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 357 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.
If you cannot wait to start counting yourself, head straight for that download button below.
If you are eager to get a bit of entertaining context, then keep reading.
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, a global authority in the world for travellers counting countries.
Chances are though that some of those 142 people may not qualify because (1) certain proclaimed visits cannot be verified or (2) counted as a minimum visit. A common phenomena is travellers ‘stepping’ from South Korea into North Korea inside a cabin in the demilitarised zone. Others might count catching a connecting flight inside an airport.
To state it differently: fewer people have travelled to all countries in the world than have been to outer space!
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
- The Traveler’s Century Club says there are 325 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 unclear definitions, ranging anywhere between 193 and 246
This is where it gets complicated. Different institution might not only use different definitions, some also use different names for countries. This way, explaining the actual differences between them becomes a real puzzle.
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, 20 passports but just two wheels to cover nearly 600,000 kilometres. Isn’t that just simply amazing?
To see if you are anywhere near this goal, download my Excel spreadsheet through this link and start reading the instructions as you follow the different worksheets in the file.
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