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

Imports - commodities

refined petroleum, trunks/cases, cars, watches, jewelry (2019)

Exchange rates

the US dollar is used

Energy

Electricity access

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

Coal

production: 0 metric tons (2020 est.)

consumption: 0 metric tons (2020 est.)

exports: 0 metric tons (2020 est.)

imports: 0 metric tons (2020 est.)

Petroleum

total petroleum production: 0 bbl/day (2021 est.)

refined petroleum consumption: 2,100 bbl/day (2019 est.)

crude oil estimated reserves: 0 barrels (2021 est.)

Natural gas

production: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

consumption: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

exports: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

imports: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

proven reserves: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

Carbon dioxide emissions

0 metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

from coal and metallurgical coke: 0 metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

from consumed natural gas: 0 metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

comparison ranking: total emissions 218

Communications

Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 20,000 (2021 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 40 (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: total subscriptions 174

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 20,474 (2004 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 28 (2004)

comparison ranking: total subscriptions 216

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: digital fiber-optic cables and satellites connect the islands to worldwide networks; demand for broadband growing given that mobile services are the source for Internet across region; future launch of 5G (2020)

domestic: fixed-line teledensity is 40 per 100 persons; mobile cellular subscriptions are 28 per 100 (2021)

international: country code - 1-670; landing points for the Atisa and Mariana-Guam submarine cables linking Mariana islands to Guam; satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (Pacific Ocean) (2019)

Broadcast media

1 TV broadcast station on Saipan; multi-channel cable TV services are available on Saipan; 9 licensed radio broadcast stations (2009)

Internet users

total: 12,299 (2021 est.)

percent of population: 25.1% (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: total 216

Transportation

Airports

4 (2024)

comparison ranking: 181

Heliports

7 (2024)

Roadways

total: 536 km (2008)

comparison ranking: total 195

Ports

total ports: 3 (2024)

large: 0

medium: 0

small: 1

very small: 2

ports with oil terminals: 1

key ports: Rota, Saipan, Tinian

Military and Security

Military - note

defense is the responsibility of the US