The Number of Countries in the World

The World Expo 2010
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The answer to this seemingly simple geographical question is that it depends on who's doing the counting. The United Nations, for example, recognizes more than 240 countries and territories. The United States, however, officially recognizes fewer than 200 nations. Ultimately, the best answer is that there are 196 countries in the world.

United Nations Member States

There are 193 member states in the United Nations.

This total is often cited inaccurately as the actual number of countries in the world because there are two other members with limited status. Both the Vatican (officially known as the Holy See), which is an independent nation, and the Palestinian Authority, which is a quasi-governmental body, have been granted permanent observer status at the U.N. They can take part in all official U.N. activities but cannot cast votes in the General Assembly.

Likewise, there are some nations or regions that have declared their independence and are recognized by a majority of U.N. member states, yet are not part of the United Nations. Kosovo, a region of Serbia that declared independence in 2008, is one such example. 

Nations Recognized by the U.S.

The United States officially recognizes other nations through the State Department. As of June 2017, the State Department recognizes 195 independent countries around the world.

This list reflects the political agenda of the United States of America and its allies.

Unlike the U.N., the U.S. maintains full diplomatic relations with Kosovo and the Vatican. However, there is one nation missing from the State Department's list that should be considered an independent nation but is not.

The Nation That Isn't

The island of Taiwan, formally known as the Republic of China, meets the requirements for an independent country or state status. However, all but a handful of nations refuse to recognize Taiwan as an independent nation. The political reasons for this date back to the late 1940s, when the Republic of China was ousted from mainland China by Mao Tse Tung's communist rebels, and ROC leaders fled to Taiwan. The communist People's Republic of China maintains that it has authority over Taiwan, and relations between the island and mainland have been strained.

Taiwan was actually a member of the United Nations (and even the Security Council) until 1971 when mainland China replaced Taiwan in the organization. Taiwan, which has the world's 22nd-largest economy, continues to press for full recognition by other countries. But China, with its growing economic, military and political clout, has largely been able to shape the dialogue on this issue. As a result, Taiwan cannot fly its own flag at international events like the Olympics and must be referred to as Chinese Taipei in some diplomatic situations.

Territories, Colonies, and Other Non-Nations

There also are dozens of territories and colonies that are sometimes erroneously called countries but don't count because they're governed by other countries.

Places commonly confused as being countries include Puerto Rico, Bermuda, Greenland, Palestine, Western Sahara. The components of the United Kingdom (Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England are not fully independent countries, either, though they do enjoy a degree of autonomy within the U.K.). When dependent territories are included, the United Nations recognizes a total of 241 countries and territories. 

So How Many Countries Are There?

If you use the U.S. State Department's list of recognized nations and also include Taiwan there are 196 countries in the world, which is probably the best current answer to the question.

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Rosenberg, Matt. "The Number of Countries in the World." ThoughtCo, Nov. 22, 2017, Rosenberg, Matt. (2017, November 22). The Number of Countries in the World. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Matt. "The Number of Countries in the World." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 27, 2018).