- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals USA Guide (PDF)
Although it's true that the US has a higher crime rate than many other developed countries, its reputation for violence is often exaggerated by the local media. As a whole, the country is an extremely safe expat destination. Those relocating to the US will just need to be wary of some inner-city neighbourhoods as these are where most criminal activities take place.
Crime in the USA
Loose gun laws and a glaring disparity between the wealthy and the poor are contributing factors to the high crime rate in the US, but expats generally tend to live in neighbourhoods unaffected by serious or violent crimes.
Violent crime is more of a concern in city centres than in suburban and rural communities. Poorer neighbourhoods, where crime is more common, are avoidable, and downtown areas and business districts are generally safe. Expats in the US should become familiar with ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sections of cities before they rent or buy property.
Some cities have much higher crime rates than others, but expats in the US can expect a strong police presence everywhere. Basic safety precautions which would be practised elsewhere in the world should be followed here too, such as avoiding walking alone through less busy areas of the city at night.
Residents can expect quick responses by police or even a local neighbourhood-watch programme.
Terrorism in the USA
Although two decades have passed since the attacks of 9/11, they are still a sensitive subject for Americans – one that is generally best avoided by expats.
There have been a few incidents of terrorism in the US since 2001, such as the horrific Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, but the country's various security agencies have largely cracked down on terrorism and are able to intercept any plots before they are carried out. The terrorism threat is now low, and the main risk comes from local individuals inspired by terrorist ideology to carry out so-called ‘lone actor’ attacks targeting public events or places. School shootings have also increased at public schools, but most schools have various security measures in place to prevent any such violence, and the risk to children is low.
Dos and don'ts of avoiding crime in the USA
- Do remain aware at all times. Many crimes are opportunistic, especially when someone looks like an easy target. A person who is vigilant of their surrounds and potential risks is less appealing to criminals.
- When you move to a new city, ask for recommendations about which neighborhoods are safe and which are not so safe. Don't visit known dangerous areas if possible. Avoiding crime hotspots significantly decreases the risk of becoming a victim.
- Do keep valuables and flashy items hidden when out and about, or better yet, leave them at home. Don't carry lots of cash.
- Where possible, don't travel alone at night. It is more difficult for criminals to assail more than one victim and it creates a potential witness.
- Do stay in well-lit, public areas, avoiding isolated areas such as alleyways.
- Do be aware of popular scams. Protect your money and your identity. Don't share personal information like your bank account number, Social Security number, or date of birth.
- Do use reputable taxi companies. If using an app like Uber or Lyft, double check your driver's vehicle information and verify their name before getting in the car.
- Do treat police officers with respect. If stopped, remain calm and keep your hands where the officer can see them.
- Do know the number for the emergency services: 911.
►See Culture Shock in the USA for tips on understanding the American way of life
"I think everyday petty crime in the city itself can be quite high. I disagree with categorizing places with safe or unsafe though – I think crime happens everywhere and criminals are opportunistic. Some of the nicest neighbourhoods in Houston will still have crime. Don’t be a victim. Don’t be careless or stupid and keep your wits about you – that’s not geographically specific, it stands to reason no matter where you live." Read more about Irish expat Las's life in Houston, Texas in her interview with Expat Arrivals.
Are you an expat living in The USA?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to The USA. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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