The Independent State of Samoa is a peaceful parliamentary democracy within the Commonwealth of Nations. It has a population of approximately 196,000 and a nominal GDP of USD $824 million. Samoa became the 155th member of the WTO in May 2012 and graduated from least developed country (LDC) status in January 2014.
Samoa is recognized throughout Oceania as one of the most politically and economically stable democratic countries in the region – based on strong social and cultural structures and values. The country has been governed by the Human Rights Protectorate Party (HRPP) since 1982, and Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi has been in power since 1998.
Samoa is located south of the equator, about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand in the Polynesian region of the Pacific Ocean. The total land area is 1,097 square miles, consisting of the two large islands of Upolu and Savai’i, which account for 99 percent of the total land area and eight small islets. About 80 percent of all land is customary land, owned by villages, with the remainder either freehold or government owned. Customary land can be leased, but not sold.
Several changes and natural disasters have taken place in Samoa in the past seven years that have shaped the country significantly. Samoa previously drove on the right (U.S.) side of the road, but in September 2009 switched to driving on the left (British) side. Accordingly, all cars now imported are right-hand drive. Also, Samoa was previously located east of the international dateline, but in December 2011 moved to the other side (UTC +13), switching from the last sunset of the world each day to becoming one of the first countries to start each day.
The September 2009 tsunami and the December 2012 cyclone (Evan) each inflicted damage equivalent to a quarter of Samoa’s GDP. Samoa has recovered from effects of the tsunami and the cyclone, but both were significant setbacks to the economy.
In 2019 Samoa suffered a measles epidemic and, in 2020, the shutdown from the COVID-19 pandemic. Both instances severely affected local business with varying degrees of cessation of economic activity. The tourism industry was hit particularly hard. Samoa demonstrated that it will take extreme measures to prevent loss of life, even at the expense of massive economic losses. The Central Bank of Samoa predicts the country’s GDP will fall by 6.6 per cent by the end of 2020 in response to international border closures resulting from the global pandemic COVID-19.
The service sector accounts for nearly three-quarters of GDP and employs approximately 50 percent of the formally employed labor force (which is about 20 percent of the population). Tourism is the largest single activity, with visitor numbers and revenue more than doubling over the last decade. Industry accounts for nearly 15 percent of GDP, while employing less than 6 percent of the work force.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2019||N/A||http://www.transparency.org/
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2019||98 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2019||N/A||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
|U.S. FDI in partner country (millions of U.S. dollars, historical stock positions)||2018||$20M||https://apps.bea.gov/
|World Bank GNI per capita||2018||$4,020||http://data.worldbank.org/
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
The Government of Samoa welcomes business and investors. Samoa’s fertile soil, English-speaking and educated workforce, and tropical climate offer advantages to focused investors, though the country’s distance from major markets affects the cost of imports and exports. The main productive sectors of the economy are agriculture and tourism, and the economy depends heavily on overseas remittances.
For investors, Samoa offers a trained, productive and industrially adaptable work force that communicates well in English; competitive wage rates; free repatriation of capital and profits; well-developed, reasonably priced transport infrastructure, telecommunications, water supply, and electricity; industry incentive packages for Tourism and Manufacturing sectors; a stable financial environment with single-digit inflation, a balanced budget and international reserves; relatively low corporate & income taxes; and a pleasant and safe lifestyle.
All businesses in the greater Apia area have access to broadband and Wi-Fi, which is reasonably reliable and fast, but relatively expensive. In rural Upolu and on Savaii Island there is limited availability of high-speed internet, but reliable Wi-Fi through personal mobile routers is universal. In 2018, Samoa completed the installation of a National Broadband Highway which provides fiber optic data services and 4G LTE cellular data speeds to the entire country. 4G LTE data speeds are operative and commercially available nationwide.
Foreign Investors are permitted 100% ownership in all different sectors of industry with the exception of restricted activities below.
The following businesses are reserved for Samoan Citizens only: 1.Bus transport services for the general public;
1.Bus transport services for the general public;
2.Taxi transport services for the general public;
5.Saw milling; and
6.Traditional elei garment designing and printing.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Foreign Investors are permitted 100% ownership in all different sectors of the industry with the exception of conditions for restricted activities below.
Automotive & Ground Transportation
Consumer Goods & Home Furnishings
Textiles, Apparel & Sporting Goods
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labor (MCIL) administers Samoa’s foreign investment policy and regulations ( /). To open a branch of an existing corporation in Samoa, one must register the company for about USD $150. For a company to qualify as a “Samoan company,” the majority of shareholders must be Samoan. The fee to register an overseas company is about USD $150. All businesses with foreign shareholdings must obtain and hold valid foreign investment registration certificates. The application fee is about USD $50 and can be obtained by contacting MCIL. Certificates are valid until the business terminates activity. If a business does not commence activity within 2 years after a certificate is issued, the certificate becomes invalid. Upon approval of the FIC, the foreign investor is then required to apply for a business license before operating in Samoa. Fees range from USD $100-USD $250, depending on the type of business.
Land has a special status in Samoa, as it does in most Pacific Island countries. Under the country’s land classification system, about 80 percent of all land is customary land, owned by villages, with the remainder either freehold (private) or government owned. The standard method for obtaining customary land, which cannot be bought or sold, is through long term leases that must be negotiated with the local communities. A typical lease for business use might be for 30 years, with the option of a further 30 years after that, but longer terms can be negotiated. It should be noted that customary land cannot be mortgaged, and thus cannot be used as collateral to raise capital or credit. Freehold land, mostly based in and around Apia can be bought, sold and mortgaged. Only Samoan citizens may buy freehold land unless approval is obtained from Samoa’s Head of State.
Step 1: Register your company and get a Foreign Investment Certificate at MCIL. https://www.businessregistries.gov.ws/
Step 2: Obtain a business license and register for VAGST and PAYE from the Ministry of Revenue.
Step 4: Register with the Accident Compensation Board.
Some parts of these registrations can be done online, but most, if not all, require payment in person.
Samoa’s Ministry of Revenue only distinguishes between small/medium enterprises (less than USD $400K in annual turnover) and large enterprises (over USD $400K in annual turnover). Priority service is given to large enterprises.
There is minimal outward investment from Samoa beyond several stationery and apparel stores having branches in New Zealand and American Samoa. The Government and economy are more focused on increasing exports of Samoan products. The Government does not appear to restrict investment abroad.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
The Government uses transparent policies and effective laws to establish “clear rules of the game.” Accounting, legal and regulatory procedures are all consistent with international norms. According to the Samoa Institute of Accountants, businesses adhere to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and International Standards on Auditing and Quality Assurance.
Draft bills are made available through the parliamentary website, , but are not made available for formal public comment. Those who wish to make a comment on the bill are given the opportunity to do so before a Parliamentary Committee. Public notice are televised and printed on local newspaper for the awareness of the public that there is an avenue to voice their opinions on drafted Government policies.
The Office of the Regulator (OOTR) was established in 2006 under the Telecommunications Act 2005 to provide regulatory services for the telecommunications sector in Samoa. Parliament recently approved the Broadcasting and Postal Services Acts 2010, however, which also provide regulatory framework for broadcasting and postal sectors in Samoa. These Acts require the Regulator to establish a fair, unbiased, and ethical regime for implementing the objects of these Acts including licensing of telecommunications, broadcasting and postal services, promotion of new services and investment, consumer protection, prevention of anti-competitive activities by service providers, and management of the radio spectrum and national number plans. OOTR also approves the Electric Power Corporation’s Power Purchase Agreements with Independent Power Providers and reviews EPC’s Power Extension Plan.
Finances and expenditures of the Government are published twice on an annual basis, and available through the parliament website. Debt obligations are published on a quarterly basis by the Samoa Bureau of Statistics through its quarterly reports.
International Regulatory Considerations
Samoa is a member of the Pacific Islands Forum, which is an 18-member inter-governmental organization that aims to enhance cooperation between the independent countries of the Pacific Ocean.
Samoa’s system of government is based on the Westminster Parliamentary system. Samoa’s Companies Act 2001 contains a modern regulatory regime based on New Zealand company law.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
The Samoan legal system has its foundations in English and Commonwealth statutory and common law. Various business structures utilized in common law are recognized: sole traders, partnerships, limited liability companies, joint ventures and trusts (including unit trusts). These structures are regulated by legislation including the Companies Act 2001, Partnership Act 1975, Trustee Act 1975 and Unit Trusts Act 2008. Samoa’s Companies Act 2001 contains a modern regulatory regime based on New Zealand company law. It allows the incorporation of a sole person company (i.e. one person being both shareholder and director) and directors need not be resident in Samoa.
A Samoa incorporated private company is a separate legal entity and a corporation under Samoan law. It must file an annual return with the Registrar of Companies specifying details of directors, shareholders, registered office etc. There is no requirement for private companies to file annual financial reports with the Companies Registry nor are there any minimum capital requirements.
The judicial system is largely independent from the executive branch. The current executive branch wields a great deal of influence in all matters of the country.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labor administers Samoa’s foreign investment policy and regulations under the Foreign Investment Act 2000. All businesses with any foreign ownership require foreign investment approval by MCIL. ( ).
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
The Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Labor’s Fair Trading and Codex Alimentarius Division (FTCD) handles competition related concerns. The main pieces of legislation regarding competition are Fair Trading Act 1998, Consumer Information Act 1989, and Measures Ordinance 1960.
Expropriation and Compensation
Expropriation cases in Samoa are not common; however, there was one significant case that occurred in 2009 over land designated for a new, six-story government complex. A business signed a 20-year lease with the government in 2005 but was then asked to move in 2008 to make way for the new building. The business moved but won a settlement in the Court of Appeals against the government for a much larger sum than the government initially offered the business for vacating the land.
The Alternative Dispute Resolution Act of 2007 (amended 2013) outlines ADR procedures for both criminal and civil proceedings. Samoa has an Accredited Mediators of Samoa Association that was put in place to help resolve (largely commercial) disputes.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Samoa has been party to the ICSID since 1978. Samoa is not party to the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
The provisions of the Labour and Employment Relations Act 2013 have full effect in relation to disputes that involve foreign investors in Samoa. Foreign investors are subject to this Act.
The Alternative Dispute Resolution Act 2007 also provides alternative dispute resolution procedures where civil or criminal cases may arise.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
The provisions of the Arbitration Act 1976 govern disputes that involve foreign investors in Samoa. Subject to this Act and to any other law in Samoa, the Convention Settlement of Investment Disputes signed in Washington on 3rd February 1978 and ratified by Samoa on the 25th April 1978, have the force of law in Samoa. The Alternative Dispute Resolution Act 2007 also provides alternative dispute resolution procedures where civil or criminal cases may arise.
The Bankruptcy Act 1908 is in effect in Samoa. According to World Bank Doing Business 2019 survey, in terms of resolving insolvency, Samoa was ranked at 140 out of 190. The survey estimated that it took two years at a cost of 38 percent of the estate to complete the process, with an estimated recovery rate of 18.5 percent of value.
4. Industrial Policies
The government does not have a history of guaranteeing or financing projects. In certain circumstances, the government may provide land for certain business projects, or be instrumental in securing land of interest.
The Industry Development and Investment Promotion Division (IDIPD) under MCIL administers several programs designed to provide assistance to businesses that produce for overseas and domestic markets, enhancing development of domestic businesses as well as property developers in the tourism industry, and also businesses in the private sector. Such programs offer duty concessions on imported goods for the tourism and manufacturing industries and income tax exemptions for up to five years for hotel operators.
U.S. and foreign firms may participate in government financed or subsidized research and development programs as technical and in-country capacities are limited. Because such programs are usually financed by foreign development partners and donors, however, any conditions and limitations may be dependent on the source of project financing.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
Samoa does not have a Foreign Trade Zone.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
In order to hire a non-Samoan citizen for a job, one must prove that the required skillset is not available through the local labor force. It is not an onerous task to hire non-residents.
There is no forced localization in terms of goods or technology.
There is no forced localization of data other than the industry exceptions outlined in the Intellectual Property section below.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Leasing of Land:
In accordance with the Alienation of Customary Land Act 1965 and the Alienation of Freehold Land Act 1972, land may be leased for up to 30 years, renewable once in the case of land leased or licensed for industrial purposes or a hotel, and 20 years, renewable once in the other cases.
Land holdings and ownership in Samoa fall into three (3) categories:
- Customary Land
These lands are not for sale but can be leased out to foreigners as well as locals. All leased lands in this category are registered with the Ministry of Natural Resource and Environment. In case of dispute, ownership is decided by the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration.
2. Public Land
The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources administers the database of Government land available for lease. Applications for leasing of land should be submitted to the Chairman of the Samoa Land Board.
3. Freehold Land
Freehold land cannot be sold or leased to someone who is not a citizen of Samoa, unless except with the proper consent of the Head of State of Samoa.
According to World Bank Doing Business 2019 survey, in terms of registering property, Samoa was ranked at 68 out of 190.
Intellectual Property Rights
Samoa has legislation protecting patents, utility models, designs and trademarks. Enforcement is moderate. Counterfeit products are available on the local market. Counterfeit home entertainment items are common as there is only one theater in Samoa to show legitimately distributed movies.
To protect and safeguard intellectual property in Samoa, the Government has passed the following laws: a) Copyrights Act 1998 – applies to work including books, pamphlets, articles, computer programs, speeches, lectures, musical works, audiovisual, works of architecture etc.
a) Copyrights Act 1998 – applies to work including books, pamphlets, articles, computer programs, speeches, lectures, musical works, audiovisual, works of architecture etc. b) Intellectual Property Act 2013 – for the registration and enforcement of rights of
b) Intellectual Property Act 2013 – for the registration and enforcement of rights of owners of Trademarks, Patents, Industrial designs, GI and Plant varieties.
owners of Trademarks, Patents, Industrial designs, GI and Plant varieties.
Samoa is not listed on USTR’s Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
The capital market is regulated by the Central Bank of Samoa. Since January 1998, the Central Bank has implemented monetary policy by issuing its own securities using market-based techniques – commonly known as Open Market Operations (OMO). CBS Securities are the predominant monetary policy instrument, which is issued to influence the amount of liquidity in the financial system.
Capital Markets in Samoa are in their infancy with the Unit Trust of Samoa (UTOS) domestic market established in 2010, and no international stock exchange. More information on UTOS can be found in section 10.
Samoa has accepted the obligations of IMF Article VIII, Sections 2, 3, and 4, and maintains an exchange system that is free of restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.
Money and Banking System
Samoa is well-served with banking and finance infrastructure. It has four commercial banks, complimented by a dynamic development bank. The sector is ably regulated by the Central Bank of Samoa. The largest banks are regional operators ANZ and BSP, which offer a wide range of services based upon electronic banking platforms. Although they service all markets, they tend to dominate the top-end, encompassing corporate, government and high net worth individuals. Samoa is still a cash-based society, however, and this has enabled two locally owned entrants, the National Bank of Samoa and Samoa Commercial Bank, to each garner double-digit market share, despite entering the market quite recently.
The banking sector appears healthy, although recent reports have indicated the state-owned development bank is carrying a significant amount of bad debt of over 20% of its loan portfolio. The government also interfered with the bank’s attempts to foreclose on non-performing assets.
With its International Finance Centre (SIFA)—the first Pacific center to be white-listed by the OECD—and a well-structured financial services sector, Samoa is well placed to service the needs of both local and offshore businesses.
The Government, through the Central Bank, has been largely resistant to block chain technologies. Their skepticism is somewhat warranted with the discovery of several cryptocurrency schemes operating in the country widely believed internationally to be scams.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
The Central Bank of Samoa (CBS) controls all foreign exchange transactions as well as matters relating to monetary stability and supply of money within the country. This includes international transactions, overseas transfer of funds and funding of imports, and registration of insurance companies. Repatriation of overseas capital and profits is normally permitted provided the original investment entered Samoa through the banking system or in an otherwise formally approved manner. Investors also have the freedom to repay principle and interest on foreign loans raised for the purpose of the investment and the freedom to pay fees to foreign parties for the use of intellectual property rights.
Repatriation of capital and profit remittances on foreign capital is permitted, although it must be approved by the CBS based on submission of necessary documents, such as the following: a) Application letter explaining the request;
a) Application letter explaining the request;
b) Audited accounts relating to the profit remittance year(s) requested;
c) A copy of the Authorized Directors’ Resolution approving the specified dividend payment; and
d) A tax clearance certificate from the Ministry for Revenue.
Samoa’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) within the Central Bank and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade do issue and provide to all financial institutions governed under the Money Laundering Prevention Act 2007.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
There is no sovereign wealth fund or asset management bureau in Samoa. The country has the Samoa National Provident Fund which manages and invests members’ savings for their retirement.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
Private enterprises are allowed to compete with public enterprises under the same terms and conditions. Laws and rules do not offer preferential treatment to state-owned enterprises (SOEs). SOEs are subject to enforced budget constraints.SOEs are active in the energy, water, tourism, aviation, banking, agriculture supplies, and ports/airports sectors. Laws do not provide for a leading role for SOEs or limit private enterprise activity in sectors in which SOEs operate. SOEs have government appointed boards and operate with varying degrees of autonomy with respect to their governing Ministry.
SOEs follow a normal corporate structure with a board of directors and executive management. All SOEs have boards of directors who are appointed by a cabinet minister. Some SOEs have board seats allocated specifically to the heads of certain government ministries.
By law, SOEs are required to present financials to their board of directors, shareholding Ministry and the National Auditor. Timely compliance, however, varies among SOEs.
Major recent privatizations in Samoa in broadcasting (2008) and telecommunications (2011) both resulted in significant gains in efficiency and benefits to both producer and consumer. The 2011 telecommunications privatization was to a foreign company.
Procedures for establishing all businesses are provided under existing laws, including the Companies Amendment Act 2006, the Foreign Investment Amendment Act 2011, the Business License Act 1998, the Labour and Employment Relations Act 2013, the Central Bank Act and Guidelines, and the Health Ordinance 1959 (Part 11, 111 clause 13 & 15).
8. Responsible Business Conduct
There is a general awareness of responsible business conduct (RBC) among both producers and consumers, and foreign and local enterprises to follow generally accepted RBC principles such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Firms that pursue RBC are viewed favorably but consumers generally prioritize value for money ahead of RBC claims.
The government fairly enforces domestic laws and protects human rights. The government encourages local enterprises to follow generally accepted RBC principles. A national contact point is not known.
There are no extractive industries in Samoa.
Samoa ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention in 2018. It is not signatory to the OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery. Corruption has not been specifically identified as an obstacle to foreign investment. Both corruption and bribery are criminalized and prosecuted, and the laws appear to be impartially applied.
The Office of the Ombudsman is charged with investigating official corruption. There are no international, non-governmental “watchdog” organizations represented locally, and the country was ranked 50 out of 175 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2014.
Resources to Report Corruption
Contact at government agency or agencies are responsible for combating corruption:
Maiava Iulai Toma
Samoa Office of the Ombudsman
Central Bank Building, Level 5, P. O. BOX 303 Apia, Samoa
Contact at “watchdog” organization
UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC)
+66 2 288 2100
10. Political and Security Environment
The parliamentary republic functions without political violence. The risk of civil disorder is low. There is no civil strife or insurrection. There are no significant border disputes at risk of military escalation.
Samoa suffered a measles epidemic in 2019, followed by the shutdown from the COVID-19 pandemic. Both instances severely affected local business with varying degrees of cessation of economic activity. The tourism industry was hit particularly hard. Samoa demonstrated that it will take extreme measures to prevent loss of life, even at the expense of massive economic losses.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
The 2016 Census placed the total workforce at 57,585 people, with the unemployment rate at 3.7 percent, and 36 percent of the workforce engaged in subsistence living. Wages and salaries are comparatively low. Private sector minimum wage is roughly USD 1.15 an hour.
Local skilled labor is available in sufficient quantities to undertake most types of building work, except for some specialized skills and supervisory-level manpower, which is recruited locally and from abroad. To hire foreign workers, one must provide MCIL and Samoan immigration with justification that the position cannot be filled locally. This process is viewed as fair and straightforward.
Samoan First Union, the country’s only private sector union, was officially launched in 2015. It is an extension of the New Zealand-based First Union. One of their major pushes was for a WST3 (USD 1.15) minimum wage, which was achieved in 2019.
Collective bargaining in the private sector is allowed, but not common in Samoa.
The Labor and Employment Relations Act 2013, the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 2014, and the Labor and Employment Relations Regulations 2015 are the most current pieces of labor legislation, all of which meet core international standards.
More information can be found through Samoa’s Child Labor Report , and Human Rights Report https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/samoa/.
, and Human Rights Report https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/samoa/.
12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs
DFC insurance is available to investors in Samoa, and DFC (formerly known as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, or OPIC) can provide political risk insurance, finance, direct loans, and loan guarantees. There are currently no DFC-funded projects in Samoa.
The registry of insurance companies in Samoa is kept and maintained by the Central Bank of Samoa (CBS) and can be contacted for further insurance related matters.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
* Source for Host Country Data: Samoa Bureau of Statistics – Dec 2019 quarter. Exchange rate of USD 1 = WST 2.7
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
No Data Available.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
No Data Available.
14. Contact for More Information
U.S. Embassy, Beach Rd. Apia Samoa