When considering the health of a country, reports often focus on the financial well-being of a nation's citizens, or perhaps some will look at specific crime rates per capita. But the Social Progress Index (SPI) compiles the data slightly differently. The SPI looks at fifty-two different indicators which represent the quality of life for those living in the specific countries. One of these indicators studies Basic Human Needs, and it's broken down into several smaller categories - including Personal Safety.
How safe are the people who live in a nation? What are the biggest concerns for the residents? Are women able to walk down the street at night without fear of being attacked? By looking at the Personal Safety Index, you can get an idea of the quality of life for those who live in a given country. The higher the index, the safer the country is for everyone, including tourists.
So which countries are the safest? In some of the safest nations, the crime rates are so low that you're more likely to be mauled by a polar bear than robbed by a drug dealer on the street. In fact, in some of these countries, they actually suggest that tourists can hitchhike or sleep in their cars with absolutely no fear of being hurt. Hard to imagine places like that still exist in the world today, isn't it?
Well, they do! The following are the 10 nations that most closely guard their citizens' personal security.
10 Slovenia - Personal Safety Index: 91.39
It should say something that Wikitravel actually suggests car camping as an option when staying in Slovenia. They suggest it as an affordable option, and say that you probably won't be bothered too much as long as you stay out of private lands. Of course, it's also suggested that you remain cautious at night, especially in the bigger cities and in crowded bars. But aside from common sense concerns, you can be pretty sure you're personal safety is well-secured here, with a personal safety index of 91.39.
9 Canada - Personal Safety Index: 91.58
Overall, Canada's personal safety and satisfaction ratings are high. For instance, in 2009, 83% of Canadians said that they weren't afraid to be home alone at night, and 90% felt safe enough to walk their neighborhood at night as well. And that's not just blind faith in humanity: The country really is safe. Crime rate in Canada is the lowest it's been since 1972. In 2012, the crime rate fell by three percent from the previous year. Not to mention, that the homicide rate is 1.73 murders per 100,000; to put that in perspective, the United State's rate is 4.80 per 100,000 people.
8 Austria - Personal Safety Index: 91.67
Robbery, assault, and car crime in Austria are among the lowest in the developed world. And while in many 'safe' nations the safety doesn't extend to the larger cities, in Austria's case it does. Vienna is ranked as the 6th safest city in the world (of 215 cities studied). It's so safe in fact, that travel sites mention that in the countryside, you might be able to find a room for a night by knocking on doors. In most countries, where crime is more commonplace, the idea of walking up to a stranger's door and asking if you could stay there for the evening became outmoded more than fifty years ago! The fact that this is a legitimate option in Austria speaks volumes about how trustworthy and kind the locals are.
7 Czech Republic - Personal Safety Index: 92.08
Vision of Humanity recently ranked the Czech Republic as the fifth most peaceful nation in the world. The factors they looked at include political stability, homicides, violent crime, and the number of police and security present. In fact, violent crimes are rare, and the majority of crimes that do occur are most commonly crimes of opportunity. As with most major tourist destinations, there are always those who prey upon the unprepared. Rarely, if ever, do these sorts of crimes turn violent within the borders of the Czech Republic.
6 Japan - Personal Safety Index: 92.33
Crime in Japan has been consistently declining in recent years. In fact, 2014 marks the 11th straight year that the crime rate has declined. In 2013, the number of murders and attempted murders dropped 8.8%. Sure, as mentioned before, pickpocketing and other petty crimes do exist in high-traffic, tourist locations. With most places, the most likely locations for crime are the big cities, crowded areas, as well as in nightclubs and bars where crimes such as sexual assault can still take place. However, it's worth noting that the general crime rate in Japan is still well below the U.S national average.
5 Denmark - Personal Safety Index: 92.56
Copenhagen, while a very large city, is one of the safest cities in the world according to Tripadvisor. Even with an increase in protests (many tied to the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States), manifestations tend to remain relatively peaceful and nonviolent. Men and women can feel safe walking through the streets without having to fear being harassed, and tourists are generally safe to travel around the country without any concerns. The biggest crime-related problems in Denmark come from pickpockets (typical of any big city or tourist destination) and a few small terrorist cells mostly stemming from the 2005 publication of the “Mohammed cartoons” and the reprinting of those cartoons in 2008. However, the threat is mainly against individuals and businesses associated with the publication of these cartoons rather than unaffiliated nationals, tourists or travelers.
4 Switzerland - Personal Safety Index: 92.75
It's not surprising that Switzerland is one of the safest countries in the world. Women have no trouble traveling alone, and the police try to be as unobtrusive as possible (with the exception of football games in some major cities where hooligan crime may take place). However, the police are very serious about traffic offenses, and thus many drivers are well-disciplined, which makes it safe for pedestrian traffic. Also, Switzerland has very strong Good Samaritan laws that make it a civic duty to help those in need (as long as it doesn't entail endangering yourself). The refusal to help someone in need is actually punishable by law, thus people are very willing and ready to help if the need arises.
3 Norway - Personal Safety Index: 92.75
In Norway, the greatest dangers one might face is not with criminals, but with nature. Many people, especially tourists, die each year in the mountains or on the sea – usually after being warned of such dangers. Walking on glaciers, car crashes with moose or other large animals, running into problems in the harsh mountains, and even run-ins with polar bears are typically the greatest threats one faces while in Norway. In fact, in Svalbard, you should never travel outside Longyearbyen without someone carrying a weapon. But when you look at the crime rates in Norway, well – there's little to worry about there. Even in the “bad” parts of Oslo, violent crime is very low. While pickpockets do exist, especially in urban areas, it's still nothing like in larger European cities or parts of the U.S. Overall, Norway is an extremely safe country, as long as you don't mess with nature.
2 Sweden - Personal Safety Index: 93.35
It should come as no surprise that Norway's neighbor, Sweden, would also make this list. After all, the Scandinavian countries are known for being some of the safest in the world (and they did show up a lot on this list, come to think of it). The main risks in Sweden include alcohol-related violence, petty theft and mugging. But even those risks are relatively low, especially when compared to other places in the world. Much like Norway, the largest risks come from nature, and they include blizzards in the mountains, freezing conditions and icy roads throughout the long winters. After all, most of Sweden is below freezing in the winter. But keep warm, practice safe habits, and you should be just fine.
1 Iceland - Personal Safety Index: 93.45
It would almost seem that crime is lowest where it's coldest, and if that's the case, it comes as no surprise that a country with the word “Ice” it its name would be the safest country in the world. And in fact, Iceland does rank highest in personal safety. Like others on the list, the greatest dangers in Iceland are found in nature. And like the other places, many times it comes down to people not reading the warning signs posted everywhere. But as far as the people go, Icelanders are some of the friendliest folks you'll meet. Need a ride? Hitchhiking is one way to get around the country, and most drivers are willing to pick you up, and it's safe to travel this way (well, except in rural areas with few drivers since the weather can take you out). When the biggest risks you face come from Mother Nature, rather than from people, you know you're in a safe place.