How Many Countries Are There?

How many countries are there in the world? This is the question of questions when it comes to travel from novice vacationers to elite country counters and explorers. So how many countries are there? Well, there is no exact answer and the best answer is it depends on who you ask. As you guessed it, I get asked all the time and my elevator answer is 193, based on the amount of United Nations member states or sovereign nations. However, this is hardly a cut and dry answer.

I have been thinking about writing this article about how many countries are there for a long time but didn’t feel like getting into such specifics where I would thoroughly confuse everyone reading it. So at a recent Travelers Century Club event in Los Angeles, I saw this video below and highly encourage you to watch it as it really makes sense in a way that most can understand.

I hope you enjoyed the video and now I will expand slightly upon the answer of the United Nations of 193, the UN + 3 or 196; which includes Vatican City, Kosovo and Taiwan or other lists such as the aforementioned Travelers Century Club which now stands at 324 or Most Traveled People; whose tally is at 874. There are also several other lists, including the DXCC list, but if I start listing them all we will be here all day.
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United Nations

The United Nations list of member states is the simplest list to answer the question of how many countries are there. You are either a member or you’re not. I won’t bother getting into the unfathomable politics of the 5 permanent members including the United States. So if you say you’ve been to every country in the world; technically you’ve been to 193. Only about 94 people have ever been documented claiming to accomplish this feat and I am proud to be one of them.

United Nations + 3

The total here is 196 as it includes Vatican City, Kosovo and Taiwan. While Vatican City is actually a country, it is not a UN member state. Kosovo and Taiwan simply play into politics and I won’t go bashing on China and Russia or even the United States. However, most people generally consider them countries, including me. Yes, I have been to all three.

Travelers Century Club

When you see on my website, Facebook fan page, etc. that I have been to 312 countries or a number like that it is based off the total number of countries set by the Travelers Century Club (TCC). The TCC is a non-profit social club that is based in Los Angeles and has been operating for about 60 years. Only 12 people have ever completed the entire list. However, the list is always expanding. So when I become the 13th person and youngest to complete the TCC list, I will have completed several more countries than the other people that have finished the list.

While I disagree with several countries included on the TCC list, they do have a set of rules and regulations that are very loosely adhered to. There is also a lot of politics involved internally with the TCC and in my opinion several places that do not merit inclusion. That said, I still think it’s the best list to go by.

The difference between the TCC and the UN list is that the TCC “countries” are not necessarily countries. They include unique destinations. For instance French Guiana or French Polynesia counts separately than France. Sounds fair, right? This makes the list more comprehensive than the UN list. It measures the true amount of destinations in the world and makes a high tally all the more impressive-in theory.

While I could talk the validity and inclusion of the TCC countries all day, I firmly believe that the TCC is the best list to go by for comprehensive travel and the answer to the question of how many countries are there. However, some ridiculous inclusions will always keep it from being commonly accepted outside the TCC and megatraveler-sphere.

Most Traveled People

Most Traveled People (MTP) is a list that was started by my friend Charles Veley, who is one of the 12 to complete the TCC list. MTP includes 874 destinations. This includes nearly every state from many large nations including 100+ oblasts of Russia, all the states of the 3 North American countries, many of the large European nations along with the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries.

While I am a member and do update my tally when I think of it, I do not strive to complete this list and have no intention of doing so. This is mainly because I don’t believe that travel to random places just to say I’ve been there is worth my time, effort or money. I do not feel the need to drive across all of Russia to take a picture with a sign for the oblast and then do nothing there except going to the next one. That seems pointless to me, personally. However, I do understand and respect the mindset-obviously.

As I said there are a few other lists including the DXCC or Ham Radio list. I cannot possibly get involved with that but MTP does include the entire DXCC list to my knowledge.

Anyway, I hope this brief overview helps clear up the how many countries are there question. I am sure it just confused you more but again, please do watch the video. And in my view, if you’ve been to Transnistria, you are more than welcome to count it in your country tally!

Comments

  1. This story is quite informative. I didn’t know there were many different lists of countries. I also find it surprising that only 94 or so people have been to every nation. That makes it really cool.

    • Thanks Rachel, it is surprising, I agree but also makes it pretty cool. There may be a few more or even less as some people didn’t or don’t operate online and of course some people may have made false claims.

  2. 874 is too many plus there is no way to prove visits to states in Russia or Brazil or most of those nations.

  3. I believe everyone on MTP to be liars

  4. Very cool video and good explanation of country lists. I had no idea.

  5. Interesting and very cute video!

  6. Great post and yes it is hard to explain. I consider Taiwan, Puerto Rico, and Hong Kong as sepreate countries but of course that can be debated for days. Also, I liked the video :)

  7. Interesting article. And I’ve been to Transnistria (and almost got beaten up in the customs hut between Chisinau and Moldova for my efforts!) and all of the +3 countries.

    My current tally of UN nations (and the +3) stands at 104. But the ones that are remaining are harder and harder to get to. So what i wanted to say is, I commend your fortitude at getting to all the 196 that I count as countries. People do not realise how much effort and time (and money) it takes to accomplish this, and the hardships experienced along the way.

    Keep up the great work….

    • Thanks Jason, I appreciate that! Good for you for going to Transnistria as that was a little rough and certainly interesting! And no people cannot possibly realize how much time, effort and money go into it when you start going to the non-easy places-that is 100% correct.

  8. Yes, an interesting article. While I am sure there will never be agreement, I think the website http://www.about.com makes a pretty convincing case. See http://geography.about.com/cs/countries/a/numbercountries.htm

    They go for 196, which not-by-coincidence is what I reckon too. (I have been to 105 of these so far. I still hope to get to the other 91.)

  9. I cannot even fathom making to every country, meaning 193, let alone over 300 with the TCC. I can’t imagine how much money needs to be spent to get to that point.

  10. You are right, the video was pretty awesome and actually really funny. Thanks for posting, Lee and good luck in 2014!

  11. That was one of the best explanations I have seen trying to answer the question: How many countries are there? That was awesome – thanks. I have book marked this page.

  12. You said in regards to MTP, ” I do not feel the need to drive across all of Russia to take a picture with a sign for the oblast and then do nothing there except going to the next one.” If you traveled like that, then that would be a personal preference and not exactly what the list was designed for (although many do consider that list a bunch of ‘points’ and care little about what they see in each one, there are others, like Sanchez, that make a point to see as much as possible). So I don’t think the problem with MTP is that 80% of the top guys blaze thru everything at lightning speed and see nothing, my big issue with MTP is why some countries are broken into states/provinces (like Spain, Germany, Argentina, etc.), while others are not, and the fact it seems to include every piece of rock (Rockall?) or island on the planet, whether or not it’s any different than it’s ‘parent’ country or territory (like all the scattered islands around Antarctica). MTP just seems to want to include everything, but yet exclude a lot of areas at the same time — if, for example, all the provinces of Argentina are so special, why not all the provinces of every country in the world while we are at it since just about every godforsaken iceberg is included?

  13. interesting video .. very cute

  14. Hi Lee
    I am so impressed and in awe of your accomplishments. Well done
    I’m from South Aftica and have been blogging for a year, with a passion to travel more tho.

    Please assist me with info on how to get media trips or funding for travel. Travel blogging for SA is quite new and we don’t have many. I have traveled but not extensively . I will write abt my personal travels but am keen to grow my blog and travel more. Help?

  15. Hi Lee,
    I was wondering why you haven’t mentioned anything regarding Kurdistan region where you been there last summer. Even though it is not independent state now, probably situation is not that much different than a such countries or a place which you have mentioned in your video..

  16. Ahmed Ali says:

    I once saw a blockbuster bollywood movie, ‘Bodyguard’. In it, the hero Salman Khan, puts the country count at 205.
    there is a disputed state in Georgia, that is sometimes claimed to be a country and is recognized by Russia, China, and likes.
    Besides Taiwan and Kosovo are very much separate countries.

    • Thanks Ahmed and I would love to visit the north f Pakistan someday…difficult region to visit these days.

      • Tariq Mehmood says:

        Not that dificult.. its just media made prespective, one of the safe areas in the world are in north Pakistan and the best thing is approx 600 km of area is yet to discover in karakoram range of Pakistan. Pakistan is different from other parts of the world is because of the biggest glacier out of north pole(antarctic) to the deep warm water ocean, Pakistan got the most streched steepness from the warm arabian waters to the 2nd highest spot in the world, diverse landscape between this.

  17. In your list is Puerto Rico considered a country??? It is not considered by the UN, it is not a US State….

    Puerto Rico is the only Colony in the world right now. UN has asked US for a definition however congress has not taken action to solve this.

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