I know it’s not the same for everyone, but I like to keep track of how many countries I’ve been to.
And whilst travel is much more about learning, experiencing and finding more stories to tell, most of us deep down love that feeling of ticking another country off of a list.
There are very few people that have made it to every country in the world, and it’s not something I’m likely to ever manage, but I’ve always wanted to find a definitive list of countries to visit.
But it turns out that’s a bit harder than expected, especially if you’re from the UK and want to see England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland recorded as separate nations.
So one humid afternoon in July, I set myself the task of finding the perfect list.
Here’s how I got on….
Finding My List
Now you might think this was easy!
Surely there is only one list of the countries in the world.
Different organisations have different ways of classifying exactly what a country is. There is a list by the UN, the World Bank, even FIFA!
It is hard to have one standard definition of what makes up a country. Does it have Its own passport? Flag? Currency? Government?
See what I mean!
For me though there was something very specific I wanted in my list….
I wanted a list that recognised England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as separate countries, and didn’t clump them all together.
So here’s the journey I went on….
This is the internationally recognised list of countries, so a good place to start.
But even the UN’s numbers aren’t simple!
They recognise 193 countries. (Full list here).
But they also have two permanent ‘Observer States‘ which are the Vatican City and Palestine. This gives them rights to participate in the General Assembly, but with some limitations.
So as a traveler, if we look at the UN list we can say there are 195 countries to visit.
But this wasn’t going to be right for me, as it didn’t separate out the UK nations. I could just add them on to the UN list, but there’s something a tad egotistical about saying ‘hey guys, I produced my own personal list of world countries’.
I do feel though that the UN list has to be used as a base for any country list I end up settling on.
But now let’s see if there are any useful alternatives….
Traveller’s Century Club
Next I moved on to the Traveller’s Century Club.
The TCC is an organisation for traveller’s who have visited 100 or more of their designated territories.
So how many do they count?
A whopping 325 countries and territories. (Full list here).
Whilst technically not all countries in their own right, the TCC include territories that are removed from the parent country, either geographically, politically or ethnologically.
Whilst this meets my criteria to having the UK countries separated, it adds in some rather needless complexity.
So for example, visiting all territories in the UK alone would now need to look like this:
- Northern Ireland
- Guernsey & Deps. (Alderney, Herm, Sark, Channel Islands)
- Isle of Man
- Jersey (Channel Islands)
This is starting to get out of hand!
Time to find a different approach….
My mind then jumped onto sport governing bodies. Maybe they would have a usable list that worked?
The Olympic list was out straight away, owing to the inclusion of ‘Team GB’, but maybe FIFA could make it work? They have separate teams for the home nations, this could be the list I was looking for!
FIFA have 209 countries on their list. (Full list here)
This was looking pretty good.
In additional to the UN list they have add a further 23 countries:
- Hong Kong (CH)
- Taiwan (Chinese Taipei)
- Anguilla (UK)
- England (UK)
- Cayman Islands (UK)
- British Virgin Islands (UK)
- Faroe Islands (DK)
- Guam (US)
- Bermuda (UK)
- Aruba (NL)
- American Samoa (US)
- Montserrat (UK)
- Wales (UK)
- Cook Islands (NZ)
- US Virgin Islands (US)
- Turks and Caicos Islands (UK)
- Tahiti (FR)
- Scotland (UK)
- Puerto Rico (US)
- Northern Ireland (UK)
- New Caledonia (FR)
- Netherlands Antilles (NL)
- Macao (CH)
But, I hear you cry, 195 plus 23 is 218, where have 9 countries gone!?
And here is my problem with the FIFA list.
Some ACTUAL countries, do not appear on it. So whilst the additions are good, there are some that don’t have a football association so don’t feature.
One of these is the UK, removed to add in the individual nations but also missing are:
- Marshall Islands
- Vatican City
This does change – Comoros and East Timor have joined recently for example – but right now it’s an incomplete list.
Let’s be clear, there’s a very real chance I might never make it to some of these places, but it’s nice to dream….
….And there’s no point dreaming about an incomplete list!
Close FIFA, but not quite there.
One last shot….
Lonely Planet – The World
And then over the hill, a knight came riding to save me!
In their huge book ‘The World‘ Lonely Planet list out their version of the countries list.
In this book they list 231 countries.
So an extra 36 countries (which is actually 37 because the UK is removed, and replaced with the individual nations).
This might work, though it’s alot more countries than the UN list.
And here are the additional ones that Lonely Planet have decided to include, plus a reason why they don’t make the UN list. Mostly they are leftovers from colonialism (though there are a few exceptions), that have not gained or chosen independence, but Lonely Planet have included them as separate countries, as they are so culturally different to their official country.
- Anguilla | A self-governing overseas territory of the UK, located in the Eastern Caribbean.
- Aruba | Aruba was part of the Netherlands Antilles until the country’s dissolution in 2010, when the island became a special municipality within the country of the Netherlands.Known as the Dutch Caribbean or Netherlands Antilles. Officially declared a country in 1986 after a 95% vote to become independent, but despite this has remained a part of the Netherlands.
- American Samoa | American Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the United States of America. The citizens of American Samoa are US “nationals” and not US “citizens,” but they are allowed to travel freely between American Samoa and the US mainland. In 1966 the UN gave the American Samoa the option of joining Samoa but it decided to remain.
- Bermuda | A British Overseas Territory, but it has a constitution and is self governing with the exception of military, justice and international relations.
- Bonaire | Bonaire was part of the Netherlands Antilles until the country’s dissolution in 2010, when the island became a special municipality within the country of the Netherlands.
- British Virgin Islands | A self-governing overseas territory of the Britain.
- Canary Islands | The Canary Islands are an autonomous community of Spain.
- Cayman Islands | Famous for having more registered businesses than people, Cayman Islands decided to remain a British Colony (now Overseas Territory) in 1962, at the same time Jamaica chose independence. It is on the UN list of non-self-governing territories.
- Cook Islands | Essentially independent (self-governing in free association with New Zealand), but are still officially placed under New Zealand sovereignty. They are on the UN list of non-self-governing territories.
- Curacao | Curacao was part of the Netherlands Antilles until the country’s dissolution in 2010, when the island became a special municipality within the country of the Netherlands.
- England | Part of the UK.
- Falkland Islands | Internally self-governed British Overseas Territory, still disputed with Argentina.
- French Guinea | French Guiana is an overseas department and region of France. It borders Brazil to the east and south and Suriname to the west. It is the only territory of mainland Americas that is still part of a European country.
- Greenland | A huge land-mass, but not a country in its own right, Greenland is an autonomous constituent country of Denmark. In 2008 Greenland’s citizens approved the Greenlandic self-government referendum with a 75% vote in favor of a higher degree of independence.
- Guadeloupe | An Overseas Department of France. As a constituent territory of the European Union and the Eurozone, the euro is its official currency and any European Union citizen is free to settle and work there indefinitely.
- Guam | Guam is an island in Micronesia in the Pacific Ocean that is part of the United States. It is a territory and not one of the 50 U.S. States.
- Martinique | Martinique is one of the Overseas Departments of France. It is also an outermost region of the European Union. The inhabitants of Martinique are French citizens with full political and legal rights.
- Monserrat | A self-governing overseas territory of the UK located in the West Indies.
- New Caledonia | New Caledonia is a French overseas territory in the Pacific with a significant amount of autonomy under the terms of the 1998 Noumea Accord. Congress is mandated to (if agreed to by a three-fifths majority) set the date for up to three referenda on whether New Caledonia should assume the final sovereign powers (justice, public order, defence, monetary and foreign affairs) and become fully independent. The first of the three possible referenda is scheduled to be held on 4 November 2018.
- Niue | Niue, in the South Pacific, is one of the world’s largest coral islands. It is a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand.
- Northern Ireland | Part of the UK.
- Northern Mariana Islands | Located in the Pacific, the Northern Mariana Islands decided in the 1970s not to seek independence, but instead to forge closer links with the United States.
- Pitcairn Islands | Pitcairn is a British Overseas Territory located in the South Pacific, and is considered the world’s smallest country by population (48) and is only slightly larger than Monaco.
- Puerto Rico | Although Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States classified as a commonwealth, many Puerto Ricans consider it to be a country in and of itself.
- Saba | Saba was part of the Netherlands Antilles until the country’s dissolution in 2010, when the island became a special municipality within the country of the Netherlands.
- Reunion | Reunion is one of the Overseas Departments of France. Located in the Indian Ocean, it was an important stop off on the way to the East Indies, but lost importance after the Suez Canal was completed.
- Scotland | Part of the UK.
- Sint Eustatius | Sint Eustatius was part of the Netherlands Antilles until the country’s dissolution in 2010, when the island became a special municipality within the country of the Netherlands.
- Sint Maarten | Sint Maarten was part of the Netherlands Antilles until the country’s dissolution in 2010, when the island became a special municipality within the country of the Netherlands. It is the southern part of an island shared with the French St Martin.
- St Martin | St Martin is the northern part of the island shared with Sint Maarten. This is the French side and is part of the EU as they are an overseas territory of France. The Euro is used on this part of the island, and are also French citizens.
- Taiwan | Probably the most difficult to explain and hotly disputed country on this list. Technically a part of China, but this does not even begin to tell the full story. Find out more here.
- Tibet | The People’s Republic of China (PRC) claims that Tibet is an integral part of China. The Tibetan government-in-exile maintains that Tibet is an independent state under unlawful occupation.
- Tokelau | Tokelau is an island country and dependent territory of New Zealand in the southern Pacific Ocean.
- Turks & Caicos | The Turks and Caicos Islands are a British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean.
- US Virgin Islands | Consisting of four main islands: St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island – together with some 50 smaller islets and cays. They are currently owned and under the authority of the United States Government.
- Wales | Part of the UK.
- Wallis and Futuna | Before 1961, Wallis and Futuna was a French protectorate, then a colony administered from New Caledonia. In 1961 it became a French overseas territory and in 2003 a French overseas collectivity.
The Final List
So there we have it….
After much research and deliberation, a final list of 231 countries, which I have put together into a spreadsheet below.
I have separated them out in the way they are on the maps section of the Lonely Planet website.
If you want to see my current progress, head over to my destinations page.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this detailed foray into the difficult waters of country lists!
I’m happy with where I got to, but if you use something different, or have any suggestions, drop them in the comments below.