Did You Know There Are 23 Countries in North America?

Map of Earth focusing on North America, US, Canada, Mexico and Central America
If you thought North America only included the U.S., Canada and Mexico, think again. titoOnz / Shutterstock

North America is the world's third largest continent by land area, bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and South America and the Caribbean Sea to the south. This incredible size means there are quite a few countries in North America.

But just how many, exactly? The answer isn't quite as straightforward as you might think.

How Many Countries Are There in North America?

There are 23 countries in North America, including three in Northern America, seven in Central America and 13 in the Caribbean Sea. The regional breakdown of these sovereign states is as follows:

Northern America

  1. Canada

  2. Mexico

  3. United States

Central America

  1. Belize

  2. Costa Rica

  3. El Salvador

  4. Guatemala

  5. Honduras

  6. Nicaragua

  7. Panama

The Caribbean Sea

  1. Antigua and Barbuda

  2. The Bahamas

  3. Barbados

  4. Cuba

  5. Dominica

  6. Dominican Republic

  7. Grenada

  8. Haiti

  9. Jamaica

  10. Saint Kitts and Nevis

  11. Saint Lucia

  12. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

  13. Trinidad and Tobago

Non-sovereign States

North America also encompasses 23 dependent territories, or non-sovereign states, which include:

  1. Anguilla

  2. Aruba

  3. Bermuda

  4. Bonaire

  5. British Virgin Islands

  6. Cayman Islands

  7. Clipperton Island

  8. Curaçao

  9. Federal Dependencies of Venezuela

  10. Greenland

  11. Guadeloupe

  12. Martinique

  13. Montserrat

  14. Puerto Rico

  15. Turks and Caicos

  16. Saba

  17. Saint Barthélemy

  18. Saint Martin

  19. Saint Pierre and Miquelon

  20. San Andrés and Providencia

  21. Sint Eustatius

  22. Sint Maarten

  23. Virgin Islands

Overview of the North American Continent

The North American continent occupies the northern portion of the landmass historically referred to as the New World. Its three main regions are Northern America, Central America and the Caribbean Sea (also referred to as the West Indies).

Northern America includes just three countries: Canada, Mexico and the U.S.

Canada is positioned above the U.S., while Mexico lies below it, meaning the U.S. shares a border with each of these countries. The combined land area of these three countries is 8.4 million square miles (21.8 million square kilometers), making Northern America the largest segment of North America in terms of land.

Central America is the second largest segment of North America, with a land area of 201,595 square miles (522,278 square kilometers). This specific region within Latin America consists of a narrow land connection between North and South America and encompasses seven countries. From roughly north to south, they are Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

The West Indies, located in the Caribbean Sea, consists of numerous islands, including the Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic; the smaller nations of Saint Kitts, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent; and others.

While there are some truly tiny countries and territories here(the island of Sint Maarten is just 13 square miles, or 34 square kilometers), this region still contributes 89,290 square miles (231,336 square kilometers) of land to North America.

Major Countries by Land Area

The largest country in North America by land area is Canada, which is also the second largest country in the world. (The largest country in the world is Russia.) Canada's land area is approximately 3.85 million square miles (9.98 million square kilometers). Its capital is Ottawa, located in the province of Ontario, and the country is known for the British, French and Indigenous influences on its culture.

Following closely behind Canada is the U.S., which is the second largest country in North America and the third largest country in the world. Its land area is about 3.79 million square miles (9.83 million square kilometers). The U.S. is known for its diverse geography, including the Appalachian Mountains and Death Valley, one of the hottest places on Earth.

Mexico, the third largest country on the continent, is known for its vibrant culture and capital city, Mexico City. The country covers approximately 758,449 square miles (1.96 million square kilometers). With nearly 130 million people, Mexico is home to more Spanish speakers than any other country in the world. People have been living on the land that is present-day Mexico for thousands of years, with the area's rich agricultural history potentially dating as far back as 7,050 B.C.

The Most Populated North American Countries

The combined population of all 23 of the North American countries is more than 600 million people.

The 10 most populous countries are:

  • United States: 341.8 million people

  • Mexico: 129.4 million people

  • Canada: 39.1 million people

  • Guatemala: 18.4 million people

  • Haiti: 11.9 million people

  • Dominican Republic: 11.4 million people

  • Cuba: 11.2 million people

  • Honduras: 10.8 million people

  • Nicaragua: 7.1 million people

  • El Salvador: 6.4 million people

What Languages Are Spoken in North America?

North America's population is diverse, with a mix of Indigenous people, Latin Americans, African Americans and immigrants from all over the world. This means people speak hundreds of different languages on the continent.

In total, the number of languages spoken in North America is estimated to be around 400, considering both Indigenous and non-Indigenous languages, although that number could potentially be even higher, especially when you consider different regional dialects.

The most common language groups in North America include the following.

Indigenous Languages

There are hundreds of Indigenous languages spoken by various Native American tribes across North America, including the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Central America.

European Languages

  • English: Predominantly spoken in the U.S., Canada, Belize and several Caribbean nations.

  • Spanish: Predominantly spoken in Mexico, most of Central America and some Caribbean nations.

  • French: Predominantly spoken in parts of Canada (especially Quebec), Haiti and some Caribbean territories.

  • Dutch: Spoken in parts of the Caribbean, such as Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten.

Creole and Pidgin Languages

People speak various Creole languages in the Caribbean, such as Haitian Creole in Haiti, Jamaican Patois in Jamaica, and others in countries like the Bahamas, Belize, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Other Languages

People speak many other languages in North America, mainly due to immigration, including Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, German, Italian, Korean and many more.

Natural Resources

North America is rich in natural resources that drive its economies.

The fertile soils of the U.S., especially in the Midwest, known as the "breadbasket" of the world, produce substantial quantities of corn, wheat and soybeans. Additionally, the U.S. is rich in coal, natural gas and oil, with significant reserves in states like Texas, Alaska and North Dakota.

Canada is renowned for its vast oil sands in Alberta, which make it one of the largest oil producers globally. Besides oil, Canada has substantial natural gas reserves, timber and mineral resources, including gold, nickel and uranium.

Meanwhile, Mexico is a major producer of silver and oil, with its oil reserves primarily located along the Gulf of Mexico. The country also has significant deposits of copper, lead and zinc.

Economic Importance

The economic influence of North America is considerable, and it contributes a significant portion to the global GDP, or gross domestic product. Canada’s economy is bolstered by its natural resources, with major industries including oil and gas, mining and forestry. The country also has a robust manufacturing sector, particularly in automotive production.

Canada's neighbor to the south, the U.S. is a global leader in technology, finance and manufacturing. Silicon Valley in California is a hub for tech innovation, home to many of the world's leading tech companies like Apple, Google and Facebook. Wall Street in New York City is the epicenter of global finance, wielding influence over stock markets worldwide.

Mexico has extensive trade relations that benefit its economy, particularly agreements like the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). The country also has a strong manufacturing base, especially in the automotive and electronics sectors, and its agricultural industry exports a significant amount of fruits and vegetables year over year.

Historical Context

North America's history is deeply intertwined with that of the British Empire and other European powers that colonized the continent.

The name "America" is derived from the explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who sailed to the Americas around 1500. After that, people began using the term "America" to mean the New World as a whole. But North America’s history spans thousands of years, beginning even earlier than that. Indigenous peoples inhabited the continent long before the Europeans made contact.

These diverse Indigenous groups, including the Iroquois, Sioux, Maya, Aztec and Inuit, developed complex societies with their own rich traditions and cultures. The arrival of European explorers in the late 15th and early 16th centuries marked the beginning of significant changes, conflicts and the oppression of the Indigenous people by the Europeans.

Colonization of the Americas

The voyages of Christopher Columbus, sponsored by Spain, initiated greater exploration of the American countries, but it also facilitated colonization by European powers, including Spain, France and Britain.

The French settled in parts of Canada and the central U.S., while the Spanish colonized large areas of the present-day U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean. The British Empire established colonies along the eastern coast of what is now the U.S. and Canada.

The cultural landscape of North America has been profoundly influenced by its colonial past and the continuous waves of immigration from around the world. The British influence is particularly strong in the U.S. and Canada, seen in the widespread use of the English language and the legal and political systems.

In Mexico and parts of the U.S., Spanish influence is everywhere, reflecting the legacy of Spanish colonization. Meanwhile, the African diaspora has also left an imprint, especially in the U.S. and the Caribbean, contributing to the music, cuisine and religious practices.

A Cultural Melting Pot

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, North America became a destination for millions of immigrants from around the world in search of better opportunities, many of them escaping political hardships. This constant flow of new cultures and traditions has made North America one of the most culturally diverse regions in the world.

People often describe the U.S. as a "melting pot," where various cultures blend to create a unique American identity. Similarly, Canada promotes a "mosaic" model, celebrating multiculturalism and diversity throughout its culture.

Tourism and Natural Wonders

Tourism plays a vital role in North America's economy. Cities like New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Toronto, Mexico City and Havana offer a blend of historical sites and modern experiences. Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States, is home to iconic landmarks like the White House, the Capitol, and numerous museums and monuments on the National Mall.

Mexico is famous for its ancient civilizations, with archaeological sites like Chichen Itza, Teotihuacan and Palenque attracting history buffs. The country's vibrant festivals, cuisine and colonial architecture also appeal to visitors.

Visitors are drawn to the continent's natural wonders, too. These include Denali (formerly known as Mount McKinley) in Alaska, the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Niagara Falls on the U.S.-Canada border, Yellowstone National Park in the western U.S. and the pristine beaches of the Caribbean countries like those in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

In the United States, California offers beaches in Southern California and forests and mountains in Northern California. Meanwhile, Florida is famous for its theme parks like Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, as well as the naturally beautiful Everglades.

In Canada, people flock to the Rocky Mountains for excellent skiing and snowboarding in the winter, and hiking in the summer. The Maritimes in eastern Canada are famous for their seafood and charming small towns. British Columbia is another top destination, featuring temperate rainforests, multicultural cities like Vancouver and natural spots like the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort.

The Caribbean islands are a major draw for tourists who are looking to spend time in the sun, sand and sea. Known for pristine beaches, clear turquoise waters, and excellent diving and snorkeling sites, the West Indies are a favorite among travelers for both relaxation and adventure.

We created this article in conjunction with AI technology, then made sure it was fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.

Now That's Interesting

In the northeastern parts of what you might otherwise think is Canada, you'll find an archipelago that makes up the Territorial Collectivity of St. Pierre and Miquelon. The people who reside on these 93 square miles (242 square kilometers) of land are French citizens.

Original article: Did You Know There Are 23 Countries in North America?

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