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Beyond Reputation: Evaluating Safety In Legacy Countries

7 min read

Beyond Reputation: Evaluating Safety In Legacy Countries

Some “first world” countries, once seen as the epitome of safety and stability, have started to show cracks in their armour. 

You’re not alone if you’ve felt uncomfortable about the state of safety in legacy Western countries like the US, UK and Canada. Beyond high taxes, cancel culture and the evident attack on personal liberties, safety is a common concern among expats from all walks of life.

Still to this day, people from all over the world move to these places in search of opportunities, hoping to make the most of these so-called dream destinations. However, the streets aren’t as safe as they used to be, and neither are the countries themselves. The world has drastically changed in the last few years, and the once-clear lines of security and risk are blurring. 

This article aims to shine a light on the realities behind these perceptions, offering clear, factual information on what’s happening in these nations. If you want to uncover the truths and myths surrounding safety in legacy countries, keep reading to find out more.

 

Florida, USA

Florida, USA

THE UNITED STATES: FAILED CITIES AND END OF THE ‘AMERICAN DREAM’

The narrative of the US as a land of opportunity and unparalleled safety is increasingly being questioned, especially when considering certain statistics. For example, homelessness across the country has seen a 12% increase in 2024, including a concerning rise of 15.5% in families with kids. This trend, along with drug abuse, plagues many major cities across the country, for example, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Another striking instance is the Department of Justice's identification of cities like Seattle, Portland, and New York as jurisdictions permitting anarchy, violence, and destruction of property. As noted in the analysis, state and local leaders impeded their law enforcement officers to take care of the dangerous situations that took place during BLM protests and other events. 

In New York, a recent policy shift has seen a more permissive approach towards petty crimes, including robbery. It’s not hard to imagine an expat who moved to NYC for the famed ‘American Dream’ now questioning the decision, as being overly cautious is not a choice but rather an obligation. The US, long viewed as a land of prosperity and safety, is now a country where vigilance is vital. 

 

Toronto, Canada-1

Toronto, Canada

CANADA: NOT JUST POLITENESS AND MAPLE SYRUP

The image of Canada as a haven of politeness and safety is not without its blemishes. Ever since Trudeau came into power to implement “progressive” policies, the country has gone in a downward spiral.

The evident rise in drug consumption, especially in cities like Vancouver, is shocking. This problem extends to a staggering 23% of Canadians aged 15 or older who use psychoactive medications, amounting to 7 million people. It’s not only a matter of law enforcement but a societal issue affecting the everyday lives of residents and expats alike. 

Moreover, the homelessness situation in Canada is alarming, with projections indicating that it could double by 2030. The province of New Brunswick has seen a visible surge in homelessness in 2023 alone. Also, major cities like Toronto are facing similar situations. This issue showcases a society struggling with something as essential as shelter over one’s head. 

Expats in Canada might have expected a peaceful life surrounded by nature only to find themselves stepping over needles on the sidewalk and paying top dollar for a roof over their heads. 

Last but surely not least, euthanasia, a topic of ethical debate, has gained traction in Canada, coming as a surprise for expats from countries that value the sanctity of life. How can Canada be a good country to live in when even medical professionals suggest the ill resort to this instead of supporting them through their struggles?

 

Old Town in Stockholm, Sweden

Old Town in Stockholm, Sweden

SWEDEN: A CLASH OF PERCEPTIONS AND REALITY

Along with other Nordic countries, Sweden has long been hailed for its progressiveness and high quality of life. However, it faces its own set of challenges. The high increase in rape cases is a serious issue that has nothing to do with the country’s egalitarian image. For expats, especially women, this can be a jarring reality, challenging the preconceived notions of safety and equality in Sweden. 

To make matters worse, the situation in major cities like Stockholm and Malmö amplifies these concerns. Additionally, gang-related violence has surged, with 283 armed attacks recorded between rival gangs in 2023. Other crimes that might take place are bag snatching and pickpocketing.  

This paradox is more than a statistical anomaly; it’s a concern that shapes daily life and decisions. For example, Sweden’s overall crime rate saw a 1.08% increase in 2019, reversing the 5.4% decline in 2017. These safety concerns for an expat considering a move are undoubtedly relevant, as they overshadow the positives Sweden could offer. 

Another worrying phenomenon that Sweden has been dealing with for decades is its high suicide rate. For example, in 2022, the suicide rate among those aged 15 and beyond was 14 (per 100,000 inhabitants). The reasons for this are, of course, varied, but one of them is the inability to afford groceries and pay the bills. According to the Swedish Enforcement Authority, a government agency that deals with debt-related issues, claimed to have gotten 279 suicide threats because of this. Who said that high taxes guarantee welfare?


 

Alicante, Spain

Alicante, Spain

SPAIN: THE FADING SAFE HAVEN

Spain, once celebrated as one of the best countries for women to be born in, has seen a worrying shift. The legal system’s handling of sexual offences and the rising danger in cities like Barcelona due to pickpocketing and other petty crimes signal a significant change. Plus, Spain’s proximity to Africa has favoured the influx of illegal immigrants, further complicating the situation, with expats and locals finding themselves in a sometimes unsafe urban landscape. 

To illustrate this trend, we only need to look at some stats. For instance, between 2018 and 2019, Spain experienced a significant 13.71% increase in the overall crime rate. Other worrying data is the almost 2 million criminal offences recorded in the first nine months of 2023.

Many expats, in particular retirees, choose Spain for its famed quality of life, but this can be a disillusioning experience. Moreover, the government often turns a blind eye to home squatters, giving them even more rights than property owners, which is proof of a poor rule of law and protection of private property. 

The country that was once a symbol of relaxed Mediterranean living is now a place where vigilance is increasingly necessary. All in all, a country that gives criminals a pass and does not protect those who provide value is not the best place to be an expat.

 

Related content: Top 7 Reasons Why You Should Never Move To Spain

 

Vallon des Auffes port in Marseille, France

Vallon des Auffes port in Marseille, France

FRANCE: THE UNDERBELLY OF THE CITY OF LIGHTS

France, and especially Paris, is often romanticized as a dream destination. However, the realities of the country are starkly different. The two most populous cities, Paris and Marseille, have witnessed a troubling increase in homicide rates, and the presence of pickpockets in tourist-heavy areas is a constant concern. 

When looking at the crime statistics, it’s almost inevitable to think France is not safe anymore. Between 2018 and 2019, France saw a 7.99% increase in its crime rate, going from 1.08 to 1.17. In 2020, it climbed to 1.35. Finally, the 90% increase in homicide and attempted homicide between 2000 and 2020 paints a picture that has nothing to do with a country often associated with glamour and love.

The frequent and volatile protests across the country add another layer of unpredictability. Although the French have recently protested for legitimate reasons, such as the attack on personal and medical freedoms, this is far from the idyllic Parisian life often portrayed in media and literature. Many still think of a carefree existence when considering French life, but there’s a strong need for heightened awareness and property. 

 

London, United Kingdom

London, United Kingdom

THE UNITED KINGDOM: A TUMULTUOUS TRANSFORMATION

The UK has often been known for its beautiful nature, reputed universities and afternoon tea. While all these are still part of the British appeal, the country is experiencing a rise in violence, especially stabbings and gang-related activities, in cities like Manchester and the capital, London. The rise of such crimes paints a picture of cities in turmoil, far from the safe, historic destinations they are often perceived to be. 

During the last couple of years, the UK has undergone a period of massive inflation, increased prices in essential goods and services and overall, a cost of living crisis that has skyrocketed the poverty rate and put a huge part of the population in a delicate position. 

Meanwhile, a major problem the UK deals with is no other than football hooliganism, a concerning trend that consists of extreme violence between fans of different football clubs. Not only are some fans fighting over a game that should be fun and entertaining, but some cases involving cocaine consumption have been recorded. Events like this showcase, once again, the decay of this country.

In October 2022, the inflation rate was 11.1%, and during 2021 and 2022, the cost of living climbed up drastically across the country because of high-interest rates and elevated energy bills. As a country formerly known as a place of opportunity, it has drastically declined and pushed many Brits to find a better life somewhere else.

 

Dubai Fountains, Dubai, UAE

Dubai Fountains

WHERE SHOULD YOU GO NOW?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, as it all depends on your preferences and lifestyle of choice. Being an expat can be a rewarding experience that demands keeping multiple factors in mind, such as safety. 

You’ve probably heard that for a society to be civilized and safe, residents must pay taxes – the higher, the better. This notion couldn’t be further from the truth, and the countries we covered in this article are nothing but just a few examples. All these countries have extremely high taxes, where residents work half the year –or more– just to fulfill their tax obligations.

Now, let me show you a few examples of countries that, though low-tax, can be extremely safe. I lived in the UAE for multiple years, a safe country with no income taxes. Then, for various reasons that I explained here and here, I decided to move to Panama, where I still pay no tax on my income. Even though many consider Latin America a dangerous region, it can be pretty safe if you have common sense and don’t venture into certain zones.

For instance, Panama is safe, with a few areas to avoid, such as the Darién jungle, close to the Colombian border. One of my favourite countries is Uruguay, which deserves way more recognition due to its appealing tax regime for expats and, of course, its safety. I also released a book about Mexico, and in chapter 6, where I talk about safety, I bust the myth that it’s a no-go country. Moreover, expats and tourists are rarely targets of crime. 


 

Panama City

Panama City

CONCLUSION

Legacy Western countries such as those mentioned in this article are not without their safety issues. The rise in crime has been brutal in the last few years, but this doesn’t look like it’s ending anytime soon. We’ve covered the issues that some countries often regarded as safe are really going through. 

Moreover, threats of war and geopolitical conflicts are worth considering in today’s context. Hence, my preference for Latin America, which in my opinion, is one of the best regions to reside in because it’s keeping itself out of international military conflicts.

In conclusion, while the safety concerns in these legacy Western countries are real and should not be underestimated, they also present a chance for expats to explore new horizons and find a country that aligns with their lifestyle and vision. 

 


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Mikkel Thorup

Written by Mikkel Thorup

Mikkel Thorup is the world’s most sought-after expat consultant. He focuses on helping high-net-worth private clients to legally mitigate tax liabilities, obtain a second residency and citizenship, and assemble a portfolio of foreign investments including international real estate, timber plantations, agricultural land and other hard-money tangible assets. Mikkel is the Founder and CEO at Expat Money®, a private consulting firm started in 2017. He hosts the popular weekly podcast, the Expat Money Show, and wrote the definitive #1-Best Selling book Expat Secrets - How To Pay Zero Taxes, Live Overseas And Make Giant Piles Of Money, and his second book: Expats Guide On Moving To Mexico.

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