French Overseas Departments, Territories, and former Colonies
During the 18th and 19th century, France had the second largest colonial empire after the British Empire with colonies in North America, South America, the Caribbean, Antarctica, Oceania, Indochina, North Africa, Africa, East Africa, and Central Africa.
Still today, some of these territories have strong ties with metropolitan France. They are either French overseas departments and territories that legally belong to France, or they are independent countries with a French colonial heritage that still manifests itself in the use of the French language in areas such as government, administration, business, media, and education.
French Overseas Departments (DOM)
Guadeloupe, Martinique, French-Guyana, and Réunion are French overseas departments. They have the same legal status as the departments in metropolitan France. They are members of the European Union and their currency is the Euro, the European currency that was introduced in 2002.
French Overseas Collectivities (COM)
French Polynesia, Wallis, and Fortuna as well as Mayotte, St. Pierre and Miquelon make up the French Overseas Collectivities. Their status as collectivity allows them to implement local regulations that differ from regulations in metropolitan France.
French Polynesia has a special status within the French Republic. Its official denomination is “Overseas Country” (Pays d’outre-mer), and it has its own government that is elected in free and democratic elections.
The island of Wallis and Futuna constitutes an exception within the French Republic, as it consists of three kingdoms that form an administrative union. Wallis and Futuna, as well as the collectivities of St. Pierre and Miquelon, are represented in the French Parliament by a MP and a senator.
New Caledonia and the French Southern and Antarctic Lands
New Caledonia is a French Overseas Territory with a special status: In a referendum to be held between 2014 and 2019 its people will decide if New Caledonia remains part of France as an overseas collectivity or whether it will be given the status of an independent nation.
The French Southern and Antarctical Lands are the last remaining overseas territory (TOM). They include the islands of Saint Paul, Amsterdam, and the Crozet and Kerguelen Archipelagos in the Indian Ocean, as well as Adélieland in the Antarctic.
These territories do not have any permanent residents and the seat of government is located in St. Pierre (Réunion).
While for the overseas departments French laws and regulations apply as on the mainland, the territories are governed autonomously and have their own laws and regulations.
Each of the overseas departments or territories has a member of parliament and there is a member of the French Government who is responsible for issues related to overseas France.
The largest cities in overseas France include Pointe -á-Pitre (Guadeloupe), Saint-Denis (Réunion), Nouméa (Caledonia), Fort-de-France (Martinique), Saint Pierre (Réunion), Papeete (French Polynesia), and Saint Paul (Réunion).