How many countries are there in the world? The answer to this simple question is more complicated than most people think. Throughout the years I have seen travellers, organisations and governments all use different definitions, ranging from 193 up to well over 200. So I spent a lot of time creating a countries spreadsheet to explain the differences.
With over 50 hours of research it shows a compiled list of 361 countries, de facto states, regions, territories and unrecognised states. Each of those is categorised to show who is counting which: from the United Nations and FIFA to the world’s most elite travel clubs.
With this spreadsheet (version 8.0 already!) you can therefore start counting countries like a pro. It offers full transparency and you can modify it yourself any way you want. If you cannot wait to start, head straight for that download button below. If you are eager for some context, then keep reading.
UN member states
The generally accepted minimum number of countries in the world is derived from the United Nations member states, of which there are 193. Many travellers use this definition as a baseline when counting countries.
Travelling to all countries is EXTREMELY HARD. There are only about 260 people in the world who claim to have visited them all. They are listed as so-called UN Masters on Nomad Mania, a global authority and well organised community of travellers counting countries.
Chances are though that some of those people may not qualify because certain visits (1) cannot be verified or (2) are only 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 a country simply when catching a connecting flight inside an airport. Also, to set a Guinness World Record there is no need to visit Syria. Simply stepping into the Golan Heights (controlled by Israel) is apparently enough.
One thing is for sure. More people have been to outer space than have (really) travelled to every country in the world!
Going beyond UN
Despite the UN members being a rather clear-cut definition, there are a lot of travellers who use a wider definition on travelling to countries. Palestine and Vatican city for example (both non-member UN observer states) are often counted as well. Adding the disputed territories of Taiwan, Western Sahara and Kosovo brings the total figure of ‘countries’ in the world to 198.
READ MORE: I Got Arrested by the KGB in a Country That Doesn’t Officially Exist
But it does not 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 over 210.
Then there is a wide range of institutions all using different methods to count countries and territories. A brief yet non-exhaustive overview:
- NomadMania 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 or territories in the world
- The elite Traveler’s Century Club keeps a list of 330 countries and territories in the world that are worth visiting
- FIFA recognises 211 national associations (of which 26 are no UN member states)
- The ISO 3166 country code standard lists a total of 249 countries
- Travel apps, bloggers and map apps usually list anywhere between 195 and 303 countries, territories and places
This is where it gets complicated. Different lists might not only use different definitions, some also use different names for similar countries. This way, mapping the differences between the definitions becomes a real puzzle.
Finally there is NomadMania (formerly known as The Best Travelled), an awesome website home to the mother of all travel lists. NM divides the world into 27 mega-regions and subsequently into 1301 regions to visit. No one has ever travelled to all of them, yet there are about twenty people who reached over a 1000(!).
To save myself a lot of hassle I did not include the NM list in the Excel sheet. If you want to learn more about these definitions, then just head over to that website and sign up for a member account!
Start counting like a pro
I hope I got you excited to start counting your visited countries like a pro. Just download my Excel spreadsheet through this link, preferably using a laptop or computer to avoid errors. Read the instructions as you go through the different worksheets in the file.
If you liked this article please leave a reply and share it with your travelling buddies! How many countries have you been? Which definition do you like most?