Safest Countries in Latin America for 2023

We get a lot of questions about safety abroad so we’re going to talk about the most popular countries in Latin America for foreign residents and discuss how safe they really are, from worst to first.

It’s important to note that safety can vary within a country, and certain regions or cities may be safer or more dangerous than others. While news reports often exaggerate the overall safety situation in a country, it is crucial to consider specific locations and local conditions.

So, let’s dive into the rankings of the most popular countries in Latin America for foreign residents, based on the 2023 Global Peace Index and the US State Department Travel Advisories.

Watch Our Video About the Safest Countries in Latin America

Ranking of Safest Countries in Latin America

Here are the safest countries in Latin America for 2023 ranked from worst to first:

#18 Venezuela

Venezuela holds the unfortunate position of being the least safe country in Latin America. With a global rank of #140 and a level 4 travel advisory (“do not travel”), it faces significant security challenges and hyperinflation.

#17 Colombia

Colombia shares the same global rank as Venezuela at #140 on the Global Peace Index. The US State Department currently has a Level 3 Travel Advisory, meaning reconsider travel plans to Colombia due to increased crime, kidnappings, protests, and anger directed at digital nomads.

Common crimes include moto robberies, muggings, purse snatching, and pickpocketing.

While safety has improved since the 1980s, Colombia remains the largest producer of cocaine and drug trafficking a persistent issue.

It is advisable to avoid the areas bordering Venezuela and Ecuador, where drug trafficking activities are more prevalent.

#16 Mexico

Ranked at #136 on the Global Peace Index, Mexico’s safety situation varies significantly depending on the region. The US State Department issues travel advisories by state within Mexico due to this disparity.

While tourist areas are generally safe, petty crimes like pickpocketing and bag snatching are common. More serious concerns, such as drug-related violence and gang activity, are concentrated in specific areas.

In Mexico City, neighborhoods like Polanco, La Condesa, Roma Sur, and Roma Norte offer a relatively safe experience. Playa Del Carmen and Mérida are also regarded as safe places to visit.

#15 Belize

While Belize is not listed in the rankings, its safety situation is similar to that of Mexico, with a comparable murder rate. The country currently has a Level 2 Travel Advisory, indicating the need for increased caution.

Crime has seen an increase, particularly in gang-related violent activities. To stay safe, it is recommended to avoid the south side of Belize City and opt for safer places like Corozal and San Pedro.

Belize is not technically considered part of Latin America because the official language is English. However, it’s a popular destination for expats and it’s surrounded by Latin American countries so we decided to include it in our list.

#14 Brazil

With a rank of #132 on the Global Peace Index and a Level 2 Travel Advisory, Brazil faces challenges related to theft, robberies, gang violence, and murders, particularly in cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

Brazil holds the unfortunate distinction of having the highest total gun deaths per year globally (the only country with more total gun deaths than the United States).

It is advisable to avoid the favelas (informal housing developments) and exercise extra caution in red-light districts. However, cities like Florianópolis and Belo Horizonte offer comparatively safer experiences.

#13 Nicaragua

Nicaragua ranks #123 on the Global Peace Index and carries a Level 3 Travel Advisory. Limited healthcare availability and arbitrary enforcement of laws contribute to this advisory.

While crime and wrongful detentions are concerns, places like Granada and Leon are relatively safe.

We often receive messages from expats living in Nicaragua who appreciate its low cost of living, natural beauty, and laid-back lifestyle, and they challenge the notion that the entire country is dangerous.

#12 El Salvador

El Salvador ranks #122 on the Global Peace Index, and it has made significant strides in improving its safety situation. However, the US State Department still has it at a Level 3 Travel Advisory – reconsider travel.

The authorities in El Salvador have the power to arrest individuals suspected of gang activity without cause, which has led to concerns regarding personal freedoms. The right to a speedy trial is no longer guaranteed.

Harsh prison conditions and reports of arbitrary arrests further contribute to the travel advisory. Freedom of speech is also questionable, emphasizing the need for careful consideration of one’s words when discussing the government.

It’s too soon to tell what the long-term ramifications are to the more authoritarian approach to crime in El Salvador, but 9 out 0f 10 El Salvadorians approve of the measures taken by the president to make the country safer.

Just a few years ago, El Salvador had the highest murder rate in the world so it’s easy to see why the people are happy with the changes.

#11 Honduras

Ranked at #120 on the Global Peace Index with a Level 3 Travel Advisory, Honduras faces common issues such as violent crime, including homicide, armed robbery, and kidnapping. Violent gang activities, extortion, rape, and drug and human trafficking are widespread.

I’ve been to Roatán Island twice and felt very safe there. However, cities on the mainland present different safety challenges.

#10 Guatemala

Guatemala ranks #103 on the Global Peace Index and has a Level 3 Travel Advisory.

It is important to exercise caution due to the prevalence of violent crimes such as extortion, murder, armed robbery, carjacking, drug trafficking, and gang violence.

Certain parts of the country should be avoided altogether for safety reasons.

#9 Peru

Tied with Guatemala at #103 but with a Level 2 Travel Advisory, Peru faces street crime issues like muggings and theft, particularly in tourist areas. Reports of credit card fraud, express kidnappings, and carjackings have also been noted.

Political unrest has affected the country in recent times, causing temporary disruptions to tourism activities.

However, areas like Cusco and the neighborhood of Miraflores in Lima are generally safe and offer rich cultural experiences.

#8 Ecuador

Ecuador’s safety ranking dropped from 79 to 97 on the Global Peace Index this year due to increased crime since the pandemic and political turmoil. The US State Department has assigned a Level 2 Travel Advisory for the country, while certain areas carry level 3 or 4 advisories.

Petty theft, pickpocketing, and more serious crimes such as robbery, assault, home invasions, and express kidnappings have been reported.

Most murders in Ecuador are linked to drug and gang activities, with domestic femicides also being a concern.

Expats generally feel safe in many parts of the country, particularly in areas like Cuenca, Cotacachi, Baños, Mindo and Loja.

#7 Bolivia

Ranked at #78 with a Level 2 Travel Advisory, Bolivia’s main concern revolves around civil unrest and frequent protests.

While it is a beautiful country, the process of obtaining a long-term visa can be challenging.

#6 Panama

Panama ranks #68 on the Global Peace Index and holds a Level 2 Travel Advisory.

Petty crimes like pickpocketing and theft occur in urban areas, while more serious crimes like drug trafficking and gang violence are primarily limited to certain low-income neighborhoods.

It is advisable to avoid parts of the Mosquito Gulf and the Darién region due to safety concerns. Panama City, Coronado, and Boquete are recommended as safer choices.

#5 Paraguay

Tied with Panama at #68, but with a Level 1 Travel Advisory, Paraguay presents common crimes such as muggings, purse snatching, and pickpocketing.

Asunción and Concepción are safe and popular places for residents and visitors alike.

#4 Chile

Chile ranks #58 on the Global Peace Index and has a Level 2 Travel Advisory. While street crime, including muggings and theft, remains a concern, certain precautions can ensure a safe experience.

There have been occasional reports of express kidnappings, where victims are temporarily kidnapped and forced to withdraw funds from ATMs.

Santiago is very developed and diverse and has a lot of English speakers making it easier for tourists and new residents.

#3 Argentina

Argentina ranks #54 on the Global Peace Index and has a Level 1 Travel Advisory, reflecting a relatively safe environment.

While the country faces some challenges, such as street crime and petty theft in tourist areas, it is generally considered safe for visitors and foreign residents.

Buenos Aires, the capital city, offers vibrant cultural experiences, and neighborhoods like Palermo and Recoleta are known for their safety and charm.  Mendoza also is a popular choice.

#2 Uruguay

Uruguay holds the rank of #50 on the Global Peace Index and has a Level 2 Travel Advisory, making it one of the safest countries in Latin America.

With a low crime rate and a welcoming environment, Uruguay attracts expats and tourists alike.

Montevideo, the capital city, is known for its safety, and coastal towns like Punta del Este offer serene and secure experiences.

The country’s emphasis on social welfare, education, and political stability contributes to its overall safety.

#1 Costa Rica

Claiming the top spot as the safest country in Latin America, Costa Rica ranks at #39 on the Global Peace Index with a Level 2 Travel Advisory.

The country enjoys a stable political climate and a low crime rate compared to many of its regional counterparts. Petty theft, car break-ins, and purse snatching are common types of crime.

Known for its natural beauty and commitment to sustainability, Costa Rica has long been a popular destination for travelers seeking safety and adventure. Tamarindo and Puerto Viejo are considered safe, as are parts of San Jose.

Unfortunately drug trafficking has increased resulting in an increase of violent crime, including homicides. They’ve seen a spike, just like Ecuador.

Missing Countries

The definition of “Latin America” is not clearly defined and does not have a commonly accepted meaning. However, it generally refers to countries where the Romance Languages of Spanish and Portuguese are spoken. Some definitions also include French.

For the purpose of our analysis and knowing the interests of our audience, we decided to only include Spanish speaking countries, plus Brazil and Belize, in Central and South America, plus Mexico.

We’re saving the Caribbean Islands for a future list since several of the islands speak English and are not considered part of Latin America.

The official language in Suriname is Dutch, the official language in Guyana is English, and the official language in French Guiana is French, so we excluded those as well. They’re also not popular expat destinations for our audience.

Final Thoughts…

We live in one of these “unsafe” countries (Ecuador) and we’ve visited others (Mexico and Colombia), but we felt mostly safe in the areas we visited (although we did get Moto Robbed in Guadalajara, Mexico).

While some countries face significant challenges related to crime and social unrest, others have made commendable progress in ensuring security for residents and visitors.

It’s important to remember that these rankings provide a general overview and that safety can differ within specific regions or cities.

Whether you choose to explore Argentina, Uruguay, Costa Rica, or any other Latin American country, staying informed, taking precautions, and embracing cultural experiences will contribute to a memorable and secure journey.

Disclaimer: The Travel Advisories are current as of July 5, 2023. Please check with the US State Department for the most current information.

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JP Stonestreet
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Hola todos! Welcome to my author bio page! Let's see. Where to begin... I grew up in the country on a lake outside a small Kansas farm town. As soon as I could, I got the hell outta there! Since then, I've lived and/or worked in Kansas City, Washington D.C., Denver, San Francisco, and Ecuador. I started and sold a dotcom, wrote a book about it, started a YouTube channel, and now I write a lot. Amelia and I have embraced the Unconventional Life and we want to help you do it, too!

2 replies
  1. JOFANNIE KARLA
    JOFANNIE KARLA says:

    Once again you did a wonderful job describing a difficult subject. You are a superb writer and videographer. That’s why we, as Cuenca residents, are Patreon subscribers. We always look forward to your posts and videos.

    Reply

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