What are the Differences Between Samoa and American Samoa?

Most people have heard of Samoa at this point. Many may not be able to point it out on the map but they know it’s an island in the South Pacific. Few people, even fewer Americans, know there is also a territory of the United States called American Samoa located nearby. They are cut from the same cloth but to the casual visitor they are quite different. So what are the differences between Samoa and American Samoa?

What are the Differences Between Samoa and American Samoa?, American Samoa

Viewpoint in the National Park of American Samoa

The differences between Samoa and American Samoa are subtle but many and start right there. Samoa (pronounced Saa-Moh-uh) is an independent nation made up of 2 main islands, Upolu and Savaii and several smaller and uninhabited islands. American Samoa is one main island with a few smaller islands that is an overseas territory of the United States.


Like the other overseas territories of the United States like Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands: American Samoa and its citizens are granted certain privileges like serving in the military but not others like voting in the Presidential election.


The capital of American Samoa is Pago Pago (pronounced Pango Pango). The capital of Samoa is called Apia (Ah-Pee-Uh). The 2 are similar in that they are on a bay and have a little bit of congestion from traffic. They are different in that Pago Pago is much more spread out and more difficult to walk around; there is basically only one road. Plus much of it smells like rotten fish from the Starkist Cannery right in town. Apia is pleasant enough but not the reason you go to Samoa.

Viewpoint in the National Park of American Samoa, Pago Pago, American Samoa, Samoa

View of Pago Pago Bay from high above

Outside of Apia, Samoa is a dream. There is zero traffic, the roads are perfect and everyone waves when you drive by. Outside of Pago Pago, there is still traffic along the coastal road and when you get up into the mountains the roads are not very good.

View of the Pinnacles in the National Park of American Samoa

View of the Pinnacles in the National Park of American Samoa

While there are many differences between Samoa and American Samoa: beauty is not one of them. Both are tremendously beautiful. Samoa is a natural island that blew me away with its beauty. American Samoa has a gorgeous coastline and interior mountains. The National Park of American Samoa is particularly beautiful and well worth exploring. On both islands you’ll need a car or a driver for sure.

National Park of American Samoa

The end of the road in the National Park of American Samoa

The food in Samoa is outstanding in my opinion. Of course options are somewhat limited given you’re on an island (It’s basically seafood or seafood) but I loved the food. Expect to eat a lot of poke and oka; both tuna based foods. There is also one McDonald’s in Samoa. Granted both my visits to American Samoa have been day trips but I have never been impressed by the food although people say they do Samoan food very well. There are two McDonald’s on American Samoa plus a Carl’s Jr. and some other fast food places.


Samoa has dozens of hotels and resorts of varying cost and luxury. As I illustrated in my week in Samoa post, I have stayed in at least 7 of them and was always impressed. American Samoa is said to have only two places to stay period. I have never personally stayed there but that’s what I was told by my driver.


Obviously Samoa is more geared to tourism and it has many more flight options to the island from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, the United States and others. American Samoa is only accessible from the small airport in Samoa and an expensive weekly Hawaiian Airlines flight from Honolulu. That’s it.


However, the main difference I myself have observed is the people. The people of Samoa are some of the most warm and welcoming people I have ever encountered. Their selfless culture makes you want to be a better person. They have been influenced by the west in some ways but have really maintained their own identity and culture in my eyes. Plus they all love Rugby!


American Samoa has clearly been influenced by its US affiliation not that there’s anything wrong with that. For instance, my driver had a huge New England Patriots flag draped across the back of his truck. He said many people love football more than Rugby. In fact there have been several American Samoan players in the NFL. Other influences are loud (bad) music and apparently there is a big crystal meth problem on American Samoa. In fact, we were asked if we wanted to buy some “ice”. We didn’t know what that meant and had to look it up. It was just assumed that was why we had come to American Samoa-true story!


So these are just a few of the differences between Samoa and American Samoa. Of course, these are only my observations based on my two separate daytrips to American Samoa and my approximately 2 weeks total in Samoa during my two trips including my recent one.


I really did love Samoa if that’s not obvious to anyone who followed my trip or has read my posts. However, I did not love American Samoa either time I have visited and I likely will not return. But as Samoa has grown quickly and attracts many visitors, American Samoa has some potential with its natural beauty. However, it doesn’t appear that they’re eager to target tourism in the near future. That’s one of the biggest differences between Samoa and American Samoa.


  1. Thanks for this! I’ve always wondered about American Samoa but there’s not much material on it. I had never even seen photos of it! So thanks for the honest take. You crack me up with the ice comment!

  2. I live in Oahu and have traveled to American Samoa multiple times for business. I agree it’s a strange kindness of place in that it feels a little American but it’s far from it. The hotels are not good and I’m
    Not a fan of the food either. I’ve also heard of the ice issue down there but don’t know much about it.

  3. American Samoa sounds like a skip, Samoa a go!

  4. American Samoa is an actually nice place!. im sorry disagree with you but they are nice people its juss probably the people you met. not everyone is like that. so maybe y’all should try getting to actually know the real american samoa

  5. 15th January 2018 I decided to go American Samoa island with wife and 18month daughter. Please let me know about there people, food, house rent and basically about weather. I’m aupo. From Bangladesh

  6. Is there any way to build a small business.? Which help me to carry my all caustic of living American Samoa island. Also have future like that kind of business. Get me some real talk please.

    • You’re not going to build anything but confusion if the second sentence in your post is any indicator of future potential. Try constructing a proper, or even somewhat proper sentence so somebody can answer your question in a proper manner.

  7. So I cannot find much info on this island but what is the name of the most populous city in Western Samoa? And I’m curious what it’s like to rent or work there? What do people do for a living in Western Samoa?

  8. American Samoa has been my home for over 30 years, and there is nothing wrong with it at all except there is one way in and one way out. The population is roughly around 60,000 with a very low rate of unemployment (too many people depend on families) and poverty (but it exists). That is unlike Upolu. Starkist Samoa (the cannery) is a private corporation that has been in American Samoa assisting many families with more than 2000 jobs (more than 50% are individuals from Upolu), and it is located 5 minutes after its capital of Pago Pago. I live 30 minutes away from Pago Pago, and it never “smells like rotten fish” where I live. You must have been staying near the eastside closer to Starkist Samoa or just eating fish too much. The only other times it would start to smell like Starkist from Pago Pago to Futiga (Westside village where landfill is located) is if the waste from Starkist is transported to the landfill for disposing.
    Anyhow, I appreciate your admiration of the national parks and the greenery all around the island. It has most definitely kept American Samoa cooler, and I very much appreciate my hometown every time I am traveling to the states as it seems to congested every where I have been with the weather either being too cold or too hot.
    …and the “ice” comment is just ridiculous. I have to admit It has become a huge problem in Am Sam, and when we can – we do report any of these activites to the authorities.

    I appreciate your thoughts, and I definitely agree tourism in Am Sam needs some work.

    You will be fine with the right people taking you to the right places, so I hope one day somehow someone changes your mind about coming back to American Samoa.

    Thanks and have a blessed year! Tofa Soifua,

  9. its so fun but i wouldnt want to live there

  10. I would love to visit one day, as long as there is a McDonald’s, I’m good.

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