National Geographic Map Policy (2022)




National Geographic’s maps incorporate our policy of depicting de facto geographic situations tothe best of our judgment. By de facto we mean states of affairs existing in fact or in reality, althoughperhaps not official, legal, or accepted. This policy aligns with our chartered purpose since 1888 asa nonprofit scientific and educational organization.

International boundaries and territorial control as shown on our maps reflect de facto status at thetime of publication. For place-names, we use a combination of conventional English names, officialnational names, and standard transliterations for non-Latin alphabets. All place-names are checkedagainst multiple sources, including the United Nations, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, andthe policies of individual governments.

National Geographic strives to be apolitical, to consult multiple authoritative sources, and to makeindependent decisions based on extensive research. National Geographic does not purport to be thesole determiner of the status of a boundary, area, or place-name.

A representative committee governs cartographic policy. The Map Policy Committee meetsperiodically to assess cartographic policy issues and to discuss changes to or clarifications of geographic information on National Geographic maps. Decisions are based on the best availableresearch and information. The committee also determines if an error has been made on a map.Errors are corrected as quickly as possible on the next published version of a particular map oratlas, or with the next update cycle for a digital map.

The following provides additional details about National Geographic’s Map Policy as determined byits Map Policy Committee.


National Geographic recognizes several types of place-names, using names that are mostappropriate for a given type of map. Names may be shown in English, in the native language ifthat language uses a Latin-based alphabet (e.g., Spanish, Turkish, Romanian), and intransliterated form if the native language does not use a Latin-based alphabet (e.g., Arabic,Chinese, Ethiopian).

Most places have a single name that appears on all maps. Examples: New York; Nairobi;Shanghai.

Some places have a single name that has both an official form and a common English form.Examples: Lisboa and Lisbon; København and Copenhagen; Al Qāhirah and Cairo; Krung Thepand Bangkok.

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Some places have multiple official names, usually because that country or region recognizesmultiple official languages. Examples: Dublin and Baile Átha Cliath in Ireland; Bruxelles,Brussel, and Brüssel in Belgium; Aoraki and Mt. Cook in New Zealand.

In areas of unresolved sovereignty where the locally spoken language is different from that of thecountry in which the area is located or the country that claims the area, places may have namesin both languages. Examples: Falkland Islands and Islas Malvinas off the southern coast ofArgentina; Lefkosía and Lefkoşa in Cyprus.

Historical and other non-official names may be shown as secondary to the official name of someplaces for clarity, especially when the non-official name is well known and still in use.Examples: Astana for Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan, Swaziland for Eswatini; Iwo Jimafor Iwo To.

In all cases, diacritic marks are included on place-names from languages that use a Latin-basedalphabet. For names that are transliterated from non-Latin-based languages, diacritic marks maybe retained (e.g., on reference maps and in most adult atlases) or removed (e.g., per NationalGeographic magazine style).

Explanatory Notes for Place-names

Where scale permits, explanatory notes, such as the examples listed below, are added to some mapsto explain multiple or conflicting place-names.

Persian Gulf

Historically and most commonly known as the Persian Gulf, this body of water is referred to bysome as the Arabian Gulf.

Sea of Japan (East Sea)

The sea between Japan and Korea is called the Sea of Japan by the Japanese and the East Sea byKoreans.


Most political boundaries and territorial areas depicted in National Geographic maps are stable anduncontested. Some of the areas that are in dispute, or have special administrative status orunresolved sovereign control, receive a particular cartographic treatment. We often portray theseareas in gray, bound them with dashed or dotted lines distinct from uncontested boundaries, and designate their administrative centers with a specific symbol. Additional boundary lines indicateareas of overlapping territorial claims.

Possession Labels

Possession labels indicate political control of noncontiguous territorial areas (generally islands).

• Greenland


• Puerto Rico

United States

• Cabinda


Explanatory Notes for Boundaries and Control

Where scale permits notes, such as the examples listed below, are added to some maps to explaincurrent geopolitical situations.

Abkhazia: Georgia

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Separatists defeated Georgian troops to gain control of this region in 1993. After years ofnegotiations and several military clashes, it remains under the control of Abkhazians. Only ahandful of UN member states currently recognize this autonomous region as the independentRepublic of Abkhazia.

Abyei: Sudan; South Sudan

The 2005 peace accord that led to South Sudan’s independence left unresolved the question of theAbyei region’s extent and sovereignty. A tribunal in 2009 determined Abyei’s extent, but adetermination of sovereignty remains subject to further negotiations.


Seven countries made defined claims to Antarctic territory prior to the Antarctic Treaty of 1959. This treaty, which does not legally recognize any claims, prohibits military activities and dedicatesAntarctica to peaceful use and free exchange of scientific information. As of 2020, 54 countries areparty to the treaty, including the seven claimants.

Crimea: Russia; Ukraine

Russia invaded Crimea in 2014 and, after a disputed and boycotted referendum held in Crimeaapproved secession from Ukraine, the Russian parliament voted to annex Crimea into the RussianFederation. The United Nations General Assembly subsequently adopted a non-binding resolutiondeclaring the annexation invalid and affirming Ukraine’s territorial jurisdiction. Russiaadministers and controls the peninsula while Ukraine continues to maintain that Crimea is itssovereign territory.

Dokdo (Takeshima, Liancourt Rocks): South Korea; Japan

Administered by South Korea; claimed by Japan

Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas): United Kingdom; Argentina

United Kingdom; claimed by Argentina

Gaza Strip and West Bank

In November 2012 the UN General Assembly voted to elevate the diplomatic status of thePalestinian territories to that of a “nonmember observer state.” Despite this vote and widespreadinternational support, the West Bank’s and Gaza’s geographical and political separation, as wellas lack of full sovereignty and control over these territories, hamper the creation of a formalPalestinian state. Its future and that of millions of Palestinians remains subject to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Golan Heights: Israel; Syria

The 1948-49 Arab-Israeli War led to an armistice, with Syria in control of the Golan. During the1967 Six Day War, Israel captured this territory, which it annexed in 1981. The United Nations hasnot recognized this annexation, and the Golan Heights remains in dispute.

Hala'ib, Bir Tawil, and Wadi Halfa: Egypt; Sudan

The boundary dispute between Egypt and Sudan results from claims along differing colonialadministration lines. The dispute involves three areas. The Hala'ib triangle and the Wadi Halfasalient are controlled by Egypt and claimed by Sudan. Bir Tawil, though it is de facto part of Sudan, lies between their opposed claim lines.

Ilemi Triangle: Kenya; South Sudan

This area is claimed by both Kenya and South Sudan. De facto control is divided between the twocountries.

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Kafia Kingi: Sudan; South Sudan

The demarcation of the Sudan-South Sudan boundary, along with its westernmost limit andadjoining area (known as the Kafia Kingi enclave) remain subject to further negotiations. KafiaKingi is marginally administered by both Sudan and South Sudan.

Kashmir: India; Pakistan; China

India and Pakistan both claim Kashmir—a disputed region of some 18 million people. Indiaadministers only the area south of the line of control; Pakistan controls northwestern Kashmir.China controls parts of eastern Kashmir that it took from India in a 1962 war.


In 2008 Kosovo declared its independence. Since then more than 100 UN member nations haverecognized Kosovo, but Serbia still claims it as a province.

Kurdistan: Turkey; Syria; Iraq; Iran

Part of the 1920 Treaty of Sevres was written with hopes of a Kurdish autonomous state— Kurdistan—in southeastern Turkey and northeastern Iraq. The treaty’s terms were never carriedout and Kurdistan, a cultural region that today arcs from northern Syria to western Iran, remainshome to one of the world’s largest ethnic groups without a country of its own.

Kuril Islands: Russia; Japan

Russia administers all the Kuril Islands; Japan claims the southern Kuril Islands of Iturup(Etorofu), Kunashir (Kunashiri), Shikotan, and the Habomai group.

Nagorno-Karabakh: Azerbaijan

Following the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, conflict within an area in Azerbaijan called Nagorno-Karabakh erupted between its ethnic Armenian population and the Azerbaijani government. Renewed fighting in 2020 reduced the area of ethnic Armenian control and established a new boundary policed by Russian forces.

Northern Cyprus: Cyprus

Cyprus was partitioned in 1974 following a coup backed by Greece and an invasion by Turkey. Theisland is composed of a Greek Cypriot south with an internationally recognized government and aTurkish Cypriot north with a government recognized only by Turkey. The UN patrols the dividingline and works toward reunification of the island.

Paracel Islands: China; Vietnam; Taiwan

Administered by China; claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

Senkaku Shoto (Diaoyu Qundao, Diaoyutai): Japan; China; Taiwan

Administered by Japan; claimed by China and Taiwan

Somaliland: Somalia

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In 1991 the Somali National Movement declared Somaliland an independent republic with Hargeysa as the capital. It is not internationally recognized.

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands: United Kingdom; Argentina

Administered by United Kingdom; claimed by Argentina.

South Ossetia: Georgia

Fighting between Ossetian separatists and Georgian forces broke out in 1991. A 1992 cease-fireended the fighting until 2004. In a 2008 war, Russian forces pushed Georgian forces out of SouthOssetia, leading Ossetians to declare their independence from Georgia. Five UN member statescurrently recognize South Ossetia as a political entity.

Spratly Islands

The scattered islands and reefs called the Spratly Islands are claimed in part or in whole by Brunei,China, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan.


The People’s Republic of China claims Taiwan as its 23rd province. Taiwan’s government (Republicof China) maintains there are two political entities. The islands of Dongsha (Pratas), Kinmen(Quemoy), Matsu, and Penghu (Pescadores) are administered by Taiwan.

Transnistria: Moldova

Since 1990 this self-proclaimed breakaway state in Moldova’s predominantly Russian-speakingarea east of the Dniester River has remained unrecognized by any UN member state.

Western Sahara: Morocco

Western Sahara’s sovereign status is in dispute. It has been administered by Morocco since 1979.Fighting between Morocco and a Western Sahara independence movement called Polisario endedwith a UN-brokered cease-fire in 1991, but no agreement on the area’s status has been reached.



National Geographic recognizes seven continents: Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, NorthAmerica, and South America. Oceania is considered a region, associated with Australia, rather thana continent.

Asia and Europe

National Geographic uses the commonly accepted division between Asia and Europe formed by theUral Mountains, Ural River, Caspian Sea, Caucasus Mountains, and Black Sea with its outlets, theBosporus and Dardanelles.

Cyprus marks the southeastern extent of Europe. Its cultural and historic ties to the continentinclude joining the European Union in 2004.

When assigning countries to continents, National Geographic assigns Russia to Europe and Turkeyto Asia, although both countries have territory within each continent.


National Geographic recognizes five oceans: Arctic, Atlantic, Indian, Pacific, and Southern.

Earth’s ocean waters connect to form a single global ocean. Traditionally there are four named regions: the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic oceans. There is international agreement that the icy waters around Antarctica form a fifth distinct region. While there is no consensus on its name or its extent, most countries call it the Southern Ocean and use 60° south latitude as an approximation of its northern limit.

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