The United States is a vast country that many visitors around the world dream of visiting. Nearly 80 million people visit the United States each year, making it the country with the second-most tourism arrivals in the world (after France).
Visitors to the United States certainly have a lot to see. There are bustling metropolises that have shaped global culture, such as New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
There are rugged nature and captivating national parks, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite. For those looking to get a look at real Americana, there are small towns, county fairs, and barbecues galore.
But while there’s enough to see to keep even the busiest tourist entertained, is the United States safe to visit?
Is the United States Safe to Visit in 2023?
Yes. For the most part, the United States is a safe place to visit. However, the big country is not without its problems, including civil unrest, mass shootings, terrorism, and high crime rates.
While most of these incidents happen far away from places where tourists might visit, it still pays to be cautious when you visit the United States. The United States of America has a reputation as being one of the most prosperous countries in the world.
American citizens abroad are often nervous about their safety, but the irony is that foreign citizens often have far more reason to be afraid of going to the United States.
On the Global Peace Index, the United States ranks a lowly #129 out of 163 countries total.
However, this index uses some factors that skew the United States’ ranking, such as military spending as a percentage of GDP, which does not impact the safety of residents and visitors on U.S. soil.
A more reliable barometer of safety in the United States is probably looking at travel advisories from foreign governments.
Some countries, such as Ireland, just tell their citizens to take normal precautions while visiting the United States. Others are more cautious — New Zealand tells citizens to exercise increased caution when visiting the United States due to the threat of terrorism.
In 2018, Uruguay and Venezuela made headlines for issuing travel advisories against the United States due to the threat of racist violence and terrorism.
The most common problems countries warn about in their travel advisories include:
- Mass shootings (which some countries classify as terrorism)
- Civil unrest
- Petty crime
- Gun violence
- Gang violence
Many countries warn their citizens about avoiding demonstrations in the United States. They say that even peaceful demonstrations can turn violent and advise visitors not to join in protests.
Some countries, such as the Bahamas, even issued travel advisories warning their citizens that authorities in the United States can be racist towards black people.
It may be surprising for some U.S. citizens to think of their country as a source of civil unrest, but it’s no surprise that recent events such as the 2021 storming of the Capitol might make foreign citizens a bit cautious about traveling to the United States.
Some foreign travel insurance companies also warn their clients about the prevalence of natural disasters in the United States.
The vast landscape of the United States means that natural disasters are often region-specific, from wildfires in California and hurricanes along the Gulf Coast to blizzards and nor’easters in New England.
As you plan your United States travel itinerary, it’s a good idea to read up on specific natural disasters and weather conditions for the states you visit.
Crime in the United States
Crime is one of the primary concerns for visitors when they come to the United States — and with good reason. The United States has one of the highest crime rates in the world for developed countries.
It also has the highest prison population, topping out on other crime indicators. The violent crime rate alone in the United States is high. In 2021, the rate was 395.7 violent crime incidents per 100,000 people.
The homicide rate alone was 6.52 incidents per 100,000 people in 2020, an increase of 30% compared to previous years and a rate that is above the global average (and just shy of the World Health Organization’s threshold for classifying a murder rate as a homicide epidemic).
Property crimes also proliferate throughout the United States. In 2021, the property crime rate was 1,933.4 incidents per 100,000 people. Property crime has slowly been declining over the past few years.
According to an FBI breakdown of property crime data (from 2019, but the patterns are the same throughout the year), the most common property crime is larceny/theft at 73.4%, followed by burglaries at 16.1%, and motor vehicle theft at 10.4%.
If you read local U.S. news, you’ll find many worrying stories about crime sprees and skyrocketing incidence rates over the past few years. There are a few reasons for this pattern.
One is that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated societal factors that cause crime, such as economic distress, social alienation, and distrust in authority. Gun sales increased, and the United States already had a very high rate of gun ownership.
However, the headline-grabbing news of skyrocketing crime rates was not always the reality. Analysts pointed out that the data did not always back up assertions that recent years saw an increase in crime and that often, political agendas were behind the headlines.
In election years, it’s common for reports about crime to increase in the United States as part of different campaigns. Crime rates also differ widely depending on where you go in the country.
Some cities struggle more with crime than others — and they’re likely not the culprits you are thinking of, as big cities such as New York City are becoming safer and safer.
Even within the same city, crime rates differ drastically from neighborhood to neighborhood. As long as you plan your itinerary carefully and avoid bad areas, you can stay safe in the United States.
Although violent crime is more headline-grabbing, the reality is that you are far more likely to be the victim of a more mundane crime in the United States — petty theft.
Petty theft, such as pickpocketing, bag snatching, and scams, is common all over the world, especially in tourist attractions and crowded areas, both of which the United States has in abundance.
The Canadian government warns about the possibility of petty crime, although it is not prevalent throughout the United States. The most common locations for petty crime are big cities and tourist attractions (for example, Times Square in New York City).
Public transportation is another place where you should be careful, including on inter-city buses and trains. Preventing petty theft is a matter of taking basic precautions.
Make sure that you never leave your valuables unattended, even to go to the bathroom or in a place that seems safe such as a hotel lobby. Always keep some cash or an emergency credit card in a different location from your wallet.
You don’t need to invest in a money belt or other solution to prevent theft but keep your possessions in a safe, zipped compartment or front pocket.
If you decide to rent a car, beware of vehicle break-ins and vehicle theft, which are some of the only types of crime that are actually increasing across the United States.
The UK government warns that rental cars and cars belonging to tourists are often targeted. Never leave your valuables in your car, even if you step out for just a few minutes. Always park in a secure location.
Terrorism is one of the most common dangers that foreign governments warn about in their travel advisories for the United States. Many foreign governments also classify mass shooting events, which are sadly common in the United States, as terrorist events.
These include Islamic terrorist attacks and far-right terrorism. Mass shootings have targeted minority communities, schools, places of worship, public transportation, and major public events in the past.
There is no way to really predict or avoid terrorist violence as it is, by definition, random. There are a few ways you can stay informed.
The United States Department of Homeland Security has an official National Terrorism Advisory System which can tell you if there are any specific areas of alert. Stay alert in public, and if you feel unsafe, get out of the area first and ask questions later.
It’s better to feel silly for being too cautious than to regret not trusting your incidents if something does happen. However, you shouldn’t let caution about terrorism ruin your vacation.
Terrorism is a high-profile crime but actually makes up a minority of incidents that occur in the United States. Most attacks also occur outside of major tourist areas.
Avoiding Bad Areas
Since the crime rate varies so drastically in the United States, you need to be careful about where you go and avoid bad areas.
Be cautious near the US-Mexico border as there is a lot of drug-related violence, and some countries advise against crossing this border in your car.
Most big cities have certain neighborhoods that are high in crime (for example, Roxbury in Boston or Canarsie in New York City). Look up city-specific warnings for your itinerary.
LGBT travelers or those of Asian, African, and Latin American descent may not feel safe traveling in conservative areas of the United States, such as parts of the rural South.
Things to Consider
Here are some other things to keep in mind when traveling in the United States:
- Gun laws are looser here than in most other countries, and some states allow residents to carry weapons openly in public. If you see someone with a weapon, remain calm.
- Get travel health insurance before visiting the United States as the costs of healthcare are extremely high, and your home government will not be able to help you in case of an emergency.
- If you are staying in the United States for an extended time, research active shooter safety tips, as you may wind up having to use those tips.
- Drinking laws in the United States are often strange to foreign visitors. The minimum drinking age is 21. Some states and counties are dry states, meaning the sale of alcohol is restricted or outright banned. Research local regulations before you check out the nightlife.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common questions you may want to ask before heading to the United States:
How safe is the USA for tourists?
Generally, the USA is safe for tourists. However, there are some dangers, ranging from natural disasters to crime, so research advisories for the cities and states you will be traveling to.
What states in the US are safe for travel?
All states in the US are safe to travel to, although some require more precautions than others. The safest states in the country are Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire.
Is LA a safe city?
Many visitors to the USA want to visit Los Angeles. As long as you stick to well-trafficked areas of Los Angeles and avoid a few unsafe neighborhoods, it is a very safe place to visit.
What should you avoid when traveling to the USA?
Avoid doing things that might offend someone, such as getting too close in someone’s personal space, not tipping, or bringing up politics. Avoid making generalizations, as that is impossible to do about a huge country such as this one.
What should you do before visiting the USA?
Before visiting the USA, check for entry requirements, such as a visa or COVID-19 vaccination certificate. Read up on safety information for the cities you will be visiting.
So, Is the United States Safe to Visit?
The United States is a big country, which means that some places are dangerous while others are safer. It’s impossible to give safety advice for the whole country except to tell you that if you research your itinerary and plan it carefully, you will have a good time. Happy travels!