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Are There Still Colonies in the World?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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A colony is an area of land under loose or strict control by another state/country. It can be a place in which settlers from the state move, sometimes displacing native residents, or a place where a state claims some ownership or right to rule the people there. Like the American colonies under British control in the 1700s, many modern ones are found in what might be considered unincorporated areas, where the residents are subject to the laws of the country that claims the area, but don’t get to participate in the political process that creates these laws. This has led some colonies in modern times to seek independence from a controlling state so that they may self-govern and pass laws appropriate to their land, culture, and beliefs.

The US has two areas of land that can be considered colonies, and also commonwealths: Puerto Rico and Guam/Northern Mariana Islands. While in the past, such territories of the US, especially in the contiguous states, lobbied for full rights as states, not all citizens of Puerto Rico are interested in this. Some are, however, and do campaign for turning Puerto Rico into an actual state or an independent country, as opposed to a commonwealth.

Citizens in Puerto Rico abide by US federal laws, but don't get to vote to make or change laws on a federal level. They don't have representation via senators or House representatives, though they are subject to the laws of the US by agreement between the leaders of the Puerto Rican government and the US. The island does have its own republican government, but its relationship to the US is still in some senses colonial.

Another colony, held by the UK, is Gibraltar, which has been a British territory since the passage of the Treaty of Utrecht in the early 18th century. The leader of the country is Queen Elizabeth II, though again, Gibraltar has its own government. Unlike other such areas, Gibraltar is recognized as a state by the European Union, which is unusual. Further, Gibraltar does not use the name “colony” to describe its relationship to the UK and instead prefers to be called an “overseas territory.” It is still subject to laws in the UK.

There are other small territories and islands that have colonial relationship to countries. The number continues to fall as people in territories feel they have the right to be recognized as either part of a larger country or as an independent state. Many want full rights to participate in the voting or political process, or to be considered as wholly separate from the other country.

There can be benefits to the colonial relationship when a state is small. For instance, a disaster in Puerto Rico would probably mean that the US would quickly come to its aid and bring necessary funds for recovery. There can also be difficulties when the people who live there aren't truly considered citizens and have no representation, however.

CulturalWorld.org is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a CulturalWorld.org contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon949517 — On May 05, 2014

Mayotte, a little island next to Madagascar, is still a French colony. It declined independence when the rest of the Comoros islands declared it.

By anon349069 — On Sep 23, 2013

Gibraltar has its own laws based on English laws,but the laws are those passed by the Gibraltar Government and not those of the United Kingdom.

By anon328453 — On Apr 03, 2013

I've been reading some of these comments and I just want to point out that Puerto Rico is still indeed a colony because we belong to the United States. We have no sovereignty, that is, the right to make our own decisions with other foreign territories without US approval. We are subject to the will of the United States.

We don't have presidents, but we have democratic elections where we appoint a governor for a four year term. We have our own constitution that's based on the US constitution. I'm not sure how we can influence US presidential candidates. I don't think we can, but I do know that Puerto Ricans can vote for a president of the US only if they are on US soil. And there are actually very few colonies left in the world.

Perhaps you're referring to countries that have not attained independence but have changed their status. The reason Puerto Rico became a Commonwealth was because the United Nations started an initiative to dissolve all colonies, so that there would be fewer conflicts and rebellion against the state that owned it.

By anon320795 — On Feb 19, 2013

In modern parlance, a colony is a foreign territory with no local administration and legislative capacity. By this definition, the Western Sahara (colony of Morocco) and Tokelau (colony of New Zealand) are the world's only colonies.

Places like Puerto Rico (US), Gibraltar(UK), Nouvelle-Calédonie (FR) are now known as dependencies.

By John57 — On Nov 20, 2012

Many years ago I visited Pureto Rico and that was when I learned it was a colony of the US. I didn't see any difference between this and any other place I visited in the Virgin Islands. Why is Puerto Rico considered a colony but the Virgin Islands aren't?

By sunshined — On Nov 19, 2012

I knew Puerto Rico was somehow connected with the United States but didn't realize it was a colony. I know if you are traveling there from the United States you don't need a passport to get in and out of the country.

I guess that has something to do with it being considered a colony of the US, otherwise you would probably need a passport.

By turquoise — On Oct 30, 2012

There are many colonies in the world still, but they're all islands or really small territories that can't administer themselves. If they could and if they really wanted to, I'm sure they could gain independence. But most of these islands have small populations, so it doesn't make sense to be independent. They are much better off being a colony of a bigger country.

If I remember correctly, there are about fourteen American colonies. Almost all are islands, the ones that aren't islands are refuges or reefs within islands.

By burcidi — On Oct 29, 2012

@simrin-- No, Africa was decolonized mainly in the 60s and 70s when European colonizers withdrew. So technically, African countries are all independent.

However, I personally don't think that all aspects of colonization have disappeared. Even though European countries don't rule these African countries anymore, they are still very involved and present in them.

By SteamLouis — On Oct 28, 2012

Are there still European colonies in Africa?

By anon264942 — On Apr 30, 2012

I think that Puerto Rico is still a large colony. Maybe I'm wrong but that's what it is for my knowledge.

By anon233196 — On Dec 05, 2011

While anon145290 is technically correct in that Puerto Rico does not have a lot of influence on US politics, Puerto Rico can influence the US presidential primaries as the Democrats and Republicans usually give them delegates to pledge to candidates which can influence who the eventual candidates are.

By anon145290 — On Jan 22, 2011

totally false! you cannot vote for US president or US legislator. Since Puerto Rico "runs" its own government, they vote for their political parties representatives (governor, senate, etc.). It's completely separate from US politics.

By anon81729 — On May 03, 2010

you can vote in puerto rico! from rico

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a CulturalWorld.org contributor, Tricia...
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