Without further ado, here is the answer: France. Even though there are many countries around the world spanning large areas, only 23 of the world’s ≈ 200 countries have more than 1 time zone. Yes, only 23. And the nation with the most is a bit surprising.
Since the best way to become better humans is spending time more time on learning than on entertainment… we’ll restart sharing more fun facts about our world.
Because one of the best reasons to travel is to learn more about our beautiful world, or at least it should be! And we can do that for free from home when we’re sadly not traveling.
Let’s look at time zones, and why then why France is the country with the most time zones.
Basics of time zones
The Earth is a sphere, so that’s 360 degrees in longitude. It rotates on its axis, so that gives us night and day periods. That rotation process takes 24 hours, so that’s the length of a day.
So in theory, that would make a nice even 24 time zones if each time zone were just 1 hour apart and were set according to distances only (each measuring 15 degrees; 360 degrees divided by 24 hours).
But there are much more than 24 time zones in the world.
Number of time zones in the world
There are in fact 38 time zones in the world, over 50% more than it could be if things were kept simple.
First, time zones don’t just follow the longitudinal lines: they were adapted to follow regional and national borders for convenience. Imagine if major cities had a time zone line in the middle! That would make no sense.
So that has created quite a few quirks on the time zone map.
But that just explains the weird time zone borders, not the reason there are 38 time zones instead of 24. So let’s look at those slight complications.
Why there are more time zones
There are 3 “types” of time zones, if we can call them that:
- 24 basic time zones
- 11 offset time zones
- 4 bonus time zones
I’ll explain why that adds up to 39 instead of 38 and how to see them on the color-coded map. You can play around with the full interactive version on Timeanddate.com too.
First, there are the obvious 24 simple 15-degree slices (UTC, UTC +1 to +12, and UTC -1 to -11). Those are the main colors that roughly follow the longitudinal lines (orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and red — 4 times each).
Second, there are the time zones that are offset by 30 minutes and even 45 minutes (!!!). Those are the striped zones. For example, India is striped red and orange, because its time zone is UTC +5:30 (red is UTC +5 and orange is UTC +6).
Third, there are a few extra time zones that exist because of the International Date Line (UTC +12, UTC +13, UTC +13:45, and UTC +14).
That’s 38 total, because that weird UTC +13:45 only for New Zealand’s Chatham Islands is counted in both the 2nd and 3rd types.
And let’s not even mention daylight savings time, the most absurd thing in the world. Governments love to get involved in every part of our lives, even our sleep schedule. And as with everything else, they make it worse unsurprisingly. But that’s a whole other topic.
List of the 23 countries with more than 1 time zone
Here are the only 23 countries with more than 1 time zone.
- France (13)
- Russia (11)
- USA (11)
- Australia (9)
- United Kingdom (9)
- Canada (6)
- Denmark (5)
- New Zealand (5)
- Brazil (4)
- Mexico (4)
- Chile (3)
- Indonesia (3)
- Kiribati (3)
- DR Congo (2)
- Ecuador (2)
- Kazakhstan (2)
- Micronesia (2)
- Mongolia (2)
- Netherlands (2)
- Papua New Guinea (2)
- Portugal (2)
- South Africa (2)
- Spain (2)
Why France is the country with the most time zones
Yes, tiny France.
Seems odd, doesn’t it? France doesn’t even cover the 15 longitudinal degrees that usually represent a single time zone. But France really is the country with the most time zones!
But now, let’s look at how and why France covers the most time zones.
Well, it’s a bit of a technicality. France still has several territories scattered around the world, many of which we’ll be sharing in our current series about French-speaking countries to visit. It’s the same reason our other France-related quiz previously had surprised many of you, as you’ll see below.
Altogether, France covers 12 different time zones—ranging from UTC -10 to UTC -12. More than any other country. Some sources say they have 13 or 14 (probably a daylight saving time issue), but at least everyone agrees that France is #1.
It seems like the old saying about Great Britain being “the empire on which the sun never sets” hasn’t been revised in a long time, right?
How Many Time Zones Does China Have?
China has only one time zone. That’s right, one.
And it’s not because we are referring to the Republic of China (Taiwan) in our Facebook poll: we were really talking about China (the PRC), it wasn’t that type of trick question.
This is where things get strange. While China is indeed the world’s third-largest country by total area, covering a staggering 9.6 million square kilometers, it runs on only one official time zone.
This means that while Beijing wakes up and witnesses the sunrise at 6:30 am, the poor people of Xinjiang in the west have to wait roughly three more hours for the sun to rise past 10:00 am.
While China should have 5 time zones based on its size, the one-time-zone policy was introduced in 1949 as a step towards “national unity.” While some may see this decision as a minor inconvenience, others find the one time zone highly impractical and unnecessary.
This also creates the biggest official change of clocks of any land border in the world. If you were to enter China from Afghanistan, you would experience an immediate 3.5-hour difference by taking just one step—a time change that usually only happens after a long flight!
While it would be cool to experience, that border doesn’t have any roads and is in a rugged area, so I doubt any of us will ever go from 2:30 pm to 6:00 pm instantly. Only a handful of people have been there in history, which is a fact that I find fascinating (maybe because I love off-the-beaten-path destinations and hate overcrowded touristy spots).
Which Country Is Second?
It’s tied between Russia and the USA.
Russia is the largest country in the world, and has the most contiguous time zones (successive time zones that touch each other, without territories). Russia covers from Eastern Europe to Northeast Asia, and there are 11 different time zones spanning from UTC -2 to UTC -12.
The USA also shares second place with 11 time zones, but these include faraway overseas territories like Guam and American Samoa. The US time zones range from UTC -12 to UTC +12.
More travel quiz questions
Since you’re a traveler, that means you’re quite intellectually curious and might enjoy our previous travel quizzes.
Here are the 1st ones:
- – 40° F or – 40° C: Which One Is Colder?
- Canada or USA: Which Country Is Bigger In Land Area (Excluding Water)?
- Spain or Brazil: Which Country Does France Share Its Longest Border With?
- Manhattan or Montreal: Which Island Has More Inhabitants?
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There are anks to its overseas territories, France is the country with the most time zones. Russia and the USA come in second place, though the former has all of its time zones on the mainland, not relying on any territories. And finally, China, somehow has only one time zone, despite it being a massive country.
Did you guess right on our Facebook poll? Do you have a submission for our next quiz? Tell us in the comments below!
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Cover image: China and France
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