North America  is the northern continent of the Americas,  situated in the Earth’s northern hemisphere and in the western hemisphere. It is bordered on the north by the Arctic Ocean, on the east by the North Atlantic Ocean, on the southeast by the Caribbean Sea, and on the west by the North Pacific Ocean. To the southeast lies South America.

North America covers an area of about 24,709,000 square kilometers (9,540,000 square miles), about 4.8 percent of the planet’s surface or about 16.5 percent of its land area. As of July 2008, its population was estimated at nearly 529 million people. It is the third-largest continent in area, after Asia and Africa, and the fourth-largest in population, after Asia, Africa, and Europe.

Geography and extent

North America occupies the northern portion of the landmass generally referred to as the New World, the Western Hemisphere, the Americas, or simply America (which is sometimes considered a single continent and North America a subcontinent). North America’s only land connection to South America is at the Isthmus of Panama. The continent is generally delimited on the southeast by the Darién watershed along the Colombia-Panama border, or at the Panama Canal; according to other sources, its southern limit is the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Mexico, with Central America tapering and extending southeastward to South America. Before the Central American isthmus was raised, the region had been underwater. The islands of the West Indies delineate a submerged former land bridge, which had connected North America and South America via what are now Florida and Venezuela. Much of North America is on the North American Plate.

The continental coastline is long and irregular. The Gulf of Mexico is the largest body of water indenting the continent, followed by Hudson Bay. Others include the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the Gulf of California.

There are numerous islands off the continent’s coasts: principally, the Arctic Archipelago, the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, the Greater and Lesser Antilles, the Aleutian Islands (some of which are in the eastern hemisphere proper), the Alexander Archipelago, the many thousand islands of the British Columbia Coast, Newfoundland and Greenland, a self-governing Danish island, and the world’s largest, is on the same tectonic plate (the North American Plate) and is part of North America geographically. Bermuda is not part of the Americas, but is an oceanic island which was formed on the fissure of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge over 100 million years ago. The nearest landmass to it is Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and it is often thought of as part of North America, especially given its historical, political and cultural ties to Virginia and other parts of the continent.

Human geography

The prevalent languages in North America are English, Spanish, and French. The term Anglo-America is used to refer to the anglophone countries of the Americas: namely Canada (where English and French are co-official) and the United States, but also sometimes Belize and parts of the Caribbean. Latin America refers to the other areas of the Americas (generally south of the United States) where the Romance languages, derived from Latin, of Spanish and Portuguese (but French speaking countries are not usually included) predominate: the other republics of Central America (but not always Belize), part of the Caribbean (not the Dutch, English or French speaking areas), Mexico, and most of South America (except Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana (FR), and The Falkland Islands (UK).

The French language has historically played a significant role in North America and retains a distinctive presence in some regions. Canada is officially bilingual. French is the official language of the province of Quebec and is co-official with English in the province of New Brunswick. Other French-speaking locales include the province of Ontario (the official language is English, but there is an estimated 500,000 Franco-Ontarians), the French West Indies and Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, as well as the U.S. state of Louisiana, where French is also an official language. Haiti is included with this group based on historical association but Haitians speak Creole and French. Similarly there remains small segments in Saint Lucia and the Commonwealth of Dominica that speak unique French and creole languages alongside their English speaking majorities.

Socially and culturally, North America presents a well-defined entity. Canada and the United States have a similar culture and similar traditions as a result of both countries being former British colonies. A common cultural and economic market has developed between the two nations because of the strong economic and historical ties. Spanish-speaking North America shares a common past as former Spanish colonies. In Mexico and the Central American countries where civilizations like the Maya developed, indigenous people preserve traditions across modern boundaries. Central American and Spanish-speaking Caribbean nations have historically had more in common due to geographical proximity and the fact that, after winning independence from Spain. Northern Mexico, particularly cities such as Monterrey, Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, and Mexicali are strongly influenced by the culture and way of life of the U.S. Immigration to the United States and Canada remains a significant attribute of many nations close to the southern border of the U.S. As the British Empire and its influences declined, the Anglophone Caribbean states have witnessed the economic influence of northern North America increase on the region. In the Anglophone Caribbean this influence is in part due to the fact that the majority of English-speaking Caribbean countries have populations of less than 200,000 people and many of these countries now have expatriate diasporas living abroad that are larger than those remaining at home.

Economically, Canada and the United States are the wealthiest and most developed nations in the continent, followed by Mexico, a newly industrialized country; the countries of Central America and the Caribbean are at various levels of development. The most important trade blocs are the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the recently signed Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)—the last of these being an example of the economic integration sought by the nations of this sub-region as a way to improve their financial status.

Demographically, North America is a racially and ethnically diverse continent. Its three main racial groups are Whites, Mestizos and Blacks (chiefly African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans).  There is a significant minority of Native Americans and Asians among other less numerous groups.

Countries and territories

North America is often divided into subregions but no universally accepted divisions exist. Central America comprises the southern region of the continent, but its northern terminus varies between sources. Geophysically, the region starts at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico (namely the Mexican states of Campeche, Chiapas, Tabasco, Quintana Roo, and Yucatán). The United Nations geoscheme includes Mexico in Central America; conversely, the European Union excludes both Mexico and Belize from the area. Geopolitically, Mexico is frequently not considered a part of Central America.

Northern America is used to refer to the northern countries and territories of North America: Canada, the United States, Greenland, Bermuda, and St. Pierre and Miquelon. They are often considered distinct from the southern portion of the Americas, which largely comprise Latin America. The term Middle America is sometimes used to collectively refer to Mexico, the nations of Central America, and the Caribbean.

Country or
(July 2008 est.)
Population density
(per km²)
Anguilla Anguilla (UK) 102 14,108 138.3 The Valley
Antigua and Barbuda Antigua and Barbuda 443 84,522 190.8 St. John’s
Aruba Aruba (Netherlands) 193 101,541 526.1 Oranjestad
The Bahamas Bahamas 10,070 307,451 30.5 Nassau
Barbados Barbados 431 281,968 654.2 Bridgetown
Belize Belize 22,966 301,270 13.1 Belmopan
Bermuda Bermuda (UK) 53 66,536 1255.4 Hamilton
British Virgin Islands British Virgin Islands (UK) 153 24,041 157.1 Road Town
Canada Canada 9,984,670 33,212,696 3.7 Ottawa
Cayman Islands Cayman Islands (UK) 262 47,862 182.7 George Town
France Clipperton Island (France) 6 0 0.0
Costa Rica Costa Rica 51,100 4,195,914 82.1 San José
Cuba Cuba 110,860 11,423,952 103.0 Havana
Dominica Dominica 754 72,514 96.2 Roseau
Dominican Republic Dominican Republic 48,730 9,507,133 195.1 Santo Domingo
El Salvador El Salvador 21,040 7,066,403 335.9 San Salvador
Greenland Greenland (Denmark) 2,166,086 57,564 0.027 Nuuk
Grenada Grenada 344 90,343 262.6 St. George’s
Guadeloupe Guadeloupe (France) 1,780 452,776 254.4 Basse-Terre
Guatemala Guatemala 108,890 13,002,206 119.4 Guatemala City
Haiti Haiti 27,750 8,924,553 321.6 Port-au-Prince
Honduras Honduras 112,090 7,639,327 68.2 Tegucigalpa
Jamaica Jamaica 10,991 2,804,332 255.1 Kingston
Martinique Martinique (France) 1,100 436,131 396.5 Fort-de-France
Mexico Mexico 1,923,040 109,955,400 57.2 Mexico City
Montserrat Montserrat (UK) 102 5,079 49.8 Plymouth; Brades
United States Navassa Island (USA) 5 0 0.0
Netherlands Antilles Netherlands Antilles (Netherlands) 960 225,369 234.8 Willemstad
Nicaragua Nicaragua 120,254 5,785,846 48.1 Managua
Panama Panama 78,200 3,309,679 42.3 Panama City
Puerto Rico Puerto Rico (USA) 8,870 3,958,128 446.2 San Juan
Saint Barthélemy Saint Barthélemy (France) 21 7,492 356.8 Gustavia
Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Kitts and Nevis 261 39,817 152.6 Basseterre
Saint Lucia Saint Lucia 616 159,585 259.1 Castries
Collectivity of Saint Martin Saint Martin (France) 54 29,376 544.0 Marigot
Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Pierre and Miquelon (France) 242 7,044 29.1 Saint-Pierre
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 389 118,432 304.5 Kingstown
Trinidad and Tobago Trinidad and Tobago 5,128 1,047,366 204.2 Port of Spain
Turks and Caicos Islands Turks and Caicos Islands (UK) 430 22,352 52.0 Cockburn Town
United States United States 9,826,630 303,824,640 33.2 Washington, D.C.
United States Virgin Islands U.S. Virgin Islands (USA) 346 109,840 317.5 Charlotte Amalie
Total 24,646,412 528,720,588 22.9

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