Our census bureau defines the national "population" as the number of people in the country on census day. This includes citizens, foreign students and workers, and immigrants who do not yet have citizenship. They do not count citizens living abroad, even on vacation.

They also count people in diplomatic or military service abroad. I assume (but can't find stated) that they do not count foreigners in the same roles in this country.

Some countries' official "population" includes citizens living abroad and does not include visitors. This would mean that some people are "double counted" in the world population while some are not counted at all.

Is there an international standard definition for national population?

  • 3
    But wait. 360,000 births and 151,600 deaths in the world daily produce much more inaccuracy than double-counted expats.
    – bytebuster
    Dec 18, 2015 at 7:14
  • The last census in 2011 in Germany lead to a reduction of the population number of over a million people. One reason for this miscount is that the previous method was to sum up the registred populations of all muncipialities. When people move to a different city, they register at their new place of residence but often don't bother to unregister at their previous one. So they counted for the population of two cities in the yearly reports of the federal bureau of statistics.
    – Philipp
    Dec 18, 2015 at 9:13
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    @bytebuster I have to concur that in national totals inherent inaccuracies in census counts are probably orders of magnitude greater than most definitional differences (except in a handful of cases like Saudi Arabia where how foreigners present there get counted is material because it is such a large percentage of the total). Definitional issues (e.g. where you count inmates in jails and prisons and students in college and active duty soldiers) can matter materially, however, for populations of localities within nations.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 4 at 21:06
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    @ohwilleke there's also the fact that census day is different in different places. The UK's census day is roughly a year after the US's, for example. Someone who moved from the UK to the US between those days is counted in neither census; someone who moved in the other direction is counted in both.
    – phoog
    Jan 4 at 21:47
  • 1
    I could probably move around through Europe to make sure I live in every country on census date, and be counted 27 times :-)
    – gnasher729
    Jan 9 at 14:05

1 Answer 1


As with everything in international politics, there is no global standard.

But one thing which comes pretty close to an international standard is the European population and housing census regulation of 2008. Before this directive there were differences between how different EU countries counted their population, which lead to EU residents being counted double or not at all. This directive cleared up those differences to allow comparable population counts between different EU countries.

It defines "Population" as follows:

’population’ shall mean the national, regional and local population at its usual residence at the reference date.

’usual residence’ shall mean the place where a person normally spends the daily period of rest, regardless of temporary absences for purposes of recreation, holidays, visits to friends and relatives, business, medical treatment or religious pilgrimage.

the following persons alone shall be considered to be usual residents of the geographical area in question:

(i) those who have lived in their place of usual residence for a continuous period of at least 12 months before the reference date; or

(ii) those who arrived in their place of usual residence during the 12 months before the reference date with the intention of staying there for at least one year.

That means it counts all people who currently live within the borders of a state for at least a year or plan to stay for at least a year, regardless of their nationality and legal status.

People who are in a country on diplomatic or military mission would count as the population of that country when they are on an assignment of at least 12 month.

But this directive only applies to the EU. Internationally there are still large differences between who is considered a resident. Also, less developed countries often lack the bureaucratic infrastructure to do an accurate population count, so their population numbers are often just rough estimates.

  • Thanks. I'm not even sure about "people in diplomatic or military service abroad". A media report says they fill out census forms, but it is not clear from the Canada census site whether that means they are included in the "population". Dec 19, 2015 at 20:12
  • They have a census to know how many shops, schools, hospitals, streets, busses etc are needed. For that purpose you’d need to count “people who are actually present”, including diplomats, foreign military etc. But probably makes very little difference.
    – gnasher729
    Jan 9 at 14:09

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