Administrative division, administrative unit, country subdivision, administrative region, subnational entity, first-level subdivision, as well as many similar terms, are generic names for geographical areas into which a particular, independent sovereign state (country) is divided. Such a unit usually has an administrative authority with the power to take administrative or policy decisions for its area.
Usually, the countries have several levels of administrative divisions. The common names for the principal (largest) administrative divisions are: states (i.e. "federated states", rather than sovereign states), provinces, lands, oblasts, governorates, cantons, prefectures, counties, regions, departments, and emirates. These, in turn, are often subdivided into smaller administrative units known by names such as circuits, counties, comarcas, raions, judets or districts, which are further subdivided into the municipalities, communes or communities constituting the smallest units of subdivision (the local governments).
The exact number of the levels of administrative divisions and their structure largely varies by country (and sometimes within a single country). Usually, the smaller the country is (by area or population), the fewer levels of administrative divisions it has. For example, the Vatican does not have any administrative subdivisions and Monaco has only one level, while such countries as France and Pakistan have five levels each. The United States is composed of states, possessions, territories, and a federal district, each with varying numbers of subdivisions.
The principal administrative division of a country might be called the "first-level (or first-order) administrative division" or "first administrative level". Its next subdivision might be called "second-level administrative division" or "second administrative level" and so on.
Administrative divisions are conceptually separate from dependent territories, with the former being an integral part of the state and the other being only under some lesser form of control. However, the term "administrative division" can include dependent territories as well as accepted administrative divisions (for example, in geographical databases).
In many of the following terms originating from British cultural influence, areas of relatively low mean population density might bear a title of an entity one would expect to be either larger or smaller. There is no fixed rule, for "all politics is local" as is perhaps well demonstrated by their relative lack of systemic order. In the realm of self-government, any of these can and does occur along a stretch of road--which for the most part is passing through rural unsettled countryside. Since the terms are administrative political divisions of the local regional government their exact relationship and definitions are subject to home rule considerations, tradition, as well as state statute law and local governmental (administrative) definition and control. In British cultural legacy, some territorial entities began with fairly expansive counties which encompass an appreciably large area but were divided over time into a number of smaller entities. Within those entities are the large and small cities or towns, which may or may not be the county seat. Some of the world's larger cities culturally, if not officially, span several counties, and those crossing state or provincial boundaries have much in common culturally as well but are rarely incorporated within the same municipal government. Many sister cities share a water boundary, which quite often serves as a border of both cities and counties. For example, Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts appear to the casual traveler as one large city, while locally they each are quite culturally different and occupy different counties.
Due to variations in their use worldwide, consistency in the translation of terms from non-English to English is sometimes difficult to maintain.