Have you ever wondered which countries are the most unique in the world?
One way to answer this difficult question is by analyzing the data from the Country Similarity Index. The index attempts to quantify how similar countries are to each other relative to other countries, using a variety of statistics. It weighs equally five major aspects of countries: their demographics, culture, politics, infrastructure, and geography. An analysis of the data gives some suggestions for what countries might be the most unique in the world. Interestingly enough, nine out of the top ten are in Asia. It is easily the most diverse continent.
1. NORTH KOREA
According to the data from the Country Similarity Index, North Korea is the world’s most unique country. No countries are especially similar to it. Although South Korea is similar to North Korea in geography and culture, its government, and infrastructure are vastly different from it.
North Korea’s government is especially unique. The country is a one party state that has been ruled by a single family for over 50 years. Its censorship of media is the most extreme in the world. The media is owned by the government and access to internet is nearly non-existent. It is also suspected that it has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. Unlike a vast majority of countries, it is not part of the World Trade Organization. Military service is mandatory there, in fact it has the highest percentage of people in the military in the world.
North Korea’s culture is quite different from most countries as well. Korean is unrelated to any other major languages. It also uses a unique writing system, Hangul, developed especially for it in the 15th century, to replace Chinese characters. Unlike most countries, North Koreans tend not to be very religious, since their government practices state-sanctioned atheism. As a result, it does not have any official religious holidays. Cheondoism, a relatively new religion native to Korea, is one of the country’s most popular religions. It has elements of traditional Korean shamanism, Taoism, and Buddhism.
Unlike other East Asian countries, most North Koreans live in poverty, although the country’s literacy rate is high. Its infrastructure is not well developed. Very few people own cars and there are only commercial flights to two other countries, Russia and China. Its citizens are rarely allowed to travel outside of North Korea. Access to advanced medical care is also uncommon there. However, the country claims to have the most hospital beds per capita in the world. Despite, its lack of technological advancement, North Korea’s weaponry is more advanced than most countries, since it possesses the atomic bomb.
Bhutan is an extremely unique country located in the Himalayas, between China and India. Although Nepal is another country in the region with similar geography, their native Indo-European languages are unrelated to those spoken in Bhutan. Furthermore, Nepal is predominately Hindu and its people have far less East Asian ancestry.
Dzongkha, the official language in Bhutan is distantly related to Chinese. However, it is written in the Tibetan script that is related other traditional writing systems used in India. Most of its people practice Vajrayana Buddhism, a unique denomination that is only widely prevalent in Mongolia and Bhutan. As a result, the country has many unique official holidays, such as Dashain, Lhabab Duchen, and Blessed Rainy Day. In contrast to most countries, archery is the most popular sport in Bhutan.
The country’s people have a unique mix of East Asian and South Asian ancestry. It also has far more men than women. The education levels and literacy rates in Bhutan are lower than most countries. Most of their people work in agriculture. Its infrastructure is also atypical. Unlike most countries, vehicles drive on the left. They also use Type D electrical outlets that are only common among some former British colonies.
Bhutan is also one of the most mountainous countries in the world. It has the highest unclimbed mountain in the world, Gangkhar Puensum. Mountaineering was completely banned in 2003, due to spiritual beliefs. A majority of the country consists of coniferous forests, along with sparsely vegetated glacial areas at high altitudes. Due to its high average elevation, its climate is much cooler than other countries at its latitude. Despite being located in proximity to some of the most densely populated countries in the world, the country has just 20 people per square km.
Israel is a Middle Eastern country that borders the Mediterranean Sea. According to the data from the Country Similarity Index, Israel is the most unique country in the sense that all other countries are quite different from it. Tunisia and Greece are two of the most similar, but they have massive differences as well.
Israel is the only country where Judaism is the predominate religion. As a result, its government has many holidays that are only officially celebrated in Israel, like Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. Unlike most countries, Labor Day and New Year’s Day are not officially celebrated. Although Hebrew is a Semitic language, similar to Arabic, it has its own unique script. Unlike most countries, the vast majority of their males are circumcised.
Israel has an exceptionally high number of immigrants, with many arriving from Eastern Europe. The country is quite densely populated. Its population boasts one of the highest percentages of college graduates in the world. Very few people work in agriculture there. Israel is also wealthier than most countries and has many millionaires.
Its infrastructure is more developed than most other nations. The country has excellent internet speeds. Its medical technology is also highly developed. Israel’s military is especially advanced. The country spends a large amount of its budget on defense, since its neighboring countries tend to be hostile to it. It is one of the few countries that has nuclear weapons. One oddity is that Israel uses Type H electrical outlets and plugs, unlike any other country.
Singapore is a small island nation off the coast of Malaysia, its most similar country. However, Singapore has more religious and linguistic diversity than Malaysia. It is also much more densely populated and developed. It is sort of the reverse of other countries on this list, since it has a unique blend of influences from many different countries and cultures.
The country has a unique mix of Chinese, Malay, and South Asian people. Although English is the lingua franca, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil are also official languages. Singapore also has quite exceptional religious diversity. Although Buddhism and Christianity are its two largest religions, the country also has many Hindus and Muslims. Easter, Christmas, Vesak, Eid ul-Fitr, Eid Al-Adha, and Divali are all recognized as official holidays there.
Singapore is one of the most densely populated countries in the world and is full of skyscrapers. It is quite swampy and its highest point is less than 200 meters above sea level. The country has very little agricultural land, so it must import much of its food. Its climate is one of the hottest and wettest in the world.
Most of the wealthiest countries are not located in tropical climates. Singapore is a unique exception. The majority of its people commute to work using mass transportation. It has a huge amount of shipping infrastructure, due to its strategic location on the Strait of Malacca. Unlike most countries, it has potable tap water. Its internet speeds are particularly fast as well.
According to the Country Similarity Index, Japan has the lowest average similarity when compared to all other countries. It is the least similar country to many countries. In fact, the data indicates that Niger and Japan are the two least similar countries. Although Taiwan is Japan’s next most similar country, they also have significant differences as well.
Japanese is unrelated to any other major languages. It also uses a unique writing system, combining traditional Chinese characters, kanji, with its own syllable based characters, kana. While most people in the country are not especially religious, Buddhism and its native religion, Shintoism, are widely practiced. It also has a unique sports culture, since baseball is the country’s most popular sport.
Japan has the oldest average population in the world. Over 25% of its people are elderly. It also has one of the highest percentages of college graduates in the world. Despite the nation’s relative prosperity, unlike other wealthy countries, its people tend to be skinnier than the global average.
The country’s technology is also arguably the most developed in the world. Cars and high-speed trains are widely used. Their transportation standards are also different from most of the world, since the country drives on the left and uses 3’6″ gauge railroad tracks. Its electrical standards are also unique, unlike most countries it uses Type A, B electrical outlets and its standard supply voltage is 100v. Furthermore, its major cities tend to be densely populated and have many skyscrapers.
6. East Timor
East Timor became an independent country in 1999, after being occupied for decades by Indonesia. The country is located in an especially biologically diverse region, Wallacea, between the Indo-Malayan and Australasian biogeographical realms. It was once a Portuguese colony, so its official language is Portuguese and most of its people are Catholic. Timorese are especially unique since they have both East Asian and Melanesian ancestry.
Mongolia has traits of Russia, Mongolia, and Central Asia. Its people speak Mongolian, an Altaic language distantly related to Turkic languages. The country adopted the use of the Cyrillic alphabet, but also uses the traditional Mongolian script. Vajrayana Buddhism is the country’s most prevalent religion, a unique denomination that is only widely prevalent in Mongolia and Bhutan. It is also unique geographically, since it is the least densely populated country in the world. Most of its land is grassland. Lamb is an especially popular meat in the country.
Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. It is also one of most polluted countries in the world. Its terrain is low lying and situated on the Ganges River Delta, so the country has many wetlands and is prone to flooding. The vast majority of its land is used for rice farming. Bangladesh is also one of the few predominately Muslim countries that has a tropical climate. It also has some Buddhist and Hindu celebrations as official holidays.
Taiwan is an island nation in the Pacific Ocean. Other than China, few other countries are similar to it. Most of its people speak Mandarin Chinese. Buddhism and traditional Chinese folk religions are widespread there. However, the country does not have any official religious holidays. It is a relatively wealthy country and its population is older than most countries. Unlike most countries, soccer is not especially popular there. Like Japan, it uses Type A, B outlets and 3’6″ railroad track gauge.
10. Cape Verde
Cape Verde is an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Africa. It was once a Portuguese colony, before becoming independent in 1975. It is one of the wealthiest and most developed countries in Africa. Cape Verde was uninhabited, until Europeans brought slaves and indentured servants from Africa to these lands. As a result, their people speak Portuguese creole and are predominately Catholic. Furthermore, its geography is unique. It is a group of mountainous desert islands.
Countries Least Clusterable into Regions
Lowest Most Similar Countries
- Israel – 36.7 (to Tunisia)
- East Timor – 36.0 (to Phillipines)
- North Korea – 35.6 (to South Korea)
- Cape Verde – 34.9 (to Brazil)
- Mongolia – 33.7 (to Kazakhstan)
Lowest Overall Average, Unweighted
Lowest Overall Average, Weighted by Population
Lowest Overall Average, Weighted by Land Area
In contrast, here are the world’s 10 most average countries.
Do you agree with this list? How would you reorder the rankings?
Please leave any thoughts in the comments section.