The World’s Most Peaceful Countries
Any experienced globetrotter will tell you that the ability to feel safe while traveling is huge. Choosing a destination known for its peacefulness while planning a vacation may not guarantee anything, but it is certainly a good place to start.
The Institute for Economics and Peace recently released its findings for the 2018 Global Peace Index (GPI), the world’s leading measurement on global peacefulness. The study covers over 99.7% of the world’s population using a formula of 23 different indicators, taking into consideration safety and security, ongoing conflict and militarization.
The world's most peaceful countries in the world, the report points out, enjoy "lower interest rates, a stronger currency and higher foreign investment — not to mention better political stability and stronger correlation with the individual level of perceived happiness." A high quality of life plays a key role, with highly ranked countries often touting excellent social equality, a low cost of living and high life expectancy.
The bad news? Overall global peace levels dipped 0.27% from the year before, the fourth year in a row that the world has become less peaceful.
The good news? The following 15 countries are still making peace a priority.
Spain suffered the fourth-highest decline in peacefulness over the year, dropping a whopping 10 places since the 2017 report. The GPI attributes this to two factors.
First, the country’s terrorism score went up following the August attack on a pedestrian mall in Barcelona that killed 14 people and injured a hundred. Second, Spain is dealing with a deteriorating political environment, primarily due to unrest in the Catalonia region after the regional government held an independence referendum in October.
Despite all this, Spain remains a relatively peaceful place. In other good news, Spain’s incarceration rates have grown only slowly since 1950, rather than increasing quickly as in similar European countries like Ireland and the UK.
Home to lush grasslands and wildlife sanctuaries like the massive Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana plays an important role in protecting some of the most important animals on earth.
After a troubled past (it was once one of the poorest countries in the world and was one of the hardest affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic), the country has risen to become the second most peaceful nation in the Sub-Saharan African region.
Botswana isn't currently involved in much ongoing domestic or international conflict. Unfortunately, it also rates high for homicide, access to weapons and violent crime.
Travelers have been attracted to Chile’s majestic destinations, like Easter Island and Patagonia, for years. Now add to the list of enticements that it’s the number one most peaceful country in the South American region.
The GPI uses Chile as an example of “good policy overcoming geography,” as the country (along with Uruguay) enjoys a spot in the top 50 most peaceful countries despite proximity to much lower-ranking countries like Brazil (106) and Bolivia (94).
When it comes to Positive Peace (which the GPI defines as “the attitudes, institutions, and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies”), Chile also leads the region.
Croatia saw some of the most considerable improvements in peacefulness within the European region over the year, recording a lower number of external conflicts and a higher number of citizens who feel safe and secure. Croatia enjoys a high standard of living thanks to universal health care and government-funded primary/secondary education as well. Tourism in Croatia has boomed in the past few years thanks to destinations like Dubrovnik (featured in “Game of Thrones”) gaining in popularity.
Despite this, happiness has been on a steady decrease since 2015, when Croatia ranked 20 places higher than in 2018. Why? Despite improvements on some fronts, the nation faces high economic costs from violence and has above-average access to guns and weapons.
While the Balkan country of Bulgaria showed some improvement from 2017, when it was in 28th place, it continues to show high levels of corruption within its borders. Corruption within governments can dramatically impact the levels of peacefulness in a country, as the government is mostly responsible for the three main criteria that make a country peaceful (militarization, societal safety and security, and ongoing domestic and international conflict).
Although Bulgaria can boast a ranking as the 18th most peaceful country in the European region, the 2019 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index named it the most corrupt country in the European Union.
It’s not all bad news, though: The report also notes that European Union countries are the least corrupt group of nations in the world, so Bulgaria isn’t nearly as troubled as, say, Afghanistan.
A traveler’s dream combination of snorkel-worthy beaches, rainforests, temples and city life in thriving Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia earned the fifth spot for most peaceful countries in the Asia-Pacific region in 2018.
The country enjoys low levels of conflict, and has been improving on this front. On the flipside, it’s been importing more weapons to compete with China's political and military might. According to the GPI report, other countries within the Asia-Pacific region are following suit.
Although Romania is mostly appreciated for its medieval castles and gothic architecture (hello, Transylvania), the nation is a peaceful leader compared to its fellow southeastern European countries. Its title as 24th most-peaceful far supersedes its neighbors of Moldova (64th), Ukraine (152th) and Serbia (54th).
Romania saw significant recent improvements in peacefulness compared to the rest of the world as well. The country’s scores improved in everything besides safety and security, earning it a comfortable spot on the 2018 list.
Keeping the country from a higher ranking were poor scores for perceptions of criminality, public access to weapons and number of violent demonstrations. Romania did, however, have favorable scores in intensity of internal conflict, terrorism impact and number/duration of conflicts fought.
The Netherlands may rank below its neighbor of Germany when it comes to peacefulness, but the bicycle-loving country is hard to beat when it comes to happiness and quality of life. The Netherlands ranks 6th in the world for happiness (with Germany as 15th), thanks largely to the country’s acceptance of foreign-born citizens and a high life expectancy.
So why the considerable discrepancy between happiness and peacefulness? The Netherlands has been among the 10 highest weapon exporters per capita every year for the past five years. What’s more, the country also has nuclear weapons capability, which affects the GPI score in terms of future warfare impacts.
Nevertheless, the Netherlands is still a peaceful place on the whole, touting few internal conflicts and low levels of political instability.
Known for its mountainous regions, hiking and skiing, this landlocked country was one of eight European countries that saw the largest improvements in peacefulness in the 2018 GPI report. Out of all these improved European countries, seven were in Eastern Europe.
Slovakia recorded improvements in safety and security, as well as a decline in external conflict. Even more impressive, peaceful military levels helped Slovenia remain in the top 30, with a militarization score ranking above more overall-peaceful countries like Austria, Bhutan and Japan.
The cost of living in Slovakia is 36.09 percent lower than in the United States, with average rent a whopping 58.99 percent lower. Not to mention, the country celebrated its 25th anniversary as an independent nation in 2018. That’s enough to make anyone feel at peace!
Belgium compels dreams of romantic Renaissance architecture, medieval castles and, now, peace.
The country ranks as the 14th most peaceful in the front-running region of Europe, between Slovakia and Hungary. Belgium as a country is extremely diverse, with Dutch-speaking citizens in the north, French-speakers in the south and German-speakers in the east. The country can also take an extra amount of pride in being more peaceful than its two neighboring nations of France and the Netherlands, which ranked 61st and 23rd, respectively.
According to the GPI report, Belgium has low amounts of internal conflict, political terror and deaths from external conflicts. The headquarter country of NATO and the European Union has a certain reputation to uphold, after all.
Don’t be too embarrassed if you’ve never heard of the small Indian Ocean nation of Mauritius; CNN named the country “the best Africa destination you know almost nothing about” in 2017.
It would be hard to imagine this beachy tropical country as anything but peaceful, especially considering its isolated location about 700 miles away from the closest neighboring nation (Madagascar). Nevertheless, it still ranks poorly in the safety and security officers sector, with corruption in the localized civil police force serving as a major problem.
It makes up for this by being one of only four countries that can boast of zero tensions with neighboring countries, and no recent involvement in any domestic or international conflicts.
Thanks to these factors, Mauritius is the most peaceful in the Sub-Saharan Africa region, just above Botswana.
It should come as little surprise that this country known for Buddhism and laws to restrict over-tourism is among the world's 20 most peaceful countries.
Located in the Eastern Himalayas, with a total country population of under 1 million, Bhutan houses monasteries and shrines devoted to one of the most peaceful religions in the world. It is rated well above its fellow South Asian countries, followed by Sri Lanka (which is all the way down at number 67), and it has only shown improvement throughout the years.
Bhutan, according to the GPI, is “famous for trying to maximise Gross National Happiness rather than Gross Domestic Product.” Clearly, this approach is a winning one.
Hungary fell three spots between 2017 and 2018 due to an increase in political terror. Citizens also perceive a significant amount of criminality in the country.
Luckily, there’s a saving grace: peacefulness within military components. Hungary produced some of the best scores in the militarization domain, second only to Iceland.
Hungary continues to have minimal access to weapons and low scores in weapons imports compared to the rest of the continent.
Terrorism, the amount of weapons exported, and the presence of nuclear weapons in the country were to blame for Germany’s slight decline in peacefulness from the previous report. Unfortunately, the country has been a hot spot for terrorism throughout history, dating back to the Cold War. More recently, several arson attacks in 2018 at Turkish mosques and community centers shook the nation.
Still, Germany ranks highly in other areas, including cost of living (it’s 27th, sandwiched between Canada and Belgium) and happiness (16th).
At number 17 out of the 163 countries observed in the GPI study, the country has made monumental strides since one of the most notorious anti-peace dictators in world history was in charge.
Even though Norway is positioned at the low end of the list for Nordic countries, behind Denmark (5), Finland (15) and Sweden (14), it still comes in as the 16th most peaceful country in the world. Norway ranks second overall in the safety and security sector, right behind Iceland. It also enjoys minimal internal conflict, violent crimes and violent demonstrations.
Norway has been a symbol of peace for decades thanks to Alfred Nobel, inventor of the Nobel Peace Prize, who in 1990 decided that a Norwegian panel would be responsible for selecting the award recipient. Since then the prize has been chosen by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, consisting of five members appointed by the Parliament of Norway. To this day, it remains a mystery why Nobel asked a Norwegian committee to select the peace prize, when Swedish committees were tasked with selecting the others.
Norway went down a few pegs from 14th most peaceful in 2017 to 16th in 2018. The main reason? The country performed poorly when it came to militarization, and was among the top 10 for weapons exported per capita.
It’s no surprise to discover this tranquil Northern European country made the cut. One of the first nations in the world to grant women their voting rights and legalize universal suffrage, Finland is known for its social inclusion and equality.
Historically, Finland has been both politically and economically stable. Even better, an excellent public education system and high rates of income equality give Finland a high quality of life for its citizens.
Petty theft can occur in the busy season and in larger cities like Helsinki, but a majority of the country maintains low crime rates. For all-but-guaranteed safe experiences, check out smaller cities like charming Tampere, or head out into the country's famous forested wilderness.
Fun fact: While ranked 15th overall, Finland is only the 10th most peaceful country in Europe — the clear continental winner when it comes to peace.
Though historically one of the world’s most peaceful countries, Sweden has become more conflict-riddled of late.
Throughout 2018, it endured over 300 shootings, causing a worsening score in perceptions of criminality, and alarming headlines like "Sweden's violent reality is undoing a peaceful self-image." Similar to Denmark, this deterioration was largely due to increased violent gang activity, and in particular grenade attacks.
Sweden is also part of a small group of peaceful countries that performed poorly in the militarization sector. It’s in the top 10 when it comes to weapon imports, a distinction it’s held for five years running.
So why, despite this, does the country still rank so high? Incarceration rates in Sweden are among some of the lowest in the world, which helped the country rank eighth in the societal safety and security sector. And we do mean low: per 100,000 Swedish residents, just 59 are in jail. In the country with the highest incarceration rate, the United States, that number is 655.
The country's rising violent-crime rate may cause pause in travelers, but on the whole, this is still a safe, peaceful place to venture to for extraordinary nature and culturally rich cities.
Interestingly, Australia made the cut despite increased militarization and weapons imports in 2018.
On the plus side? A nationwide love for sports and outdoor activities accounts for long life expectancy here, and the country ranks high in all aspects of quality of life besides affordability.
Australia remains a politically stable country with a parliamentary democratic government that it’s maintained since ending constitutional ties to the United Kingdom in 1986 (though Queen Elizabeth II still remains the ceremonial head of state).
Between 1918 and the early 1990s, Australia’s homicide rate fluctuated greatly, with a significant drop in the 2000s before leveling out last year. So travelers looking to enjoy Australia's tourism centers, like Sydney, the Outback and national parks, have little to fret about.
Australia also has a low incarceration rate (just 172 prisoners per 100,000 residents) — though, like a majority of countries in the world, that rate has risen gradually since 1950.
When announcing that they don’t want to deal with conflict, many people proclaim “I’m Switzerland!”
There’s a reason for this.
The country is famously neutral — it hasn’t fought in a foreign war since it declared its neutrality after the 1815 Treaty of Paris. Perhaps surprisingly, though, this doesn’t mean it's entirely pacifist; because it’s an “armed neutral” country, prepared to defend itself against intrusion, it’s actually one of the top 10 highest weapons importers per capita.
Switzerland ranks high in part because it's one of the world’s richest countries and has a low level of unemployment. Plus it boasts a low crime rate — good news for travelers looking to take in the natural assets of this European beauty.
Slovenia may not be the first place one thinks to vacation to, but tourism actually accounts for two-thirds of the Slovenian economy (despite hitting a rough patch during the 2012 European financial crisis).
Slovenia came out of that crisis better than most European nations, making it one of the richest Slavic countries. The U.S. News and World Report ranks Slovenia as 42nd for quality of life, with above average scores for affordability and safety. Plus, it's the fourth-least militarized country in the world.
There is, however, one caveat to all this positivity: the country’s militarization score, regional rank and overall GPI have all deteriorated a bit since 2017.
Ireland has plenty of draws for travelers, from rolling green hills to a laid-back lifestyle and a whole lot of Guinness. Add safety and peace to the list, as well.
Rates of crime are low here, and the political scene is relatively low-key. And this is the sixth-least militarized country in the world to boot.
Ireland’s GPI score has improved since last year, and the country also saw a higher regional rank of sixth overall for European nations.
Japan saw a decrease in overall peacefulness in 2018, in part because it imported more weapons last year.
Still, it remains a very peaceful place.
Homicide rates have trended downward in the country over the past decade, and out of the three countries that have incarceration data from the first half of the 20th century (Japan, U.S., UK), it is the only one that can tout decreasing lock-up rates.
The country also has relatively low levels of crime, especially compared to the United States, where crime levels are roughly four times as high.
The 2020 Olympics to be held in Tokyo have the potential to boost Japan’s economy (not to mention its tourism infrastructure) even more, so now's an especially good time to visit.
Singapore made peacefulness improvements across the board in 2018. The country went up a whopping 13 places since the previous year, from 21st, in large part due to its fourth-place societal safety and security ranking. The country has stayed out of domestic and international conflict, and boasts crime rates so low, many shops don’t even lock up.
The biggest thing holding the country back from a higher spot is its militarization; Singapore remains one of the most heavily militarized countries in the world, and as it faces regional tensions and increased military spending by neighbors, this doesn’t look likely to change anytime soon.
Fortunately, this military presence has minimal impact on tourists, who can enjoy a country that’s not only exceptionally safe, but exceptionally (and famously) clean.
7. Czech Republic
Along with Singapore, the Czech Republic has made the greatest sustained improvements in peacefulness over the last 10-year period, especially in areas such as personal security and international relations. Additionally, the country is the eighth most peaceful in terms of militarization.
According to the most recent OECD Economic Survey, the Czech Republic economy “is thriving” with 4.6% growth in 2017. When it comes to unemployment, the country has some of the lowest numbers in Europe.
The majority of the Czech Republic doesn’t experience any major safety issues. But pickpocketing and petty theft can be a problem in big cities, so it’s a good idea to be extra vigilant while traveling in places like Prague.
Canada continues to rank number one in peacefulness for the North American region. However, the country has deteriorated in the terrorism category after two high-profile 2017 incidents: the Quebec mosque shooting in January and the Edmonton attack in October.
One of the wealthiest countries in the world, Canada remains an economically successful nation despite recent trade tensions with the United States. As one of the largest landmasses in the world with a relatively small population (just under 37 million), the country is also known for its peace and quiet.
This solitude is best enjoyed in Canada's exceptional national parks. Or, to experience some hustle and bustle (without a high risk of crime — it's relatively low here), head to cities like Vancouver and Toronto.
The story isn’t entirely positive for this Scandinavian country. Data collected by GPI surveys revealed that the public perception of violence has increased in Denmark, with three-quarters of the population reporting that they’ve sensed a boost in violent crime in the past five years.
But this is all relative; even with this change, Denmark managed to rank third for societal safety and security.
Due to high levels of work-life balance, income equality, health care and good education (its literacy rate is 100%!), Denmark also ranks as the third-happiest country in the world according to the 2018 UN World Happiness Report. For immigrants making a life in Denmark, the country ranks second place for happiness globally.
Travelers, take note: this country known for its fairytale charm and hygge philosophy on contentment will keep you safe and happy.
Thanks in part to its isolation (its only bordering country is Spain), Portugal has a low rate of terrorism and violent crime. Better still, the location allows for a unique preservation of culture and landscape.
The cost of living in Portugal is lower than the United States by about 28%, with cost of rent about 46% lower, making it one of the most affordable destinations in Europe as well. Unemployment rates in the country have improved over the years and citizens are known globally for their convivial demeanor. On a recent list of the world’s friendliest countries, Portugal nabbed the top spot.
In other words, there's a lot to recommend this peaceful country. Just one word of caution, though: on public transport and in highly trafficked tourist areas, pickpocketing is quite common, so be on alert.
Austria has a low rate of violent crime, though petty incidents like pickpocketing can occur within tourist-heavy areas. Additionally, visitors can be targeted specifically for passports and money, especially in the big cities. It’s also wise to take care while driving in the country, as Austria has a higher average of road deaths compared to the rest of the UK.
All that said, this is clearly a very peaceful place in general, as evidenced by its high GPI rankings across the board.
The state of peace in Austria is monitored by an independent organization called the Austrian Study Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, founded in 1982. In addition to encouraging peace within the country, the organization also promotes peace education through training programs and scientific courses.
2. New Zealand
New Zealand ranked number one for peacefulness in the Asia-Pacific region, beating out both Singapore and Japan. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the country hasn’t gone below fourth place in the GPI in 10 years.
The government website for New Zealand immigration credits this status to the country’s low amount of violent crime and lack of community issues. Generally, people in the country believe that their fellow citizens should be able to live the lifestyle they choose without interference. New Zealand is tied with Denmark as the least corrupt country in the world, according to the Transparency International 2017 Corruption Perception Index.
Traveling around New Zealand is easy. Bus drivers and public transportation workers are helpful in giving directions, and there are often laws in place forbidding hidden costs and fees in purchases.
What awaits those who travel to this wholly pleasant country? Maori culture, world-renowned surf breaks and, of course, epic “Lord of the Rings” landscapes.
The most peaceful country on earth has no military and very few armed officers due to an almost non-existent crime rate. What’s more, citizens must pass a series of substantial tests in order to purchase a gun, including a psychological evaluation, a strict criminal background check and a physical exam from a medical doctor. After that, citizens need to take a three-day class with a passing grade and provide proof of safe gun storage.
The 2018 World Happiness Report additionally ranked Iceland as the fourth happiest country based on criteria like life expectancy, freedom and generosity. The country enjoys both universal health care and universal education, as well as virtually no social class system (there are neither high levels of poverty nor high levels of wealth).
This peacefulness is one of many reasons why Iceland has become such a popular place for hitchhiking and campervan adventures, and why tourists are heading there in droves.