Smallest Countries in the World

St. Peter's Basilica sunset
The sun sets over St. Peter's Basilica, located in the world's smallest country. Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

It makes a great trivia question: What are the world's smallest countries? You could decide to look at population or the actual area the country occupies. By either measure, the No. 1 smallest country in the world is the same.

10 Smallest Countries in the World by Area

10. Malta: 122 square miles (316 square km)

The Republic of Malta is a small island nation on the Mediterranean Sea located between the Italian island of Sicily and the North African countries Tunisia and Libya. Malta is actually an archipelago of five islands, only three of which are inhabited: Malta, Gozo and Comino.

Malta's strategic location between Europe and Africa made it attractive to foreign powers.

In 218 B.C.E. Malta came under control of the Roman Empire, and the country went through a series of foreign occupation until it finally became independent of Britain in 1964. Malta has been a member of the European Union (EU) since 2004.

Malta is known for its megalithic temples which, according to UNESCO, "rank amongst the earliest free-standing stone buildings in the world."

9. Maldives: 116 square miles (300 square km)

The Maldives is popular tourist destination in the Indian Ocean, thanks to its picturesque white sandy beaches. The country consists of about 1,200 coral islands, 185 of which are home to about 550,000 people. With the tallest of these small islands only 1.8 meters (6 feet) high, the Maldives is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels.

Independent from Britain since 1965, tourism accounts for almost one-third of the Maldives' economy, according to the World Bank. The Maldives is also one of 13 countries with green, white, and red flags.

8. Saint Kitts and Nevis: 101 square miles (261 square km)

These two adjacent islands located in the Caribbean Sea gained their independence from the United Kingdom in 1983. Separated by 3 kilometers (2 miles) of water, Saint Kitts (formerly Saint Christopher) and Nevis were united with Anguilla by the British.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Saint Kitts and Nevis is smallest country in the Western Hemisphere by both area and population (54,817 inhabitants).

Saint Kitts is home to a dormant volcano, Mount Liamuiga. Nevis has its own volcano, Nevis Peak. According to the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre, "Nevis is a ‘live’ volcano that will likely erupt in the future."

7. Marshall Islands: 70 square miles (181 square km)

The Marshall Islands are a collection of about 1,200 islands in the Micronesia region of Oceania. From 1947 to 1986, the Marshall Islands were part of the United States' Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.

During that time, the U.S. tested nuclear weapons on the Bikini and Enewetak atolls. Despite cleanup efforts, radiation levels on Bikini remain too high for resettlement, and the Marshallese continue to fight for compensation. (On a lighter note, SpongeBob SquarePants' fictional home of Bikini Bottom was inspired by the atoll.)

In 1991, the Marshall Islands became a member of the United Nations (U.N.). Now, the small island nation faces a new challenge: rising sea levels.

6. Liechtenstein: 62 square miles (160 square km)

Located in Western Europe between Austria and Switzerland, Liechtenstein is smaller in size than Washington, D.C. but one of the richest countries in the world (by GDP per capita) thanks to its low tax rate.

Despite its apparent wealth, Liechtenstein "has no natural resources of commercial value," according to Britannica. Its forested areas are protected, so Liechtenstein must import all natural resources, including wood, from its neighbors.

Liechtenstein joined the U.N. in 1991. In 2008, the country was involved in a major tax evasion scandal; it has since worked to reform its banking policies.

5. San Marino: 24 square miles (61 square km)

The fifth smallest country in the world is San Marino, a mountainous country within north-central Italy. With a constitution dating back to 1600, San Marino is the oldest republic in the world and the only remaining city state in the region.

Its mountainous location kept the small country protected for centuries, and when Napoleon invaded Italy, he respected San Marino's rich history as a sovereign state.

4. Tuvalu: 10 square miles (26 square km)

Tuvalu, a nine-island nation in the south Pacific ocean, is the fourth smallest country in the world — and its shrinking. Tuvalu once consisted of 11 islands, but two of them are gone, due to rising tides.

The New York Times quoted Prime Minister Kausea Natano: “It’s a matter of disappearing from the surface of this earth.”

In November 2023, the Polynesian country entered into an agreement with Australia that would allow 208 Tuvaluans to move to Australia each year. The agreement also provides funding for reclaiming land around the main island of Funafati and other climate infrastructure that will hopefully keep Tuvaluans in their homes.

3. Nauru: 8 square miles (21 square km)

Nauru, a tiny island in the southwest Pacific Ocean, is the third smallest country in the world. With just 10,876 inhabitants, Nauru is also one of the least populated countries in the world.

Unlike other spots on this list, Nauru isn't a tourist destination. The small island country in the Micronesia region has no harbors, and two-thirds of its surface area is covered in rock phosphate. There are no rivers or steams; water is imported and collected during rainfall.

According to Britannica, "Phosphate mining has ravaged the interior of the island, leaving about four-fifths of it uninhabitable and uncultivable." The island is also home to an Australian immigration detention center.

2. Monaco: 0.78 square miles (2.02 square km)

The second smallest country in the world, this principality on the French Riviera is also one of the richest countries in the world (by GDP per capita). It's a tiny strip of Mediterranean coastline surrounded on all sides by France, close to the city of Nice and the French-Italian border.

Monaco is famous for its resorts, the Casino de Monte-Carlo and the Monaco Grand Prix, a Formula 1 car race.

Like fellow tiny tax haven Liechtenstein, Monaco was blacklisted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) until it agreed to banking reform in 2009.

1. Vatican City: 0.19 square miles (0.49 square km)

The smallest sovereign country in the world, both by land area and population, is Vatican City.

Home to the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, Vatican City was declared an independent state in 1929 via the Lateran Treaty, an agreement signed by Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini and Pope Pius XI. The treaty granted Vatican City sovereignty in exchange for papal recognition of the kingdom of Italy.

So, exactly how tiny is this unique country? Vatican City is smaller than New York City's Central Park. Nevertheless, it has its own post office, telephone system, radio station, banking system and even its own currency, the Vatican euro.

About 800 people live here, 75 percent of whom are members of the clergy.

While Vatican City is a bona fide country, it's not recognized by the U.N., the world's largest intergovernmental organization. Instead, it's considered a permanent, nonmember observer, which means it's welcome to sit in the U.N.'s General Assembly and access most U.N. services and benefits, but it can't cast a vote. And that's just fine with Vatican City.

Unlike its only other U.N. counterpart, Palestine, which has repeatedly applied to become a full U.N. member, Vatican City has never done so. In fact, it's the only independent nation to ever decline U.N. membership.

Experts believe it has eschewed membership because the pope doesn't wish to directly interfere in international policies. In addition, if it were to apply for membership, the U.N. might challenge the idea that it's a true country per the U.N.'s definition, which includes the ability to assist with global security. Instead, the U.N. could argue it is simply a religious organization.

5 Smallest Countries by Population

If you're looking at population, you'll see some familiar names.

5. San Marino: 34,017 inhabitants

4. Palau: 18,169 inhabitants

3. Tuvalu: 11,931 inhabitants

2. Nauru: 10,876 inhabitants

1. Vatican City: approximately 800 inhabitants

Honorable Mention: Pitcairn Island

Pitcairn Island has a population of just 50 people, but since it is a British Overseas Territory, rather than an independent nation, we've excluded it from our list of smallest countries.

No. 1 Most Densely Populated Country

Although Monaco is the second smallest country in the world, its population is 39,783, making it the most densely populated country on Earth, according to World Population Review.

Original article: Smallest Countries in the World

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