I have a life-long goal of seeing at least 50 countries before I die. I'm behind but I figure I would see most of them over the next 20 years as I get closer to retirement and make my fortune. :-)

Anyway, we will be in Italy this week!! Part of that trip will be four days in Rome and of course, Vatican City.

So before my trip to Italy, I have been to 12 countries. We will only be in Italy and of course, Vatican City. So my question is, will the number of countries I've been to now be 13 or 14?

Or am I just quibbling over a technicality?

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    I feel the same way about the Vatican City, it's not like I wouldn't visit, more like I would visit when I'm visiting Rome anyway. Then again I'm not much into counting countries or pins in maps type travel. I'd much rather visit that other tiny enclave nation within Italy - San Marino! Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 8:58
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    Well, while those are excellent answers on a technical level, for your purposes, I think you should go with the definition provided by Frank Zappa. > "You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It > helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear > weapons, but at the very least you need a beer." Frank Zappa Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 14:17
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    This is quite a political question. What is a "country" and what is not a "country"? The other day on the chat, there was a big discussion on this topic. Moreover, I have the impression that if "Vatican" is replaced by something else (maybe you know what I mean) then we will have a nice flame war. hence -1 and vote to close. Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 17:19
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    @hippietrail - As opposed to San Marino, Vatican has exceptional things to offer: one of the biggest churches in the world and a splendid museum. San Marino can be worth a visit if you are passing quite near by. There is nothing really exceptional about this place. It looks very much like a lot of other places in Italy. Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 17:21
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    FWIW, CGP Grey explores rather thoroughly both "What is a country?" and "What is Vatican City" on his youtube channel.
    – alx9r
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 18:02

10 Answers 10


Vatican City is recognized as a country. For example the CIA's World Factbook and UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office both refer to it as a country.

What I suggest: count it as a country, but raise your target to 51. Win-win. :-)

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    If the fact of being in the CIA factbook is the benchmark , then the Gaza Strip is a country and the Palmyra Atoll too :-) Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 20:06

Vatican City is generally recognized as a country by most authorities, and has international recognition as such. It may not be a very big country (indeed, it is smaller than the US Pentagon), but it is a country nonetheless.

If your goal is purely on the number of countries reached, then you should definitely count it as one (and you should also visit San Marino while you're at it, which is another enclaved country in Italy).

If your goal is to see a variety of places, however, you may not want to count it as one, since it is very, very small. (If that's your goal, then, I would suggest you revise your goal to perhaps visting at least 1/3 of the countries on each continent, which would almost certainly have you see more).

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    Statistically speaking, Vatican City has more than two popes per square kilometer. Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 12:35
  • +1 for visiting San Marino, because not only is it a sovereign country, but it is also gorgeous. It's not considered a tourist destination, but having been there myself, let me assure everyone that it's well worth the trip.
    – acjay
    Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 19:07
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    @MichaelBorgwardt - More than four as of today, one being retired.
    – mouviciel
    Commented Jun 25, 2013 at 9:15

Vatican City is definitely a country. It is recognized as such in 1929 by a treaty with Italy. It is not a revival of the Papal States. Size doesn't matter for being a country (there is another small country in Italy: San Marino). When you have visited Vatican City, you can say that you have been in the smallest country in the world. It might be the most militarized country in the world as well, because more then 14% of its inhabitants are soldiers or officers of the Swiss Guard. It is for sure the most clerical country in the world. :-)

  • This. The important word is "recognized as such" and possibly "... by Italy". What counts is complicated, but as long as all countries reasonably close to it recognizes as a country, and it itself recognizes as a country, then it is a country with no doubt.
    – yo'
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 18:14

Imagine you've reached 50 countries, including Vatican City. Would you feel you've achieved your goal? There's the answer to your question. Your opinion is the only thing that matters here.

Personally, I feel England, Scotland and Wales are separate countries, but that Vatican City is just part of Italy. Fortunately, I'm not a diplomat.

  • Hello, and welcome to the Travel.SE. You should rewrite your answer - be more specific, and don't make this question a forum theme, please.
    – VMAtm
    Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 10:32
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    Hi. I need a little more guidance here please. The unspecific nature of my answer is sorta the point.
    – billpg
    Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 10:49
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    @VMAtm: I thought it was the original question that was too much a forum topic, which is why, like Marcel, I've voted to close. I don't find this answer particularly worse than the question. Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 6:33

In addition to being listed separately in publications like the CIA World Factbook, Vatican City also has its own ISO-3166 domain: .va. The title for 3166 is "Codes for the representation of names of countries and their subdivisions", which could imply a subdivision of Italy, except...

The United Nations was a party to Vatican City receiving its own domain, as the UN is represented among the voting members of the ISO 3166 Maintenance Agency, and the UN list of country names lists Vatican City as separate and distinct from any other nation, with no comment indicating it is a territory of, or administered by, another nation; that is the case with Montserrat, Faroe Islands, French Guiana, and numerous others.

The website for Stato della Città del Vaticano, translated as Vatican City State, says:

Vatican City State was founded following the signing of the Lateran Pacts between the Holy See and Italy on February 11th 1929. These were ratified on June 7th 1929. Its nature as a sovereign State distinct from the Holy See is universally recognized under international law.

Article 2 of the Lateran Pact states that

Italy recognizes the sovereignty of the Holy See in the international realm as an attribute inherent in its nature in conformity with its tradition and with the requirements of its mission to the world.

Other nations are landlocked, having no natural borders such as an ocean. Vatican City is simply a nation set within the borders of another nation. You should definitely list Vatican City as a separate nation on your itinerary.


One regularly used definition of a country is whether it's a member of the United Nations. The Vatican is not, it has observer status. However, it most certainly is an independent territory, which probably is a better definition in this context as compared to 'country', anyway. Or, perhaps you should make your objective to visit 50 countries and independent territories.

Related, and again using a slightly different definition of what constitutes a 'country', is the Travelers' Century Club.

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    After that definition, Switzerland would only have been a country since 2002.
    – drat
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 8:00

yes, why?

  1. Has space or territory that has internationally recognized boundaries.
  2. Has people who live there on an ongoing basis.
  3. Has economic activity and an organized economy. A country regulates foreign and domestic trade and issues money.
  4. Has the power of social engineering, such as education.
  5. Has a transportation system for moving goods and people.
  6. Has a government that provides public services and police power.
  7. Has sovereignty. No other State should have power over the country's territory.
  8. Has external recognition. A country has been "voted into the club" by other countries. It is the Holy See which maintains international relations; the term "Holy See" refers to the composite of the authority, jurisdiction, and sovereignty vested in the Pope and his advisers to direct the worldwide Roman Catholic Church.

Created in 1929 to provide a territorial identity for the Holy See in Rome, the State of the Vatican City is a recognized national territory under international law.

The Holy See maintains formal diplomatic relations with 174 nations and 68 of these countries maintain permanent resident diplomatic missions accredited to the Holy See in Rome. Most embassies are outside of the Vatican City and are Rome. The other countries have missions located outside Italy with dual accreditation. The Holy See maintains 106 permanent diplomatic missions to nation-states around the world.

The Vatican City/Holy See is not a member of the United Nations. They are an observer.

Thus, the Vatican City does meet all eight criteria for independent country status so we should consider it as an independent State.

  • It sounds like a very documented answer, would you mind quoting the source if you used one? thanks
    – Vince
    Commented Jun 27, 2013 at 11:52
  • You forgot to mention the 0th criterion, the ultimate one: travel.stackexchange.com/a/10636/3470 Commented Jun 27, 2013 at 18:15
  • Check this site: ratebeer.com/BestInMyArea.asp?CountryID=216 They don't have a brewery, but more important to me is that there is a place that serves beer. Didn't know it when I was there, so I can't say "I had a beer in the Vatican". A shame.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 10:37

Short answer: The Vatican is a country.

Long answer requires understanding that there is a difference between "State" and "Country", but The Vatican qualifies as both anyway.

The Vatican City is a State (the legalistic definition of an independent country), meaning it has full national sovereignty. It makes its own laws, has citizens, some of whom live there permanently, it issues passports, it has an economy and a national bank, it issues currency (the Euro), it has territory (land), it maintains diplomatic relations at State party level with other nations, it has international borders, a national government (in the Vatican's case, a theocratic monarchy), and it is recognised as a State by other States. It maintains post and telephonic services, has (a very limited) public transport system, its own national military service, and so on.

It's important to note that the Vatican city (the national entity) is separate to the Holy See (the religious entity) which maintains its own relationships with other entities.

Also, someone mentioned that The Vatican is the world's smallest country. In fact, that dubious honour goes to Sealand on the basis on having the smallest land area, though not many other States recognise Sealand as sovereign.

And now the extended answer:

The Vatican City also qualifies as a country. Countries do not have to be sovereign. For example, Puerto Rico is a country but not a State because it is administered by the United States, does not regulate its own economy or issue money, enjoys limited domestic autonomy (its capability to make laws is limited by the US federal government), is not recognised by other States as being a State, and so on. In this respect it is similar to other sub-national entities such as Hong Kong (part of China) or England (part of the UK) or the internal states of the United States.

  • And that is State as in Head of State, not as in one of the 50 states which are part of America.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 20:30

Another argument to support that Vatican City is a country, which nobody mentioned, is that it has its own foreign relations, independent of Italy. For example, Vatican officially recognizes Taiwan as a country (and doesn't recognize PRC), and thus it hosts one of the very few Taiwan Embassies in the world, and the only one in Europe.

Note that Italy does not recognize Taiwan as a country and has no Taiwanese embassy, only the Representative Office.

  • Other answers did actually mention foreign relations, but the Taiwan angle is interesting.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 3:34
  • Vatican also recognizes Palestine but I couldn't find the Embassy, while Taiwan Embassy is a frequent photospot for PRC tourists.
    – George Y.
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 23:52
  • The Embassy of Taiwan to the Vatican is actually in Italy--a country that does not recognize Taiwan. Interesting fact. Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 15:44

The crux here is the meaning of the word "country". Several arguments are presented in this thread to justify that Vatican is a country: existence of an ISO-3166 domain, an entry in the CIA factbook, passages from the Lateran Pact, etc.

My preferred definition of a "country" is the following one

You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer. (Frank Zappa)

Vatican does not have a beer. Nor does it have an airline. Hence, Vatican is not a country.

  • Frank Zappa's quote was certainly entertaining. But, by that measurement, what would Liechtenstein be? It doesn't have any of that. At least, I don't think it does. Maybe it has a beer. lol
    – cbmeeks
    Commented Nov 7, 2014 at 21:17
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    Liechtenstein has a brewery: www.brauhaus.li as well as a national soccer team: www.lfv.li Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 16:09

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