Administrative Divisions Within Nations Around the World

How Countries Organize Internally

Child's Finger Pointing to a United States Map
Melissa Ross/Getty Image

People understand that the United States is organized into fifty states and that Canada has ten provinces and three territories. However, some are less familiar with how the other nations of the world organize themselves into administrative units. The CIA World Factbook lists the names of every country's administrative divisions, but let's look at some of those divisions used in other nations of the world:

  • Brazil: Officially known as the Federative Republic of Brazil, Brazil is divided fairly simply into twenty-six states and the federal district of Brasilia, its central capital city. This organization is similar to that of the United States system of states plus Washington, DC. 
  • China: China is composed of twenty-two provinces, five autonomous regions (including Xizang or Tibet), three independent municipalities (Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, and Tianjin), and the new Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong. This complicated system reflects the complex ethnic makeup of China. 
  • Ethiopia: Ethiopia is divided into nine ethnically-based administrative regions and the federal capital, Addis Ababa.
  • France: France's famous 96 departments (101 if you include the overseas French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Reunion, and St. Pierre and Miquelon) are combined to form twenty-two regions.
  • Germany: Germany is divided simply, into sixteen states. 
  • India: India is home to twenty-five states and seven union territories.
  • Indonesia: 13,500-island Indonesia has twenty-four provinces, two special regions, and a special capital city district (Jakarta Raya).
  • Italy: Italy is simply divided, into twenty individual regions.
  • Japan: The island nation of Japan has forty-seven prefectures.
  • Mexico: Mexico's long-form name is the United Mexican States. It is composed of thirty-one states and the federal district of the capital, Mexico City.
  • Russia: The Russian Federation is slightly complicated. It's composed of forty-nine oblasts, twenty-one autonomous republics, ten autonomous okrugs, six krays, two federal cities (Moscow and St. Petersburg), and one autonomous oblast (Yevreyskaya).
  • South Africa: Before 1994, South Africa was divided into four provinces and four "homelands." Today, South Africa is divided into nine provinces (Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, North-West, Northern Cape, Northern Province, and Western Cape.)
  • Spain: Spain is composed of seventeen autonomous communities. Nine of these autonomous communities are further divided into two to nine provinces each.
  • The United Kingdom: The United Kingdom is the appropriate name for the region that includes Great Britain (the island composed of England, Scotland, and Wales) and Northern Ireland. Each region of the UK has a different internal structure. England is composed of thirty-nine counties and seven metropolitan counties (including Greater London). Northern Ireland is composed of twenty-six districts, and Wales has eight counties. Finally, Scotland includes nine regions and three islands areas.
  • Vietnam: Vietnam is composed of fifty provinces and three municipalities (Ha Noi, Hai Phong, and Ho Chi Minh).

While all the administrative subdivisions used in each nation have some means of local governance, how they interact with the national governing body and their methods for communicating with one another varies significantly from nation to nation.

In some nations, the subdivisions have a notable amount of autonomy and are allowed to set fairly independent policies and even their own laws, while in other nations the administrative subdivisions exist only to facilitate the implementation of national laws and policies. In nations with clearly drawn ethnic divisions, the administrative units may follow these ethnic lines to the extent that each has its own official language or dialect. 

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Your Citation
Rosenberg, Matt. "Administrative Divisions Within Nations Around the World." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Rosenberg, Matt. (2023, April 5). Administrative Divisions Within Nations Around the World. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Matt. "Administrative Divisions Within Nations Around the World." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).