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5 Surprising Countries Where English Is the Official Language (And One Where it Isn’t)

Want to travel somewhere that speaks your language? You may have more choices than you think. These five English speaking countries aren’t the ones you’d expect—and there’s even one you’d never guess doesn’t have English as an official language.

Belize

Playa Asuncion street at Caye Caulker island in Belize

Belize is the only English-language-official country in Central America. As a popular tourist destination, English is spoken by everyone, and many prices are listed in U.S. Dollars (the Belize dollar is tied to the U.S. Dollar with a fixed exchange rate), making it a comfortable destination for first-time international travelers.

English is not the only language spoken in Belize—nearly half of the population is fluent in an impressive three languages: English, Spanish, and Kriol.

Although Belize was first settled by the Maya around 1500 B.C.E, the country was colonized by the British in the 1600s and eventually became the Colony of British Honduras, which is why English wound up as the official language. In 1981, Belize won full independence, but the official language of English stuck.

[viator_tour destination=”746″ type=”1-mod” tours=”60459P14″]

Botswana

:Tourists on safari game drive in Botswana

Botswana has both an official language (English) and a national language (Setswana), and you’ll find both spoken throughout the country if you visit. English is used for official documents and formal written communications, whereas Setswana is primarily used as a spoken language. Including English and Setswana, there are over 30 different languages spoken throughout diverse Botswana.

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Guyana

View of City Hall, Georgetown, Guyana

Guyana is the only country in South America with English as the official language. This is a leftover byproduct of British colonization—Guyana gained independence in 1966. Although English is the official language, most Guyanese have Guyanese Creole as a first language.

[viator_tour destination=”22314″ type=”1-mod” tours=”17193P4″]

India

Unidentified women sit outside Taj Mahal in India

India has two national languages—English and Hindi. There are also 22 other officially recognized languages that are used by sections of the population, including Bengali, Punjabi, and Urdu. However, just because English is an official language doesn’t mean you can expect everyone you meet in the country to speak it. According to one report, only about 30 percent of Indian residents speak English.

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Zimbabwe

 local people performing traditional ethnic folkloristic dance in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe holds the Guinness World Record for the country with the most official languages, clocking in at 16. English is one of those languages, as are Chewa, Chibarwe, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Ndebele, Shangani, Shona, sign language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda and Xhosa.

[viator_tour destination=”5308″ type=”1-mod” tours=”101086P3″]

And the One Where It Isn’t

The Statue of Liberty in New York City

Although English is taught in schools and used everywhere in the country, the United States actually has no official national language. According to the CIA World Factbook, “English has acquired official status in 32 of the 50 states; Hawaiian is an official language in the state of Hawaii, and 20 indigenous languages are official in Alaska.”

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Caroline Morse Teel is a Senior Editor at SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @travelwithcaroline.

By Caroline Morse Teel

Unfortunately for her bank account, Principal Editor Caroline Morse Teel is powerless to resist a good flight deal. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline.

Caroline joined Boston-based SmarterTravel in 2011 after living in Ireland, London, and Manhattan. She's traveled to all seven continents, jumped out of planes, and bungeed off bridges in the pursuit of a good story. She loves exploring off-the-beaten path destinations, anything outdoorsy, and all things adventure.

Her stories have also appeared online at USA Today, Business Insider, Huffington Post, Yahoo, Boston.com, TripAdvisor, Buzzfeed, Jetsetter, Oyster, Airfarewatchdog, and others.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "Earplugs. A good pair has saved my sleep and sanity many times!"

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro.

Travel Motto: "Don't be boring."

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Aisle (when the first class private suite isn't available)."

E-mail her at cmorse@smartertravel.com.

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