It is well known that the United States has 50 states. What is much less known is which other countries around the world also have states—or even the precise definition of a state in the first place. Part of this confusion lies in the fact that "state" has two distinctly different, but confusingly similar meanings. Under the first definition, which is typically used in an international context, the word "state" is essentially interchangeable with "nation" or "country." For example, the individual countries that make up the United Nations are also called sovereign states. Under its second definition, "state" is a type of administrative division, which is a portion of a country that has significant autonomy, but that is still part of a larger nation.
For example, U.S. states have a high degree of autonomy—they elect their own local leaders and are free to make their own laws—but they stop short of being sovereign, or self-ruling, states because they are part of a larger nation (the United States) and are beholden to the U.S. national government whose laws supersede state laws. Nearly every national government on Earth utilizes some form of administrative division, but only a few countries specifically choose to call those divisions states. Rather, administrative divisions take on a wide variety of names and formats: states, provinces, parishes, territories, departments, districts, prefectures, krais, oblasts, okrugs, and more.
13 Countries other than the U.S. that have states:
- New Zealand
- South Sudan
States of Australia, Austria, and Brazil
Australia has six states: New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia. Each state has its own constitution that divides each state's government into the same branches as the federal government (legislative, executive, and judiciary). Australia also has ten territories, which have less national influence than states. One of these is the Australian Capital Territory, which functions much like Washington DC in the U.S., and seven are external territories such as Christmas Island and the Coral Sea Islands.
Austria has a slightly simpler system with nine Bundesländer, which translates to "federal states" in German, and no additional territories. Brazil is divided into 26 states and the federal district of Brasilia—which, again, resembles Washington D.C.
States of Germany, India, and Malaysia
Germany is divided into 16 states, also called Bundesländer, or simply Länder ("states" in German), three of which are generally considered Stadtstaaten ("city-states"): Berlin, Hamburg, and Bremen (which includes Bremerhaven). The other 13 are Flächenländer, or ("area states").
India's state system is actually quite complex, with 28 states, eight less autonomous "union territories" (one of which is the capital territory and three of which are partial states) governed by a presidentially appointed administrator, and more than two-dozen "autonomous administrative divisions," which are smaller regions that have been granted autonomy from the states in which they are located.
Malaysia is a union of 13 states (or Negeri)—11 on the Malay peninsula and two on the nearby island of Borneo—as well as three federal territories. Nine of the 13 states are ruled by monarchs: seven sultans, one raja, and one "Yang di-Pertua Besar."
States of Mexico, Micronesia, and Myanmar
Mexico is comprised of 31 states and the federal capital district of Mexico City. Each state in Mexico has its own congress and constitution and can make its own laws so long as they do not contradict the laws of the nation. This is very similar to the structure of the United States. Micronesia utilizes a simple system of grouping its many individual islands into four states, arranged in a roughly horizontal row.
Myanmar's system is somewhat more complex. The country has 21 administrative divisions, but only seven of these are states. The remaining divisions are seven regions, five self-administered zones, one union territory, and one self-administered region. The main difference between states and regions, which were called divisions until 2010, is whether the population is predominantly Burman/Bamar or comprised of one of Myanmar's ethnic minorities.
States of New Zealand, Nigeria, Palau, and South Sudan
New Zealand utilizes one of the more unusual applications of the term "state" in that the country itself is divided into regional councils and territorial authorities rather than states. However, in an arrangement that seemingly merges the two definitions of "state" to create a third, New Zealand also includes two "self-governing states in free association with New Zealand": Cook Islands and Niue. Nigeria, by comparison, opted for a more traditional scheme of 36 states and one federal capital territory, similar to the systems in use in the United States and Mexico. Palau also relies upon a relatively simple division of 16 states, each with its own constitution and the power to elect its own local leaders.
South Sudan is devoted to the idea of statehood, but has experimented with several different configurations in recent years. From 2011 through 2014, the country had 10 states. However, some among the government adopted a system of 21 states beginning on Jan 01, 2015. Not all in the government approved of the change, but the country nonetheless divided into not 21, but 28 states from 2015 through 2016. Two years later, in January 2017, then-President Kiir issued a decree that tweaked the divisions to create a 32-state system. Finally, in February 2020, a peace treaty between South Sudan, Sudan, and Kenya re-established the original system of 10 states—with the addition of two "administrative areas" in territory claimed by both South Sudan and either Kenya or Sudan, and one "area with special administrative status" considered to be part of both South Sudan and Sudan.
United States administrative divisions
The United States has 50 states and the District of Columbia. Each U.S. state has its own government and a state constitution. Because of this, laws on different issues vary by state, such as abortion laws and e-cigarette regulations. Moreover, the quality of life in one state can vary significantly from the quality of life in other states. This is considered one of the downsides of a federal system, and a concern that every country with any sort of administrative division will have to confront.