Wars in the Middle East and eastern Europe. Terror on the streets of North America. Riots, violence, spiraling murder rates… sometimes, it can feel like the planet is going crazy. Confronted with all this mayhem, many of us want nothing more than to run and hide our families away somewhere where they can be safe. But where could you possibly go to escape the nonstop horror that is the modern world? We’re glad you asked.
Every year, the non-partisan, London-based Legatum Institute releases its global prosperity rankings. Alongside other metrics like GDP and democracy, they rank every country on Earth according to how safe it is. The results give a fascinating guide to where on the planet you are least likely to be hurt, robbed, raped, or murdered. Wanna escape the horror of the daily news cycle? You’ve come to the right place…
(NOTE: to keep things fair, we’re gonna be ignoring non-recognized states and micronations, as otherwise Vatican City would be #1 every single darn time)
Forget the gloomy, rain-soaked Scandi crime dramas. Northern Europe’s liberal bastion Sweden is one of the safest countries on the planet. In 2015 (the last year the US Department of State holds records for), there were a mere 90 murders in a population of nearly 10 million. If you’re thinking that’s still a lot for a tiny number of citizens, remember that Sweden has as many people living in it as Michigan. In any given year, Detroit alone records waaay more than 90 murders.
To be fair, Sweden isn’t totally crime free. In the tourist months, pickpocketing rates soar. There’s also the thorny matter of rape. Sweden has the highest rape rate in the whole of Europe, which certainly doesn’t sound very safe… until you realize the sheer differences between what constitutes rape in Sweden and what constitutes rape in the USA. To take an example given in the Globe and Mail, if your American boss was to rub himself against you at work every day for a week, you could probably sue the jerk for harassment. If he did exactly the same thing in Sweden, he’d face 52 separate counts of rape. Since 2005, Swedish rape law has been the most-feminist in the world. Perhaps it’s no wonder only 15% of Swedes feel unsafe walking alone at night.
This tiny European nation of beer and sausages was once home to one of history’s great empires. The Habsburgs ruled huge swathes of the world from their base here, with various members in charge of everywhere from modern Germany, to Spain, Mexico, Peru, and Bosnia. Although the dynasty collapsed following WWI, their imperial capital of Vienna is still one of the world’s great cities. As a bonus, it’s shockingly safe to visit, too. From a population only a million or so smaller than Sweden, Austria clocks around maybe 40 murders on an average year. Its homicide rate is the 6th lowest in the entire 38-country OECD.
That’s not to say Austria is entirely problem free, of course. Following the 2015 migrant crisis, the country briefly became a popular human trafficking route, culminating in the tragic death of 70 migrants in a truck abandoned on the country’s roads. The following year, in a perhaps not unrelated event, the public came within a whisker of electing Europe’s first openly far-right head of state since WWII. Despite this, though, Austria remains a largely-friendly, beautiful place where you’re unlikely to meet a sticky end. Plus, it’s got some seriously nice landscapes for you to get drunk in.
The first thing you notice about Switzerland, when you get over all the awe-inspiring natural beauty, is that the country is absolutely awash with guns. The Swiss love guns like Texans love… well. Guns. The country has one of the highest firearm ownership rates in the world, only a few places behind the USA. But while the US is infamous for shootings, crime in Switzerland is incredibly low. In 2014 (the last year we have data for), there were only 41 murders in a population of 8 million.
Part of this may be to do with just how crazy rich the nation is. Switzerland has the 12th highest GDP per capita, and is one of only two countries in the top 14 with a population over 5 million. The towns fairly reek of prosperity. Forget streets paved with gold. In Switzerland, people’s wallets are practically lined with Platinum.
However, all this prosperity has come with something of an ethical price. In WWII, the country’s national bank profited handsomely from handling stolen Nazi gold. In the years since, the country’s secretive banking industry has been accused of hiding cash for everyone from money launderers to Pablo freakin’ Escobar.
Germany has the highest population in the whole of the EU, with nearly 15 million more citizens than either of its nearest rivals (France and the UK). On top of that, the country recently absorbed more than one million refugees from Syria and other warzones. Yet despite all this, nearly every single category of crime has been falling steadily since reunification in the 1990s. The only crime that’s skyrocketed in recent years? Shoplifting.
Overall, the country has the 9th lowest homicide rate in the OECD, meaning you’re only slightly more likely to get murdered in big, bustling Germany than you are in teeny tiny Austria. Obviously, the raw numbers are higher, but c’mon, dude. 2,100 murders in a population of 80 million is still pretty good, especially when you consider the US (pop. 318 million) has recorded over fifteen thousand in recent years.
Of course, life in Germany isn’t all lederhosen and walking home at night in perfect safety. As the 2016 truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market showed, Germany is sadly not free of the ills that are currently bedeviling other Western nations.
The population of Norway is an astonishingly-tiny 5 million. Know how many of these five million modern-day Vikings were murdered in 2015? Twenty one. If Norway was a US state, it would have the lowest murder rate, and the 3rd lowest number of overall murders in the whole of America. Only sparsely-populated Vermont (pop. 626,000) and New Hampshire (pop. 1.3 million) would have fewer stiffs clogging up police freezers. About the only crime in Norway that is statistically-likely to have any impact on newcomers is burglary.
Not that Norway is completely trouble free. It’s still fewer than six years since far-right terrorist Anders Breivik detonated a car bomb in Oslo, then went on a shooting rampage, killing 77. While it’s unlikely there’s another Breivik out there, people, especially Oslo residents, are still traumatized by the incident.
Still, the 2011 tragedy aside, Norway remains one of the coolest, most-attractive, most-hassle free countries in the world. Ignore those who accuse the Scandi nation of being boring. Rich, prosperous Norway is the country other northern European countries secretly want to be (albeit with more daylight and beer that doesn’t cost $10 a pop).
We dunno about you, but if we lived in a place where a single beer cost upwards of seven bucks, we’d probably be more inclined to angry outbursts. But what do we know? Demark is so safe that even residents of Norway probably feel they can relax there. The murder rate is the 5th lowest in the entire OECD. Street crime is almost unheard of. Even the drug traffickers who ship heroin through the country frequently eschew violence (at least, on Danish soil).
Interestingly, despite all this, Denmark is seen as being a prime target for al-Qaeda and ISIS, who have called on followers to attack the nation. However, no mass-casualty Islamist terror attack has yet taken place, leading to global praise for Denmark’s intelligence services and anti-extremism units.
Even ignoring safety and crime rates, Denmark should be high on your list to escape to if life ever gets too much. Home to the happiest capital city in the world, Copenhagen, and possibly the world’s only autonomous republic run by hippies, Denmark is nothing if not absurdly cool.
In January 2017, a young woman in Iceland’s capital Reykjavik was tragically abducted and murdered while walking home from a bar. While this grim story would probably end there in any other nation, in Iceland it resulted in a public outpouring of grief unmatched in modern times. Vigils were held by candlelight. Tens of thousands marched on the streets. The entire population came together to mark this senseless death. In doing so, they showed the world why Iceland remains one of the safest nations. The people there really, truly, deeply care about one another.
With a population of only 323,000, Iceland is one of the remotest, least-populated countries out there. But while remoteness often breeds violence, in Iceland the opposite has happened. There are no armed police patrolling the streets, yet violence, even in rural backwaters, is practically unheard of. The cliché of people still leaving their doors unlocked at night is true. A year with more than one murder is a bad year indeed.
Much of this is to do with how integrated the population is. Everyone essentially knows everyone, which may be why the recent death struck home so hard. Iceland is safe not because it’s relatively rich, but because its inhabitants have chosen to make it so.
Well, look at that. A non-European country for once. An island nation of 127 million, Japan is notorious for its meme-ready weirdness, its ultra-strict work culture, and for being so safe even its Yakuza gangsters refuse to carry guns. The murder rate is the third lowest in the OECD, with fewer than one thousand homicides in 2015. In that same time period, the US – a country with a population less than three times the size of Japan’s – recorded fifteen times that many. It’s fair to say Japan is a very safe country indeed.
And it just keeps on getting safer. 2015 saw the lowest rate for every single type of crime since 1945. Tokyo is ranked as the safest city in the world. Osaka is ranked as the 3rd safest. Given that Greater Tokyo is the second largest urban habitation on the planet (only China’s Pearl River Delta is bigger), that’s one heck of an accolade.
Before you rush to pack your bags, though, it’s worth pointing out that Tokyo is also one of the world’s most dangerous cities. Yeah, we know, confusing. But hear us out: there’s safety from other human beings, and then there’s safety from Mother Nature. And in that second category, Japan in general falls way down. Frequently hit by earthquakes and tsunamis that kill thousands, Japan can sometimes feel like Mother Nature’s unfortunate, anime-obsessed, whipping boy.
Jammed between France, Germany and Belgium, super-rich Luxembourg is one of Europe’s smallest nations. How small? So small it makes Holland look big by comparison. Rhode Island is bigger. But Luxembourg has something the Netherlands and Rhode Island lack. No, not the European Court of Justice. No, not an ‘X’ in its name (seriously, dude, that’s a terrible guess). No, Luxembourg has something far more awesome. It has the lowest violent crime rate, and the second lowest murder rate in the whole of the OECD.
Violent crime essentially doesn’t exist here. There were a handful of armed robberies in 2015. Aside from that, nothing. Even with a population of only 543,202, that’s still impressive. Kansas City has a population around 100,000 smaller, and saw over 125 murders in 2016. Luxembourg saw almost none.
The reason for all this may be due to the high standards of living and extremely low poverty rates in the nation. Luxembourg has the 6th highest GDP per capita, and consistently ranks high on quality of life listings. Interestingly, though, the country isn’t totally free from troubles. There are currently six whole Luxembourgers fighting with ISIS in Syria.
This is it. The safest country on Earth. Tiny Singapore is home to 5.3 million people crammed into an area almost four times smaller than Rhode Island (pop. 1 million). With such an insane level of overcrowding, you might expect things to quickly spiral into violence and resentment. Not so. In 2011, a mere 16 people were murdered. In 2015 & 2016, all forms of violent crime and thefts hit either 10 or 20 year lows. The only crimes that are currently increasing are cybercrimes, which may be unpleasant, but at least aren’t going to end with you lying in a pool of your own blood and vomit.
As an added bonus, Singapore completely lacks the natural disasters endemic to Japan. It’s clean and livable, with even stuff like spitting gum being punishable with enormous fines. However, all this security has come at something of a cost. In Singapore, the government is in charge, and you better believe they value safety over freedom. The country ranks 75th on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s respected democracy index, behind Colombia, Serbia, Hungary and Brazil, to name a few, and only 10 places ahead of Honduras (the US ranks 20th, before you ask). In this tiny little Asian nation, security definitely comes with a price tag. Whether or not it’s worth the cost is something only you can decide.