Moving to another country can throw up some intimidating moments. Leaving behind the familiar and starting again in a new place takes courage. When I told people I was moving to Panama their reactions were more extreme than I expected. I was advised it was the murder capital of the world… one of the most dangerous places in Central America. I was told not to swim in the Panama Canal because of massive crocodiles. Trips outside the city would be no safer. Poisonous snakes and jaguars were hungry and waiting.
Trying to research these dangers before I arrived, I ended up scrolling through message boards and forums. Like my attempts to diagnose illnesses online, this experience left me with no doubt I was in big trouble.
Driving through Panama City on the night of my arrival, I noticed bars on the windows and doors of every house I passed. This seemed to confirm my worst fears, and I wondered if I had made the right decision in coming here.
Driving around under the blue skies of the following day, things looked a lot more cheerful. In the eight months since then, I have always felt comfortable and at home here.
I found out the Panama Canal advice was sound, but the other two reactions were way off. Panama is not the murder capital of the world… not even close. It’s not even the most dangerous place in Central America. It’s a country with some rough areas, just like everywhere else.
Clearly a lot of preconceived notions exist about how safe it is to live overseas and a lot of misinformation, too. How many people are missing out on dream opportunities overseas due to false ideas they haven’t taken the time to properly evaluate?
Of course, certain areas should be avoided. Every major city the world over has places to stay away from. Likewise, certain countries are not always safe to visit due to war or civil unrest, but it’s fairly easy to find out which ones.
It’s easy to assume everywhere outside U.S. borders is wild and untamed. Media outlets are happy to declare whole continents to be unsafe, for whatever reason they deem fit. Bad news sells, and unfortunately, can skew your perspective of the world.
How To Stay Safe Overseas
Staying safe involves making sensible decisions and planning ahead. By taking a few precautions you can minimize the dangers, no matter which country you’re in. Some of this advice may seem ridiculously obvious, but it bears repeating.
Before you travel to a new place, do some research and find out which areas you should avoid. Every city and country has places with higher rates of crime. Work out where these are, and don’t go there.
Avoid overt displays of wealth. Accept that if you wear expensive jewelry you may get unwanted attention. If you’re driving to a fancy restaurant then this isn’t a problem. If you are using public transport to run a few errands, it might be.
If you’re looking to buy a home, find out about the area before purchasing. Do your research and, if possible, spend some time there during the day and night. Are there other expats in the area? Is your wealthy street next to a ghetto? Be sure to speak with a number of real estate agents to give yourself the clearest view of the big picture.
If you have a vehicle, don’t leave valuables on display after parking. If you’re leaving your vehicle overnight make sure you park it in a well-lit area, ideally near a busy road. If you don’t have secure parking, look to buy a steering wheel lock or some other kind of immobilizer.
Some expats move to locations where they are the only non-natives. Try to integrate with the local community as soon as possible, and avoid being stereotyped as a wealthy outsider.
Avoid walking alone late at night, especially if you’re a woman. When you are out and about during the day, try not to draw attention to yourself as being foreign. Keep your belongings in a neck pouch if at all possible. You can buy these to store passports and cash. On the subject of cash, it’s best to separate it to make sure it’s not all in one place. Aim to use a card for most of your payments. If you need to have your passport on you for police checks, then make a color photocopy you can put in your wallet, and keep your original safely stored at home.
It’s unsurprising to find Portugal has such a low rate of crime. The people here are amazingly friendly and welcoming to outsiders. While saying this has become something of a cliché, in this case it’s true. Read through our archive of Portugal articles and you’ll find many examples of the kindness and warmth of the Portuguese people.
This is one of many reasons Portugal has been getting a lot of attention from investors and expats in the last couple of years. After a big economic crash in 2010, property prices and the economy are now recovering. The westernmost country in Europe, it has something for everyone: a warm climate, historic cities, beautiful countryside, and some of the world’s best beaches.
It has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Currently Portugal ranks number 13 in a list of the world’s safest countries.
The majority of crime Portugal experiences is through pickpockets and muggings. Take care in crowded areas and when using public transport and especially on trams.
Muggings usually don’t occur outside certain areas in big cities. Find out in advance where you should avoid and minimize your exposure to any potential danger.
When it comes to more serious crimes, Portugal is generally safe with almost no gang-related activity to report. Portugal has a low risk of terrorism as well.
In conclusion, Portugal is one of the safest countries in the world. The threats of pickpockets and muggings are present, but both can be negated by forward planning.
With 300 sunny days a year and a generous tax initiatives, Malta is one of Europe’s most popular expat destinations. The island is frequented by tourists who come for the historic sights and beautiful clear waters.
English is one of the official languages of Malta, meaning you won’t have to worry about learning another language if you move here. However if you make an attempt to learn the fiendishly difficult Maltese language, you’ll earn a lot of respect from the locals.
Malta is generally one of the safest places you can visit. Violent crime rates are especially low. Petty crimes such as pickpocketing are rare. Take care at bars and restaurants, which are statistically the places where you’re most likely to suffer a petty crime.
Hired cars in Malta are easily recognizable because their number plates have the letter K on them. Take care not to leave any valuables on display as your vehicle may be more likely to be broken into.
Malta has never suffered from a terrorist attack. Although the island is fairly close to North Africa and the Middle East, Malta is not considered likely to become a target. Malta has friendly international relations, and it’s hard to see a situation where it could be targeted.
New Zealanders have the reputation as being some of the most peaceful people in the world. Perhaps it’s the majestic countryside transmitting tranquility… Whatever the reason, you won’t find many safer countries in the world.
It’s a society built on respect. Pubs will ID nearly everyone, and drunkenness is simply not tolerated. Like the hobbits made famous by the movie filmed here, the majority of people want a quiet life with no misadventures. New Zealand is not considered a location where terrorism is likely to occur, and New Zealand generally keeps a low profile in any overseas conflicts.
Violent crime is low with nearly all instances being between people who already know each other. New Zealand has few burglaries and little chance of kidnappings. Muggings do occasionally happen in certain parts of big cities, but the danger areas are easily avoided.
A small chance of being pickpocketed exists if you are in Auckland, where most of the tourists are likely to be. Basic vigilance and precautions should be enough to ensure your safety though.
Luxembourg is a sleepy country bordering Belgium, France, and Germany. Set up in the mountains, sheer drops and cliffs are a feature of the city center and outskirts. The capital city is laid-back, and the pace of life is slow. Luxembourg has a reputation as being a somewhat overcast place but this makes for an abundance of greenery.
The small European country of Luxembourg may be the safest country in the world. Violent crime is low and terrorism isn’t considered an imminent threat. It’s hard to see how this situation could change in the foreseeable future.
As a super-safe country, the main threat you are likely to encounter in Luxembourg is from purse-snatchers and pickpockets. The usual hot spots such as public transport, bars, and crowded streets are the areas where you should be vigilant.
Another piece of advice is to stay away from the parks at night. This is where a lot of drug deals in Luxembourg take place. While drug dealers like to keep a low profile and deals seldom turn violent, opportunists might look to relieve you of your valuables.
Slovenia is a clean country with expanses of untouched mountainous countryside. For a long time it has flown under the radar but it’s recently begun to gain international attention. Part of the reason is due to cheap international flights but mostly it’s down to the beautiful countryside. This is another of the world’s most safe countries and yet another with a spectacular landscape.
Violet crime is low and has even been falling in recent years. As with many of the countries on this list the biggest danger comes from petty crime. Pickpockets and bag-snatchers are a danger in the tourist areas. They’re still fairly rare though, and by exercising caution, you’re likely to be fine.
Slovenia is a country where you’ll want to spend as much time as possible outside. During the summer months there are miles of sand and rock beaches where you can swim in the Adriatic. During the winter months skiing and hiking in the mountains is popular. This lifestyle places a premium on cars, and break-ins are becoming more common. Take care not to leave valuables on display in your car. Whenever possible use secure parking or an immobilizer to avoid car theft.
Considered one of the safest countries in the world, Iceland scores highly for quality of life and gender equality. Despite this progressive outlook, a lack of jobs for expats means Iceland remains off the beaten path.
Iceland is known as the country of fire and ice. Volcanoes and hot springs exist alongside freezing winters, glaciers, and snow-covered mountains. If you are a fan of snow and wild landscapes then Iceland could be the country for you.
Crime is exceptionally rare here. Capital city Reykjavík is a perfect example: Not only are violent crimes almost nonexistent, Iceland has almost no pickpockets either. Iceland has few problems with drugs, and the climate makes being homeless very difficult. The chances of a terrorist attack in Iceland are remote and not considered a concern in daily life.
As with Luxembourg, parks are best avoided at night (as drunks congregate there). While these people are usually looking for solitude, leaving them undisturbed is advised.
Ireland is another European representative in the list of world’s safest countries. Violent crimes are low and kidnappings are almost unheard of. In Dublin you may be at risk from pickpockets but no more so than in any other European capital city.
In past decades Ireland suffered from domestic terrorism, but those days have passed and Ireland isn’t traditionally targeted by terrorists. Given Ireland’s peaceful foreign policy it’s hard to image how this could change. Guns are illegal unless you own a farm, and even then, only certain guns are permitted.
[Feel safer with a gun? Check out the countries with the easiest gun laws…]
Rural Ireland is safe, and if you choose to live in the countryside you’re unlikely to encounter any crime. Home break-ins are rare and cars aren’t usually parked on the street. Countryside locations take opportunist crimes out of the equation, and if you leave a window open by mistake, it’s unlikely that anyone will notice.
P.S. Also check out some of the safest places to travel in the world by region…