Photos of Tokelau

Fakaofo is one of the three islands that make up Tokelau. Its land area is only 3 sq km; the lagoon covers an area of about 45 sq km. Image courtesy of NASA.



Tokelau is composed of three atolls (Fakaofo, Atafu, and Nukunonu), and it was first settled by Polynesians around A.D. 1000. The atolls operated relatively independently, but Fakaofo Atoll eventually subjugated the others. British explorers first saw the atolls in 1765 and 1791. Catholic and Protestant missionaries arrived in the 1840s and converted the population on the islands on which they landed.

In 1863 Peruvian slave raiders abducted many islanders, and roughly contemporary outbreaks of disease reduced the population to about 200. Settlers of diverse nationalities subsequently intermarried with Tokelauans. In the same period, local governance moved to a system based on a Council of Elders, which still exists today. British interest began in the late 1870s, and Tokelau became a British protectorate in 1889, and in 1916 under the name Union Group, Tokelau became part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony. In 1925, the UK placed Tokelau under New Zealand administration. The Tokelau Islands Act of 1948 formally transferred sovereignty from the UK to New Zealand, and Tokelauans were granted New Zealand citizenship. In 1979, the US relinquished its claim to Tokelau in the Treaty of Tokehega, and Tokelau relinquished its claim to Swains Island, which is part of American Samoa.

Economic opportunities in Tokelau are sparse, and about 80% of Tokelauans live in New Zealand. Tokelau held self-governance referendums in 2006 and 2007 in which more than 60% of voters chose free association with New Zealand; however, the referendums failed to achieve the two-thirds majority necessary to enact a status change. 

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Oceania, group of three atolls in the South Pacific Ocean, about one-half of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand

Geographic coordinates

9 00 S, 172 00 W


total: 12 sq km

land: 12 sq km

water: 0 sq km

comparison ranking: total 240

Area - comparative

about 17 times the size of the National Mall in Washington, DC

Land boundaries

total: 0 km


101 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

exclusive economic zone: 200 nm


tropical; moderated by trade winds (April to November)


low-lying coral atolls enclosing large lagoons


highest point: unnamed location 5 m

lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m

Land use

agricultural land: 60% (2018 est.)

arable land: 0% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 60% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 0% (2018 est.)

forest: 0% (2018 est.)

other: 40% (2018 est.)

Irrigated land

0 sq km (2022)

Population distribution

the country's small population is fairly evenly distributed amongst the three atolls

Natural hazards

lies in Pacific cyclone belt

Geography - note

consists of three atolls (Atafu, Fakaofo, Nukunonu), each with a lagoon surrounded by a number of reef-bound islets of varying length and rising to over 3 m above sea level

People and Society


total: 1,647 (2019 est.)

comparison ranking: total 233


noun: Tokelauan(s)

adjective: Tokelauan

Ethnic groups

Tokelauan 64.5%, part Tokelauan/Samoan 9.7%, part Tokelauan/Tuvaluan 2.8%, Tuvaluan 7.5%, Samoan 5.8%, other Pacific Islander 3.4%, other 5.6%, unspecified 0.8% (2016 est.)


Tokelauan 88.1% (a Polynesian language), English 48.6%, Samoan 26.7%, Tuvaluan 11.2%, Kiribati 1.5%, other 2.8%, none 2.8%, unspecified 0.8% (2016 ests.)

note: shares sum to more than 100% because some respondents gave more than one answer on the census


Congregational Christian Church 50.4%, Roman Catholic 38.7%, Presbyterian 5.9%, other Christian 4.2%, unspecified 0.8% (2016 est.)

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: 60.4

youth dependency ratio: 47

elderly dependency ratio: 13.4

potential support ratio: 7.5 (2021)

Population growth rate

-0.01% (2019 est.)

comparison ranking: 197

Net migration rate

-3.84 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: 194

Population distribution

the country's small population is fairly evenly distributed amongst the three atolls


urban population: 0% of total population (2023)

rate of urbanization: 0% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

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

Drinking water source

improved: improved: urban: 0% of population

improved: rural: 99.7% of population

improved: total: 99.7% of population

unimproved: unimproved: urban: 0% of population

unimproved: rural: 0.3% of population

unimproved: total: 0.3% of population (2020 est.)

Sanitation facility access

improved: improved: rural: 100% of population

Child marriage

women married by age 15: 0.4%

women married by age 18: 10.1%

men married by age 18: 2.8% (2019 est.)


Environment - current issues

overexploitation of certain fish and other marine species, coastal sand, and forest resources; pollution of freshwater lenses and coastal waters from improper disposal of chemicals


tropical; moderated by trade winds (April to November)

Land use

agricultural land: 60% (2018 est.)

arable land: 0% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 60% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 0% (2018 est.)

forest: 0% (2018 est.)

other: 40% (2018 est.)


urban population: 0% of total population (2023)

rate of urbanization: 0% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

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

Total renewable water resources

0 cubic meters (2017 est.)


Country name

conventional long form: none

conventional short form: Tokelau

former: Union Islands, Tokelau Islands

etymology: "tokelau" is a Polynesian word meaning "north wind"

Government type

parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy

Dependency status

self-administering territory of New Zealand; note - Tokelau and New Zealand have agreed to a draft constitution as Tokelau moves toward free association with New Zealand; a UN-sponsored referendum on self governance in October 2007 did not meet the two-thirds majority vote necessary for changing the political status


time difference: UTC+13 (18 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)

note: there is no designated, official capital for Tokelau; the location of the capital rotates among the three atolls along with the head of government or Ulu o Tokelau

Administrative divisions

none (territory of New Zealand)


none (territory of New Zealand)

National holiday

Waitangi Day (Treaty of Waitangi established British sovereignty over New Zealand), 6 February (1840)


history: many previous; latest effective 1 January 1949 (Tokelau Islands Act 1948)

amendments: proposed as a resolution by the General Fono; passage requires support by each village and approval by the General Fono; amended several times, last in 2007

Legal system

common law system of New Zealand


see New Zealand


21 years of age; universal

Executive branch

chief of state: King CHARLES III (since 8 September 2022); represented by Governor-General of New Zealand Dame Cindy KIRO (since 21 September 2021); New Zealand is represented by Administrator Don HIGGINS (since June 2022)

head of government: (Ulu o Tokelau) Alapati TAVITE (since 12 March 2024); note - position rotates annually among the three Faipule (village leaders) of the atolls

cabinet: Council for the Ongoing Government of Tokelau (or Tokelau Council) functions as a cabinet; consists of 3 village leaders (Faipule) and 3 village mayors (Pulenuku)

elections/appointments: the monarchy is hereditary; governor general appointed by the monarch; administrator appointed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade in New Zealand; head of government chosen from the Council of Faipule to serve a 1-year term

note: the meeting place of the Tokelau Council rotates annually among the three atolls; this tradition has given rise to the somewhat misleading description that the capital rotates yearly between the three atolls; in actuality, it is the seat of the government councilors that rotates since Tokelau has no capital

Legislative branch

description: unicameral General Fono (20 seats apportioned by island - Atafu 7, Fakaofo 7, Nukunonu 6; members directly elected by simple majority vote to serve 3-year terms); note - the Tokelau Amendment Act of 1996 confers limited legislative power to the General Fono

elections: last held on 26 January 2023 depending on island (next to be held in January 2026)

election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - independent 20; composition - men 17, women 3, percentage women 15%

Judicial branch

highest court(s): Court of Appeal (in New Zealand) (consists of the court president and 8 judges sitting in 3- or 5-judge panels, depending on the case)

judge selection and term of office: judges nominated by the Judicial Selection Committee and approved by three-quarters majority of the Parliament; judges serve for life

subordinate courts: High Court (in New Zealand); Council of Elders or Taupulega

International organization participation

PIF (associate member), SPC, UNESCO (associate), UPU

Diplomatic representation in the US

none (territory of New Zealand)

Diplomatic representation from the US

none (territory of New Zealand)

Flag description

a yellow stylized Tokelauan canoe on a dark blue field sails toward the manu - the Southern Cross constellation of four, white, five-pointed stars at the hoist side; the Southern Cross represents the role of Christianity in Tokelauan culture and, in conjunction with the canoe, symbolizes the country navigating into the future; the color yellow indicates happiness and peace, and the blue field represents the ocean on which the community relies

National symbol(s)

tuluma (fishing tackle box); national colors: blue, yellow, white

National anthem

name: "Te Atua" (For the Almighty)

lyrics/music: unknown/Falani KALOLO

note: adopted 2008; in preparation for eventual self governance, Tokelau held a national contest to choose an anthem; as a territory of New Zealand, in addition to "God Defend New Zealand," "God Save the King" serves as a royal anthem (see United Kingdom); "God Save the King" normally played only when a member of the royal family or the governor-general is present; in all other cases, "God Defend New Zealand" is played (see New Zealand)


Economic overview

small New Zealand territorial island economy; labor force can work in New Zealand or Australia; significant remittances; largely solar-powered infrastructure; reliant on New Zealand funding; stamp, coin, and crafts producer

Real GDP (purchasing power parity)

$7,711,583 (2017 est.)

note: data are in 2017 dollars.

comparison ranking: 224

Real GDP per capita

$6,004 (2017 est.)
$4,855 (2016 est.)
$4,292 (2015 est.)

note: data are in 2017 dollars

comparison ranking: 160

GDP (official exchange rate)

$12.658 million (2017 est.)

note: data uses New Zealand Dollar (NZD) as the currency of exchange.

Inflation rate (consumer prices)

4% (2020 est.)
2.5% (2019 est.)
11% (2017 est.)

note: Tokelau notes that its wide inflation swings are due almost entirely to cigarette prices, a chief import.

comparison ranking: 56

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: NA

industry: NA

services: NA

Agricultural products

coconuts, root vegetables, tropical fruits, pork, bananas, eggs, chicken, pork offal, pork fat, fruits (2022)

note: top ten agricultural products based on tonnage


small-scale enterprises for copra production, woodworking, plaited craft goods; stamps, coins; fishing

Labor force

1,100 (2019 est.)

comparison ranking: 220

Unemployment rate

2% (2015 est.)

note: Underemployment may be as high as 6.6%

comparison ranking: 21


revenues: $24,324,473 (2017 est.)

expenditures: $11,666,542 (2017 est.)


$103,000 (2015 est.)

comparison ranking: 222

Exports - partners

Poland 97%, Singapore 0%, Brazil 0%, South Africa 0%, Rwanda 0% (2022)

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

Exports - commodities

cars, iron fasteners, garments, silver, perfumes (2022)

note: top five export commodities based on value in dollars


$15,792,720 (2015 est.)

comparison ranking: 220

Imports - partners

Germany 40%, Sweden 10%, Singapore 8%, France 5%, Netherlands 5% (2022)

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

Imports - commodities

cars, orthopedic appliances, surveying equipment, butter, nuts (2022)

note: top five import commodities based on value in dollars

Exchange rates

New Zealand dollars (NZD) per US dollar -

Exchange rates:
1.543 (2017 est.)


Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 300 (2010 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 22 (2010 est.)

comparison ranking: total subscriptions 220

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: a new submarine cable between New Zealand and Tokelau will provide high speed, reliable internet to Tokelau for the first time; due for completion in 2022, this will provide Tokelau with affordable, high quality internet and telecommunications, and better, more effective access to digital services and platforms (2021)

domestic: fixed-line teledensity is 0 per 100 persons (2019)

international: country code - 690; landing point for the Southern Cross NEXT submarine cable linking Australia, Tokelau, Samoa, Kiribati, Fiji, New Zealand and Los Angeles, CA (USA); radiotelephone service to Samoa; government-regulated telephone service (TeleTok); satellite earth stations - 3 (2020)

Broadcast media

Sky TV access for around 30% of the population; each atoll operates a radio service that provides shipping news and weather reports (2019)

Internet users

total: 800 (2021 est.)

percent of population: 58.3% (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: total 231



total: 10 km (2019)

comparison ranking: total 225

Military and Security

Military - note

defense is the responsibility of New Zealand