Both the United States and Canada have territories so what is the difference between these territories of each country? For pedantic out there, the United States is a Federation of States, while Canada is a Confederation of Provinces.

Canada has three territories, and like Washington D.C. these are all part of integral Canada. The United States has a federal district (Washington, D.C.) and many external territories (like Puerto Rico). The United States has a confusing number of territories (five of which are inhabited).


Territories of Canada

The major difference between a Canadian province and a territory is how much delegated power they have. While provinces get their power from the Constitution Act, 1867 (formerly called the British North America Act, 1867), territories are the creations of the Parliament of Canada. That means that the Canadian government can create, split, and disestablish them at will (but lacks that power with the provinces).

Furthermore, the Canadian government and amend the power and authority that those territories have. To do that will the provinces (like the United States) would require a constitutional amendment.

These Canadian territories have no inherent sovereignty. In practice, these territories have a very small population and are extremely thinly populated.

Northwest Territories:

The Northwest Territories are a shadow of its former self with most of its former territory being split off into the Yukon Territory, Alberta, and Nunavut. The territory has many official languages Chipewyan, Cree, English, French, Gwich'in, Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, North Slavey, South Slavey, and Tłįchǫ.

  • Population: 41,000
  • Date Established: July 15, 1870
  • Capital: Yellowknife

Yukon Territory:

Yukon Territory is the most accessible of the Canadian territories and one can cross into Alaska from it. It is a great place to see the Northern Lights and to go dog sledding.

  • Population: 40,000
  • Date Established: June 13, 1898
  • Capital: Whitehorse


Nunavut is the youngest of the Canadian territories and was carved off of the Northwest Territories of Canada so that the native Innuit population could have a territory of their own. It is extremely remote and there are no permanent roads connecting the territory. Its official languages include Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut, English, and French.

  • Population: 37,000
  • Date Established: April 1, 1999
  • Capital: Iqaluit

Related: How To Plan A Trip To Canada's Yukon Territory Before It Gets Too Cold

Washington D.C.

Washington D.C. (formally the District of Columbia) is a special territory or district of the United States. Unlike the external territories, it is an integral part of the USA and the only federal district of the United States.

It is of course not a territory. As a federal district, it is (like most territories) under the direct control of a federal government.

Of course, it hosts the capital city of the USA and whereas everything else in this list exist in the periphery, D.C. is very much in the center.

D.C. was established in accordance with the U.S. Constitution that provided for a federal district under the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress. As such it is neither a U.S. state nor part of any.

  • Approved: July 16, 1790
  • Founded: The City of Washington Was Founded in 1791
  • Population: 690,000

There are calls for Washington D.C. to be admitted to the United States as the 51st state.

Related: 10 Free Things To Do In Washington D.C.

External Territories of The United States

In the past, America had many more territories but these either went on to become states (like Hawaii and Alaska) or independent nations (like the Philippines, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau).

U.S. territories are under American sovereignty and in some ways may be treated as part of the United States proper, but in other ways, they are not treated as part of the United States. These are classified as incorporated - unorganized territory, or unincorporated - organized territory, or unincorporated - organized territory with Commonwealth status, and unincorporated - unorganized territory.

The five main territories that the USA has are:

America Samoa:

America Samoa was annexed into the United States following the partition of Samoa by the USA, Britain, and Germany.

  • Population: 46,000
  • Main Settlement: Pago Pago

Northern Mariana Islands: 

The most famous island of the Northern Mariana Island is Saipan. While Guam is geographically part of the archipelago, it has its own territorial jurisdiction.

  • Main Settlement: Capital Hill in Northwestern Saipan
  • Population: 47,000


Guam is famous for having a major and strategic US military base there. Its ecosystem has also been devasted by the introduced Brown Treesnake likely brought in by accident by the USA military.

  • Capital: Hagåtña
  • Population: 170,000

U.S. Virgin Islands:

The USA purchased the Danish Virgin Islands from Denmark in 1917 and renamed them the U.S. Virgin Islands - they are the only part of the USA to drive on the left.

  • Population: 87,000
  • Capital: Charlotte

Puerto Rico:

The USA won Puerto Rico following the Spanish American War. Today there is a strong movement to be admitted into the Union as a fully-fledged state.

  • Population: 3.2 Million
  • Capital: San Juan

Other uninhabited territories include:

  • Baker Island, Howland Island, & Jarvis Island: South Pacific, Annexed in 1939 and Administered Under The Interior Department
  • Johnston Atoll: North Pacific
  • Kingman Reef: Under the Administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Midway Atoll: North Pacific, A National Wildlife Refuge
  • Navassa Island: The Caribbean, Also Claimed By Haiti
  • Palmyra Atoll: North Pacific, Managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Wake Island: North Pacific, Also Claimed by The Marshall Islands

Next: Snowbird? Considering Skipping Florida For Puerto Rico