Skip links

About Palau: Country Overview

Palau is a country comprised of islands in Oceania, located in the northern portion of the Western Pacific Ocean, part of the larger grouping of islands of Micronesia.  It lies to the southeast of the Philippines, north of Indonesia, west of the Federated States of Micronesia, and to the southwest of the U.S. territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.  Since October 1, 1994, Palau has been an independent sovereign nation under a Compact of Free Association with the United States of America.  From the end of the Second World War until its independence in 1994, Palau was administered by the United States under the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, having been previously been held as a territorial possession of Japan prior to World War II, during which Palau was the site of the infamous 1944 Allied invasions of Angaur and Peleliu.

Palau is home to an estimated 21,431 people (2017 statistics), the majority of whom are native Palauans.  While Palauan remains widely spoken, English language literacy is pervasive, and two communities from the outermost Southwest Islands maintain separate languages: Sonsorolese and Tobian.  Palau is often locally referred to by its Palauan language name—“Belau”.

Since its independence, Palau has grown as an outstanding locale for tourism owing to its scenic beauty and exceptional biological diversity.  Palau remains one of the world’s outstanding destinations for scuba diving and snorkeling.  Other industries include fishing and subsistence agriculture.  The total 2017 GDP of Palau was estimated at $312 million.  Palau’s currency is the United States dollar.

Governmental Structure of the Republic of Palau:

The Republic of Palau is a constitutional, presidential republic with an elected bicameral legislature, the Olbiil Era Kelulau, and an independent judiciary.  The capital of Palau is Ngerulmud.  Under the Compact of Free Association with the United States of America, the national defense of Palau is enforced by the United States military.  Currently, the political system is nonpartisan.

In addition to the National Government structure for the Republic of Palau, Palau is subdivided into sixteen state governments, each with its own constitution and elected political branches, using the national Judiciary as the unified judicial branch for the country.  Ten of the states are located on Babeldaob, the country’s largest island, while the remaining six constitute groupings of other islands.

The Constitutions of the National and state governments incorporate roles for traditional leaders and traditional legal imperatives while maintaining the primacy of elected political officials.

Owing to its previous administration by the United States during the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, the Palauan legal system retains various features from U.S. jurisprudence, especially concerning fundamental constitutional protections and procedures in criminal law.