Photos of Palau

Introduction

Background

Humans arrived in the Palauan archipelago around 1000 B.C. from Southeast Asia and developed a complex, highly organized matrilineal society where high-ranking women picked the chiefs. The islands were the westernmost part of the widely scattered Pacific islands north of New Guinea that Spanish explorers named the Caroline Islands in the 17th century. There were several failed attempts by Spanish Jesuit missionaries to visit the islands in the early 1700s. Spain gained some influence in the islands and administered it from the Philippines but sold Palau to Germany in 1899 after it lost the Philippines in the Spanish-American War.

Japan seized Palau in 1914, was granted a League of Nations mandate to administer the islands in 1920, and made Koror the capital of its South Seas Mandate in 1922. By the outbreak of World War II, there were four times as many Japanese living in Koror as Palauans. In 1944, the US invasion of the island of Peleliu in 1944 was one of the bloodiest island fights of the Pacific War. Following the war, Palau became part of the US-administered Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.

Palau voted against joining the Federated States of Micronesia in 1978 and adopted its own constitution in 1981, which stated that Palau was a nuclear-free country. In 1982, Palau signed a Compact of Free Association (COFA) with the US, which granted Palau financial assistance and access to many US domestic programs in exchange for exclusive US military access and defense responsibilities. However, many Palauans saw the COFA as incompatible with the Palauan Constitution because of the US military’s nuclear arsenal, and seven referenda failed to achieve ratification. Following a constitutional amendment and eighth referendum in 1993, the COFA was ratified and entered into force in 1994 when the islands gained their independence. Its funding was renewed in 2010.

Palau has been on the frontlines of combatting climate change and protecting marine resources. In 2011, Palau banned commercial shark fishing and created the world’s first shark sanctuary. In 2017, Palau began stamping the Palau Pledge into passports, reminding visitors to act in ecologically and culturally responsible ways. In 2020, Palau banned coral reef-toxic sunscreens and expanded its fishing prohibition to include 80% of its exclusive economic zone.

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

Geography

Location

Oceania, group of islands in the North Pacific Ocean, southeast of the Philippines

Geographic coordinates

7 30 N, 134 30 E

Area

total: 459 sq km

land: 459 sq km

water: 0 sq km

comparison ranking: total 197

Area - comparative

slightly more than 2.5 times the size of Washington, DC

Area comparison map:
Area comparison map

Land boundaries

total: 0 km

Coastline

1,519 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

contiguous zone: 24 nm

exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

continental shelf: 200 nm

Climate

tropical; hot and humid; wet season May to November

Terrain

varying topography from the high, mountainous main island of Babelthuap to low, coral islands usually fringed by large barrier reefs

Elevation

highest point: Mount Ngerchelchuus 242 m

lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m

Natural resources

forests, minerals (especially gold), marine products, deep-seabed minerals

Land use

agricultural land: 10.8% (2018 est.)

arable land: 2.2% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 4.3% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 4.3% (2018 est.)

forest: 87.6% (2018 est.)

other: 1.6% (2018 est.)

Irrigated land

0 sq km (2022)

Population distribution

most of the population is located on the southern end of the main island of Babelthuap

Natural hazards

typhoons (June to December)

Geography - note

westernmost archipelago in the Caroline chain, consists of six island groups totaling more than 300 islands; includes World War II battleground of Beliliou (Peleliu) and world-famous Rock Islands

People and Society

Population

21,779 (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: 218

Nationality

noun: Palauan(s)

adjective: Palauan

Ethnic groups

Palauan (Micronesian with Malayan and Melanesian admixtures) 70.6%, Carolinian 1.2%, Asian 26.5%, other 1.7% (2020 est.)

Languages

Palauan (official on most islands) 65.2%, other Micronesian 1.9%, English (official) 19.1%, Filipino 9.9%, Chinese 1.2%, other 2.8% (2015 est.)

note: Sonsoralese is official in Sonsoral; Tobian is official in Tobi; Angaur and Japanese are official in Angaur

Religions

Roman Catholic 46.9%, Protestant 30.9% (Evangelical 24.6%, Seventh Day Adventist 5%, other Protestant 1.4%), Modekngei 5.1% (indigenous to Palau), Muslim 4.9%, other 12.3% (2020 est.)

Age structure

0-14 years: 17.49% (male 1,966/female 1,844)

15-64 years: 71.82% (male 8,665/female 6,976)

65 years and over: 10.69% (2023 est.) (male 581/female 1,747)

2023 population pyramid:
2023 population pyramid

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: 43.8

youth dependency ratio: 30.2

elderly dependency ratio: 13.7

potential support ratio: 7.3 (2021)

Median age

total: 35 years (2023 est.)

male: 33.9 years

female: 37 years

comparison ranking: total 95

Population growth rate

0.39% (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: 163

Birth rate

11.6 births/1,000 population (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: 157

Death rate

8.3 deaths/1,000 population (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: 78

Net migration rate

0.6 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: 75

Population distribution

most of the population is located on the southern end of the main island of Babelthuap

Urbanization

urban population: 82.4% of total population (2023)

rate of urbanization: 1.59% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

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

Major urban areas - population

277 NGERULMUD (capital) (2018)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.07 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 1.07 male(s)/female

15-64 years: 1.24 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.33 male(s)/female

total population: 1.06 male(s)/female (2023 est.)

Infant mortality rate

total: 11 deaths/1,000 live births (2023 est.)

male: 13 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 9 deaths/1,000 live births

comparison ranking: total 127

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 74.9 years (2023 est.)

male: 71.8 years

female: 78.2 years

comparison ranking: total population 132

Total fertility rate

1.7 children born/woman (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: 166

Gross reproduction rate

0.82 (2023 est.)

Drinking water source

improved: urban: 99.6% of population

rural: 99.8% of population

total: 99.7% of population

unimproved: urban: 0.4% of population

rural: 0.2% of population

total: 0.3% of population (2020 est.)

Current health expenditure

18.4% of GDP (2020)

Physicians density

1.77 physicians/1,000 population (2020)

Sanitation facility access

improved: urban: 99.8% of population

rural: 99% of population

total: 99.6% of population

unimproved: urban: 0.2% of population

rural: 1% of population

total: 0.4% of population (2020 est.)

Obesity - adult prevalence rate

55.3% (2016)

comparison ranking: 3

Tobacco use

total: 17.6% (2020 est.)

male: 27.3% (2020 est.)

female: 7.9% (2020 est.)

comparison ranking: total 95

Education expenditures

6.8% of GDP (2019)

comparison ranking: 24

Literacy

definition: age 15 and over can read and write

total population: 96.6%

male: 96.8%

female: 96.3% (2015)

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)

total: 17 years

male: 16 years

female: 17 years (2013)

Environment

Environment - current issues

inadequate facilities for disposal of solid waste; threats to the marine ecosystem from sand and coral dredging, illegal and destructive fishing practices, and overfishing; climate change contributes to rising sea level and coral bleaching; drought

Environment - international agreements

party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Climate Change-Paris Agreement, Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, 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

Land use

agricultural land: 10.8% (2018 est.)

arable land: 2.2% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 4.3% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 4.3% (2018 est.)

forest: 87.6% (2018 est.)

other: 1.6% (2018 est.)

Urbanization

urban population: 82.4% of total population (2023)

rate of urbanization: 1.59% 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: 169

Air pollutants

particulate matter emissions: 7.82 micrograms per cubic meter (2019 est.)

carbon dioxide emissions: 0.22 megatons (2016 est.)

methane emissions: 0.06 megatons (2020 est.)

Waste and recycling

municipal solid waste generated annually: 9,427 tons (2016 est.)

Total renewable water resources

0 cubic meters (2017 est.)

Government

Country name

conventional long form: Republic of Palau

conventional short form: Palau

local long form: Beluu er a Belau

local short form: Belau

former: Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, Palau District

etymology: from the Palauan name for the islands, Belau, which likely derives from the Palauan word "beluu" meaning "village"

Government type

presidential republic in free association with the US

Capital

name: Ngerulmud

geographic coordinates: 7 30 N, 134 37 E

time difference: UTC+9 (14 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

etymology: the Palauan meaning is "place of fermented 'mud'" ('mud' being the native name for the keyhole angelfish); the site of the new capitol (established in 2006) had been a large hill overlooking the ocean, Ngerulmud, on which women would communally gather to offer fermented angelfish to the gods

note: Ngerulmud, on Babeldaob Island, is the smallest national capital on earth by population, with only a few hundred people; the name is pronounced en-jer-al-mud; Koror, on Koror Island, with over 11,000 residents is by far the largest settlement in Palau; it served as the country's capital from independence in 1994 to 2006

Administrative divisions

16 states; Aimeliik, Airai, Angaur, Hatohobei, Kayangel, Koror, Melekeok, Ngaraard, Ngarchelong, Ngardmau, Ngatpang, Ngchesar, Ngeremlengui, Ngiwal, Peleliu, Sonsorol

Independence

1 October 1994 (from the US-administered UN trusteeship)

National holiday

Constitution Day, 9 July (1981), day of a national referendum to pass the new constitution; Independence Day, 1 October (1994)

Constitution

history: ratified 9 July 1980, effective 1 January 1981

amendments: proposed by a constitutional convention (held at least once every 15 years with voter approval), by public petition of at least 25% of eligible voters, or by a resolution adopted by at least three fourths of National Congress members; passage requires approval by a majority of votes in at least three fourths of the states in the next regular general election; amended several times, last in 2020

Legal system

mixed legal system of civil, common, and customary law

International law organization participation

has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; non-party state to the ICCt

Citizenship

citizenship by birth: no

citizenship by descent only: at least one parent must be a citizen of Palau

dual citizenship recognized: no

residency requirement for naturalization: note - no procedure for naturalization

Suffrage

18 years of age; universal

Executive branch

chief of state: President Surangel WHIPPS Jr. (since 21 January 2021); Vice President Jerrlyn Uduch Sengebau SENIOR (since 21 January 2021); note - the president is both chief of state and head of government

head of government: President Surangel WHIPPS Jr. (since 21 January 2021); Vice President Jerrlyn Uduch Sengebau SENIOR (since 21 January 2021)

cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate; also includes the vice president; the Council of Chiefs consists of chiefs from each of the states who advise the president on issues concerning traditional laws, customs, and their relationship to the constitution and laws of Palau

elections/appointments: president and vice president directly elected on separate ballots by absolute majority popular vote in 2 rounds if needed for a 4-year term (eligible for a second term); election last held on 3 November 2020 (next to be held on 12 November 2024)

election results:
2020: Surangel WHIPPS, Jr. elected president in second round; percent of vote - Surangel WHIPPS, Jr. (independent) 56.7%, Raynold OILUCH (independent) 43.3%

2016: Tommy REMENGESAU reelected president in the second round; percent of vote - Tommy REMENGESAU (independent) 51.3%, Surangel WHIPPS, Jr. (independent) 48.7%; Antonio BELLS elected vice president

Legislative branch

description: bicameral National Congress or Olbiil Era Kelulau consists of:
Senate (13 seats; members directly elected in single-seat constituencies by majority vote to serve 4-year terms)
House of Delegates (16 seats; members directly elected in single-seat constituencies by simple majority vote to serve 4-year terms)

elections:
Senate - last held on 3 November 2020 (next to be held in November 2024)
House of Delegates - last held on 3 November 2020 (next to be held in November 2024)

election results:
Senate - percent of vote - NA; seats - independent 13; composition as of February 2024 - men 12, women 1; percentage women 7.7%

House of Delegates - percent of vote - NA; seats - independent 16; composition as of February 2024 - men 15, women 1; percentage women 6.3%; note - total National Congress percentage women 6.9%

Judicial branch

highest court(s): Supreme Court (consists of the chief justice and 3 associate justices organized into appellate trial divisions; the Supreme Court organization also includes the Common Pleas and Land Courts)

judge selection and term of office: justices nominated by a 7-member independent body consisting of judges, presidential appointees, and lawyers and appointed by the president; judges can serve until mandatory retirement at age 65

subordinate courts: National Court and other 'inferior' courts

International organization participation

ACP, ADB, AOSIS, FAO, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICRM, IDA, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, IMO, IMSO, IOC, IPU, MIGA, OPCW, PIF, Sparteca, SPC, UN, UNAMID, UNCTAD, UNESCO, WHO

Diplomatic representation in the US

chief of mission: Ambassador Hersey KYOTA (since 12 November 1997)

chancery: 1701 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20006

telephone: [1] (202) 349-8598

FAX: [1] (202) 452-6281

email address and website:
info@palauembassy.org

https://www.palauembassy.org/

consulate(s): Tamuning (Guam)

Diplomatic representation from the US

chief of mission: Ambassador (vacant); Chargé d'Affaires James BOUGHNER (since 9 September 2022)

embassy: Omsangel/Beklelachieb, Airai 96940

mailing address: 4260 Koror Place, Washington, DC  20521-4260

telephone: [680] 587-2920

FAX: [680] 587-2911

email address and website:
ConsularKoror@state.gov

https://pw.usembassy.gov/

Flag description

light blue with a large yellow disk shifted slightly to the hoist side; the blue color represents the ocean, the disk represents the moon; Palauans consider the full moon to be the optimum time for human activity; it is also considered a symbol of peace, love, and tranquility

National symbol(s)

bai (native meeting house); national colors: blue, yellow

National anthem

name: "Belau rekid" (Our Palau)

lyrics/music: multiple/Ymesei O. EZEKIEL

note: adopted 1980

National heritage

total World Heritage Sites: 1 (mixed)

selected World Heritage Site locales: Rock Islands Southern Lagoon

Economy

Economic overview

high-income Pacific island economy; environmentally fragile; subsistence agriculture and fishing industries; US aid reliance; rebounding post-pandemic tourism industry and services sector; very high living standard and low unemployment

Real GDP (purchasing power parity)

$254.367 million (2021 est.)
$294.823 million (2020 est.)
$318.898 million (2019 est.)

note: data in 2017 dollars

comparison ranking: 218

Real GDP growth rate

-13.72% (2021 est.)
-7.55% (2020 est.)
0.2% (2019 est.)

note: annual GDP % growth based on constant local currency

comparison ranking: 215

Real GDP per capita

$14,100 (2021 est.)
$16,400 (2020 est.)
$17,800 (2019 est.)

note: data in 2017 dollars

comparison ranking: 118

GDP (official exchange rate)

$232.903 million (2021 est.)

note: data in current dollars at official exchange rate

Inflation rate (consumer prices)

12.35% (2022 est.)
2.61% (2021 est.)
0.22% (2020 est.)

note: annual % change based on consumer prices

comparison ranking: 177

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: 3% (2016 est.)

industry: 19% (2016 est.)

services: 78% (2016 est.)

comparison rankings: services 36; industry 159; agriculture 148

GDP - composition, by end use

household consumption: 60.5% (2016 est.)

government consumption: 27.2% (2016 est.)

investment in fixed capital: 22.7% (2016 est.)

investment in inventories: 1.9% (2016 est.)

exports of goods and services: 55.2% (2016 est.)

imports of goods and services: -67.6% (2016 est.)

Agricultural products

coconuts, cassava (manioc, tapioca), sweet potatoes; fish, pigs, chickens, eggs, bananas, papaya, breadfruit, calamansi, soursop, Polynesian chestnuts, Polynesian almonds, mangoes, taro, guava, beans, cucumbers, squash/pumpkins (various), eggplant, green onions, kangkong (watercress), cabbages (various), radishes, betel nuts, melons, peppers, noni, okra

Industries

tourism, fishing, subsistence agriculture

Industrial production growth rate

1.42% (2021 est.) NA

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

comparison ranking: 138

Labor force

11,610 (2016)

comparison ranking: 211

Unemployment rate

1.7% (2015 est.)
4.1% (2012)

comparison ranking: 17

Youth unemployment rate (ages 15-24)

total: 5.6% (2014)

male: NA

female: NA

comparison ranking: total 185

Remittances

1.09% of GDP (2021 est.)
1% of GDP (2020 est.)
0.91% of GDP (2019 est.)

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

Budget

revenues: $122 million (2019 est.)

expenditures: $121 million (2019 est.)

Budget surplus (+) or deficit (-)

8.8% (of GDP) (2016 est.)

comparison ranking: 3

Public debt

85.19% of GDP (2019 est.)
83.68% of GDP (2018 est.)
79.83% of GDP (2017 est.)

note: central government debt as a % of GDP

comparison ranking: 34

Taxes and other revenues

18.16% (of GDP) (2020 est.)

note: central government tax revenue as a % of GDP

comparison ranking: 105

Fiscal year

1 October - 30 September

Current account balance

-$135.428 million (2022 est.)
-$115.739 million (2021 est.)
-$115.61 million (2020 est.)

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

comparison ranking: 87

Exports

$24.48 million (2022 est.)
$10.566 million (2021 est.)
$52.897 million (2020 est.)

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

comparison ranking: 215

Exports - partners

Japan 34%, Taiwan 16%, Turkey 16%, Italy 12%, United States 9% (2021)

Exports - commodities

computers, scrap vessels, recreational boats, scrap iron, fish, scrap copper, scrap aluminum (2021)

Imports

$216.681 million (2022 est.)
$169.938 million (2021 est.)
$207.224 million (2020 est.)

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

comparison ranking: 211

Imports - partners

China 34%, United States 21%, South Korea 12%, Japan 8%, Taiwan 6% (2021)

Imports - commodities

refined petroleum, boat propellers, iron structures, cars, floating docks, broadcasting equipment, prefabricated buildings (2021)

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold

$580.9 million (31 December 2015 est.)

comparison ranking: 156

Debt - external

$18.38 billion (31 December 2014 est.)
$16.47 billion (31 December 2013 est.)

comparison ranking: 95

Exchange rates

the US dollar is used

Energy

Electricity access

electrification - total population: 100% (2021)

Communications

Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 8,000 (2022 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 44 (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: total subscriptions 192

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 24,000 (2021 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 130 (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: total subscriptions 214

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: Palau telecommunications is a small, formerly unregulated sector undertaking significant growth with the improvement and cost reduction in technology; mobile services have taken over the share of the market from landlines, with both 2-3G cell services throughout the islands; sim cards are easily available and offer 3G and data options; there are pre-paid and post-paid options for both voice and data; there are three data options for using a wireless hotspot network throughout Palau; connection from hotel and restaurant premises is available, enabling users to connect via WiFi throughout the main Islands of Palau (2022)

domestic: fixed-line nearly 44 per 100 and mobile-cellular services roughly 130 per 100 persons (2021)

international: country code - 680; landing point for the SEA-US submarine cable linking Palau, Philippines, Micronesia, Indonesia, Hawaii (US), Guam (US) and California (US); satellite earth station - 1 Intelsat (Pacific Ocean) (2019)

Broadcast media

no broadcast TV stations; a cable TV network covers the major islands and provides access to 4 local cable stations, rebroadcasts (on a delayed basis) of a number of US stations, as well as access to a number of real-time satellite TV channels; about a half dozen radio stations (1 government-owned) (2019)

Internet users

total: 6,696 (2021 est.)

percent of population: 37.2% (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: total 221

Broadband - fixed subscriptions

total: 1,224 (2015 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 7 (2015 est.)

comparison ranking: total 200

Transportation

National air transport system

number of registered air carriers: 1 (2020)

inventory of registered aircraft operated by air carriers: 1

Airports

3 (2024)

comparison ranking: 189

Roadways

total: 121 km

paved: 85 km

unpaved: 36 km (2018)

comparison ranking: total 214

Merchant marine

total: 427 (2023)

by type: bulk carrier 49, container ship 8, general cargo 200, oil tanker 52, other 118

comparison ranking: total 47

Ports and terminals

major seaport(s): Koror

Military and Security

Military and security forces

no regular military forces; the Ministry of Justice includes divisions/bureaus for public security, police functions, and maritime law enforcement (2024)

Military equipment inventories and acquisitions

since 2018, Australia and Japan have provided patrol boats to Palau's Division of Marine Law Enforcement (2022)

Military - note

under the Compact of Free Association (COFA) between Palau and the US, the US is responsible for the defense of Palau and the US military is granted access to the islands, but it has not stationed any military forces there; the COFA also allows citizens of Palau to serve in the US armed forces

Palau has 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 Palau's 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 (2023)

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international

discussions on reaching agreements with Indonesia and the Philippiness on a partial EEZ boundary line continue