map placeholder
Click on a country for details.

Countries Never Colonized 2024

Colonization occurs when one country takes over the lands and people of another country or territory and subjects them to rule by its government instead of their own. For example, the American colonies before the Revolutionary War were land holdings of the British government and ruled by the British king—despite the fact that the Native Americans lived in North America for thousands of years before the European colonists arrived. When one country colonizes another country or territory, it usually exploits the land, resources, and people of the colonized lands for economic gain. Many countries celebrate a national Independence Day to rejoice that they are no longer colonies under foreign rule.

Nearly every country on Earth has been either a colonized territory or a colonizing power at some point in its history (some countries have been both). Moreover, most of the tiny subset of countries that have not been colonized have had to forcefully repel attempts at colonization. For example, several foreign nations have attempted to colonize Afghanistan, but its rugged terrain and tribalistic culture have thwarted those efforts. Similarly, the British sought to colonize Nepal during the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814-1816 but were hampered by the mountainous terrain. In the end, the Brits were able to claim some of Nepal's territory, but their attempts to declare the country a British colony were ultimately unsuccessful.

Countries that have never been colonized:

The term "colonization" means different things to different people. Because of this disparity, the list of countries that have never been colonized varies tremendously from one source to the next. In addition, many lists focus upon countries that were not colonized by European countries—which misrepresents countries that were colonized by a country from Asia or Africa. Ultimately, of all the countries in the world, only one consistently appears on every list of countries that have never been colonized: Japan.

Several other countries appear on various lists. However, they all have events in their history that arguably make them colonies according to one definition or another.

The varied and disputed meanings of "colonization"

Countries that have been occupied by a foreign power are often considered to have been colonies. But many experts say that there is a distinct difference between a country that has been occupied or ruled over as compared to one that has been colonized. Case in point: Afghanistan was never officially colonized, but some historians say the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan from 2001 to 2021 counts as colonization.

Thailand, known in the nineteenth century as the Kingdom of Siam, was surrounded by the colonized countries of French Indochina (modern-day Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam) and British Burma (modern-day Myanmar). The Siamese king adopted many pro-European customs and developed strong relations with the British to prevent the full colonization of his land. However, Thailand (along with Korea and parts of Mongolia and China) was later occupied by Japan during World War II—which many historians classify as colonization rather than an occupation.

The reason Japan's occupation is considered by many to be a colonization while similar situations during World War II are considered occupations—Italy's annexing of Ethiopia and Germany's conquest of Poland, for example—is due to the actions of the occupying country. Japan actively attempted to replace the local culture with Japanese culture. In Korea, for example, thousands of Korean men were forced to join Japan's military, use of the Korean language was suppressed, Koreans were forced to adopt Japanese surnames (known as as Sōshi-kaimei), thousands of culturally relevant Korean artifacts were taken to Japan or destroyed, and approximately 850,000 Japanese citizens were resettled in Korea. To many historians, this effort to not simply occupy another country, but assimilate and convert its population distinguishes an occupation from an attempted colonization.

In other cases, countries may have operated as unofficial de facto colonies, in which their lands and people were exploited for economic gain but the colonizing power did not establish its government in that country. For example, for much of the twentieth century, Britain held the rights to virtually all of the oil under Iran's land. The British government did not officially rule Iran, but it did own the country's most valuable resource, which greatly affected the Iranian government's policies and operations. Likewise, China was never formally colonized, but the Opium Wars of 1839-1842 and 1856-1860 were fought to ensure that British opium merchants had access to Chinese markets. These countries were neither colonies in the traditional sense nor fully free and sovereign.

Today, the effects of colonization can be seen worldwide, in the languages that a given nation's citizens speak (many Africans speak English or French as their primary language), the customs that they hold, and the exports they send out to the world.

  • In addition to the countries listed, a number of additional Asian and Middle Eastern countries were occupied or rendered non-sovereign by foreign interests at one time or another.These countries may have functioned as de facto colonies, but whether they could be considered official colonies is a matter of some dispute: Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Syria, and United Arab Emirates.

Download Table Data

Enter your email below, and you'll receive this table's data in your inbox momentarily.

Argument Against Label
AfghanistanNever colonized despite Britain's attempts in the Anglo-Afghan Wars (1839-1842 and 1878-1880) and Russia's 1979 invasion. Foreign relations controlled by Britain 1880-???, but remained self-governing. Occupied and controlled by US 2001-2021, but not colonized.
BhutanNever colonized, though it ceded territory to Britain at the end of the Duar War in 1865. Became British protectorate in 1866 a "princely state" in 1910, which established Bhutanese independence but left Britain still in control of Bhutanese foreign policy.
ChinaConquered by Mongols in 1200s, who established Yuan dynasty and ruled until 1368 AD. Opium wars entrenched outside influence and gave UK control over Hong Kong from 1841-1997, gave France, Russia, US additional influence as well; portions annexed by Japan during WWII. However, never actually colonized.
EthiopiaAvoided becoming Italian colony due to a treaty mistranslation, then avoided it again by winning subsequent war with Italy. Annexed by Italy 1939-1944 (WWII), but this is generally considered brief military occupation rather than colonization.
IranConquered and briefly ruled by Greece 334 BC, ruled by various Arab kingdoms (approx. 600s to 800s), parts occupied by or ceded to Russia during wars in 1804–1813 and 1826–1828. Like Ottoman Turkey, took out loans that gave UK and Russia outsized control over economy in 1900s, with oil rights owned by UK for many years. But never colonized.
JapanAfter defeating China in the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895 and Russia in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, Japan not only avoided colonization, but became a conqueror itself, annexing Korea and Manchuria for a time.
LiberiaNever forcibly colonized, although it was founded as a de facto US colony. Founded in 1820 by the American Colonization Society to return freed slaves to their homeland. Declared its independence in 1847, which was recognized by US in 1862.
MongoliaEstablished Genghis Khan's Mongol Empire in 1200s, Absorbed by China's Qing dynasty in late 1600s, ruled by China until 1911, then became satellite state (but not colony) of Soviet Union 1924 to 1992. Yet never colonized.
NepalAvoided outright colonization by Brits, but ceded significant territory during Anglo-Nepalese War (1814-1816) and became British protectorate in 1816. Arguably functioned as British puppet state for some time.
North KoreaNever colonized by a European country. Annexed by Japan in 1910 and occupied until 1945, which some historians consider a colonization.
Saudi ArabiaVarying but significant areas controlled by Ottoman empire from early 1500s-early 1900s. Established as a British protectorate—but not a colony—in 1915 and became fully independent in 1932.
South KoreaNever colonized by a European country. Annexed by Japan in 1910 and occupied until 1945, which some historians consider a colonization.
ThailandNever colonized by European country (despite attempts by both France and Great Britain). Arguably colonized by Japan during WWII, though some consider that time a military occupation rather than colonization.
TongaBritish protected state 1900-1970, giving Britain preferential trade terms and control over foreign affairs. However, remained self-governing.
TurkeyPart of the Ottoman Empire throughout much of modern history. Took loans from European banks after the Crimean War (1853-1856), giving foreign interests significant influence and control, but remained self-governing.

Which countries have never been colonized?

Japan is the only country that was never colonized.

Frequently Asked Questions