Is the Vatican a country?

The Vatican is the home of the Catholic Church. With just a 2-mile city border, the entire city is less than one-eighth the size of Central Park in New York.


Despite its incredibly small nature, the Vatican is indeed a city-state and the smallest country in the world.

Vatican government type

With a population of just 1000 people, the Vatican is quite a unique country.

The city is an absolute monarchy. This means that the reigning monarch has absolute authority, with no restriction from written laws, legislature or customs. Generally speaking, these types of monarchies are hereditary. This means a single-family holds rule indefinitely. The Vatican, however, operates as an elective absolute monarchy due to the oath of celibacy Catholic priests take in the pathway to becoming a pope.

Currently, there are only seven absolute monarchies in the world, with most of them operating within the Arabian Peninsula. Of these seven absolute monarchies, the Vatican is the only which does not rely in any way on hereditary succession.

Government functions

Vatican Crowds

The Vatican operates many of the same governmental functions as any other country. They mint euros, print stamps, issue passports and licence plates. They even have state media outlets.

Vatican Media is the national broadcaster of Vatican City and is legally a government broadcaster. The service provides live broadcast, creates shows and assists with outside media relations. Though the Vatican does not have a television station, Vatican Media broadcasts online and to European catholic channels. The mandate of Vatican Media is to facilitate the universal expansion of Catholicism.

One key government function missing from the Vatican is taxation. The city has no taxes, no restrictions on imports or exports and there are no customs fees. Employees do not pay income tax and there is no duty tax on imports. Without taxes, how does the Vatican financially survive? You!

The sales of stamps, coins, souvenirs and entry tickets fund the Vatican. With 5 million people a year visiting the Vatican, and the most basic entry tickets costing 16 euro each, that’s a cool 80 million a year they’re making. Minimum. We think they’re probably doing alright without public taxes.

Additionally, the clergy living in the Vatican have a very modest paycheque. Many of them take vows of poverty when they become priests. The Pope is not paid at all for his work!


Though the population of the Vatican is approximately 800, on 450 of those people hold Vatican citizenship.

Individuals who have to reside in the city because of their office or service receive citizenship. In most cases, the Vatican revokes citizenship once employment ceases. If a person holds only Vatican citizenship and then leaves their position, they are automatically granted Italian citizenship.

Adopting Italian law

Italian Cops

Generally speaking, the Vatican operates under the same laws in Italy. Until 2008 the Vatican automatically adopted all Italian laws as they were passed through Italian parliament.

In 2013, amidst the rise in reporting of Catholic Church sexual abuse cases, the Vatican came under fire for its age of consent. The church does not believe in extramarital sexual relations, and the age of consent was not important. However, in 2013 the age of consent became age 18 from age 12. The Vatican says the age change was a preventative measure to avoid transnational criminal activities. However other experts have suggested it was a distraction from the increasing cases of child abuse.

Interestingly, though the staggeringly low age of consent at the time, same-sex sexual activity has been legal since 1929 on the proviso it is private, consensual and adult. A 1992 Catechism also states that though the Catholic Church is opposed to same-sex relationships that “homosexuals may not be unjustly discriminated against.”

The Vatican has also had some issues with financial security. In 2013, one major Italian bank blocked all card payments within the Vatican due to the country’s lack of anti-money laundering laws in place.

International Acknowledgement


The Vatican has bi-lateral relationships with many countries. Here we must acknowledge the difference between Vatican City and the Holy See. As Vatican City is not a democracy, it is not recognised in most international organisations. The Holy See, however, is the name given to the sovereign entity capable of diplomatic relationships -confused yet?

What this all is to say, is that there are restrictions to the Vatican/Holy See’s presence in international relations.

For example, the United Nations has granted the Holy See permanent observer status. This gives them the ability to attend all sessions of the General Assembly, Security Council and Economic and Social Council. However, it is not able to participate or vote. Additionally, the Holy See delegate cannot be elected into council positions.

Importance of Holy See

Without the Holy See it is unlikely the Vatican would have gained country status. To be a country a place must hit eight criteria. One of these criteria requires the acknowledgement by other countries. The Holy See’s involvement in diplomatic relationships is key to receiving this recognition.

All members of the United Nations recognise the Holy See; however, the Holy See does not recognise the People’s Republic of China. They do recognise Palestine, Taiwan and the Republic of China. But to open that can of worms would be far too big for us to cover in a single blog post!

The short answer

The short answer is yes, the Vatican is a country in its own right.

Though it is indeed a country, don’t get your hopes up about getting yourself a nice stamp in your passport. Not only do you not need a visa to enter, you don’t need a passport. A Vatican passport stamp does not even exist!

Know you’ve had a comprehensive lesson on the classification of the Vatican as a country, it’s time to visit. Book one of our fantastic Vatican tours with skip the line passes to guarantee your entry today. Our talented guides will teach you all about the fantastic art and architecture you see, as well as the importance of the city to the ruling of the Catholic Church.

Related article: Top things to do at Vatican City

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