R Scott Jones

March 14, 2021

How many countries are there?

You’d imagine that this would be a simple question to answer. But for many people with a quest to visit them all, it’s a much more complicated answer.

The most commonly followed list is probably the UN member states list, which is 193. Unless you count the observer countries—Palestine and Vatican City—in which case it’s 195.

And because of some idiosyncrasies, some people follow the “UN+” list of 226, which includes some additional territories (Taiwan, for instance).

Others take the idea of counting territories as separate “countries” much further. For instance, the Travelers Century Club uses a list of 329. For their list, even smaller territories that are substantially disconnected from the main country by distance, governance, or dominant culture (such as American Samoa for the United States) are counted separately.

Still others follow an extended list of 949 locations published by Most Traveled People. NomadMania takes that idea even further with its own list, which divides the world into 1301 regions, based on cultural importance, economic significance, population, size, and tourist appeal.

But even if you're sticking with just countries—as opposed to the regions or territories—there are still other ways of counting. For instance, many travelers count the 206 countries with a National Olympic Committee, which includes nations that are not part of the UN. Others only count the 211 countries that are members of FIFA, even if they're not independent countries.

And of course, some people have their own list, perhaps making their own assessment of which partially-recognized countries or territories "count" and which ones don't.


So which list is best? That depends on you, of course. Your quest, your rules. HYOH.

Me? Well, I think I'll use three main lists to keep track of my international quests: the UN list, the TCC list, and the NM 1301 list. They each offer a different flavor that I think is useful.