When you are on hardcore traveler settings eventually the question will come up of “how many countries have you been to”, people then answer, and the inevitable second question arises “but what do you define as a country”. This is not only a great question, but much like playing pool in a pub, everyone seems to have their own rules.
With this in mind, I put my stick in the sand and decree the YPT Country Collectors Rules of engagement. Just how many countries, exactly, are there?
The 193 Club
There are 193 member nations of the UN, and this is by far the list that most people that try to visit “every” country in the world use. My problem with this is that it leaves out countries and territories such as the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, French Guiana for example. Can you really say you have been to England because you supped a Pina Colada on a beach in Bermuda? Also, the 193 does not include Taiwan or the Holy See (Vatican City). But the 193 plus the 2 makes 195 countries that YPT count.
Is the Vatican City a country? Yes, it very much is, which you can read here.
The Travellers’ Century Club
At the opposite end of this spectrum you get the Travellers’ Century Club, that not only count every country and territory but seemly almost anywhere. How many countries exist for these folk? Over 600, including every emirate in the UAE, the states of Malaysia, and even Alaska. This is frankly silly!
FIFA has more members than other sporting agency on earth at 211 members, and we count all of them as “countries”, so that means England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland count. As well as the 211, there are an additional 12 that are not FIFA members, but members of regional confederations, which gives us 223, although this is still not our final number! We recently began sponsorship of a football club in Zanzibar, which you can read about here. In many ways Zanzibar perfectly fit the metric by which we would define a country, BUT whilst they have their own league, they do not have their own FIFA team. Thus they cannot qualify ala Wales style/
256 Countries and Territories
Officially there are 256 countries and territories in the world that are pretty much self-governing, which is inclusive of the 193 UN members, the 2 non-UN members, and self-governing places like the previously mentioned Cayman Islands. Places like Gibraltar and Jersey would also thus be counted in the list.
Northern Cyprus might officially be part of Cyprus, but in reality, it is its own country. Therefore Transnistria, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, Western Sahara, Somaliland, Northern Cyprus, and Palestine would feature on the list, BUT Tibet would not. Why? Tibet is defacto and dejure part of China, no matter what your views on the rights and wrongs of it. As for the Donetsk People’s Republic and the People’s Republic of Luhansk?? The jury is still out, but I would lean towards it counting. The one big exception here is that you cannot count the unrecognized and the parent country. If you go to Transnistria you have been to Transnistria; you have not been to Moldova.
We then also have Bir Tawil, and The Sovereign Military Order of Malta, both of which we not only count, but go into more detail at the end of the article.
I went to Antarctica a few years ago, but when I went to fill out a “countries visited” app on Facebook in order to show off to my friends, nothing. Antarctica, as per the YPT rules of engagement, counts as a country! Doesn’t matter what base you went to: you have done the country and continent of Antarctica.
Micronations and New Country Projects
If you visit a micronation invented by a guy in his living room, no matter how slick the website, it is still a crazy guy in his living room. But when we look at “new country projects” we hit a grey area. Sealand, which has had some limited recognition we would count, as would previoulsy have the Hutt River Province. One very sad update on this is that Hutt River has now rejoined Australia. Sadly they no longer count. Will we eventually count Islandia? Hopefully.
So how many countries are there in the world then? There are 270.
The Young Pioneer Tours question of how many countries are there in the world therefore stands at 270. The final count: 256 countries and territories + 8 Unrecognized Countries + 1 Antarctica + 1 New Country Projects + Donetsk + Luhansk + Bir Tawil + The Sovereign Military Order of Malta = 270
Update on Collecting countries part 1
I am happy to say that this blog piece not only caused a little bit of controversy, but also started a bit of debate, and interestingly threw me some new questions, that now need answering.
The Catalonia precedent
So you have visited Barcelona, and thus you count Spain as a “visited” country (without visiting non-Catalonia). Catalonia then declares itself independent, Spain decides to be reasonable about it (LOL), and we now have a Democratic Popular People’s Republic of Catalonia.
Did you visit Catalonia, Spain, both, or neither?
As per the YPT rules of engagement you visited the country that was the legal entity at the time, so in this case Spain. You have not visited the new country of Catalonia and would have to revisit to count that as a country.
Why does Antarctica only count as one?
Antarctica is a very tricky one, as technically no one owns it, although a lot of people claim it. That being said there are real bases there that run under the laws and rules of the country manning the base, so there is perhaps an argument for there being different options for Antarctica. With this in mind, for now we will count Antarctica as one country, but it is very much under review!
UPDATE on collecting countries – Name changes
It has been a while since we revisited — and dare I say updated — our blog on what counts as a country, with a new precedent being established.
I recently visited North Macedonia, my first time since it was merely known as FYR Macedonia (the good old days), and have been asked if it counts as a new country. It does not, and this is all down to it being a successor state. Northern Macedonia is a continuation of the former Republic of Macedonia. Sorry kids, but Northern Macedonia does not count as a new country.
Collecting countries – Former states
This is an interesting one because for me personally I have now visited ALL countries of the former Yugoslavia. Now whilst I would not count it towards my “visited countries” list, I think for those of us who travel a lot can have a little disclaimer.
For me it would look a little something like this:
106/195 UN Countries
156/270 YPT list of countries and territories
2 Former states (Yugoslavia and GDR).
Plus former states of FYR Yugolslavia, and the German Democratic Republic. Sadly you do not get the Soviet Union unless you visit all 15 former republics, PLUS Transnsitria, Nagorno_Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. Those are the rules, so there!
Read our list of former states and how to visit them here.
And what about Bir Tawil, the area that no country claims? Does it count as a country?
Will the controversy never go away? One of the most interesting things about this list is you do get the odd curve-ball. Bir Tawil is an area of land between Egypt and Sudan not claimed by either country. If you go there you are not in Egypt, or Sudan, so where are you? You are in Bir Tawil. We therefore count Bir Tawil on our list. Bir Tawil counts as a country.
Collecting countries without land – The Sovereign Military Order of Malta
I recently had another interesting anomaly brought up to me, that we at YPT would certainly count as a country. And that is the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, or SMOM. You can read more about their crazy tale here. Yet despite not having a country, they are recognized as such, and have sovereign land. Therefore they can be visited and they count.
So, how can you count a country without land, but not count countries fighting for independence,or governments-in-exile? A line has to be drawn somewhere, and we have drawn our line when it comes to collecting countries. We can argue that Kurdistan for example should be a country, but it does not fit into any of our criteria. In fact if you included every independence movement then we would have to include Cornwall. The SMOM are different in that they are a recognized state and have every function of a state, with the one exception of land. A tough call, but one we have indeed made.