Marshall Islands - Tips

Marshall Islands Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
June 2007

Background Note: Marshall Islands

A beach near the village of Laura,
Marshall Islands, April 25, 2007. [©
AP Images]

Flag of Marshall Islands is blue with two stripes radiating from the lower
hoist-side corner - orange on top and white; there is a white star with four
large rays and 20 small rays on the hoist side above the two stripes.


Republic of the Marshall Islands

Area: 181 sq. km. (about 70 sq. mi.) of land area scattered over 750,000 sq.
mi. of the Western Pacific.
Cities: Capital--Majuro (pop. 25,000 in 2005). Other towns--Ebeye (12,000 in
2005), Jaluit (1,700 est. 2005).
Terrain: 29 low-lying coral atolls and five single islands.
Climate: Tropical with a wet season from May to November.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Marshallese.
Population (2005 est.): 56,417. (Figures not adjusted for migration to the
U.S., where Marshallese colonies of unknown size exist.)
Annual growth rate (2004): 2.27%.
Ethnic groups: 90% Marshallese, 10% estimated U.S., Filipino, Chinese, New
Zealander, Australian, other Micronesian (FSM), Kiribati, Korean, and Fijian.
Religions: Christian, mostly Protestant.
Languages: Two major Marshallese dialects from Malayo-Polynesian family;
Education: Literacy (2002)--98% (officially based on question, "Do you read
the bible?").
Health: Infant mortality rate--(2004) 2.3%, under age 5 mortality rate 4.8%.
Life expectancy--men 65.7 yrs.; women 69.4 yrs.
Work force (14,677: 66% employed, 34% unemployed): Services, including
government--64%; construction and services--18%; agriculture and

Type: Parliamentary democracy in free association with the U.S. A Compact of
Free Association entered into force in 1986 and an Amended Compact entered
into force May 1, 2004.
Independence: October 21, 1986 from the U.S.-administered UN trusteeship.
Constitution: May 1, 1979.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state), cabinet.
Legislative--unicameral parliament (Nitijela) and consultative Council of
Iroij (traditional leaders). Judicial--Supreme Court, high court, district
and community courts, traditional rights court.
Political parties: United Democratic and Ailin Kein Ad (Our Islands).
Suffrage: Universal at age 18.
Administrative subdivisions: 24 local governments.

GDP (current market prices, 2004): $135.3 million est.
Natural resources: Marine resources, including mariculture and possible deep
seabed minerals.
Agriculture: Products--Copra (dried coconut meat); taro and breadfruit are
subsistence crops.
Industry: Types--Copra processing, fish processing, tourism, pearl farming,
Trade: Major trading partners--U.S., Japan, Australia, China, Hong Kong, New
Zealand, Taiwan.
Official currency: U.S. dollar.

The Marshall Islands is comprised of 29 atolls and five single islands, which
form two parallel groups--the "Ratak" (sunrise) chain and the "Ralik"(sunset)
chain. Two-thirds of the nation's population lives in Majuro and Ebeye. The
outer islands are sparsely populated due to lack of employment opportunities
and economic development.

The Marshallese are of Micronesian origin, which is traced to a combination
of peoples who emigrated from Southeast Asia in the remote past. The
matrilineal Marshallese culture revolves around a complex system of clans and
lineages tied to land ownership.

Virtually all Marshallese are Christian, most of them Protestant. Other
Christian denominations include Roman Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist,
Mormon, Salvation Army, and Jehovah's Witness. A small Bahai community also

Marshallese is the official language. English is spoken to some extent by
most of the adult urban population. However, both the Nitijela (parliament)
and national radio use Marshallese.

The public school system provides education through grade 12, although
admission to secondary school is selective. The elementary program employs a
bilingual/bicultural curriculum. English is introduced in the fourth grade.
Many Marshallese and American observers have lamented the poor state of the
public education system as a major stumbling block to economic development.
The Marshall Islands' largest secondary institution--the 2-year College of
the Marshall Islands--has experienced U.S. accreditation problems since 2003.
However, thanks to an increase in funding, it has shown steady improvement
since and is heading toward full accreditation. The University of the South
Pacific offers courses at a small campus on Majuro.

Little is clearly understood about the prehistory of the Marshall Islands.
Researchers agree on little more than that successive waves of migratory
peoples from Southeast Asia spread across the Western Pacific about 3,000
years ago and that some of them landed on and remained on these islands. The
Spanish explorer de Saavedra landed there in 1529. They were named for
English explorer John Marshall, who visited them in 1799. The Marshall
Islands were claimed by Spain in 1874.

Germany established a protectorate in 1885 and set up trading stations on the
islands of Jaluit and Ebon to carry out the flourishing copra (dried coconut
meat) trade. Marshallese Iroij (high chiefs) continued to rule under indirect
colonial German administration.

At the beginning of World War I, Japan assumed control of the Marshall
Islands. Their headquarters remained at the German center of administration,
Jaluit. U.S. Marines and Army troops took control from the Japanese in early
1944, following intense fighting on Kwajalein and Enewetak atolls. In 1947,
the United States, as the occupying power, entered into an agreement with the
UN Security Council to administer Micronesia, including the Marshall Islands,
as the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.

On May 1, 1979, in recognition of the evolving political status of the
Marshall Islands, the United States recognized the constitution of the
Marshall Islands and the establishment of the Government of the Republic of
the Marshall Islands. The constitution incorporates both American and British
constitutional concepts.

The legislative branch of the government consists of the Nitijela
(parliament) with an advisory council of high chiefs. The Nitijela has 33
members from 24 districts elected for concurrent 4-year terms. Members are
called senators. The president is elected by the Nitijela from among its
members. Presidents pick cabinet members from the Nitijela. Amata Kabua was
elected as the first president of the republic in 1979. Subsequently, he was
re-elected to 4-year terms in 1983, 1987, 1991, and 1996. After Amata Kabua's
death in office, his first cousin, Imata Kabua, won a special election in
1997. The current president's party was re-elected in the general elections
of November 2003, and President Note was reaffirmed in office in January

The Republic of the Marshall Islands has four court systems: Supreme Court,
high court, district and community courts, and the traditional rights court.
Trial is by jury or judge. Jurisdiction of the traditional rights court is
limited to cases involving titles or land rights or other disputes arising
from customary law and traditional practice.

Principal Government Officials
Head of State--President Kessai H. Note
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Gerald Zackios
Ambassador to the U.S.--Banny de Brum
Ambassador to the UN--vacant

The Republic of the Marshall Islands maintains an embassy at 2433
Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-234-5414). It has a
consulate at 1888 Lusitana St., Suite 301, Honolulu, HI 96813 (tel.
808-545-7767), and small embassies in Tokyo, Suva, and Taipei.

The Marshall Islands' mission to the United Nations is located at the News
Building, 220 E. 42nd St., 31st Floor, New York, NY 10017 (tel.

Citizens of the Marshall Islands live with a relatively new democratic
political system combined with a hierarchical traditional culture. The first
two presidents were chiefs. Current President Kessai Note is a commoner.

There have been a number of local and national elections since the Republic
of the Marshall Islands was founded, and in general, democracy has functioned
well. The United Democratic Party, running on a reform platform, won the 1999
parliamentary election, taking control of the presidency and cabinet.
Elections on November 17, 2003 elected a new Nitijela that took office in
January 2004.

The government is the largest employer, employing 64% of the salaried work
force. GDP is derived mainly from payments made by the United States under
the terms of the Compact of Free Association. Direct U.S. aid accounted for
60.2% of the Marshall Islands' $124.6 million budget for FY 2007.

The economy combines a small subsistence sector and a modern urban sector. In
short, fishing and breadfruit, banana, taro, and pandanus cultivation
constitute the subsistence sector. On the outer islands, production of copra
and handicrafts provides some cash income. The modern service-oriented
economy is located in Majuro and Ebeye. It is sustained by government
expenditures and the U.S. Army installation at Kwajalein Atoll. The airfield
there also serves as a second national hub for international flights.

The modern sector consists of wholesale and retail trade; restaurants;
banking and insurance; construction, repair, and professional services; and
copra processing. Copra cake and oil are by far the nation's largest exports.
A tuna loining plant that will employ 500 workers--starting at $1.50 per
hour--should reopen in 2007. Copra production, the most important single
commercial activity for the past 100 years, now depends on government
subsidies. The subsidies, more a social policy than an economic strategy,
help reduce migration from outer atolls to densely populated Majuro and

Marine resources, including fishing, aquaculture, tourism development, and
agriculture, are top government development priorities. The Marshall Islands
sells fishing rights to other nations as a source of income. Since 1990, the
Marshall Islands has offered ship registrations under the Marshall Islands
flag. It now registers about 1,400 vessels, the fourth-largest fleet in the
world, and receives an income of approximately a million dollars annually. As
a small nation, the Marshall Islands must import a wide variety of goods,
including foodstuffs, consumer goods, machinery, and petroleum products.

While the Government of the Marshall Islands is free to conduct its own
foreign relations, it does so under the terms of the Compact of Free
Association. Since independence, the Republic of the Marshall Islands has
established relations with 67 nations, including most other Pacific Island
nations. Regional cooperation, through membership in various regional and
international organizations, is a key element in its foreign policy.

The Marshall Islands became a member of the United Nations in September 1991.
The Marshall Islands maintains embassies in the U.S., Fiji, Japan, and

The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a sovereign nation in "free
association" with the United States. After more than a decade of negotiation,
the Marshall Islands and the United States signed the Compact of Free
Association on June 25, 1983. The people of the Marshall Islands approved the
Compact in a UN-observed plebiscite on September 7, 1983. The U.S. Congress
subsequently approved the Compact, adding several amendments which were
accepted by the Government of the Marshall Islands, and the Compact entered
into force on October 21, 1986. In 1999-2003, the two nations negotiated an
Amended Compact that entered into force on May 1, 2004. Under the Amended
Compact, the U.S. will provide the Marshall Islands at least $57 million
every year until 2023, including contributions to a jointly managed Trust
Fund. Marshallese will continue to have access to many U.S. programs and
services. A Joint Economic Management and Financial Accountability Committee
(JEMFAC) comprised of representatives of both governments will ensure that
Compact assistance funds are spent effectively.

Under the Compact, the United States has full authority and responsibility
for security and defense of the Marshall Islands, and the Government of the
Marshall Islands is obligated to refrain from taking actions that would be
incompatible with these security and defense responsibilities.

The Department of Defense, under a subsidiary government-to-government
agreement of the original Compact, has use of the lagoon and several islands
on Kwajalein Atoll. The atoll consists of approximately 90 islets around the
largest lagoon in the world. The original agreement allowed the United States
continued use of the U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll (USAKA) missile test range
until 2016. An amendment to that agreement, extending U.S. rights until 2066
with an option until 2086, was negotiated in conjunction with the Amended
Compact. Another major subsidiary agreement of the original Compact provides
for settlement of all claims arising from the U.S. nuclear tests conducted at
Bikini and Enewetak Atolls from 1946 to 1958. Under the terms of free
association, more than 40 U.S. Government agencies such as the Federal
Aviation Administration, U.S. Postal Service, the Small Business
Administration, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency operate programs
or render assistance to the Marshall Islands.

The United States and the Marshall Islands have full diplomatic relations.
The Marshall Islands has expressed an interest in attracting U.S. investment.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Clyde Bishop
Deputy Chief of Mission/Consul--Doug Morris
IPO/General Services Officer--Thomas B. De Mott
Office Manager--Darlene Korok
Political/Economic Officer--Adam Mitchell

The U.S. Embassy in the Marshall Islands is located on Long Island, Majuro
(tel. 692-247-4011, fax 692-247-4012). Mailing Address: P.O. Box 1379,
Majuro, MH 96960-1379.

The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans
traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public
Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency
regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political
disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.
Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about
terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that
pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings
are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad
should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet
web site at, where the current Worldwide Caution,
Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs
Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a
safe trip abroad, are also available at For
additional information on international travel, see

The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens who traveling or residing
abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or
at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your
presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an
emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained
by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular
toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of
State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport
information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service
representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00
a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP
(877-394-8747) and a web site at give the
most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements,
and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A
booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS
publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government
Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://, the Department of State web site provides timely, global
access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background
Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of
Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies
working abroad through its website provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market
information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free
export counseling, help with the export process, and more.
STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides
authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from
the Federal government. The site includes current and historical
trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities,
and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank. ***********************************************************
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