How Many Countries Are There?

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Ask someone how many countries there are in the world, and the answer might surprise you. In fact, although they may hazard a wild guess, they may not be entirely wrong.

The answer to the number of countries in the world isn’t a straightforward answer.   There are a few different answers to this question, depending on who you ask and where you ask the question. The total number varies, depending on the source and the definition of what a country is.

What is the Definition of a Country?

Let’s start with what defines a country. In reality, there isn’t a standard definition of what is a country [1].

A country could be defined as a place that has a permanent population, exists in a specific geographical area, and is able to govern itself with functional political structures.

Map showing a cropped view of central European countries.  Map: Natural Earth Data.
Map showing a cropped view of central European countries. Map: Natural Earth Data.

A country could also be a group of people with a common cultural background, identity, and traditions.

A sovereign nation or state needs to have the ability to make treaties, conduct trade, and operate diplomatically with other countries; essentially, it needs a functioning government. 

So, although a group of people may identify themselves as belonging to a certain place, they may not be considered a country if they do not occupy any territory or land. Additionally, a country might have land but not have a functioning government, which makes other nations unable to conduct foreign relations with it. 

How Many Countries Does the United Nations Recognize?

According to the United Nations, the body organized to uphold the rights of people around the globe, a new country has to be recognized by other states who are members of the United Nations before it is considered a country.

The recognition of a new state assumes that this new state is willing and able to assume diplomatic relations with other member countries of the United Nations. 

Flags representing member countries fly in front of United Nations Headquarters in New York. Photo: USAID, public domain
Flags representing member countries fly in front of United Nations Headquarters in New York. Photo: USAID, public domain

In most cases, the ultimate country count rests on the number of UN member states that are recognized by that international body. There are 193 members, which could imply that there are 193 countries [2]. And yet…..

There are 193 countries that are recognized members of the UN as well as two UN observer states. The two UN observer states are the Holy See (also known as the Vatican) and the Palestinian Authority. 

Additionally, there are six countries that have obtained partial recognition from UN member states. These are Taiwan, Western Sahara, Kosovo, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Northern Cyprus.

These territories are claimed by other countries but are not controlled by them. Depending on the type of map you look at, these countries will be surrounded by a dotted line rather than a solid one demarcating an independent nation from the countries around it. 

South Sudan was recognized as a country in 2011, which is the latest member nation to be admitted to the UN. 

The United Nations Membership List Doesn’t Account for All Countries

There are also some partially recognized states like the Cook Islands, which often act like independent countries but have not declared independence or shown interest in joining the UN.

There are only three self-declared nations that have not been recognized by any UN member states; they are Somaliland, Transnistria, and Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh). 

Map showing the self-declared nation of Transnistria.  Map made with Natural Earth Data.
Map showing the self-declared nation of Transnistria. Map made with Natural Earth Data.

So, if all of these countries are added together, there are 201 countries in the world.

But we’re not done! Still, depending on who you ask, there could be up to 249 countries on Earth. On a complete list of country codes you will find 249 nations listed, because dependent territories and self-declared nations are included.

There are also 206 nations that compete in the Olympics, 211 nations that are able to play in the FIFA World Cup, and a total of 204-207 self-declared nations [3]. 

So, in the end, the answer to the question of how many countries there are in the world remains a question with many different possible answers. 

How Do New Countries Get Formed?

With changes in political situations, such as the dissolution of the USSR, new countries can be formed. While there aren’t any set procedures for the establishment of a new country, there are some general parameters as established by international law.

The  Montevideo Convention of 1933 codified the declarative theory of statehood which established four conditions under which a state could be established as a country under international law. These conditions are: 1) a defined territory; 2) a permanent population; 3) a government and 4) a capacity to enter into relations with other states.

What is the Newest Country in the World?

The youngest country in the world is South Sudan, having obtained its independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011 after a referendum.

This East-Central Africa is located south of Sudan, north of Uganda and Kenya, and west of Ethiopia. A landlocked country, South Sudan has an estimated July 2020 population of 10,561,244. South Sudan’s capital, Juba, is one of the world’s fastest growing cities. Only about 20% of South Sudan’s population lives in urban areas.

Map showing the location of South Sudan.  Map: CIA, public domain.
Map showing the location of South Sudan. Map: CIA, public domain.

What is the Biggest Country in the World?

The country of Russia is the biggest country in the world. The total area of 17,098,242 sq km  with 720,500 sq km of that being water. This makes Russia about 1.8 times the size of the United States.

Map showing the location of Russia.  Map: CIA, public domain.
Map showing the location of Russia. Map: CIA, public domain.

Russia shares a border with 14 countries: Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Mongolia, Norway, Poland, and Ukraine.

Number of Countries by Continent

Listed here are the countries found within each continent.

The only continent that has no countries is Antarctica although several countries claim sovereignty in certain regions.

The continent with the most countries is Africa with 54 recognized countries. The continent with the least amount of countries is South America with 12 countries and three dependent territories.

Some countries overlap continents. For example, Turkey and Russia geographically and politically straddling the continents of Asia and Europe, these countries are listed for both continents. Countries that appear across multiple continents are noted with an asterisk.

List of Countries in Africa

The continent of Africa is the second-largest and second-most populous continent in the world. Africa has 54 fully recognized and independent countries.

List of countries in Africa with their capitals:

Algeria – Algiers
Angola – Luanda
Benin – Porto Novo, Cotonou
Botswana – Gaborone
Burkina Faso – Ouagadougou
Burundi – Gitega
Cameroon (also spelled Cameroun) – Yaoundé
Cape Verde – Praia
Central African Republic – Bangui
Chad (Tchad) – N’Djamena
Comoros – Moroni
Republic of the Congo – Brazzaville
Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire) – Kinshasa
Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) – Yamoussoukro
Djibouti – Djibouti
Egypt (Misr) – Cairo – spans the northeast corner of Africa and southwest corner of Asia by a land bridge
Equatorial Guinea – Malabo
Eritrea – Asmara
Ethiopia (Abyssinia) – Addis Ababa
Gabon – Libreville
The Gambia – Banjul
Ghana – Accra
Guinea – Conakry
Guinea-Bissau – Bissau
Kenya – Nairobi
Lesotho – Maseru
Liberia – Monrovia
Libya – Tripoli
Madagascar – Antananarivo
Malawi – Lilongwe
Mali – Bamako
Mauritania – Nouakchott
Mauritius – Port Louis
Morocco (Al Maghrib) – Rabat
Mozambique – Maputo
Namibia – Windhoek
Niger – Niamey
Nigeria – Abuja
Rwanda – Kigali
São Tomé and Príncipe – São Tomé
Senegal – Dakar
Seychelles – Victoria, Seychelles
Sierra Leone – Freetown
Somalia – Mogadishu
South Africa – Pretoria
South Sudan – Juba
Sudan – Khartoum
Swaziland (Eswatini) – Mbabane
Tanzania – Dodoma
Togo – Lome
Tunisia – Tunis
Uganda – Kampala
Western Sahara – El Aaiún (disputed)
Zambia – Lusaka
Zimbabwe – Harare

List of Countries in Asia

Asia has 48 countries recognized by the United Nations. There are numerous highly autonomous regions and disputed areas.

The list of countries in Asia and their capitals:

Afghanistan – Kabul
Armenia – Yerevan
* Azerbaijan – Baku ~ Located in the Caucasus, between Europe and Asia
Bahrain – Manama
Bangladesh – Dhaka (ঢাকা)
Bhutan – Thimphu
Brunei – Bandar Seri Begawan
Cambodia (Kampuchea) – Phnom Penh
China – Beijing
East Timor (Timor Leste) – Dili
* Georgia – Tbilisi ~ Located in the Caucasus, between Europe and Asia
India – New Delhi
* Indonesia – Jakarta ~ Lies partly in Oceania
Iran – Tehran
Iraq – Baghdad
Israel – Jerusalem
Japan – Tokyo
Jordan (Al Urdun) – Amman
* Kazakhstan – Nur-Sultan
Kuwait – Kuwait city
Kyrgyzstan – Bishkek
Laos – Vientiane
Lebanon (Lubnan) – Beirut
Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur
Maldives – Malé
Mongolia – Ulaanbaatar
Myanmar (Burma) – Naypyidaw
Nepal – Kathmandu
North Korea – Pyongyang
Oman – Muscat
Pakistan – Islamabad
Philippines – Manila
Qatar – Doha
* Russia – Moscow ~ Russia is a part of Asia geographically, but politically it is a part of Europe
Saudi Arabia – Riyadh
Singapore – Singapore
South Korea – Seoul
Sri Lanka – Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte (administrative), Colombo (commercial)
Syria – Damascus
Tajikistan – Dushanbe
Thailand (Muang Thai) – Bangkok
* Turkey – Ankara ~ 3rd largest country in Western Asia and the largest in Southeastern Europe
Turkmenistan – Aşgabat
Taiwan – Taipei
United Arab Emirates – Abu Dhabi
Uzbekistan – Tashkent
Vietnam – Hanoi
Yemen – Sana’a

List of Countries in Europes

Europe has 49 countries and de facto countries.

List of countries in Europe and their capitals:

Albania (Shqipëria) – Tirana
Andorra – Andorra la Vella
Austria (Österreich) – Vienna
Belarus (Беларусь) – Minsk
Belgium (Dutch: België, French: Belgique, German: Belgien) – Brussels
Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosna i Hercegovina) – Sarajevo
Bulgaria (България) – Sofia
Croatia (Hrvatska) – Zagreb
Cyprus (Κύπρος) – Nicosia
Czech Republic (Česko) – Prague
Denmark (Danmark) – Copenhagen
Estonia (Eesti) – Tallinn
Finland (Suomi) – Helsinki
France – Paris
* Georgia – Tbilisi
Germany (Deutschland) – Berlin
Greece (Ελλάδα) – Athens
Hungary (Magyarország) – Budapest
Iceland (Island) – Reykjavik ~ Iceland sits on the European – North American tectonic plates. The Western half sits in North America, while the Eastern half sits on the European tectonic plate.
Republic of Ireland (Éire) – Dublin
Italy (Italia) – Rome
* Kazakhstan – Nur-Sultan
Kosovo – Pristina ~ disputed territory with de facto independence.
Latvia (Latvija) – Riga
Liechtenstein – Vaduz
Lithuania (Lietuva) – Vilnius
Luxembourg – Luxembourg City
North Macedonia (Македонија) – Skopje
Malta – Valletta
Moldova – Chisinau
Monaco – Monte Carlo Quarter
Montenegro (Crna Gora, Црна Гора) – Podgorica
Netherlands (Nederland) – Amsterdam (Capital), The Hague (Government)
Norway (Norge) – Oslo
Poland (Polska) – Warsaw
Portugal – Lisbon
Romania – Bucharest
* Russia – Moscow ~ Europe up to the Ural Mountains; Asia: the rest to Vladivostok)
San Marino – San Marino
Serbia (Србија) – Belgrade
Slovakia (Slovensko) – Bratislava
Slovenia (Slovenija) – Ljubljana
Spain (España) – Madrid
Sweden (Sverige) – Stockholm
Switzerland (German: Schweiz, French: Suisse, Italian: Svizzera, Romansh: Svizra) – Bern
* Turkey – Ankara ~ ~ 3rd largest country in Western Asia and the largest in Southeastern Europe
Ukraine (Україна) – Kyiv or Kiev
United Kingdom – London
Vatican City** (Italian: Città del Vaticano, Latin: Civitas Vaticana) – Vatican City – Vatican City State is a U.N observer state and not a U.N member.

List of Countries in North America

North America has 23 countries and 22 dependent territories.

The list of countries and their capitals are:

Canada
 United States – Washington, D.C.
 Mexico – Mexico City
 Nicaragua – Managua ( Central America)
 Honduras – Tegucigalpa ( Central America)
 Cuba – Havana
 Guatemala –  Guatemala
 Panama – Panama City ( Central America)
 Costa Rica – San José ( Central America)
 Dominican Republic – Santo Domingo
 Haiti – Port-au-Prince
 Belize – Belmopan ( Central America)
 El Salvador – San Salvador ( Central America)
 The Bahamas – Nassau
 Jamaica – Kingston
 Trinidad and Tobago – Port of Spain
 Dominica – Roseau
 Saint Lucia – Castries
 Antigua and Barbuda – St. John’s
 Barbados – Bridgetown
 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – Kingstown
 Grenada – St. George’s
 Saint Kitts and Nevis

List of Countries in South America

South America has 12 countries. It is the fourth largest continent and fifth most populous. South America also has three dependent territories.

The list of South American countries and their capitals are:

Argentina – Buenos Aires
Bolivia – Sucré
Brazil (Brasil) – Brasília
Chile – Santiago
Colombia – Bogotá
Ecuador – Quito
Guyana – Georgetown
Paraguay – Asunción
Peru – Lima
Suriname – Paramaribo
Uruguay – Montevideo
Venezuela – Caracas

List of Countries in Australia / Oceania

Oceania is the term used to describe Australia and the nations of the Pacific Ocean. There are 14 countries found in this region. In addition, part of Indonesia and the U.S. state of Hawaii are found in Oceania.

The list of countries and their capitals in Oceania is:

Australia – Canberra
Federated States of Micronesia – Palikir
Fiji – Suva
Kiribati – South Tarawa
Marshall Islands – Majuro
Nauru – no capital; biggest city is Yaren
New Zealand – Wellington
Palau – Melekeok
Papua New Guinea – Port Moresby
Samoa – Apia
Solomon Islands – Honiara
Tonga – Nuku’alofa
Tuvalu – Funafuti
Vanuatu – Port Vila

References

[1] Rose, A. K. (2006). Size really doesn’t matter: In search of a national scale effect. Journal of the Japanese and international Economies20(4), 482-507. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jjie.2006.06.008

[2] United Nations. About UN Membership. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/en/sections/member-states/about-un-membership/index.html

[3] Bender, J. (2014, September 24). Here Are The Self-Declared Nations You Won’t See At The UN. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/the-self-declared-nations-you-wont-see-at-the-un-2014-9

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