Answers to many frequently asked questions are explained in the Definitions and Notes section in The World Factbook. Please review this section to see if your question is already answered there. In addition, we have compiled the following list of FAQs to answer other common questions.
The staff cannot provide data beyond what appears in The World Factbook. The format and information in the Factbook are tailored to the specific requirements of US Government officials and content is focused on their current and anticipated needs. The staff welcomes suggestions for new entries.
Formerly the website and the published Factbook were only updated annually. In November 2001, the Factbook began more frequent online updating and for many years bi-weekly updates were the norm. In late 2010, online updating on weekly basis began and that schedule continues today.
The CIA discontinued publishing the printed Factbook after the 2007 edition; subsequent annual editions were published by the US Government Printing Office through the 2016-17 edition. Although no longer produced in hardcopy, annual online editions of The World Factbook are accessible on the Factbook website and may be downloaded in whole or in part.
Yes, The World Factbook is in the public domain and may be used freely by anyone at anytime without seeking permission. However, US Code (Section 403m) prohibits use of the CIA seal in a manner which implies that the CIA approved, endorsed, or authorized such use. For any questions about your intended use, you should consult with legal counsel. Further information on use of The World Factbook is described on the Contributors and Copyright Information page. As a courtesy, please cite The World Factbook when used.
Although estimates and projections start with the same basic data from censuses, surveys, and registration systems, final estimates and projections can differ as a result of factors including data availability, assessment, and methods and protocols.
Data availability Researchers may obtain specific country data at different times. Estimates or projections developed before the results of a census have been released will not be as accurate as those that take into account new census results.
Assessment Researchers can differ in their assessment of data quality and in their estimates based on the available country data. They often need to adjust their estimates due to such factors as undercounting in a census or underregistration of births or deaths.
Methods and protocols Differences in methods and protocols can shape the way estimates and projections are made of fertility, mortality, and international migration, and how these data are integrated with the population data. For example, the US Census Bureau uses a model that projects the population ahead by single years of age, a single year at a time (population statistics used in the Factbook are based on this model), whereas the United Nations model projects five-year age groups forward, five years at a time.
World Factbook data may be based on different dates of information. In the above example, the GDP – per capita numbers are for past years where each year’s GDP is the population number divided by the relevant year. The population numbers shown in the People category are estimates for the current year and should not be used to calculate per capita income for earlier years.
The World Factbook provides national-level information on countries, territories, and dependencies, but not subnational administrative units within a country. A comprehensive encyclopedia might be a source for state/province-level information.
The World Factbook does not partner with other organizations or individuals, but we do welcome comments and suggestions that such groups or persons choose to provide.
Previous editions of the Factbook, beginning with 2000, are available for downloading – but not browsing – on the CIA website. Rehosted versions of earlier editions of the Factbook are available for browsing, as well as for downloading, at other Internet web sites. We urge caution, however, in attempting to create time series by stringing together economic data – especially dollar values – from previous editions of the Factbook. Over time, data sources, definitions, and economic accounting methods have changed. We occasionally have made these changes ourselves in order to provide our readers with the best information available. Also, in the case of dollar values, changes in relative exchange rates and prices may make trends difficult to comprehend. Therefore, individuals should consult additional resources when doing comparative research or trend analysis
The World Factbook is not a gazetteer (a dictionary or index of places, usually with descriptive or statistical information) and cannot provide more than the names of the administrative divisions (in the Government category) and major cities/towns (on the country maps). Our expanded Cross-Reference List of Geographic Names (Appendix F), however, includes many of the world’s major geographic features as well as historic (former) names of countries and cities mentioned in The World Factbook.
Although the European Union (EU) is not a country, it has taken on many nation-like attributes, and these may be expanded in the future. Additionally, the EU is either a member, partner, or observer in many international organizations and has diplomatic representation with many countries. It is for these reasons that a separate European Union entry was created. A more complete explanation on the inclusion of the EU into the Factbook may be found in the “Preliminary statement” of the European Union entry.
Vatican City is found under Holy See. The term “Holy See” refers to the authority and sovereignty vested in the Pope and his advisors to direct the worldwide Catholic Church. As the jurisdictional equal of a state, the Holy See can enter into treaties and sends and receives diplomatic representatives. Vatican City, created in 1929 to administer properties belonging to the Holy See in Rome, is recognized under international law as a sovereign state, but it does not send or receive diplomatic representatives. Consequently, Holy See is included as a Factbook entry, with Vatican City cross-referenced in the Geographic Names appendix.
The World Factbook provides information on the administrative divisions of a country as recommended by the United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN). The BGN is a component of the US Government that develops policies, principles, and procedures governing the spelling, use, and application of geographic names – domestic, foreign, Antarctic, and undersea. Its decisions enable all departments and agencies of the US Government to have access to uniform names of geographic features.
Also included in the Factbook are entries on parts of the world whose status has not yet been resolved (e.g., West Bank, Spratly Islands). Specific regions within a country or areas in dispute among countries are not covered.
It all depends on whether one is looking at total area (land and water) when making the comparison (which is the criterion used by the Factbook) or just land area (which excludes inland water features such as rivers and lakes).
Total area (combining land and water)
United States = 9,826,630 sq km, China = 9,596,960 sq km
Land only (without any water features)
United States = 9,161,923 sq km, China = 9,326,410 sq km
The five entities are no longer in The World Factbook because their status has changed. While they are overseas departments of France, they are also now recognized as French regions, having equal status to the 22 metropolitan regions that make up European France. In other words, they are now recognized as being part of France proper. Their status is somewhat analogous to Alaska and Hawaii vis-à-vis the contiguous United States. Although separated from the larger geographic entity, they are still considered to be an integral part of it.
Inclusion of photos in The World Factbook is a long-term project, and we plan to continuously add more photos to the site over time. Eventually, we hope to have images for every country in the Factbook.
We appreciate the many offers from the public to contribute to our photo collection. However, we only use photos from US Government sources.
Yes! All photos in The World Factbook are in the public domain.
Policies and Procedures
The Factbook staff uses many different sources to publish what we judge are the most reliable and consistent data for any particular category. Space considerations preclude a listing of these various sources.
The Factbook staff follows the guidance of the United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN). The BGN is the component of the United States Government that develops policies, principles, and procedures governing the spelling, use, and application of geographic names – domestic, foreign, Antarctic, and undersea. Its decisions enable all departments and agencies of the US Government to have access to uniform names of geographic features. The position of the BGN is that the names Burma and Sea of Japan be used in official US Government maps and publications.
US Federal agencies are required by the Metric Conversion Act of 1975 (Public Law 94-168) and by Executive Order 12770 of July 1991 to use the International System of Units, commonly referred to as the metric system or SI. In addition, the metric system is used by over 95% of the world’s population.
The Factbook staff judges that this information would only be useful for some (generally smaller) countries. Larger countries can have large temperature extremes that do not represent the landmass as a whole.
Flag designs used in The World Factbook are based on various national and vexillological sources.
We have two sets of GDP dollar estimates in The World Factbook , one derived from purchasing power parity (PPP) calculations and the other derived from official exchange rates (OER). Other sources probably use one of the two. See the Definitions and Notes section on GDP and GDP methodology for more information.
Although Chiefs of State and The World Factbook both appear on the CIA Web site, they are produced and updated on different weekly schedules. Chiefs of State includes fewer countries but more leaders, whereas The World Factbook has a much larger database and includes all countries.
Because of rounding, percentage distributions do not always add precisely to 100%. Rounding of numbers always results in a loss of precision – i.e., error. This error becomes apparent when percentage data are totaled, as the following two examples show:
|Original Data||Rounded to a whole #|
When this occurs, we do not force the numbers to add exactly to 100, because doing so would introduce additional error into the distribution.
In deciding on the number of digits to present, the Factbook staff assesses the accuracy of the original data and the needs of US Government officials. All of the economic data are processed by computer – either at the source or by the Factbook staff. The economic data presented in The Factbook, therefore, follow the rounding convention used by virtually all numerical software applications, namely, any digit followed by a “5” is rounded up to the next higher digit, no matter whether the original digit is even or odd. Thus, for example, when rounded to the nearest integer, 2.5 becomes 3, rather than 2, as occurred in some pre-computer rounding systems.
For most countries, this entry presents the date that sovereignty was achieved and from which nation, empire, or trusteeship. For other countries, the date may be some other significant nationhood event such as the traditional founding date or the date of unification, federation, confederation, establishment, or state succession and so may not strictly be an “Independence” date. Dependent entities have the nature of their dependency status noted in this same entry.
Spelling and Pronunciation
The Factbook staff applies the names and spellings from the World Leaders link on the CIA Web site. The World Factbook is prepared using the standard American English computer keyboard and does not use any special characters, symbols, or most diacritical markings in its spellings. Surnames are always spelled with capital letters; they may appear first in some cultures.
The United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN) recommends and approves names and spellings. The BGN is the component of the United States Government that develops policies, principles, and procedures governing the spelling, use, and application of geographic names – domestic, foreign, Antarctic, and undersea. Its decisions enable all departments and agencies of the US Government to use uniform names of geographic features. (A note is usually included where changes may have occurred but have not yet been approved by the BGN). The World Factbook is prepared using the standard American English computer keyboard and does not use any special characters, symbols, or most diacritical markings in its spellings.
We believe The World Factbook is compliant with the Section 508 law. If you are experiencing difficulty, please use our contact form to provide us details of the specific problem you are experiencing and the assistive software and/or hardware you are using so that we can work with our technical staff to find and implement a solution. We welcome visitors’ suggestions to improve accessibility of The World Factbook and the CIA website.
Hundreds of “Factbook” look-alikes exist on the Internet. You can access The World Factbook at: cia.gov, which is the only official site.
Some of the files on The World Factbook website are large and could take several minutes to download. The screen might be blank during the download process.
Adjusting the resolution setting on your monitor should correct this problem.
The Factbook website features Country Comparison pages for selected Factbook entries. All of the Country Comparison pages can be downloaded as tab-delimited data files that can be opened in other applications such as spreadsheets and databases.