The 10 Least Dangerous Countries For Tourists

Picture the scene: You are sipping a morning espresso contentedly watching the world go by from a street cafe in one of Europe's historic cities, say Paris or Rome or Barcelona. There is a brief commotion to you immediate left. You glance up. A couple has bumped into each other. Sharp words get volubly exchanged. The couple goes their separate ways. Distraction over. Then you notice your iPhone is gone. You have, in the argot, been Apple picked by a trio of thieves. [slideshow:962]

If that did not happen to you — and the odds are that it did not — then you might have heard tell of such theft. Rare is the tourist without a tale of attempted petty crime. Being a tourist is, on the whole, safe — providing you take common-sense precautions about where you go and how you conduct yourself (see: 10 Dos and Don'ts When Traveling Abroad); yet tourists are more at risk for certain types of street crime than residents.

Tourists can make soft targets. They typically carry large amounts of cash and other valuables, including passports. They are more likely to be relaxed and off guard, or even careless while on vacation. They are often around large crowds or rambunctious nightlife surroundings that help thieves melt back into anonymity. It all combines to create an ideal environment not just for the petty theft of electronic devices and purses, but also pickpocketing, mugging, shakedowns and scams that can cover everything from credit card fraud to overcharging and being sold fake goods. 

Pickpocketing has become so brazen in some parts of Europe (Barcelona, Paris and Rome are reputedly the worst) that guards at the Louvre Museum in Paris went on strike last year in protest against being threatened by roving gangs of light-fingered thieves.

We have sought to identify the ten countries we believe to be the least dangerous for tourists. (See: The 10 Least Dangerous Countries for Tourists.) We looked for the countries with the lowest levels of crime overall and those least at risk of domestic or international terrorism. We also sought out those with reliable police forces in the unfortunate event that trouble does occur, and, because tourists are more likely to be involved in a traffic accident than be the victim of a serious crime, those with  the safest roads. There is more detail below on our methodology.

The good news is that property-related and violent  crime — the sort most likely to affect a tourist — is globally on the decrease, according to the latest annual report of the UN's Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. The exception to that trend is drug-related crime, which is being driven by a rising number of drug-possession offensives, particularly in Europe and Africa. Drug possession accounts for four out of five of drug-related offensives.

Declining conventional crime rates are particularly noticeable in countries that are popular tourist destinations in Asia and Europe. These are places with already low levels of serious violent crime. Homicide rates are typically less than one-fifth those in the U.S.; in Singapore and Hong Kong, they are one twenty fifth the U.S level.

Comparing crime statistics across countries is fraught with danger, so much so that the international police agency Interpol has stopped publishing the data because the comparisons can be so misleading. Countries have different notions of what constitutes a crime, different social standards that affect which crimes get reported by victims to police (this is a particular issue with sexual assault), and differing levels of confidence in police that may discourage victims from reporting a crime altogether. Tourists, in particular, tend not to report minor crime, and are reluctant to return to a country to give testimony in any subsequent court case.

To get around these issues, we looked at the economic costs crime and terrorism impose on societies as a proxy for overall crime levels and terrorism threats, along with perceptions of police honesty, integrity and competence. We recognize the first two are rough proxies, but believe they give a more reliable country-to-country comparison than crime statistics themselves. We sourced our data from World Economic Forum surveys and the World Health Organization, and cross-matched it with data from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime on homicide levels, assaults, sexual violence, robbery and kidnapping.

Travel safely, and see our list of the 10 safest countries.