Landlocked Countries: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Landlocked countries have some very unique issues that they have to deal with. In this lesson, we're going to explore the landlocked nations of the world and see how their lives are different from nations with coastlines.


Beaches are fun. You get to enjoy the sun, the sand, the ocean; it's great. But what if your country didn't have access to a beach? That would be sad. So sad. A landlocked nation is one which does not border an ocean or major sea and as it turns out, the implications of this are much greater than simply being unable to spend a day in the sand.

The Landlocked Countries

Before we get into the details of life in a landlocked country, let's get to know these nations a little better. There are over 40 countries in the world that do not border an ocean. Two are in South America (Bolivia and Paraguay), while the rest are dispersed across Europe, Africa, and Asia. There are two continents without any landlocked nations: North America and (obviously) the giant island of Australia.

The largest landlocked country in the world is Kazakhstan, located in Central Asia. The smallest is Vatican City, located entirely within the borders of Rome. Of all the landlocked nations, however, two stand out in terms of their distance from oceans. Liechtenstein and Uzbekistan are double-landlocked--they are the only two nations that are completely surrounded by other landlocked countries. If they want access to an ocean, they have to cross an entire country before they get to a nation with a coast.

Landlocked nations (black) and double-landlocked nations (orange)

Does Being Landlocked Matter?

This is all very interesting, but the obvious question is: who cares? Does being landlocked really make that much of a difference? The answer is yes. Yes it does. You see, there is a reason that many of the world's oldest and largest cities were built within close distance to a shoreline. Besides the abundance of resources like fish and shellfish, oceans make life easier in a number of ways.

For one, oceans are vital for trade. It's a general rule that if you have the option to transport something by land or water, take the water route. Even with today's technology, it is much easier and much more cost-efficient to transport things by water than by land. This same logic extends to the transportation of people as well. Oceans make it much, much easier to move things from point A to point B. Now, some landlocked nations, particularly those in Europe, may not have a coastline but do have access to large rivers and inland seas. This helps them overcome the challenges of not having a coastline. But other landlocked nations aren't so lucky. For them, any sort of transportation requires more time, effort, and money to accomplish.

With oceans being so important, landlocked nations are often at a disadvantage. This puts them in a position of being taken advantage of by neighboring nations with a coastline, and that can be rough. For example, Bolivia has to go through either Chile or Peru to get to the Pacific Ocean. This gives these nations a lot of power over Bolivia. As a result, Chile and Bolivia have historically had a very sour relationship.

Overall, being landlocked simply reduces the options that a nation has. They can't manage their own maritime trade deals, they must agree to tariffs and border taxes of neighboring nations, and they can't even build a navy. Are we starting to see how being landlocked can be a problem?

Developing Nations

Every landlocked nation has problems to deal with, but nowhere are these issues worse than in nations trying to develop an international and industrialized economy. The global economy is based on high rates of trade, and this trade is conducted almost entirely by sea. Some developing nations, like those in Southeast Asia, have very quickly and very successfully found a place in the global economy thanks to their extensive coastlines. Landlocked nations don't have that option, and gaining a foothold in competitive international trade networks is hard.

We can really see the effects of this in Africa, which is a poorer continent to begin with. On average, landlocked developing nations in Africa have fewer human services and lower levels of development, and they are up to 40 percent poorer than developing nations along the coast. Without access to ports, the process of developing an industrial economy has been extremely difficult.

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