At only 21 square kilometers, Nauru is the world’s smallest republic. This island nation was once among the world’s richest countries, but now faces the challenge of diversifying its economy.

Nauruans are descended from a mixture of Polynesian and Micronesian peoples who first settled their island at least 3,000 years ago. Quite isolated due to its surrounding coral reef, Nauru was not visited by Europeans until 1798, when British whaler John Fearn arrived, naming it Pleasant Island. For nearly one hundred years thereafter, the country attracted increasing trade from passing ships; it also drew large numbers of drifters, beachcombers, and even pirates, all of whom traded firearms and alcohol for local goods. The firearms proved disastrous to Nauruan society, as their presence sparked a bloody civil war in 1878. In order to protect its agricultural settlements on the island, Germany annexed it in 1888, absorbing it into its Marshall Islands colony and disarming its citizens. Phosphate deposits were discovered in 1900, and mining soon became the primary industry. Australia captured Nauru during World War I, and recaptured it from Japan in World War II, after which the island was jointly administered by Australia, New Zealand, and the UK, until its independence in 1968.

Following independence, Nauru for a time boasted the highest GDP per capita in the world, due to the lucrative phosphate-mining industry. However, by the late 20th century phosphate deposits were already dwindling, and the island’s environment was severely degraded by the mining process; it is now struggling to cope with the implications of the exhaustion of its only natural resource. The government has tried several schemes to reinvigorate its economy, first by promoting the country as a tax haven, later by cooperating in Australia’s controversial “Pacific Solution”, in which it maintained a facility for Australia-bound refugees on its soil in exchange for foreign aid. This, however, ended in 2007. Nauru now faces an unemployment crisis, with 90% of its population out of work, and has seen a corresponding measure of civil unrest. Possible future revenue sources include tourism, fishing licenses, and repair work on seagoing vessels; for now, however, the country is heavily reliant on foreign aid.

Traveling to Nauru can be difficult; transportation is unreliable, and there are few guest facilities. Aside from tourists, most visitors are either foreign government officials or development workers. Needless to say, paid positions are practically out of the question, and there seem to be relatively few volunteer opportunities as well, although expats may be able to find work in teaching. Taxes are quite low, with no personal taxes, but since non-Nauruans are prohibited from owning land, entrepreneurs and retirees should plan on renting. An Australian agreement to rehabilitate areas damaged by mining may provide work in the future; for now, however, the best way to provide some much-needed foreign exchange to this country may be through the nascent tourism industry, by kicking back and enjoying its white sand beaches and warm weather.

Nauruan is an Austronesian language, quite distinct from its neighbors, spoken by about half the population. English is co-official, and predominantly used in government and commerce.

Links

Country Info:
BBC News Country Profiles: Nauru
Wikipedia: Nauru
CIA World Factbook Entry

Language:
Wikipedia: Nauruan Language

Relocation Resources:
Nauru at Wikitravel