The 193 members of the United Nations (UN) recognise each other (often only by majority vote, not always by consensus!) as sovereign states, as well as the two non-members Vatican City and Palestine, which have observer status. In addition, there are 12 disputed states which have limited recognition (so-called "de facto states"). The "official" number of countries is therefore currently between 193 and 207.
Remarkable: Even within the UN, the World Health Organization (WHO) has a deviating number of 194 members. The UN member state Liechtenstein is not represented in the WHO, but the non-UN members Niue and Cook Islands are.
As an independent standards body, ISO (International Organization for Standardization, which has 164 national organizations as members) has created ISO 3166, a globally recognized standard for the coding of geographical units. In addition to the above-mentioned countries, the standard also covers a large number of dependent territories. The standard currently contains 249 valid country codes.
On the other hand, the list of vehicle country plates, which goes back to the International Convention on Motor Vehicles (Paris 1909), lists 221 valid country plates, e.g. also the "Sovereign Order of Malta".
Especially in sports, the number of national organisations usually exceeds the number of recognised states. FIFA coordinates 211 national associations with corresponding country codes, including parts of the country such as England and Scotland. The IOC currently uses 206 country codes for the National Olympic Committees.
The USA define their own country list "FIPS 10" (U.S. Federal Information Processing Standard No. 10). It includes 201 states recognized by the USA and so-called "areas of special sovereignty", e.g. areas of military importance.
There are also numerous other definitions and country codes (e.g. GS1 country prefix, FINA country code, ITU prefix, NATO country code, UIC country code, World Athletics country code).
Conclusion: indeed, the initial question "How many countries are there?" cannot be answered precisely. All the above definitions differ. In addition, political events have always led to changes - for example in 2019, when the Republic of Macedonia changed its name to "Republic of Northern Macedonia".
As reference data (e.g. for addresses), we recommend the country codes according to ISO 3166-1. But as with all reference data, regular checking and, if necessary, updating is strongly recommended.
We check your address data and also the reference data used, standardizing country codes (end enhancing them, if necessary). Use our assessment and transformation services to ensure that your data is always reliable and up-to-date.