As I mentioned in my previous post, 33 Tips for First Timers to Iceland, Iceland is incredibly safe. I experienced this myself, both mentally and physically speaking. Not once did I feel threatened even while strolling the streets in the middle of the night. I became so curious with this aspect of Iceland that I’ve spent the last few days researching crime rates of Iceland and other countries as well for comparison.
Before I reveal the data, I just want to preface the fact that statistical data cannot fully tell the whole story. First, the data shown is collected from official reports. Depending on the integrity of reporting in these countries, the data might or might not reflect the truth. There’s also the very real possibility of unreported crimes due to social pressures or whatnot. Second, different countries provide different definitions for the same crime so the numbers might not truly be comparable. For example, the definition of assault might be different in Croatia than it is in Japan. Also, the “trend” columns in these statistics are my own judgment. Lastly, the data do not explain the “bad neighborhoods.” A majority of reported events might only occur in small pockets of a country. The data do not account for this skew.
These reports are available on UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime)’s website. You may pull the full set of data to study for your own amusement. To keep from inundating this post with massive spreadsheets, I’ve narrowed down the focus to 16 representative countries with a study space between 2010-2013. Why these 16 countries? There’s no particular reason why. I did try to include a variety to show the range for a more complete analysis. Though there are dozens of crime categories and dozens of measures such as drug trafficking, gun ownership and etc., I’ve chosen 4 main areas of focus that might be indicative of “safety” overall and that might be of special interest to travelers: assault and battery, robbery, car theft, and rape. I’ve excluded homicide in this analysis. I believe the 4 barometers I’ve chosen are sufficient enough to tell the story.
Now let’s get into it.
UNODC defines “assault” as “physical attack against the body of another person resulting in serious bodily injury, excluding indecent/sexual assault, threats and slapping/punching.” In this category, Iceland’s assault rate has been rising consistently. The influx of tourism might have something to do with that. However, when compared to other developed countries, Iceland consistently beat them in this statistic. As shown below, Iceland’s assault rate per 100,000 people is 8 times less than the United States’ rate. It also beats out the majority of the countries shown on this list, only losing out to Croatia, Poland, and Switzerland.
It’s surprising to note that the Maldives fared way worse than what I expected based on all my friends’ personal experiences. I’m not surprised with the rate shown for Switzerland though. All in all, Iceland fared very well in this category.
UNODC defines “robbery” as “the theft of property from a person, overcoming resistance by force or threat of force. Where possible, the category ‘Robbery’ should include muggings (bag-snatching) and theft with violence, but should exclude pick pocketing and extortion.” Iceland performed incredibly well in this category, placing second only to Japan. I guess it’s shouldn’t be surprising considering this is a country with donation programs focused on sending people off on vacation. Such a program indicates that its people are pretty well off; thus, there’s no desire for robbing others. And though Iceland is becoming more and more of a tourist paradise, the rate seems to be remaining relatively even. Once again, the Maldives didn’t fare very well, but compared to Belgium the Maldives looks like a heaven on Earth. Holy cow Belgium! I was also incredibly surprised to see the high rate for Costa Rica. I was just there last year! I suppose we were pretty sheltered traveling in a tour.
I chose to include this category because many travelers rent cars while on vacation. Don’t let this data deter you from renting cars, but you can use this data to judge whether you need car insurance or not. Though, I think it is good practice to get car and trip insurance regardless. Protect your vacation!
Anyway, the UNODC defines “car theft” as “the removal of a motor vehicle without the consent of the owner of the vehicle.” Looking at the data, I’m actually surprised that it’s that high in Iceland. I mean… there are about 300,000 people who live there, wouldn’t it be pretty obvious when you jack someone’s car? Well, I guess when you look at the “count,” it does make sense. There’s not that many stolen vehicles overall. Now I’m curious to know how many of those car thefts were on tourists. So though I’m a bit surprised by the rate, Iceland still ranks extremely well in this category, losing out only to Japan, Poland, and Croatia.
In this category, which the UNODC defines as “sexual intercourse without consent,” Iceland did not fare as well as I had hypothesized. Note: from 2010-2013, this category was blank for Iceland (no data available). The data you’re seeing is my extrapolation of available numbers from 2003-2009 (not shown). Its rate is relatively high when compared to other countries in this category. I am a bit skeptical about Maldives’s extra low rate. Social pressures to not report might be a factor in the numbers being so low. Based on other categories where the Maldives didn’t do as well, I had concluded that the it would be the same in this category. I can trust the other numbers way more than I can trust Maldives’s data points.
This is an especially difficult category to judge. The definition of “rape” varies so much between countries that it’s hard to do a good comparative analysis. Furthermore, as with my thoughts on the Maldives, this category might be grossly under-reported. Iceland’s numbers, though surprising to me, seem to be on par with countries like the US and the UK.
I threw this in here as a bonus. I think it speaks volumes about the sense of “safety” or lack thereof. For this analysis, I calculated the percentage of the overall population that is currently in prison (dividing the prisoners count by the total population). The percentage of incarcerated persons in America is about 16 times that of Iceland’s. Nothing surprising there – I believe the US might be the leader in this category. It is also interesting to note that the current inmate count for Iceland in 2013 is a mere 116 people. It must really suck to be an inmate there because everyone would know that you went to jail.
When you look at the overall picture, the data suggest that Iceland is an incredibly safe country. I can back this up with my own experience; however, that doesn’t mean you should set your common sense and awareness free. Again, the data shown here can only provide a statistical viewpoint. And while my own personal experience can attest to the validity of the data (for Iceland), you must make your own conclusions. For your own safety, you must assume that I am completely wrong. Be on alert wherever you travel. Obey the local laws. And be mindful and respectful of the customs and cultures of the place you’re visiting. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
For more tips on Iceland, read 33 Tips for First Timers to Iceland. To learn about what I did on my trip there, read Adventuring with 3 days in Iceland. If you would like the complete reports shown in this post, join my newsletter or send me a note in the Contact page. If you found this useful, please share so it can be of use to others as well.