From Canada and Costa Rica to Mexico and the USA, there are 23 countries in North America. Here’s everything you need to know!

If you visit Iceland there’s a great rift that marks the divide between the continental plates of Europe and North America. Standing on this incredible geographical boundary, which you can visit just outside of Reykjavik, I wondered if Iceland – which spans both tectonic plates – was really in Europe or North America.

The country crosses boundaries, but politically, culturally, and historically, Iceland is in Europe, rather than North America. It got me asking; how many countries are in North America? To the west of Iceland lies Greenland, which sits firmly in North America, but which is technically part of Denmark, and south of Mexico, you have countless Central American nations. Are these in North America, or should Central America be classed as its a distinct geographical region, even if it’s not a continent?

Then there’s the Caribbean, and territories and dependencies like Puerto Rico and Bermuda. Where does North America begin and where does it end? Traditionally, there are 23 countries in North America, and in this article, we’ll explain why. Keep reading, as we answer the important geopolitical question, ‘How many countries are in North America?’.

How many countries are in North America?

North America, a vast and diverse continent, is home to 23 countries. This count encompasses a range of nations, from the expansive landscapes of Canada, the United States, and Mexico, which are among the largest and most economically significant, to the smaller yet culturally rich countries in Central America and the Caribbean.

Central America, bridging North and South America, includes seven countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. Each of these nations boasts distinct cultural and historical backgrounds, often influenced by a combination of indigenous, European, and African heritages.

The Caribbean region, known for its tropical climate, consists of island nations and territories. These include countries like Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Jamaica, among others. The region’s history is deeply intertwined with colonialism, the Atlantic slave trade, and the struggle for independence and identity, which has shaped the diverse nations you see today.

There are dependencies and territories in North America associated with European countries or the United States, too. These territories, including Greenland and Aruba, are not independent countries, but they contribute to the continent’s cultural and political diversity.

A map of North America, by Janwillemvanaalst.

Read more: Is Guatemala a Country? Everything You Need to Know.

List of North American countries

In alphabetical order, here’s a list of the sovereign, UN-recognised countries in North America:

  1. Antigua and Barbuda
  2. Bahamas
  3. Barbados
  4. Belize
  5. Canada
  6. Costa Rica
  7. Cuba
  8. Dominica
  9. Dominican Republic
  10. El Salvador
  11. Grenada
  12. Guatemala
  13. Haiti
  14. Honduras
  15. Jamaica
  16. Mexico
  17. Nicaragua
  18. Panama
  19. Saint Kitts and Nevis
  20. Saint Lucia
  21. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  22. Trinidad and Tobago
  23. United States

Read more: How Many Countries Are in Central America? Everything You Need to Know.

Where is North America?

North America, one of the world’s seven continents, is situated predominantly in the Earth’s northern hemisphere and almost entirely in the western hemisphere. It is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, and South America and the Caribbean Sea to the southeast.

The continent’s geography is incredibly varied, encompassing the icy Arctic regions of northern Canada and Greenland, the extensive mountain ranges such as the Rockies and Appalachians, vast plains in the central United States, and tropical rainforests in Central America. It also includes the Great Lakes, the largest group of freshwater lakes in the world, and the Mississippi River system, one of the longest river systems.

North America’s physical geography profoundly influences its climate and ecosystems. The continent’s size and variety of landscapes result in a wide range of weather patterns and ecological zones. From the tundra of the Canadian Arctic to the deserts of the southwestern United States and Mexico, from the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest to the coral reefs of the Caribbean, the continent’s natural environments are as diverse as its cultures and peoples.

The continent also includes a multitude of islands, particularly in the Caribbean Sea, where each island or island group exhibits its unique geography, from mountainous landscapes to flat, sandy beaches. The proximity of these islands to both the North and South American mainlands has facilitated significant cultural and economic interactions over centuries.

A NASA map of North America.

Read more: Is El Salvador a Country? Everything You Need to Know.

Are there other territories and dependencies in North America?

In addition to the 23 sovereign nations, North America includes several territories and dependencies. These territories are generally not independent and are often associated with or governed by other countries, primarily European nations or the United States.

Some of the notable territories in North America are:

  1. Greenland (an autonomous territory within the Kingdom of Denmark)
  2. Bermuda (a British Overseas Territory)
  3. Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands (Unincorporated territories of the United States)
  4. Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Barthélemy, and Saint Martin (Overseas regions and collectivities of France)
  5. Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten (Constituent countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands)
  6. British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Anguilla, and Turks and Caicos Islands (British Overseas Territories)
  7. Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius (Special municipalities within the Netherlands)

These territories vary greatly in terms of their political status, cultural identity, and economic conditions. They often maintain a degree of local governance, but their foreign affairs and defence are typically handled by their respective sovereign states.

Read more: How Many States in Mexico? Everything You Need to Know.

A brief history of North America

The history of North America is the story of indigenous cultures, European colonisation, African diaspora, and the eventual emergence of nation-states. This history spans thousands of years, beginning with the indigenous peoples who first inhabited the continent.

Prior to European contact, North America was home to a vast array of indigenous cultures, each with its own unique traditions, languages, and social structures. These societies ranged from the nomadic tribes of the Great Plains to the advanced civilizations of the Aztecs and Mayans in Mesoamerica, and the Inuit in the Arctic.

The late 15th century marked a turning point with the arrival of European explorers. Christopher Columbus’s voyages opened the floodgates for European exploration and colonisation. The Spanish, French, and British were among the main colonial powers, each establishing territories. This period was marked by the exploitation of resources, the establishment of colonial settlements, and, tragically, the displacement and decimation of indigenous populations, largely due to disease and conflict.

The transatlantic slave trade brought millions of Africans to North America, profoundly shaping the cultural and social landscape, particularly in the southern United States and Caribbean islands. The labour of enslaved Africans was central to the colonial economies, particularly in the plantation system.

The 18th and 19th centuries saw significant changes. The United States declared independence from Britain in 1776, followed by a wave of independence movements throughout the continent. The 19th century also witnessed the expansion of the United States westward, the Mexican-American War, and the American Civil War, which was pivotal in ending slavery in the United States.

The 20th century was a period of rapid industrialisation and technological advancement. The United States and Canada emerged as major global powers, playing significant roles in both World Wars and the Cold War. The century also saw the struggle for civil rights, particularly for African Americans and indigenous peoples.

In the latter half of the 20th century and into the 21st, North America has continued to evolve, marked by cultural diversification, economic globalisation, and technological innovation.

The Aztecs built great pyramids, like the ones at Teotihuacan near Mexico City.

Read more: How Many Countries Are in South America? Everything You Need to Know.

What’s the largest country in North America?

In North America, the largest countries in terms of area, population, and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are:

  • Area: Canada is the largest country in North America by area. It covers approximately 9.98 million square kilometres, making it the second-largest country in the world by total area.
  • Population: The United States has the largest population in North America. The population is over 333 million people, making it the third most populous country globally.
  • GDP: The United States also leads in terms of GDP. With a diverse and technologically advanced economy, the U.S. has the largest GDP in North America and, indeed, the world, with a nominal GDP of over 21 trillion USD.

Read more: Is Mexico a Country? Everything You Need to Know.

What’s the smallest country in North America?

In North America, the smallest countries in terms of area, population, and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are:

  • Area: Saint Kitts and Nevis is the smallest country in North America by area. This twin-island nation in the Caribbean covers just about 261 square kilometres, making it one of the world’s smallest countries.
  • Population: Saint Kitts and Nevis also has the smallest population in North America. The population is approximately 53,000 people, which places it among the least populous nations globally.
  • GDP: Montserrat, a British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean, has one of the smallest GDPs in North America. Its economy is relatively small, heavily reliant on aid and tourism, and was significantly impacted by volcanic eruptions in the late 1990s.
Fragments of Hope Belize Barrier Reef
The Caribbean Sea is home to the smallest nations in North America.

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Where does South America begin?

South America begins at the Darién Gap, a dense, remote rainforest and swampland region that marks the border between Panama in Central America and Colombia in South America. This area, largely undeveloped and difficult to traverse, is considered the dividing line between the two continents.

The Darién Gap is not only a geographical barrier but also a symbolic one, representing the transition from the North American continent to the distinct cultural, historical, and ecological world of South America.

The Pan-American Highway spans from Alaska in North America to the southern tip of South America and is famously interrupted by the Darién Gap, reflecting the region’s challenging terrain and the clear demarcation it provides between the two continents.

North and South America are divided by impassable swathes of rainforest.

Is Central America in North America?

Central America is geographically a part of North America. It is a narrow isthmus extending from Mexico in the north to Colombia in the south, where it connects with South America. Central America consists of seven countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. T

his region is known for its diverse geography, which includes tropical rainforests, mountains, and coastal plains, as well as a rich cultural history influenced by indigenous peoples, European colonisation, and African heritage. While Central America is often discussed as a distinct region due to its unique cultural and geographical characteristics, it is technically located within the continent of North America.

Central America is known for its volcanoes.

Is the Caribbean in North America?

The Caribbean is generally considered a part of North America, geographically and culturally. The Caribbean region encompasses the Caribbean Sea, its islands (also known as the West Indies), and the surrounding coasts. The region is located southeast of the Gulf of Mexico and the North American mainland, east of Central America, and north of South America.

The Caribbean islands are typically grouped into three main island arcs: the Greater Antilles, which include Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola (shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic), and Puerto Rico; the Lesser Antilles, which include the Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, and others; and the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, which are technically in the Atlantic Ocean but culturally and historically aligned with the Caribbean.

Many countries, like Belize and Guatemala, also share the Caribbean Sea.

Read more: Where is Belize? Everything You Need to Know.

Is Greenland in North America?

Greenland is geographically part of North America. It is the world’s largest island and is situated between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. While geographically North American, politically and culturally, Greenland is closely tied to Europe, specifically Denmark.

Greenland is an autonomous territory within the Kingdom of Denmark. This means that while it handles its domestic affairs, Denmark is responsible for its foreign policy and defence. This unique political status reflects Greenland’s position as a bridge between North America and Europe, both geographically and culturally.

The island is known for its vast ice sheet, which covers most of its land area, and its small population, which is predominantly Inuit, an indigenous people of the Arctic. Greenland’s geography and climate have heavily influenced its culture, economy, and way of life, distinguishing it from both the nearby North American mainland and its political ties to Europe.

Is Iceland in North America?

Iceland is not part of North America. It is an island country located in the North Atlantic Ocean, near the Arctic Circle. Geologically and geographically, Iceland is part of Europe. It lies northwest of the United Kingdom and southeast of Greenland.

Iceland is known for its dramatic landscape, which includes volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, and lava fields. Politically and culturally, Iceland is associated with Europe and is a member of European organisations such as the European Economic Area and the Schengen Agreement. The country’s closest neighbours in terms of cultural and historical ties are the Scandinavian countries, especially Norway and Denmark.

While Iceland is situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet, this geological feature does not classify it as part of North America. Instead, its historical, cultural, and political associations firmly place it within the European context.

Silfra Snorkeling
You can snorkel between tectonic plates in Iceland.

Read more: Where is Iceland? Everything You Need to Know.

So, how many countries are in North America?

North America comprises 23 sovereign countries. This count spans the vast, ice-covered expanses of Canada to the tropical paradises of the Caribbean and the culturally rich nations of Central America.

Understanding the number of countries in North America is a window into the complexity and variety that defines the continent. From the world’s largest economies, like the United States, to the smallest island nations, each plays a vital role in the cultural and geopolitical landscape of the region.

Read more: Is Belize a Country? Everything You Need to Know.

FAQ: How many countries are in North America

Here’s an FAQ on the topic, ‘How many countries are in North America?’:

Q1: How many countries are there in North America?

There are 23 recognised sovereign countries in North America.

Q2: What are the largest countries in North America?

The largest countries in North America by area are Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

Q3: Are there any island countries in North America?

Yes, several island nations in the Caribbean, such as Cuba, Jamaica, and Haiti, are part of North America.

Q4: Is Central America part of North America?

Yes, Central America, including countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama, is geographically part of North America.

Q5: Are there territories in North America apart from the countries?

Yes, North America includes several territories and dependencies, such as Greenland (Denmark) and Puerto Rico (USA).

Q6: Which North American country has the largest population?

The United States has the largest population in North America.

Q7: What is the smallest country in North America by area?

Saint Kitts and Nevis is the smallest country in North America by area.

Q8: Does North America include any part of the Caribbean?

Yes, the Caribbean islands are considered part of North America.

Q9: Which country has the largest economy in North America?

The United States has the largest economy in North America.

Q10: Are there indigenous nations within North American countries?

Yes, there are many indigenous nations and communities within North American countries, each with its own distinct cultures and histories.