It took me forever, but I finally figured out what the heck is going on with the way people count countries. Download my spreadsheet for free to start making sense of the different definitions used.
Why is counting countries and territories in the world so complicated? That’s because different people and institutions use different definitions. For that reason I created a spreadsheet like you have never seen before.
With over 50 hours of research it shows a compiled list of 356 countries, de facto states, regions, territories and unrecognised states. Each of those is categorised to show who is counting which: from the United Nations, to FIFA and the world’s most elite travel clubs.
All sources I used have been listed in a separate worksheet. Let me explain it a bit more in detail:
The generally accepted minimum number of countries in the world is derived from the United Nations member states, of which there are 193. Most travellers (say 90%) keep this as their guide when counting countries.
While this is the lowest possible number to acknowledge, there are only 142 people in the world who actually claim to have visited them all. A list of these so-called UN Masters can be found on The Best Travelled. Chances are though that some might not even qualify as some proclaimed visits cannot be verified or counted as a minimum visit. A common phenomena is travellers ‘stepping’ from South into North Korea inside a cabin in the demilitarised zone, or simply catching a connecting flight inside an airport.
There are some who take a bit broader perspective, adding the official non-member states of Palestine and Vatican city. Counting the disputed territories of Taiwan, Western Sahara and Kosovo makes the total number of ‘countries’ in the world 198.
But it doesn’t end there. According to my own spreadsheet there are numerous of disputed and contested regions in the world. Abkhazia, Transnistria, Tibet, Northern Cyprus and Kashmir are just a few mentioned there. This way you can easily reach 210+.
Then there is a whole selection of institutions all using different methods of counting countries and territories. A brief overview:
- The Best Travelled created a UN+ list with 266 countries and territories. It adds de facto countries that are not officially recognised as sovereign as well as autonomous territories such as Hong Kong and Gibraltar
- The British Foreign and Commonwealth office says there are 226 countries and territories in the world. It includes itself as the British Isles but without (the Republic of) Ireland
- The Traveler’s Century Club says there are 324 countries and territories in the world
- FIFA recognises 211 national associations, of which 26 are no UN member states
- Travel apps and maps use all sort of definitions, ranging anywhere between 193 and 246
This is where it gets complicated and where most of the confusion originates.
So what I have done is create individual columns (B to G) in my spreadsheet for each institution. Whenever such an entity recognises a region, I added a “1”. By using the Excel filter function you can then easily compare the different definitions. This is a unique feature not found anywhere else (and it took me a hell of a lot of time!).
The Best Travelled
Finally there is The Best Travelled, an awesome website that drafted the mother of all lists. TBT divides the world into 27 mega-regions and subsequently into 1281 regions, or places to visit. No one has ever travelled to all of them, yet there are six people who reached over a 1000.
Heinz Stücke is listed as number one. At an age of 76 he now visited 1115 unique places in the world by primarily moving around by bicycle. It took him almost 50 years and 20 passports to cover nearly 600,000 kilometers. Isn’t that just simply amazing?
If you liked this article please leave a reply, share it and/or support me financially so I can be one step closer to visiting all (198?) countries as well!