photo by Ben Miller

American Samoa is a group of islands in the South Pacific Ocean that lie about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand and about 100km east of the island country of Samoa, which is part of the same archipelago.

American Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the United States of America. In practical terms, this means very little. The citizens of American Samoa are US "nationals" and not US "citizens," but they are allowed to travel freely between the American Samoa and the US Mainland. They are not required to obtain green cards or visas to stay or work in the United States, and they are allowed to serve in the US armed forces (and often do). There are some ways that American Samoa's special status as an unincorporated territory have interesting legal consequences. The US Constitution is not necessarily the supreme law of the land in American Samoa, and Samoan cultural norms -- in particular, those related to the ownership of property and public displays of religion -- actually trump certain well-settled US constitutional rights in American Samoa.


Population 57,496 (July 2008 est.)

The islands are frequently referred to as Samoa, which is the name of a separate island, and independent country, that used to be known as Western Samoa, that lies about 100km west of American Samoa. Also the whole island group, including Samoa, are often identified as the Samoan islands.

Settled as early as 1000 BCE by Polynesian navigators, Samoa was reached by European explorers in the 18th century. International rivalries in the latter half of the 19th century were settled by an 1899 treaty in which Germany and the US divided the Samoan archipelago. The US formally occupied its portion - a smaller group of eastern islands with the excellent harbor of Pago Pago - the following year.

American Samoa is warm, humid and rainy year-round, but there is a long, wet summer season (October - May) and a slightly cooler and drier season (June - September). Total annual rainfall is 125 inches at the Tafuna airport and 200+ inches in mountainous areas.


  • Tutuila - The main island.

  • Ofu - widely regarded as one of the most stunning beaches in the South Pacific, with its high peaks dropping dramatically to sparkling white sand beaches, where the only other footsteps apart from your own are those of crabs

  • Olosega

  • Ta'u

  • Rose Island

  • Swains Island


Pago Pago (pronounced "Pongo Pongo") - capital city

Other destinations

  • Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary - a tropical reef, filled with all sorts of brightly-colored tropical fish including parrot fish, damselfish and butterfly fish, as well as other sea creatures like lobster, crabs, sharks and octopus

  • National Park of American Samoa - The Samoan village leaders and the U.S. Congress have set aside the finest samples of the islands' land and seascapes as a national park

Getting there

By plane

There is one international airport, Pago Pago International (IATA: PPG) located at Tafuna.

Hawaiian Airlines operate 2 return flights per week from Honolulu with Boeing 767 aircraft.

There are 3 airlines operating regular daily flights between Pago Pago and Apia, Samoa.

  • Inter Island Airways with 19-seater Dornier 228 aircraft

  • Polynesian Airlines with a 19-seater Twin Otter aircraft

  • South Pacific Express with a 36-seater Shorts 360 aircraft.

Traveling around

By plane

Inter Island Airways is the only airline providing daily domestic air service between Pago Pago and the Manu'a Islands of Ofu/Olosega and Tau, utilizing a 10-seater Britten-Norman BN2B-26 Islander and 19-seater Dornier 228-212 aircraft. Flight time between Pago Pago and the Manu'a Islands is approximately 30-40 minutes. Due to the short 2,000 ft runway, flights to Ofu/Olosega islands can be sporadic depending on wind and weather conditions as northernly winds pickup during from October to March each year. It is not uncommon for a flight to Ofu to be diverted to Tau or back to Pago Pago due to wind conditions at Ofu airport. The airport at Tau (located in the village of Fitiuta) is able to handle any flight conditions with its 3,500 ft lighted runway. There are generally 3 flights a week to Ofu plus daily flights to Tau. Inter Island Airways will generally add additional flights, sometimes reaching 4-5 per day during the summer and winter holiday season demands. Inter Island Vacations provides reservations and bookings on Inter Island Airways flights.

By bus

Several car rental facilities are available at or near the Tutuila airport. On Tutuila taxis are available at the airport, and near the market in Fagatogo. The island of Tutuila has good public transportation (frequent, but unscheduled) via “aiga” or “family” buses. For 50 cents to a dollar you can be taken around Pago Pago Harbor, and to the more remote parts of the island. Buses originate and terminate at the market in Fagatogo, the village next to Pago Pago. The roads are generally too narrow and the traffic too busy for bicycles.

Little buses run along the roads that follow along the waters edge of the island. Many Samoans carry a quarter or two in their ears for bus fare as the wraparound skirts don't have pockets. You just wave the bus down, climb over the speakers in the walkway and toss the quarter onto the dashboard where it slides around with all the other quarters. When you want off, tap the window a few times and the bus will stop. Be prepared to squeeze in.


Tutuila has a wide variety of places to eat--from familiar fast food stops to fine restaurants. The outer islands have far less variety. Restaurants offer a variety of cuisines, including American, Chinese, Japanese, Italian and Polynesian.


There is hotel-style lodging on all islands except Olosega.


The native language is Samoan, a Polynesian language related to Hawaiian and other Pacific island languages. English is widely spoken, and most people can at least understand it. Most people are bilingual to some degree.


Except for perhaps a few thousand individuals--nearly all inhabitants of American Samoa are indigenous Samoans of Polynesian ancestry. More than any other U.S. or Polynesians peoples, Samoans are tradition-oriented and closely follow social customs and hierarchies from long before arrival of the first Europeans. This Samoan way—or fa'asamoa—is still deeply ingrained in American Samoa culture.

The most apparent character is the Samoan matai system of organization and philosophy. In general, each village is made up of a group of aiga, or extended families, which include as many relatives as can be claimed. Each aiga is headed by a chief, or matai, who represents the family on all matters including the village council, or fono. Matais hold title to all assets of the aigas, or families; they represent and are responsible for law enforcement and punishment of infractions occurring in their villages.

The fono consists of the matais of all the aiga associated with the village. The highest chief of the matais of all the village aigas is the highest chief, or the ali’i, and heads the fono. Also, each village has a pulenu’u (somewhat like a police chief or mayor), and one or more talking chiefs, tulafale.

Over the centuries, distinct cultural traits emerged that we now call fa'asamoa (fah-ah-SAH-mo-ah). Whether you are a guest or simply passing through a village, please observe these customs as a sign of respect.

Follow the Samoan Way:

  • Always ask villagers for permission before taking photographs, using the beach, or engaging in other activities, however unobtrusive your actions may seem. Permission will almost certainly be granted.

  • In a traditional home, called a fale (fah-LAY), sit down on the floor before talking, eating, or drinking. Cross your legs or pull a mat over them; it is impolite to stretch out your legs uncovered.

  • Sunday is the day for church, for rest, and especially for quiet around the villages. Activities that are acceptable on other days, such as swimming, may not be permitted on Sunday.

  • Each evening around dusk, villagers observe a time for prayers called Sa. If you are entering a village during Sa, stop and wait quietly until Sa ends. You may even be invited to join in a family prayer. It is not necessary to stop for Sa on the main roads.

  • It is considered an honor to be asked to share ava (a local drink made from the root of the pepper plant). To show respect, spill a few drops on the ground or mat in front of you, then raise your cup and say "manuia" (mahn-ooh-WE-ah) before drinking.

  • Do not eat or drink while walking through a village

Stay healthy

American Samoa has few health risks of concern for normally healthy persons visiting the islands. Bring necessary medications with you, for supplies may not be available. Medical care is limited (there is none on the Manu’a Islands). Though the LBJ Tropical Medical Center on Tutuila was once a highly regarded regional health center, now it has fallen on hard times with staffing problems and has only marginal service. Visitors who come down with serious medical needs should get to Hawaii, Australia, or New Zealand.


The tuna industry is very prominent, but about 30% of the population is unemployed.

Contact & location

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The photos displayed on this page are the property of one of the following authors:

Ben Miller, Cliff, Fotu Vaai, US Army Africa

Some photos courtesy of: . The photos provided by Flickr are under the copyright of their owners.

This travel guide also includes text from Wikitravel articles, all available at WikitravelView full credits

VidimianDuncan Evans, R. Quinn, Peter Fitzgerald, Hamish Moffatt, M. Hogue, Stephen Atkins, Todd VerBeek, Tom Holland, Evan Prodromou, Colin Jensen, Darrin R. Hagan, Jani Patokallio and Mark Jaroski, Tatatabot, Inas, ChubbyWimbus, Ypsilon, Jake73, Episteme, Jonboy, InterLangBot, Nzpcmad, Huttite, BigHaz and CIAWorldFactbook2002

This travel guide also includes text from Wikipedia articles, all available at WikipediaView full credits

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Samoan (closely related to Hawaiian and other Polynesian languages), English - US dollar (USD)
Area199 sq km
Electricity120V/60Hz (North American plug)
Governmentunincorporated territory of the United States
Population57,794 (July 2006 est.)
ReligionChristian Congregationalist 50%, Roman Catholic 20%, Protestant and other 30%
TimezoneUTC -11