There are over 510 million square kilometers of area on the surface of our Earth, but less than 30% of this is covered by land. The rest is water, in the form of vast oceans. Today’s visualization uses data primarily from the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) to rank the world’s countries by their share of Earth’s surface. The largest countries by surface area are Russia (3.35%), Canada (1.96%), and China (1.88%). Together they occupy roughly 7.2% of Earth’s surface. Russia is so big that even if we divided the country between its Asian and European sections, they would still be the largest in either of their respective continents.

Breakdown of countries share of Earth’s surface

The largest countries by surface area are Russia (3.35%), Canada (1.96%), and China (1.88%).

Together they occupy roughly 7.2% of Earth’s surface. Russia is so big that even if we divided the country between its Asian and European sections, those new regions would still be the largest in their respective continents.

The size of countries and location of their borders is determined by politics, economics, history, and geography. Image: Visual Capitalist

You can study the rest of the table here.

Antarctica, although not a country, covers the second largest amount of land overall at 2.75%. Meanwhile, the other nations that surpass the 1% mark for surface area include the United States (1.87%), Brazil (1.67%), and Australia (1.51%).

The remaining 195 countries and regions below 1%, combined, account for the other half of Earth’s land surface. Among the world’s smallest countries are the island nations of the Caribbean and the South Pacific Ocean. However, the tiniest of the tiny are Vatican City and Monaco, which combine for a total area of just 2.51 km².

The remaining 70% of Earth’s surface is water: 27% territorial waters and 43% international waters or areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Areas beyond national jurisdiction

In the past, nations adhered to the freedom-of-the-seas doctrine, a 17th century principle that limited jurisdiction over the oceans to a narrow area along a nation’s coastline. The rest of the seas did not belong to any nation and were free for countries to travel and exploit.

This situation lasted into the 20th century, but by mid-century there was an effort to extend national claims as competition for offshore resources became increasingly fierce and ocean pollution became an issue.

In 1982, the United Nations adopted the Law of the Sea Convention which extended international law over the extra-territorial waters. The convention established freedom-of-navigation rights and set territorial sea boundaries 12 miles (19 km) offshore with exclusive economic zones up to 200 miles (322 km) offshore, extending a country’s influence over maritime resources.

Does size matter?

The size of countries is the outcome of politics, economics, history, and geography. Put simply, borders can change over time.

In 1946, there were 76 independent countries in the world, and today there are 195. There are forces that push together or pull apart landscapes over time. While physical geography plays a role in the identity of nations, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the former ruler of UAE, a tiny Gulf nation, put it best:

“A country is not measured by the size of its area on the map. A country is truly measured by its heritage and culture.”


  1. N Jarvis says:

    Contiguous US, about the same size as Australia less its Islands, recorded no global warming in the 100 years between 1895-1995. This caused quite a stir among the warming brigade who responded by saying that the US was too small an area to calculate a warming or a cooling trend.

  2. Barry Woodful says:

    Not much to go on if you wanted to establish any change in world temperatures. There was no way of accurately measuring global temperature in the southern hemisphere until satellites were employed in 1979 which has shown no significant change..

  3. Murray says:

    If climate is a man made problem, how does one explain cycles of climate change in ancient past – millions or thousands of years ago? I just don’t buy the alarmism that humans are responsible for climate change because if that were in fact true, the earth entering then leaving the ice age between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago would not have happened. Its not climate that is man made, it is climate alarmism and climate politicisation that is man made. Climate continues to wax and wane as it has done for eons and will continue to do so.

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