How many countries are there?

Earth Map with Clouds (c) Istockphoto

When you want to travel to all the countries in the world, you need a list of countries.

But I found out very fast, that it is quite difficult to determine, how many countries there are in the world. The answer differs on who you ask.

Let’s begin easily with the countries that are full members of the United Nations: There are currently 193.

Then you find out, that e.g. the Vatican City State is not a member of the United Nations but a country. So let’s just say the UN member States + Vatican City = 194.

Finished? No!

Next to the Vatican City there is a second non-member observer state in the UN: The State of Palestine (of which some countries say it is a country, others say it is not.)

Ok, including the State of Palestine as well, leaves me with 195.

But it even gets more tricky:

Taiwan could be considered being a country, while the UN thinks it is represented by the Peoples Republic of China.

The Cook Islands and Niue are both states that are in free association with New Zealand, are members of a lot of UN agencies and have been given recognition of full treaty making capacity, but are not members of the UN.

Then we have the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau which are in free association with the United States of America while they are not receiving the same recognition of the UN as Niue and the Cook Islands.

Then we have Kosovo, which is currently recognized by 112 of the UN member states while the rest thinks it is a rebellious province of Serbia.

Then we have the country of the United Kingdom, consisting of the countries England, Scotland and Wales. So should I count it as one country or three? And the same with the Kingdom of the Netherlands, consisting of the Netherlands, Aruba, Curacao and Sint Maarten. And also the same with the Kingdom of Denmark which holds sovereingty over the autonomous countries of Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Not to forget French Polynesia which is an overseas country of the Republic of France.

Also we have some places that receive only little recognition for being a country like Abkhazia, Nagoro-Karabakh, South Ossetia, Transnistria, North Cyprus and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

Then I think of places like Hong Kong (special administrative region of China), Puerto Rico (unincorporated territory of the USA) and Bermuda (British overseas territory) which are places that somewhat look or work like a country but are not.

And finally we also have places like  Antarctica, Bajo Nuevo Bank (or Petrel Islands), the Gaza Strip, the Paracel Islands, the Serranilla Bank, the Spratly Islands, the West Bank and the Western Sahara, which are – depending who you ask – either part of one country or another, under international jurisdiction, an autonomous place or something in between.

So, long story short. There is not a right number when you ask how many countries there are.

For my travel goals I stick with:

The 193 Member States of the United Nations + The Vatican City State + Taiwan + Kosovo + Palestine Territories: Making it 197 countries to visit. Plus I add the continent Antarctica as a place to visit.

So there we go with 198 destinations.

(photo licensed from istockphoto / getty images)