A dependent territory, dependent area or dependency is a territory that does not possess full political independence or sovereignty as a sovereign state yet remains politically outside the controlling state's integral area.
A dependency is commonly distinguished from country subdivisions by not being considered to be an integral territory of the governing state. Administrative subdivisions instead are understood as typically representing a division of the state proper. A dependent territory conversely often maintains a great degree of autonomy from the controlling central state. Historically, most colonies were considered dependencies. Those dependent territories currently remaining generally maintain a very high degree of political autonomy. Not all autonomous entities, though, are considered to be dependencies, and not all dependencies are autonomous. Most inhabited dependent territories have their own ISO 3166 country codes.
Some political entities inhabit a special position guaranteed by international treaty or other agreement: creating a certain level of autonomy (e.g., differences in immigration rules). These are sometimes considered or at least grouped with dependencies, but are officially considered by their controlling states to be integral parts of the state. Examples are Åland Islands (Finland) and Hong Kong (China).
The lists below indicate (or can be interpreted to indicate) the following:
This list includes all territories that have not been legally incorporated into their governing state, including several territories that are not on the list of non-self-governing territories of the General Assembly of the United Nations. All claims in Antarctica are listed in italics.
Summary: the United States has 13 "unincorporated" dependent territories under its control and two claimed territories outside its control. The uninhabited Palmyra Atoll is administered similarly to some of these territories and usually included on lists of U.S. overseas territories, but is excluded from this list because it is classified in U.S. law as an incorporated territory.
The following entities are, according to the law of their state, integral parts of the state but exhibit many characteristics of dependent territories. This list is generally limited to entities that are either subject to an international treaty on their status, uninhabited, or have a unique level of autonomy and are largely self-governing in matters other than international affairs. As a result, it does not include entities with no unique autonomy, such as the overseas regions of France, the Home Nations of the United Kingdom, and Alaska and Hawaii of the United States. Entities with only limited unique autonomy, such as the autonomous regions of Portugal, the autonomous communities of Spain, and Zanzibar are also not included. All claims in Antarctica are listed in italics.
Summary: Australia has six external territories in its administration and one Antarctic claim.
Although all territories of Australia are considered to be fully integrated in its federative system, and the official status of an external territory does not differ largely from that of a mainland territory (except in regards to immigration law), debate remains as to whether the external territories are integral parts of Australia, due to their not being part of Australia in 1901, when its constituent states federated (with the exception of Coral Sea Islands, which was a part of Queensland). They are often listed separately for statistical purposes.
Summary: China has two special administrative regions (SARs) that are governed according to the constitution and respective basic laws. The SARs greatly differ from mainland China in administrative, economic, legislative and judicial terms, including by currency, left- versus right-hand traffic, official languages and immigration control.
Summary: France has overseas six autonomous collectivities and two uninhabited territories (one of which includes an Antarctic claim). This does not include its “standard” overseas regions (which are also overseas departments) of French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, and Réunion – although also located overseas, they have the same status as metropolitan France's regions. Nonetheless, all of France's overseas territory is considered an integral part of the French Republic.
Summary: The Kingdom of the Netherlands comprises of three Caribbean countries (listed below), with autonomy in internal affairs, and one country, the Netherlands, with most of its area in Europe but for three overseas Caribbean municipalities (Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba). The three Caribbean municipalities (Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba) are not listed here because they are directly administered by the Government of the Netherlands. All Kingdom citizens share the same nationality and are thus citizens of the European Union, but only the European portion of the Netherlands is part of the territory of the Union, the Customs Union and the Eurozone (overseas countries and territory status).
Summary: Norway has, in the Arctic, one inhabited archipelago whose Norwegian sovereignty is limited — Svalbard. Unlike the country's dependent territory (Bouvet Island) and Antarctic claims (see above), Svalbard is part of the Kingdom of Norway.
Three Crown dependencies are in a form of association with the United Kingdom. They are independently administrated jurisdictions, although the British Government is solely responsible for defense and international representation and has ultimate responsibility for ensuring good government. They do not have diplomatic recognition as independent states, but neither are they integrated into the UK (nor the European Union). The U.K. Parliament retains the ability to legislate for the Crown dependencies even without agreement of their legislatures. No Crown dependency has representation in the UK Parliament.
Although British Overseas Territories, Bermuda and Gibraltar have similar relationships to the UK as the Crown dependencies. While Britain is officially responsible for defense and international representation, these jurisdictions maintain their militaries and have been granted limited diplomatic powers, in addition to having internal self-government.
Puerto Rico (since 1952) and the Northern Mariana Islands (since 1986) are non-independent states freely associated with the United States. The mutually negotiated Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) in Political Union with the United States was approved in 1976. The Covenant was fully implemented on November 3, 1986, under Presidential Proclamation no. 5564, which conferred United States citizenship on legally qualified CNMI residents. Under the Constitution of Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico is described as a Commonwealth and Puerto Ricans have a degree of administrative autonomy similar to citizens of a U.S. state. Puerto Ricans "were collectively made U.S. citizens" in 1917 as a result of the Jones-Shafroth Act. The commonly used name in Spanish of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico, literally "Associated Free State of Puerto Rico", which sounds similar to "free association" particularly when loosely used in Spanish, is sometimes erroneously interpreted to mean that Puerto Rico's relationship with United States is based on a Compact of Free Association and at other times erroneously held to mean that Puerto Rico's relationship with United States is based on an Interstate compact. This is a constant source of ambiguity and confusion when trying to define, understand and explain Puerto Rico's political relationship with the United States. For various reasons Puerto Rico's political status differs from that of the Pacific Islands that entered into Compacts of Free Association with the United States. As sovereign states, these islands have full right to conduct their foreign relations, while the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has territorial status subject to United States congressional authority under the Constitution's Territory Clause, "to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory… belonging to the United States.". Puerto Rico does not have the right to unilaterally declare independence, and at the last referendum (1998) the narrow majority voted for "none of the above", which was a formally undefined alternative used by commonwealth supporters to express their desire for an "enhanced commonwealth" option.
This kind of relationship also can be found in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which is termed a federacy. The European continental part is organized like a unitary state; however, the status of its Caribbean countries (Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten) can be considered dependencies or “associated non-independent states.”
The Kingdom of Denmark also operates similarly: another federacy. The Faroe Islands and Greenland are two self-governing territories or regions within the Kingdom. The relationship between Denmark proper and these two territories is semi-officially termed the Rigsfællesskabet (“Unity of the Realm”).