What is the Smallest Country in the World?

A picture of Vatican City, which is often cited as the smallest country in the world

The Common Answer

Most lists that talk about the smallest countries in the world will say that Vatican City, a city-state inside of Rome, Italy is the smallest country in the world. Its full landmass is 0.44 square kilometers (0.17 square miles), meaning that per square kilometer, they have 2.27 popes. However, many will point to the micronation of Sealand for a different answer.


Sealand is a self-proclaimed micronation off the coast of the United Kingdom, based in an artificial structure. Despite many claims by Sealand’s ‘government,’ they have not in fact been recognized by any countries. Their claims come from two foreign involvements – one with the UK and one with Germany. 

Their ‘relations’ with the UK were really only mentions in a legal case from 1968. The case carried out by a British court, definitively found that Sealand was outside of Britain’s territorial waters and thus the UK could not claim that entity as theirs. In 1987, Britain extended its territorial waters and Sealand from then on lay within British territorial waters. The original court case said nothing regarding any legitimate sovereignty for Sealand. Also, their ‘relations’ with Germany came as a result of a hostage incident. Neither of their proclaimed relations provided recognition to Sealand.

Sealand itself started as a result of the then-new laws in the US and the UK about the government’s ability to look into the data of most online businesses. Sealand was to be a haven from that as they would not regulate data traffic, although Sealand’s lack of regulation meant that it was eventually used as a front for illegal activities. Before 1967, the structure was used by a pirate radio station and before that was used in World War II by the UK. The original iron platform was about the size of a tennis court.

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is a country with diplomatic ties to over 100 other countries worldwide (and by the UN) and is around 0 square kilometers (0 square miles) in size. It started out as a progressive hospital in Jerusalem to help out those of any race, religion, or group. After the Crusades, it became a religiously-motivated empire that wanted to keep the Holy Land as a Christain territory. Around 200 years later, it was kicked out and jumped from place to place and eventually settled in Malta. It then formed into an empire and put ‘Malta’ into its name. Napolean Bonaparte kicked them out of Malta and they relocated to Rome, where their headquarters are still located. They are now an organization that has a sovereign status because a pope said so. Their goals nowadays include religiously-motivated goals as well as servicing the poor.

The country still has a reasonable military, which is surprising considering its size. Costa Rica is 51,100 sq. km. (19,700 sq. mi.) and has no real military! Also surprising is the number of countries that recognize the group as an independent nation. Whilst the US does not, the UN does, and 108 countries have diplomatic relations with the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Notable countries with diplomatic ties to the country include Egypt, Germany, Russia, and Brazil. Also surprising is the fact that their only territory is extraterritorial (meaning that it does not count as real territory of the country). These are things like embassies wherein the line of who owns them is blurry. Others say that their group headquarters is not extraterritorial and that their territory is larger than nothing, although still incredibly small, including only two or so buildings. No matter what, they are clearly smaller than Vatican City and they are arguably a country!

4 thoughts on “What is the Smallest Country in the World?

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