Global Crime, Justice & Corruption

This guide was written by Francine Carrel, Assistant Editor at Guides.Global (francine.carrel@guides.global).

It was written on 20 January 2016. Our guides are updated as frequently as possible - typically every three years - but may be out of date.

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The scope of this guide

This guide tells you what to look out for and what to avoid when it comes to crime, justice and corruption in a country.

It does not go into detail on any individual country's status or expand on any legal matters.


Of the many factors you need to take into account when moving to another country, crime and justice are amongst the most important.

A country can have a fantastic climate, impressive job opportunities and dream villas available at a snip; but you wouldn't retire or move your family there if you were constantly worried about safety.

Moreover, a high level of corruption and/or a questionable justice system can make day-to-day life very difficult for those who aren't used to it (and for many who are).


Types of crime

Crime can generally be split into two categories: victim-based crime and crimes against society. A country with an excess of either of these is one to be wary of.

Victim-based crime is what most potential expats are most worried about. It includes theft, violence, identity fraud, sexual assault and homicide. It is pretty obvious why you would not want to live in an area where this kind of crime is rife.

Crimes against society, though they have less immediate effect on your personal safety, are also detrimental to an area. They include crimes like drug offences, possession of illegal weapons and driving under the influence of narcotics. A city with high numbers of drug dealers and illegal weaponry is likely to see gang activity. Countries that are lax about prosecuting drunk drivers have unsafe roads.

Less dramatically, crimes against society also include things like littering or dogs fouling the pavements - not dangerous but certainly not pleasant.

Crime risk by country

Solid crime statistics are difficult to come by for many countries. Often, governments are reluctant to publish the full figures. Equally, law enforcers may not deal with crimes committed; and citizens may not report crimes in the first place.

For that reason, 'crime by numbers' is often an indicator of how seriously crime is taken within a country.

That said, there are some great resources out there for you to look at.

Most thorough is probably the United Nations' UNODC Statistics database. Through this tool, you can view crime statistics for 184 countries and many more sub-regions.

You can check statistics for many types of crime. Obviously, you want to be wary of countries with high assault, sexual violence and homicide rates. Homicide is one type of crime that is almost always reported the world over - and so is a good indicator of a country's safety.

For a more general overview, I like the Safety indicator within OECD's Better Life Index. It covers fewer countries but goes into analytic detail of those it does.

Reducing your crime risk


The reality is that there is one 'easy' way to reduce the risk of becoming a crime victim: have money.

As OECD notes:

People with higher income and higher education usually report higher feelings of security and face lower risks of crime. This can be explained by the fact they can afford better security and are less exposed to criminal activities such as youth gangs or drug smuggling."

However, please be aware that in some parts of the world looking distinctly 'well off' can put you at risk of pick-pocketing, mugging or fraud.

Do your research

Every country - indeed, every city - comes with a unique culture and crime risk.

Some countries will be rife with pickpockets. Others will require diligence against credit card fraud. Some cities have high gang/drug activity, meaning that you will need to know which neighbourhoods to avoid.

Find out which criminal activities are most common in the area and how to avoid them.

Speak to expats who have lived in the area for a while already, and read our individual guides for the countries you are interested in.

Gated communities

A gated community is a residential area with strictly controlled entrances. Most will have fences and gates on the perimeter. Some will have security guards and regular patrols.

Many expats living in countries with high crime rates (and often in safer countries) choose to buy or rent properties in gated communities.

This has its pros and cons.

On the plus side, gated communities are - obviously - more secure. You're at less risk of burglaries and kidnapping. They can be a good choice for people who travel a lot (a house left for weeks or months full of appliances and other valuables is a tempting target for a criminal).

Many gated communities will have a home owners' association (HOA) or equivalent. This can be seen as a pro or a con. On one hand, this means that your neighbours will likely have a good sense of pride in their homes. There's a good chance the area will have a pleasant 'community' feel. On the other hand, HOA fees can be expensive. You will have less say in how you look after and decorate your property.

There are other fees that can come along with gated communities. Roads are often deemed 'private'; so you and your neighbours could end up footing the bill to fix that pothole.

Gated communities are usually further away from 'the centre of things', meaning that your commute or trip to the shops will take longer. They can also act as a barrier from integrating quickly with the local culture.

The properties themselves also tend to be more expensive. Of course, if you can afford one, there is a good chance that the property's value will increase over the years.

While gated communities do tend to decrease crime risks, they do not eliminate them; and they are not for everyone.

Justice and the rule of law

A reliable, easy-to-use justice system and a fair rule of law are very important factors when deciding where to live, work or do business. It can determine safety, stress levels and financial security.

What is the rule of law?

The World Justice Project defines the rule of law under four principles:

  1. The government and its officials and agents as well as individuals and private entities are accountable under the law.

  2. The laws are clear, publicized, stable, and just; are applied evenly; and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and property.

  3. The process by which the laws are enacted, administered, and enforced is accessible, fair, and efficient.

  4. Justice is delivered timely by competent, ethical, and independent representatives and neutrals who are of sufficient number, have adequate resources, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve."

What should you look out for?

If you find yourself in a civil dispute, will you be able to solve it effectively, affordably and quickly? Will the local government favour a well known business owner over an expat if you are seeking compensation?

Are criminal laws well enforced and dealt with? Are you likely to have difficulty bringing an attacker or burglar to justice? Are you, indeed, more likely to be attacked or burgled here than in other countries?

How much do your fundamental human rights mean in this country? Can you expect a lack of discrimination in day-to-day life and within the court system? Can you practice freedom of religion? How about right to assembly? What will your labour/work rights look like?

Justice and the rule of law by country

See the World Justice Project's Rule of Law Index for rankings and information on 102 countries.

Also read our individual guides on the legal system, court cases and disputes and criminal law for the countries you are interested in.

Corruption & transparency

What is corruption?

Transparency International defines corruption as "the abuse of entrusted power for private gain".

This can cover a huge range of nefarious activities: from low-level police officers accepting bribes to whole governments manipulating laws and policies for their own benefit.

A corrupt country is not likely to be one you want to live or work in. It can be expensive - on a personal level and to the country in question - and means that you cannot trust the organisations that should be protecting you.

Corruption is at its core unfair. I'll be honest: that can mean coming out on top without the associated hard work. Some expats gleefully join in with the 'ideals' of a corrupt society and profit out of it.

But relying on a system that does not have its country's best interests at heart seldom ends well. The business deal you poured money into will be scrapped for a shinier, higher-profile project. The area you bought property in will be ruined as environmental regulations are ignored. Schools, hospitals and roads that you use day-to-day will go under-funded.

Transparency (again, definition from Transparency International) is "about shedding light on rules, plans, processes and actions. It is knowing why, how, what, and how much." Basically, it means that individuals within companies and governments find it a lot harder to hide what they're doing.

It is the best way to stop corruption as it introduces accountability - to others in power and to the general public.

Corruption by country

Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index lists countries on "how corrupt their public sectors are seen to be".


Crime, justice and corruption are three core tenets of any society. Find a country where they are treated correctly and your life will be much easier.

Other guides of interest

 Description Link 
Human Development
The development of nations around the world
Global Guide to human development
Global Guide to Immigration
This guide is an overview of immigration around the world. It looks at some of the basic principles upon which immigration operates.
Global Guide to immigration

You may also want to read:

 Description Link 
Transparency International
For the Corruption Perceptions Index and more information about corruption and transparency around the world.
corruption and transparency
World Justice Project
For the Rule of Law Index and more information on law, justice, government and human rights.
corruptions perceptions
OECD's Better Life Index
A look at factors including safety, health and environment in different countries
OECD better life index

Readers' Comments


Further information?

I hope you have found this guide useful. If you need any further help, please contact me.

Francine Carrel

20 January 2016


This guide was co-authored by John Howell (Email: John.Howell@Guides.Global or John@jhco.org. Web: www.jhco.org or www.Guides.Global)

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