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, ethnicity and culture.
American Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the United States of America. The citizens of American Samoa are US "nationals" and not US "citizens," but they are allowed to travel freely between 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 has 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.
The main city is Pago Pago but the smaller Fagatogo is the constitutionally designated seat of government. The governor's office is located in the village of Utulei, located on the opposite side of Fagatogo from Pago Pago.
Pago Pago (pronounced "Pang-o Pang-o") - capital city
Population was 57,496, according to the July 2008 estimate.
These islands were frequently referred to as Samoa, which is actually the name of a separate and independent country, that used to be known as Western Samoa, that lies only 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 (later Britain) 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 in 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. Such rainfall gave the English writer Somerset Maugham the name for his short story "Rain", based in Pago Pago, which was subsequently turned into a play and movie.
90% of the land in the group of islands is communally owned. Economic activity is strongly linked to the US and the greater part of its foreign trade is with the US. The private sector is dominated by tuna fishing and the tuna processing plants, canned tuna being the primary export. Monetary transfers from the US Government also add substantially to American Samoa's economic well-being. Since the emergence of US influence and control the government of the United States of America has put up resistance to the emergence of local independence movements. Following the lead of the British and Germans in Western Samoa, in the early 20th century the American Samoa Mau movement was actively suppressed by the US Navy as well.
The Governor of American Samoa is the head of government and exercises executive power. American Samoa is an unincorporated and unorganized territory of the United States, administered by the Office of Insular Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior. Its constitution was ratified in 1966 and came into effect in 1967.
In both American Samoa and (independent) Samoa there is traditional village political system common to all of the Samoa Islands, the "fa'amatai" and the "fa'asamoa" interacts across the current international boundaries. The Fa'asamoa represents language and customs, and the Fa'amatai the protocols of the "fono" (council) and the chief system. The Fa'amatai and the Fono take place at all levels of the Samoan body politic, from the family, to the village and include regional and national matters. Do not get confused by the fact that none of the places on this page are described by precise addresses, as such a thing does not exist at American Samoa. Instead everything is described by village and further landmarks.
As an Unorganized territory, American Samoa lies outside federal immigration and customs jurisdiction. The visa waiver program, TN Status, and Compact of Free Association doesn't automatically apply to American Samoa. All visitors (including US citizens) to American Samoa require a passport valid for six months or more, a return ticket or onward ticket and enough funds to support your stay.
Citizens of the United States are allowed indefinite visa free entry into American Samoa. However a passport is still needed for entry. Citizens of the United States can live, work and travel indefinitely while in American Samoa.
Passports Not Requiring Visas
Nationals of Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Palau, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom will be issued with a 30-day entry permit on arrival. To obtain a business or residence visa, or to extend your stay to 60 days, you must visit the Attorney General's office after arrival.
Passports Requiring Visas
All other international passport holders intending to visit American Samoa for business or holiday are required to apply for an entry visa.
To apply for a visa please contact the Attorney General’s Office, phone +1 684 633-4163, fax +1 684 633-1838 or American Samoa Immigration +1 684 633-4203 or +1 684 633-4204. At this time there is no email address or online application submission, so you have to get a hold of the Attorney General's or Immigration office by telephone or fax.
There is one international airport, Pago Pago International Airport (IATA: PPG), with a runway length of 2,750m (9,000 ft). This is also referred to as Tafuna Airport (or Tafuna International Airport) and is located at Tafuna 5km (3.2 mi) southwest of the central business district of Pago Pago on the island of Tutuila
Faleolo International Airport (IATA: APW) also serves as an international gateway to the region. That airport is 40km (25 mi) west of Apia, the capital of (independent) Samoa. Daily inter-island flights between the Samoas are operated by Inter Island Airways and Polynesian Airlines. Samoa is in the western part of the Samoan islands archipelago.
The Faleolo airport in nearby Samoa has wider international connections including Air New Zealand to Auckland in New Zealand, Fiji Airways to Honolulu USA and Nadi in Fiji, Inter Island Airways to Ofu, Pago Pago, Tau in American Samoa, Polynesian Airlines to Maota in Samoa and Pago Pago in American Samoa, Tongatapu in Tonga, Polynesian Blue (operated by Pacific Blue) to Auckland in New Zealand, Brisbane and Sydney in Australia.
The island of Tutuila has the international seaport of Pago Pago. This port is served by a number of passenger carrying cruise ships and cargo ships.
Inter Island Airways is the only airline providing daily domestic air services between Pago Pago and the Manu'a Island of Tau.
Fitiuta Airport (IATA: FTI), (FAA:FAQ), 975 x 23m (3,200 x 75 ft) is a public use airport located in the village of Fiti‘uta on the northeast portion of Ta‘ū island.
Tau Airport (IATA: TAV) 661 x 30m (2,170 x 100 ft) is a privately-owned, private-use airport 2km (1 mi) southeast of the village of Ta‘ū in the northwest corner of Ta‘ū island. It is not normally utilized for scheduled services.
Rose Island (Rose Atoll) and Swains Island do not have an airport.
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 one to two dollars 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.
Hail an aiga bus with a wave of your hand. Many Samoans carry a quarter or two in their ears for bus fare as the wraparound skirts (lavalava) don't have pockets. When you want off, tap the window a few times and the bus will stop and pay the driver by tossing your fare onto the dashboard on your way out.
Buses within densely populated area runs very frequently, whereas more remote places might only be served a few times a day. Buses starts at 6 AM and continues until 6 PM. Be aware that there are no buses on Sundays.
The busses usually plays loud, relaxed, island style music, do not miss this chance to feel Samoa.
A weekly ferry service from Pago Pago to the Manu’a Islands is provided government operated excursion boat. This service travels around Tutuila, calling at the north coast villages of Afono, Vatia and Fagasa.
To reach the small island of Aunu'u you need to take a small boat. Take the bus from Fagatogo towards Tula to go to the boat.
The only option after 6PM and on Sundays, if you do not have access to a car. No taximeters exists. As a couple of examples the fare from the airport in Tafuna to Pago Pago is $20, while Pago Pago to Tisa's Barefoot Bar is $15 (january 2015).
The native language is Samoan, a Polynesian language related to Hawaiian and other Polynesian languages. English is widely spoken, and most people can at least understand it. Most people are bilingual to some degree.
Some common words/phrases:
Hello - Talofa (tah-low-fah)
Please - Fa'amolemole (fah-ah-moh-lay-moh-lay)
Thank you - Fa'afetai (fah-ah-feh-tie)
American Samoa features a lot of locally run shops and kiosks with products ranging from handmade clothing to traditional wooden weapons. If you want to buy more interesting food than canned stuff and few vegetables in small family-owned stores all over, larger supermarkets are found in Nu'uuli and at Cost U less in Tafuna. If you are in need of more equipment the bus for Leone drives past the local Ace Store. Across the road the only english bookshop on island is placed, with a limited but broad selection.
At Fagatogo locally grown fruit and Polynesian style dresses are for sale, and in the evening each month at the third Friday local restaurants offers a wide variety of food.
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. Do not miss to taste the traditional Oka which is fish marinated in coconut milk.
Evelani's in Pago Pago offers standard Mexican food for reasonable prices. Late night it transfers into a night club.
Goat Island Cafe is located at Sadie's by the Sea in Fagatogo. You can enjoy fish, steak or other menus with a beautiful view over the harbor.
Island Pizza in Tafuna offers greasy deep pan pizzas.
Tisa's Barefoot Bar & Grill on the northern end of the island offers simple but delicious twisted traditional samoan food and a nice atmosphere at the beach. It is possible to stay overnight at their Fale (traditional house with no walls).
Toa in Nu'uuli is a combination of a restaurant and a bar. Serves breakfast all day long.
McDonalds - located in Tafuna close to the airport, and in Fagatogo. Features wi-fi, though it is sometimes out of work.
Carls Jr in Nu'uuli.
There is hotel-style lodging on all islands except Olosega.
As a US territory, American citizens can come here and work with no special visa or requirements, other than a valid six month passport, a return ticket, or an onward ticket for entry and they can stay and work indefinitely. Foreigners must go through the rigorous process of obtaining a US work permit. See the United States work section for more information.
The tuna industry is very prominent, but about 30% of the population is unemployed and relatively relaxed. It is common to grow fruits for the household.
There is not a lot of educations options in American Samoa, thus it is quite possible for a westerner to go to American Samoa to obtain working and social experiences, especially as a teacher.
American Samoa has few health risks of concern for normally healthy persons visiting the islands. There are, however, a significant number of cases of dengue fever each year, spread by mosquitoes, so don't forget your insect repellent (containing DEET).
Another common danger, in or near residential areas, are packs of stray dogs. Most dogs, while they may nominally belong to someone, are left to fend and forage for themselves. They are territorial, and will often bite. The most common response by locals is to pretend to bend down and pick up a rock. This will often scare the dogs away because they are used to being abused and hit with thrown rocks.
Bring necessary medications with you, for supplies may not be available. Medical care is limited and there is none available on the Manu’a Islands. The LBJ Tropical Medical Center is on Tutuila island in the village of Faga'alu. It was once a highly regarded regional health center; however, it has fallen on hard times. It has staffing problems and only provides marginal (though inexpensive) service. A serious illness or injury will generally be evacuated to a hospital in Hawaii, Fiji, or New Zealand. When travelling in the region, carry some basic medications such as aspirin or paracetamol (acetaminophen/Tylenol), cold capsules, band-aids, sun screen, vitamins, anti-diarrhea pills, and a good insect repellent.
In many areas of Tutuila, the tap water is not safe for drinking or washing dishes due to E. coli contamination. Check with the American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency for details or drink bottled water. A gallon of water can be refilled at machines at many stores for 50 cents, so do not ruin your holiday by taking the chance with the tap water.
American Samoa has low crime rates, though it's best to stay where the crowds are while on the beach. While swimming, don't go too far out, as rip tides are common.
The mainland US has had some influence on American Samoa when it comes to LGBT rights. Same-sex activities are legal. But there are no anti-discrimination nor harassment codes in place.
Except for perhaps a few thousand individuals, nearly all inhabitants of American Samoa are indigenous Samoans of Polynesian ancestry. More than any other US or Polynesian peoples, Samoans are oriented toward traditional customs and lifestyles. They closely follow the social customs and hierarchies developed prior to the arrival of the first Europeans in the region. 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: