Background: Tumor size has been advocated as possible risk factors for occult central lymph node metastases (CNM) in papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC) patients. This prospective study evaluated factors that could identify patients at higher risk of occult CNM, especially comparing micro-PTC and macro-PTC. Methods: One hundred and eighty-six patients were recruited. All the patients had cN0 clinically unifocal PTC and underwent total thyroidectomy and bilateral prophylactic central neck dissection. Risk factors for occult CNM in micro- and macro-PTC patients were evaluated. Results: Eighty-two patients showed CNM. The rate of CNM did not differ among different sizes cut off (≤20 mm, ≤10 mm, ≤5 mm P = NS). Significantly more pN1a than pN0 patients had pT3 tumors (35/82 vs. 26/104) (P < 0.05), extracapsular invasion (35/82 vs. 22/104) (P < 0.01) and microscopic multifocal disease (50/82 vs. 47/104) (P < 0.05). Independent risk factors for CNM were extracapsular invasion and multifocality at multivariate analysis. Risk factors for CNM in 77 micro-PTC were extracapsular invasion (16/31 pN1 vs. 10/46 pN0, P < 0.05) and multifocality (21/31 pN1 vs. 16/46 pN0, P < 0.01). Among 109 macro-PTC, risk factors for CNM were angioinvasion (15/51 pN1 vs. 7/58 pN0, P < 0.05) and classic PTC at the final histology (PTC vs. tall cell variant vs. follicular variant PTC) (P < 0.05). Conclusions: Risk factors for CNM can differ between micro- and macro-PTC, but no preoperatively known clinical parameter is predictor of CNM in cN0 clinically unifocal PTC.