It depends on who you ask
United Nations: 193
There are 193 member states of the United Nations. You can find the list by clicking here. Although it depends on who you ask, I think most people that have visited or are pursuing visiting every country, can agree to 193 countries. However, some include some if not all of the partially recognised countries. I think it’s fair to say there are 193 independent countries in the world, while it is up for an open discussion about how many places that can call themselves countries in addition to the 193. A good example is Taiwan which is currently recognised by less than 20 countries. However, I think most people in the world consider it a country and not a territory of China.
United Nations: 195
The United Nations has two observer states, Palestine and Vatican City, which makes it 195.
United Nations, Palestine, Taiwan and Vatican City: 196
As Taiwan is considered a country by many, but just isn’t a UN member state, 196 is a number you will often see as the number of countries in the world. Taiwan has full diplomatic relations with 14 out of the 193 UN member states, as well as the observer state, Holy See (Vatican City).
United Nations, Palestine, Taiwan, Vatican City and Kosovo/Western Sahara or rather Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic: 197 or 198
Sometimes you will see 197 or 198 as the number of countries in the world. The next one that is often mentioned is Kosovo, which is recognised by approximately 100 United Nations member states. Still, because Serbia claims Kosovo as part of its sovereign territory, Kosovo is not a member of the United Nations.
Western Sahara’s story is even more complicated as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic claims sovereignty over the entire territory of Western Sahara, which is a former Spanish colony. However, the government of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic controls only approximate 20-25% of the Western Sahara territory. Still, it has been recognised by more than 80 members of the United Nations member states, although approximately half of those has since frozen or withdraw the recognition.
Western Sahara is easy to visit. I simply flew to Dakhla from Casablanca and no separate visa was needed. Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic is a different story. For that, you would need to apply for a visa at one of their diplomatic missions or one of its authorised visa agents located outside the country/territory/region (yes, it’s not easy, so let’s say destination). Finally, the government of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic actually seats in Tindouf, Algeria. It’s a very complicated story, and I apologise if I got any of this wrong. In that case, please let me know.
National Olympic Committees: 206
The National Olympic Committees recognises 206 nations that can participate in the Olympic games. This list includes nations like Hong Kong and the Cayman Islands that are not members of the United Nations. You can find that list by clicking here.
Federation Internationale de Football Association: 211
Not all members of the United Nations have a national football team with a membership of FIFA. An example is the small Pacific island nation of Nauru. FIFA allows territories and non-independent states as members. For example, the British Virgin Islands, Guam and Montserrat. You can find the list by clicking here.
Some travellers count a little more than 195 because they count partially recognised countries like Taiwan, Kosovo, Western Sahara. Some also count the United Kingdom as separate nations of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, like in FIFA’s 211-list above.
Other destinations and territories
Several travel websites and clubs make their own list of destinations, regions and territories. The two travel clubs, Nomad Mania (NM) and Travelers’ Century Club (TCC) have the best lists of countries and territories in my opinion. TCC has made a list of 330 countries and territories. Nomad Mania has a list of 266 countries and territories called UN+. These lists are opinion-based kind of lists. For example, The TCC list has Wake Island as a separate territory from other islands in the Minor Outlying Islands.
With territories, I think it comes down to where you draw the line and what you define as a territory. That is up to an open debate and because of this, it’s impossible to say how many territories there are in the world. There is no way a destination like Kosovo wouldn’t be on a list of countries or at least territories, while you, on the other hand, might have a great debate about Puntland, where leaders declared it an autonomous state within Somalia in 1998 but is Puntland just a region or an actual territory? Travellers’ Century Club’s list is much bigger than Nomad Mania’s UN+ list, but only Nomad Mania’s UN+ list include Puntland.
Potential future countries and territories
No list is perfect, but the Nomad Mania’s UN+ list and the Travelers’ Century Club’s list are very well made. I have researched destinations that, in my opinion, could potentially be considered for lists of countries and territories in the world in the future. They are:
All four states of the Federated States of Micronesia and Kapingamarangi
The Federal States of Micronesia has four states, Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Yap, which are spread across the Western Pacific. Because of the distance between the islands and because each of the four states has its own culture and traditions, they might be considered separate territories in the world on one or more lists in the future. In addition to this is Kapingamarangi, an atoll home to about 500 people, part of Pohnpei state despite its distance approximately 700 kilometers from Pohnpei’s main island.
The westernmost province in Indonesia and the only province in the country that practices Sharia law.
One of two autonomous republics of Georgia. The other one is Abkhazia that is already part of the Travelers’ Century Club’s list.
The Admiralty Islands is part of the Bismarck Archipelago, but due to their location, they might be considered a separate territory in the future by some.
Bioko is a TCC destination of Equatorial Guinea, but Annobón is much further away and closer to Sao Tomé and Principe as well as Gabon. Most of the people on Annobón speak a creole type of Portuguese and Annobón is the only island in Equatorial Guinea located in the Southern Hemisphere of the Atlantic Ocean.
A self-governing entity in Pakistan.
Batanes is the most remote island region in the Philippines located approximately 162 kilometres north of Luzon and about 190 kilometres south of Taiwan.
A group of about 88 islands and islets located in the Atlantic Ocean.
Officially an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea, but it might become an independent country soon. 98.31% voted for independence at a referendum held in 2019.
Ceuta and Melilla separate
On the TCC-list they are together as Spanish Morocco, but they are two separate autonomous cities.
The Cook Islands separate
The Cook Islands could be listed separately due to the distance between the northern and southern group of islands.
Four island groups of Tonga
Tonga is “administratively divided into the three main island groups of Tongatapu, Ha’apai, and Vava’u.” Vava’u is the furthest north of those, but then you have Niuafoʿo (Niua Islands) and Niuatoputapu much further north. The distance between Vava’u and Niuafoʿou is 378 kilometres, according to Google. According to Google, the distance between the Northernmost Island (Niuafoʿou) and Southernmost Island (Tongatapu) is 617 kilometres. Therefore four island groups of Tonga could be considered in the future by some. Niua Islands, Ha’apai, Tongatapu, and Vava’u.
Officially the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia (ATUG) is an autonomous region of Moldova, like the more known Transnistria.
Self-governing Palestinian territory
The northernmost territory of Pakistan.
Internationally recognized as Syrian territory occupied by Israel.
A disputed state that is officially part of Tajikistan, but claimed by several countries over the years. A visa/OIVR permit is required to visit.
Hatohobei is the southernmost of Palau’s sixteen states and is actually closer to Indonesia than the other inhabited parts of Palau which are approximately 500 km away. It is the least populous first-level administrative subdivision in the world.
Iran Southern Islands (Kish Island and Qeshm Island)
These two islands have their own visa policy and can be visited without a visa for foreigners except for Americans, Canadians and Britons, that must arrange a certified escort guide to be waiting for them upon arrival.
The Republic of Karakalpakstan is an autonomous republic within Uzbekistan.
The Kuril Islands is a group of islands between the Japanese island of Hokkaido at the southern end and the Russian Kamchatka Peninsula at the northern end. The four southernmost islands are disputed between Russia and Japan.
Line Islands and the Phoenix Islands, Kiribati separate
On the TCC list, the Line Islands and the Phoenix Islands are combined into one entry. Due to the distance between the islands, it would maybe make more sense to split them.
Remote island group in Papua New Guinea.
Miangas is located approximately 520 kilometres from Manado, the capital of North Sulawesi, but only 80 kilometres southeast of Mindanao in the Philippines. Due to its location being much closer to the Philippines than Indonesia, this Indonesian owned island might be considered as a territory in the future on one or more lists.
Mount Athos is governed as an autonomous polity within the Hellenic Republic.
Due to its location in the Atlantic Ocean off the east coast of the Canadian mainland.
Novaya Zemlya is an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean in the northern part of Russia.
A remote atoll in Papua New Guinea with a population of approximately 700 people.
Northwest Territories of Canada, Nunavut, Yukon
The three official territories of Canada.
Rotuma is officially part of Fiji, but it is located approximately 465 km north of the (other) Fiji Islands and is home to a large and unique indigenous ethnic group called the “Rotumans”.
Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic
I wrote earlier about the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, but it is actually not part of Nomad Mania’s UN+ List or the Travelers’ Century Club’s list which is a surprise as it is one of the most obvious ones.
A Russian island in the Pacific Ocean.
Might be part of a list of territories in the future due to its location 130 miles from the Scottish mainland.
Torres Strait Islands
These islands have a unique Aboriginal culture and are more worthy to be considered a territory than Lord Howe Island in my opinion.
Archipelago in Papua New Guinea.
Vojvodina is an autonomous province located in the northernmost part of Serbia.
A remote island in Papua New Guinea.
Part of the Ryukyu Islands, but the distance between Naha, Okinawa and Yonaguni, Yaeyama Islands is approximately 500 kilometres. Furthermore, Yonaguni is just approximately 100 kilometres from Taiwan.
So how many countries are there in the world?
In my opinion, you have visited every country in the world if you have been to all the 193 United Nations member states. Reason? Destinations that are not a member of the UN will be up for a debate whether each of them is a country or not. 193 countries are undebatable countries, and thereby we have 193 countries. The rest of them are up to an open discussion and where you draw the line. I think that must be my final conclusion.