Difference Wiki

State vs. Country: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Aimie Carlson || Published on November 27, 2023
State refers to a distinct territory within a country, often with its own government, while a country is a sovereign territory with its own government and borders.

Key Differences

A state is a specific territory within a country that may have its own set of laws and government, operating under the broader governance of the country. A country, on the other hand, is a sovereign territory with its own national government, defined borders, and international recognition.
In terms of governance, states usually have some level of autonomy but are subject to the overarching authority of the country's federal or national government. Countries, in contrast, have full sovereignty and conduct international relations and defense independently.
States are often part of a federal system, as seen in countries like the United States or Germany, where each state has distinct administrative powers. Countries represent the entire sovereign territory and are recognized as independent entities in international law and relations.
The term "state" can also refer to a nation or country in a broader sense, but in a federal system, it specifically refers to subdivisions within a country. Countries are recognized political entities with defined territories, governments, and the capacity to enter into relations with other countries.
While states may have their own flags, emblems, and internal regulations, they do not have their own foreign policies or armies, which are the purview of the country. Countries have distinct national identities, international borders, and the right to participate in global affairs.

Comparison Chart


A territory within a country
A sovereign territory with its own government


Subordinate to a national government
Has full sovereignty

Role in International Relations

Does not engage directly
Engages in diplomacy and international relations


Limited autonomy within a country
Fully autonomous


California in the United States
France as an independent nation

State and Country Definitions


A territorial and administrative division within a country.
Texas is the second largest state in the United States.


Refers to the territory of a nation-state.
The country of Australia is a continent in itself.


Often has its own government and laws under the federal system.
The state of Bavaria has its own unique cultural traditions in Germany.


In a legal context, refers to an independent, sovereign state.
Canada is a country with two official languages, English and French.


In a broader sense, can refer to a nation or country.
The State of Japan is an island country in East Asia.


Can signify rural areas, as opposed to cities or towns.
They live in the country, far from the bustling city.


Can refer to the condition or circumstances of something at a particular time.
The state of the economy is a major concern for voters.


A nation with its own government, occupying a particular territory.
France is a country known for its wine and cuisine.


In international law, synonymous with a country or nation.
The member states of the United Nations include 193 countries.


Used to denote the people of a nation collectively.
The whole country celebrated the national team's victory.


A condition or mode of being, as with regard to circumstances
The office was in a state of confusion.


A nation or state.


A condition of being in a stage or form, as of structure, growth, or development
The fetal state.


The territory of a nation or state; land.


What is a state?

A state is a territorial and administrative division within a country.

Can a state have its own government?

Yes, states often have their own governments, especially in federal systems.

How is a country defined?

A country is a sovereign territory with its own government and defined borders.

Are states independent?

States are not fully independent; they are part of a larger country.

Can "state" refer to a whole country?

In international law, "state" can refer to a whole country, but in national contexts, it refers to subdivisions.

Do states have their own armies?

States typically do not have their own armies; defense is a function of the national government.

Do states have their own foreign policies?

No, foreign policy is typically handled by the national government of a country.

Can a country be part of another country?

No, countries are independent; territories within countries are states or regions.

Does a country have international recognition?

Yes, countries are recognized as sovereign entities in international relations.

Can countries engage in foreign affairs?

Countries conduct their own foreign affairs and maintain international relations.

Do states have their own cultures?

States can have distinct cultures, especially in large and diverse countries.

Are all countries sovereign?

Most countries are sovereign, but some territories might have limited recognition.

Are there states in all countries?

Not all countries have states; some have different forms of administrative divisions.

Is a country the same as a nation?

Country and nation are often used interchangeably, though "nation" can have cultural connotations.

Are the terms "country" and "state" interchangeable in the U.S.?

In the U.S., "state" refers to the 50 subdivisions, while "country" refers to the entire United States.

How do states contribute to a country's governance?

States contribute to governance through their own laws and policies, within the framework of the national constitution.

Can a state exist without a country?

In the modern geopolitical sense, states exist as part of countries.

Do countries have distinct legal systems?

Yes, countries have their own legal systems, though states may have additional laws.

Is a country's size related to its number of states?

Not necessarily; the number of states in a country can vary regardless of size.

Can states make treaties with other nations?

Generally, states cannot make treaties; this is usually a power reserved for the national government.
About Author
Written by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons