Our relationship with Tokelau

Tokelau is a New Zealand territory, yet has its own political institutions, judicial system, public services, telecommunications and shipping systems, and full control of its budget.

New Zealand provides about 60% of Tokelau's annual Government budget, and we're responsible for their defence and security, including maritime surveillance and other defence programmes. We've never had a physical presence in Tokelau.

Tokelau is made up of three small coral atolls - Atafu, Fakaofo and Nukunonu. The total land area is only 12 square kilometres within an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) covering 318,990 square kilometres. There's no air service to Tokelau - the most direct route is by sea from Apia (Samoa) some 500 kilometres from Fakaofo.


Tokelauans are New Zealand citizens. They have full rights to enter and live in New Zealand and to receive the same benefits as other New Zealanders. More than 7,000 Tokelauans live in New Zealand, compared to 1,499 living in Tokelau (2016 Census).


Over the past three decades Tokelau has moved towards its current advanced level of political self-reliance. It has its own unique political institutions, including a national legislative body and Executive Council. It runs its own judicial system and public services. It has its own shipping and telecommunications systems. It has full control over its budget. It plays an active role in regional affairs and is a member of a number of regional and international bodies. 

The position of Ulu-o-Tokelau, the Titular Head of Government, is rotated among the leader of each atoll (the Faipule) annually. The General Fono (national assembly) meets three times a year and is made up of elected representatives from each atoll. Executive authority rests with the Council of the Ongoing Government of Tokelau which is based in Apia, Samoa. Tokelau does not have opposition parties. The most recent elections were held in January 2017.

The relationship between Tokelau and New Zealand is managed by the Administrator of Tokelau. This is a statutory position held by a New Zealand public servant, and appointed by our Minister of Foreign Affairs. The Administrator is supported by staff from MFAT's Special Relations and French Pacific Unit.

Read more about Tokelau and its unique political system (external link)


Tokelau has tiny trade flows. The physical characteristics of the atolls limit economic development, and the few natural resources and agricultural production are enough to meet only the basic needs in Tokelau itself.

Ocean and lagoon fish and shellfish are plentiful, and are part of the staple diet for Tokelauans. The Administrator of Tokelau is responsible for managing Tokelau’s EEZ, and fisheries licence fees contribute substantially to Tokelau's budget.


The New Zealand Aid Programme works with Tokelau to strengthen its public services, improve quality of life on its atolls, and maximise its fisheries revenue.  

Find out more about our aid programme in Tokelau

Recent official visits

New Zealand to Tokelau
  • 2012: Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae made a state visit to Tokelau
  • 2011: Chief Justice Sian Elias visited Tokelau with the New Zealand Defence Force's Tropic Twilight Exercise reconnaissance mission and met with Tokelau women to discuss issues of concern (including gender based violence)
Tokelau to New Zealand

The Ulu-o-Tokelau (Head of Government) and Ministers often visit New Zealand in transit or on private travel.

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