Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19 concerns, the U.S. State Department is encouraging potential visitors to reconsider travel abroad, and has banned arrivals from the entire continent of Europe. The below story is based on a 2019 survey of travelers and safety statistics from 2018.
Americans consider Australia to be the safest country for them to visit, according to travel insurance provider Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection’s annual survey findings. Data identifying the safest countries for U.S. travelers were developed out of the agency’s “State of Travel Insurance” survey of thousands of consumers last year as well as destinations’ local crime rates, terror threats, social welfare, and the State Department’s safety rating.
Seven of the top 10 “safest” destinations (in Americans’ eyes, at least) are in Europe, two are major Oceania nations, and one is an East Asian country. Two nations that made the list are destinations that many travelers should reconsider traveling to for now, according to the CDC, due to the COVID-19 epidemic impacting them both heavily: Italy and Japan. (See our sister site Airfarewatchdog’s breakdown of airlines’ waiver options during the epidemic.)
It’s also worth noting that, despite being a devastating event this winter, Australia’s wildfires have since been controlled, and are an event the country sees annually to some degree. “Any destination—even the safest place on Earth—can be struck by a natural disaster,” Berkshire Hathaway said in the report. “That’s why it pays to insure all your major trips.”
For each destination, the rankings often reference the Global Peace Index created by the Institute for Economics and Peace, which combines factors like crime, incarceration rates, militarization, and social welfare.
The ‘Safest’ Countries According to Surveyed Americans
Here are the safest countries for Americans according to the study as well as how they compare to U.S. State Department recommendations.
Australia rose from the number two spot it held last year thanks to very low rates of violent crime, political instability, and militarization—reflected in a good Global Peace Index rating. The State Department says it’s also at its safest level one rating, meaning that travelers should exercise normal precautions, with the exception of areas affected by bushfires and accompanying air quality issues being considered level two areas (exercise increased caution). After bushfire season, though, the best way to help Australia recover is to visit.
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Sweden enjoys a good position on the Global Peace Index based on low crime rates, high levels of political stability, and low levels of political violence. As with other northern European countries, the main warning for pricey Sweden is usually that you’ll need lots of money to visit. The State Department puts Sweden at a level one rating, which is the safest.
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3. New Zealand
“Like Australia, New Zealand ranked highly with Millennials in the Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection survey. In fact, it was Millennials’ choice as the safest destination on the planet,” the study said. “It’s not just American travelers who think highly of New Zealand. It also scored well in the Global Peace Index, the UL Safety Index, and the Global Finance Index.”
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Italy’s Global Peace Index rating is based on low homicide rates and political terror, although petty crime in tourist areas is moderate in some areas. Note that the current lockdown the country is experiencing in the face of COVID-19 makes it largely unvisitable right now: The State Department puts Italy at level three, meaning reconsider travel, because of the outbreak.
5. The Netherlands
The Netherlands scored high for all measures and was particularly well liked by older travelers. It’s a repeat contender, having tied for the number five slot last year alongside Belgium and Luxembourg. However, the State Department raised the Netherlands’ alert to a level two (exercise increased caution) in July 2019 due to increased terror-attack threat.
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Another newcomer to the study, France is a favorite among younger travelers. “It’s very clear that Millennial American travelers love France,” the study said. “They put it third overall for safety … a significant improvement over last year’s rankings.” Participants noted that Paris’ Metro usually has an increased police presence compared to other cities. The U.S. State Department has rated France at level two due to “terrorism and civil unrest.”
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Iceland enjoys a top Global Peace Index rating as a result of very high marks for safety, social support, and political stability. One of the main problems you’ll face in Iceland is overtourism—the result of the fact that so many people agree it’s a great place. The State Department says it’s at level one.
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Ireland, last year’s winner, has been bumped down significantly. But it’s still low on terrorism, political violence, and militarization. “The country remains extremely popular with affluent Millennials and older travelers, and it scores very well in the Global Peace Index and the UL Safety Index,” Berkshire Hathaway stated. The State Department gives it a level one (the safest) advisory level.
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A nation that hasn’t made many “safest places” lists since its economic downturn slowed tourism in the last decade, Greece earns its spot “thanks in part to affluent Millennials, who consider Greece one of their safest destinations,” said Berkshire Hathaway. The State Department gives it a level one (the safest) advisory level.
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Berkshire Hathaway’s study credits Japan’s ratings with broader improvements ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, as well as “good scores in the Global Peace Index and the UL Safety Index.” The State Department gives Japan a level two travel advisory level for increased caution pertaining to COVID-19.
More from SmarterTravel:
- The World’s 10 Best Cities to Live in, Ranked
- The 13 Safest Places in Mexico
- The Cheapest Caribbean Islands to Find Your Paradise
Stay safe and healthy this travel season with the following recommended travel gear:
Traveling? Consider Bringing These:
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.
Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.