More information about Tonga is available on the Tonga country page and from other Department of State publications and other sources listed at the end of this fact sheet.
The partnership between the United States and Tonga is broad and deep based on shared values and close cooperation on matters ranging from combating the climate crisis to improving maritime security and fostering cooperation and development in the region. The Kingdom of Tonga was a protected state of the United Kingdom until 1970. It is the South Pacific’s last Polynesian kingdom, a constitutional hereditary monarchy. The United States commended Tonga for its move toward fuller democracy through the 2010 election of its first popular majority parliament and subsequent elections in 2014 and 2017, which international observers deemed free and fair, as well as its ongoing development of an active and vibrant civil society.
Tonga has contributed significantly to international peace and security. From 2004 to 2008, Tonga deployed four contingents of soldiers to Iraq for durations of 6 months. In 2010, Tonga deployed the first contingent of 55 soldiers to Afghanistan in support of the British Armed Forces’ efforts in the International Security Assistance Force. Tonga deployed 330 soldiers to support U.K. forces in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2014. U.S. and Tongan military forces hold annual joint training exercises, and the Nevada National Guard entered into a State Partnership Program with Tonga in 2014.
U.S. Assistance to Tonga
Tonga benefits from USAID’s COVID–19 support on infection, prevention and control; risk communication; surveillance; and lab support provided through grants to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Tonga also benefits from USAID regional programs to respond to disasters and build community resilience to adapt to climate change. The Climate Ready project (2016-2021) and Institutional Strengthening in Pacific Island Countries (PIC) to Adapt to Climate Change program (2015-2021) supports resilience building opportunities and are instrumental in supporting climate adaptation planning. USAID programming to strengthen democratic institutions and processes in the region included supporting advanced leadership training for promising women leaders in Tonga and training for journalists to combat disinformation and hate speech.
In 2022, USAID provided $2.6 million in humanitarian assistance to support Tongans affected by the January volcanic eruption and tsunami. USAID is provided over $2.6 million in humanitarian assistance to support people affected by the 2022 volcanic eruptions and tsunami in Tonga. This funding was addition to longstanding programs in Tonga that have been responding to urgent needs since the onset of the disaster. USAID is worked with the Tonga Red Cross Society (TRCS) through the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to provide water and sanitation support to approximately 7,500 people–including hygiene kits and disease prevention messaging–to help reduce the spread of infectious disease, as well as nine portable latrines that are increasing sanitation access for approximately 1,100 people.
Over 1,700 Peace Corp volunteers have served in Tonga since 1967. Averaging 50 Peace Corps Volunteers for approximately 100,000 Tongans, Peace Corps Tonga has one of the highest per capita programs in the world. Peace Corp volunteers recently returned to Tonga in June 2023 after their departure due to the COVID pandemic in 2020. Tonga participates in a range of PD programs and initiatives that expand our people-to-people ties via the PD Section at U.S. Embassy Suva. For example, the Young Pacific Leaders program, operated out of Mission New Zealand, has over 460 alumni from 24 countries and territories in the Pacific. It engages individuals ages 25-35 who are likely to become leaders in their countries that often play outsized roles in multinational fora like the UN. These individuals attend workshops and conferences that address critical themes like education, environment, civic leadership, and economic/social development.
The United States is a major financial contributor to international and regional organizations that assist Tonga, including the Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank, UN Children’s Fund, World Health Organization, and UN Fund for Population Activities. Tonga receives Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to equip its military and participates in the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, which sends Tongan officers and senior enlisted personnel to professional military education and leadership development courses in the United States. The Nevada National Guard has a State Partnership Program with Tonga, with whom it regularly conducts joint training. The United States also has a ship-rider agreement with Tonga to provide security and support ship-rider missions which allow Tongan law enforcement officials to ride aboard U.S. Coast Guard vessels. The United States also contributes U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy air assets to regional Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) operations that help combat IUU fishing in the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and supports the long-term sustainability of the fisheries resources. Additionally, Tonga is a regular participant in U.S. Pacific Command sponsored workshops on topics including humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, maritime security, peacekeeping, and international humanitarian law.
The United States is the largest single financial contributor to the COVAX Facility, from which Tonga has received approximately 48,000 COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine doses. In 2022, USAID provided $2.6 million in humanitarian assistance to support Tongans affected by the January volcanic eruption and tsunami. In April 2020, USAID provided $100,000 to respond to Tropical Cyclone Harold, which caused widespread wind damage and storm surges across the country. Additionally, in May 2020, USAID provided $1 million to Act for Peace to fund protection and disaster risk reduction activities to include coordination with local organizations to conduct disaster simulation exercises and awareness on the inclusion of persons with disabilities.
Bilateral Economic Relations
Tonga’s economy is characterized by a large non-monetary sector and a heavy dependence on remittances from the more than half of the country’s population that lives abroad, chiefly in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, particularly in Utah, California, and Hawaii. The United States enjoys a trade surplus with Tonga, with two-way goods trade of approximately $17 million in 2020. Exports from Tonga are led by frozen fish and seafood and cultural handicrafts for the Tongan diaspora. Tonga is a party to the U.S.-Pacific Islands Multilateral South Pacific Tuna Treaty, which provides fisheries access for U.S. fishing vessels in exchange for a license fee paid by U.S. industry. Under a separate Economic Assistance Agreement associated with the Treaty, the United States government provides $21 million per year to the Pacific Island parties.
Tonga’s Membership in International Organizations
Tonga and the United States belong to many of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, International Atomic Energy Agency, the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization, the Pacific Community, and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environmental Programme. Tonga also belongs to the Pacific Islands Forum, of which the United States is a Dialogue Partner.
Tonga participates in a range of PD programs and initiatives that expand our people-to-people ties via the PD Section at U.S. Embassy Suva. For example, the Young Pacific Leaders program, operated out of Mission New Zealand, has over 460 alumni from 24 countries and territories in the Pacific. It engages individuals ages 25-35 who are likely to become leaders in their countries that often play outsized roles in multinational fora like the UN. These individuals attend workshops and conferences that address critical themes like education, environment, civic leadership, and economic/social development. In addition, since 1967, Tonga has welcomed over 1,700 Peace Corps volunteers to work in the education sector.
The embassy maintains an American Corner in Tonga, which serves as a permanent platform for the public outreach. Recently, the Public Affairs Section conducted a number of media and speaker programs in Tonga. In 2016, the United States, through the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) awarded $90,000 for the Phase 2 of the preservation of the Tongan historical landmark, the 12th-Century Royal Tombs. Phase 1 of the project completed in 2012 was also supported through the AFCP and resulted in the conservation of three multi-level tombs.
Principal embassy officials are listed in the Department’s Key Officers List.
Tonga has no embassy in Washington, D.C. but has a permanent representative to the United Nations in New York, who is also accredited as ambassador to the United States. Tonga maintains a Consulate-General in San Francisco, California.
More information about Tonga is available from the Department of State and other sources, some of which are listed here