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Posted by on May 27, 2014 in Adventure, Blog, Life overseas | 1 comment

Will you come back alive?

Will you come back alive?

Moving to a developing country can seem a little scary.  You’ve all heard stories of a friend of your brother’s cousin getting pickpocketed, or your mother’s childhood friend’s Auntie getting robbed at gunpoint.  You’ve probably also seen movies like this, this or this which tend to emphasis violence and the general unsafe-i-ness of developing countries.

So, what should you believe?

Let’s look at the stats

We’ll start at the continent level.  Based on the figures below, you’d be crazy to do anything except steer clear of those bloodthirsty African and Americas people.

murder rates by continent(*You will have to forgive me for only looking at murder rates and not general crime statistics or more complex information – they are simple enough to prove my point.   Murder rates are reported by either local/national police or organizations like the World Health Organization.  It would be fair to say that in some countries these figures are probably not very accurate, but play along and let’s see where this takes us.)

But… here’s the thing.  These statistics aren’t very helpful.  They couldn’t tell you, for example, that West Africa has half the rate of murders as the southern part of Africa. It also wouldn’t tell you that many countries in the Americas have low murder rates, offset by free-for-all murdering in Central American countries such as El Salvador, which has 70.9 murders per 100,000 people, and Honduras which has 91.4 murders per 100,000 people. To give you some context, you are twice as likely to get murdered in Honduras, as you are to die in a traffic accident on the world’s least safe roads – see awesome map for info on traffic accidents.

So, movies and anecdotes aren’t reliable and neither are continent level statistics.  What are you to do??

Keep digging

The answer is more research. Let’s look at country level data below.


Country level data starts giving us a pretty good insight into the kinds of information you will want. However, take a look at the ORANGE bars in the graph above and you will realize that country level data still does not even come close to telling the whole story. It would not help you understand, for example, that Louisiana has pretty much the same murder rates as Sudan, or that the Capital of the United States (District of Columbia) has more murders per capita than Ethiopia. In fact, most countries in the world are safer than these two American places.

(Reader note: District of Columbia has terrible murder rates, but they are significantly better than they were.  Back in 2000, if DC were it’s own country, it would have had the third highest murder rate in the world.)

Get as specific as you can

So all of this speaks to the fact that unsafe continents have safe countries, safe countries have unsafe cities, and unsafe cities have safe neighborhoods. Spending time to research which exotic locale you will move to is the biggest and most important factor in your safety abroad.  Once you have decided this, you can further minimize risk by not being stupid and by doing the common sense stuff you would do at home:

  • Don’t walk around with big wads of cash hanging out of your jeans.
  • Figure out where the dangerous parts of town are and steer clear of them.
  • Don’t walk around by yourself after a certain time of night.
  • Don’t antagonize criminal looking types
  • etc etc

What is your safety story?

What is your story about safety?  Were you surprised to realise how safe these places actually were? Or horrified to realise it was worse than you imagined?

Picture: Linus Bohman

1 Comment

  1. Good post.

    I’ve traveled in South America for 6 months (and lived in Rio for a month), and didn’t have any problems. Still, I did meet quite a few people who did:
    – get arrested by police
    – get mugged
    – get stabbed to death

    But! The guys who ran into such ‘misfortunes’ were not traveling smart.

    When abroad, you can stay safe by:
    – staying away from drugs or people/places with it
    – staying away from brothels/dodgy night clubs and bars
    – staying away from quiet streets late at night or early morning

    Also, when you arrive a new place, and meet other travelers or expats, always ask them if they had/heard of any safety issues.

    I remember when I was in Palma de Mallorca there were these people in the street ‘selling’ a flower.. but as soon as you’d take out your wallet, they’d snap it off your hand and run.
    (I learned to watch out from advice from travelers I met)

    There’s also lots of safety tips available online.

    In China, someone once tried to pick pocket me.. but first, I don’t keep things in my pocket, and second, I was just starting my business and needless to say had no money :-)

    Take care, and be smart!

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