- Download our Moving to the 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 media. As a whole, the country is a safe place to live. Those relocating from abroad will need to remain conscious of their safety in the USA, but will usually be fine as long as they avoid some of the more dangerous inner-city areas where crime is often concentrated.
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 the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sections of cities before they rent or buy property.
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.
Terrorism in the USA
Terrorism, including domestic terrorism, is a risk in the USA. In many cases, the country's various security agencies are generally able to intercept any plots from large terrorist groups before they are carried out. The main risk comes from local individuals inspired by terrorist ideology to carry out so-called ‘lone actor’ attacks targeting public events or places. Shootings have also increased at schools, but the vast majority of schools have put various security measures in place to limit any possible damage in the case of a shooting.
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 moving to a new city, ask for recommendations about which neighbourhoods 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 allows for more potential witnesses.
- Do stay in well-lit, public areas. Avoid 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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