Global Guardian's Intelligence Team puts a spotlight on the most dangerous countries in the world—those where the likelihood and extent of harm to a traveler are highest.
By Zev Faintuch, Senior Intelligence Analyst & Joseph Chafetz, Junior Intelligence Analyst
JULY 10, 2023
INSIDE THIS ARTICLE, YOU'LL FIND:
Understanding the dangers associated with travel to certain countries is vital for making informed decisions and cost-benefit analysis for leisure, adventure, and business travel alike. By examining the unique risks and issues in different regions, and understanding the dangers associated with travel to a particular country, you can take proactive measures to protect yourself. But sometimes, this may even include deciding to postpone or cancel travel based on the current level of danger.
Merriam-Webster defines “danger” as: exposure or liability to injury, pain, harm, or loss. Oxford’s definition adds the element of likelihood: the possibility of suffering harm or injury. Here at Global Guardian, we view the word “danger” through the lens of risk, which bridges these two definitions. Broadly speaking, risk is the combination of the likelihood of a harmful event and severity of its impact. Therefore, the most dangerous countries in the world are those with the highest travel risk — countries where the likelihood and extent of harm to a traveler are highest.
What Defines a "Dangerous Country"?
To determine the level of travel risk of a particular country, we take into account both quantitative metrics. Typically, we look at indicators including crime rates, health, natural disasters, infrastructure, conflict, civil unrest, and terrorism. Based on the above categories and weighted with our proprietary methodology, we divide countries into five categories of risk ranging from Low to Extreme.
- Countries classified as Low Risk are considered highly stable. These countries maintain a strong rule of law and are capable of containing both internal and external threats to security.
- Countries classified as Moderate Risk are considered resilient. These countries are capable of quickly and effectively managing crisis and threats to personal security.
- Countries classified as Medium Risk are not fully secure. Political tension and lack of adequate law enforcement make these countries vulnerable to sporadic unrest.
- Countries classified as High Risk experience ongoing conflict, criminal activity or civil unrest. These countries have weak institutions and are incapable of effectively managing crises.
- Countries classified as Extreme Risk are actively engaged in military conflict, while experiencing severe criminal activity and civil unrest. These countries are insecure; state institutions are too weak to manage militant or insurgent groups.
The World’s Most Dangerous Countries, by Region
At Global Guardian we break down the globe into five separate geographies to help identify the most dangerous countries in the world. The countries in these regions generally share common themes, be it shared climatic threats or security threats that cross borders like militant groups or transnational organized crime. For our purposes, these regions are the Americas, Europe, Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), and Asia-Pacific (APAC).
Americas (North America, Central America, South America)
This region’s security landscape is characterized by the outsized role of illicit drug manufacturing, distribution, and trafficking, and the destabilizing role of organized crime from local street gangs to major transnational drug cartels. The Atlantic hurricane season also can pose major safety issues and cause massive travel disruption between June and November, peaking in August and September.
Haiti (High Risk)
Haiti — the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere — is a failed state, marred by near-constant violent social upheaval and extreme gang violence. The situation on the ground has severely deteriorated over the last three years. Gangs are the primary stakeholders in the country with ties to political and security elements. Violence has expanded from the periphery of the Cité Soleil neighborhood to formerly safe suburbs in the north. Cité Soleil, Bel-Air, and the surrounding areas are deemed “no-go zones,” and should be avoided at all costs. Travel should only be undertaken with a full (but low-profile) security detail, following careful route assessments and reconnaissance.
Mexico (High Risk)
The drug war in Mexico is one of the most violent conflicts on the planet with cartel activity permeating through many levels of the Mexican economy and society. Cartel conflicts continue to drive violence across Mexico, including tourist areas previously less affected, such as Cancun, Tulum, and Puerto Vallarta. The current criminal landscape in Mexico is driven largely by the battle between the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG) and the Sinaloa Cartel (CDS), though three other major transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) — Los Zetas, Gulf Cartel, and Juarez Cartel — all contribute to high levels of violence. The border regions along with Tierra Caliente, which includes parts of Michoacán, Guerrero, and Mexico states should be avoided, if possible. For more information on Mexico safety, click here.
Venezuela (High Risk)
Venezuela is not just risky by the standards of Latin America, it has one of the highest rates of corruption, violent crime, and unrest in the world. The capital city of Caracas is a focal point for violent demonstrations, organized crime, robbery, kidnapping, and homicide. Most kidnappings are “express” and last less than 48 hours, frequently targeting people leaving hotels, traveling in taxis, or walking in wealthier areas. Tourists are often targeted for robbery or theft. Western travelers, especially Americans also face the threat of arbitrary detention. The rainy season from May to December frequently brings torrential downpours and landslides. We do not recommend for Americans to travel to Venezuela and other interested travelers should arrange for private transportation for the duration of their trips.
The overwhelming majority of Europe is not dangerous for travel, although the Russo-Ukrainian War has dramatically shifted the security landscape on Europe’s eastern flank. Russia’s resurgence as a threat to its neighbors and the specter of nuclear weapons use has created a high degree of uncertainty surrounding the future of the European security climate.
Ukraine (Extreme Risk)
The country is currently fighting for its existence in the largest-scale war since WWII[i]. The majority of Ukraine’s major cities are consistently under missile and drone threat. Essential services cannot be guaranteed and the conflict has no end in sight. While the likelihood is still quite low, we cannot fully dismiss the possibility of Russia using chemical or nuclear weapons. At this juncture, and with so much uncertainty, we advise against all non-essential travel to Ukraine at this time. But if you do plan on going, it is imperative to have extensive evacuation and contingency plans to prepare for any eventuality.
Belarus (HIGH Risk)
While crime rates in Belarus remain relatively low, Western travelers face the risks of arbitrary arrest and detention, government surveillance, and malicious cyber activity. The ruling regime is unpopular, especially after the contested 2020 presidential election. As a result, protests can quickly turn violent as security forces use heavy-handed tactics against protestors. Social media posts denouncing the government and the ongoing invasion of Ukraine have resulted in arrests and criminal charges. Given Belarus’ precarious geopolitical situation, further “integration” with Russia by fiat or coup d’état cannot be ruled out in the near future. We advise against all travel for nationals whose countries are members of the NATO alliance over concerns of arbitrary detention.
Russia (Medium Risk)
Russia is an authoritarian security state engaged in what its leadership perceives to be an existential struggle with the West. Recently, the war in Ukraine has spilled over into internationally recognized Russian territory in the form of drone attacks on Moscow and cross border raids by Ukrainian backed forces in Belgorod Oblast. However, the main risk posed to travelers in Russia is the threat of arbitrary/wrongful detention.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the country has increased the pace of its arbitrary detention of foreign nationals, particularly Americans. In March, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich joined security consultant Paul Whelan in Russian detention on charges of espionage. Late last year, the professional basketball player Brittney Griner was swapped for a Russian national following ten months in detention. The Russian regime uses arbitrary detention as leverage in securing the release of lawfully detained Russian nationals abroad and in the negotiation of sanctions. We advise against all travel for nationals whose countries are members of the NATO alliance over concerns of arbitrary detention.
[i] in terms of scope and scale of weaponry in use and volume of contested territory, not overall level of violence or deaths.
Middle East and North Africa
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has been the central locus of most of the world’s violent extremism and conflict over the last several decades. Plagued by chronic instability, ethnoreligious grievances, and geopolitical dynamics that shift with the sand, there are several countries within this region — including some not included in this list — where travel should be outright avoided.
Sudan (Extreme Risk)
A power struggle between two of the country’s leading military and political figures erupted into a brutal civil war in April 2023. Tension had been mounting between Mohammed “Hemedti” Dagalo, head of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, head of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) for months over a planned integration of the RSF into the SAF. The subsequent fighting has resulted in the deaths of at least two thousand people and the displacement of more than two million others. The conflict – which has seen the use of heavy weapons, indiscriminate small arms fire, and airstrikes by the SAF in densely populated areas — has also caused an acute humanitarian disaster.
The SAF have conducted multiple airstrikes in civilian areas occupied by RSF fighters. Meanwhile, the RSF and other groups have been engaging in violent and widespread looting, hostage-taking, robberies, and the abuse of civilians. Access to critical goods such as food, water, and medicine has been severely impeded. We advise against any travel to Sudan as evacuation options are extremely limited.
Yemen (Extreme Risk)
Yemen is one of the world’s least developed nations where 80% of the population (21.6 million people) are food insecure and lack access to basic services. Despite a cooling of the intensity of the civil war, Yemen remains a failed and fractured state where no entity maintains a monopoly on violence. Healthcare and emergency services are almost non-existent in Yemen. The long-term resolution of the civil war remains elusive and a renewal of intensive hostilities remains a possibility. While travel to the island of Socotra is possible, we recommend against all travel to this war-torn nation.
Iraq (High Risk)
Violent crime, terrorism, and wrong-place, wrong-time incidents pose threats to travelers in Iraq. Crimes including robberies and assaults are often carried out by former insurgents who operate with near-total impunity. The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) — armed sectarian militias funded by Iran — are often involved in the illicit economy, adding a militarized element to the criminal underworld. Much of Baghdad should be considered off-limits to foreign travelers; essential travel outside of the International Zone should be undertaken in an armored convoy with armed security escorts. Kidnapping also remains a threat that is likely to persist for some time.
Global Guardian also advises against travel to the following MENA locations:
- Afghanistan (Extreme Risk)
- Libya (Extreme Risk)
- Somalia (Extreme Risk)
- Syria (Extreme Risk)
- The Gaza Strip (High Risk)
- Mali (High Risk)
- South Sudan (High Risk)
Sub-Saharan African (SSA) security dynamics are driven by weak state institutions, ethno-religious rifts and conflicts that are fueled by its abundance of natural resources. Sub-Saharan regimes are often reliant on narrow bases of support that leverage, rather than redress, ethno-religious divisions to maintain power. The resultant lack of national institutions combined with ethnic grievances often leads to long-term insurgencies fueled by access to natural resources such as diamonds or oil. The prevalence of intractable conflicts leads both governments and rebels to neglect critical services such as healthcare infrastructure.
Burkina Faso (Extreme Risk)
Burkina Faso is an extremely dangerous destination where local security forces do not have full control of the country. Radical Jihadist insurgencies have increased their activity in the Sahel in recent years. Frequent militant attacks, high degrees of criminality, and an underdeveloped medical system also pose serious risks to visitors. Chronic instability, fueled by frequent coups, adds a high degree of uncertainty to the political future of Burkina Faso.
The Central African Republic (Extreme Risk)
The Central African Republic (CAR) is an underdeveloped and unstable country where ongoing armed conflict between the government and rebel forces, high levels of violent crime, and a deeply sub-standard healthcare system pose serious risks for travelers. Violence between rebel groups and the Wagner-Group-backed government has increased since 2020. The country’s borders with Cameroon, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of Congo are largely under the control of various violent non-state actors and experience severe violent crime and frequent armed clashes. The medical system in CAR falls far below international standards of care. Travel should only be undertaken with a full (but low-profile) security detail, following careful route assessments and reconnaissance.
Ethiopia (High Risk)
Ethiopia is a politically unstable and unsafe country with deep ethnic divisions that is currently host to multiple interconnected armed conflicts. Ethiopia’s various ethnic armed organizations (EAO) have substantial control over regional governments. Many of Ethiopia’s provinces operate their own armed forces and some dictate their own security policy. The 2020-2022 war in the Tigray region resulted in more than 600,000 deaths and the political aftershock is currently at the centerpiece of the current inter-regional tensions. Ethiopia’s neighbors: Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan, are frequently involved in domestic conflicts in Ethiopia, and vice versa. Inter-ethnic conflicts in Ethiopia have previously disrupted supply chains for food and medicine resulting in acute shortages. There is a high risk of kidnapping in the border regions with Kenya and Somalia.
The Asia Pacific (APAC) region hosts a variety of political dynamics born of huge disparities in geography and demographics. APAC countries tend to have ethnic and linguistic fault lines which frequently become divisions in the absence of robust state institutions. The region — situated on the Ring of Fire — also routinely experiences earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as some of the strongest tropical storms in world, which predominately originate in the Indian Ocean between the months of April and September.
Myanmar (High Risk)
The 2021 military coup in Myanmar triggered a civil war that continues to escalate. The central government under Tatmadaw (the Burmese military’s political arm) control is battling a coalition of ethnic armed groups (EAG) and pro-democratic forces for large swaths of the country. The conflict has seen the widespread use of landmines, the indiscriminate use of small arms and artillery in populated areas, and a crackdown on civil liberties. The war has seen a breakdown in Myanmar’s already strained logistical infrastructure which seriously complicates travel, the supply of basic goods and services, and medical care. We advise against all unnecessary travel to Myanmar
Pakistan (High Risk)
Pakistan is currently undergoing political and financial crises on top of persistent insurgencies amid the fallout from recent environmental catastrophes. Pakistan’s popular former-prime minister Imran Khan has been engaged in a high-profile legal battle with the military-backed government of Shehbaz Sharif since the former’s ouster from office last year. Violence has broken out between security forces and Khan’s supporters several times in the past few months in relation to the, allegedly politically motivated, legal proceedings.
Pakistan is also threatened by the specter of default, which has only been staved off by last-minute loans from the UAE, China, and the IMF. Early in 2023, this country experienced record-breaking floods which resulted in tens of billions of dollars in damages from which Pakistan has yet to recover. In addition to these issues, the Pakistani state has been battling separatists and radical Islamists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan. Global Guardian advises against all travel to Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Papua New Guinea (High Risk)
Papua New Guinea (PNG) has a very high crime rate which is fueled by the availability of small arms, pervasive lawlessness, endemic corruption, and high rates of unemployment. The lack of effective state institutions has resulted in severely poor transportation, logistics, and healthcare infrastructure as well as the proliferation of armed gangs and bandits. Socio-economic or tribally motivated violence between groups is a regular occurrence in the highlands and sometimes spills into more urban areas. Unrest in urban areas such as Port Moresby is common, especially during elections. While travel to PNG is possible, we recommend secure transportation at all times given the risk of crime and banditry.
The Danger of Popular Travel Destinations
Is Colombia Safe? Medium Risk
The Colombian government has recently come to a peace deal with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), but other armed groups including drug traffickers are still active throughout the country. Petty crime is common in historic city centers. Incidents of violent crime and kidnapping for ransom are widespread outside of major urban areas. Colombia is also one of the most mined countries in the world. Landmines, unexploded ordnance, and improvised explosive devices have killed more than 12,200 people since 1990 and present a risk to adventure travelers or those visiting highly remote areas.
is Thailand Safe? MEdium Risk
Travel safety in Thailand varies greatly by region but the touristy destinations and developed cities are safe to visit. Vigilance is recommended when attending nightclubs and beach parties, as they are hotspots for theft, assault, and sexual violence. Travelers should avoid travel to all the border regions, and the southern provinces of Songkhla, Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwa, due to high crime rates associated with narco-traffic routes, the prevalence of malaria and other infectious diseases, and terrorism.
Is Italy Safe? Moderate Risk
Italy is one of the most seismically active countries in Europe, making it susceptible to frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity. In 2009 a 5.8 magnitude quake near Abruzzo killed 308 people, injured a further 1500, and caused $16 billion in damages. Stromboli — just north of the island of Sicily — is one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Volcanic ash can seriously impede air travel with very little notice. While most violence perpetrated by organized criminal groups in Italy is directed at one another, travelers are at risk of being caught in the wrong place at the wrong in both urban and ex-urban areas.
For more information about travel safety in Europe, click here to read more from our team.
International Security Solutions While Traveling
When it comes to travel in dangerous locations, having the right guidance and support is crucial. Global Guardian is here to help you navigate the complexities and challenges of global travel, including to High- and Extreme-Risk areas. Our experienced team of security experts can provide you with the necessary tools, resources, and real-time information to ensure your safety and peace of mind. Global Guardian also has experience evacuating clients from Ukraine, Afghanistan, Sudan, Myanmar, and other conflict areas. Whether you are a business traveler, tourist, or adventurer, trust Global Guardian to be your reliable partner in mitigating risks and enhancing your travel experience.
To learn more about our comprehensive duty of care and security solutions and how we can assist you on your journeys around the world, complete the form below or call us at + 1 (703) 566-9463.