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Iceland - Safest Country in the World

Each year, the Institute for Economics and Peace publishes its Global Peace Index (GPI). It is a highly cited source of advanced metrics, measuring the status of peace and essentially safety in the world. In 2022, for the 14th year in a row, Iceland tops the list of safest countries in the world. But what are the metrics? What makes Iceland so safe and what does this mean? Read on for an in-depth guide before booking your cheap flight to Iceland, the safest country in the world.

“Peace is notoriously difficult to define. The simplest way of approaching it is in terms of the harmony achieved by the absence of violence or the fear of violence, which has been described as Negative Peace. Negative Peace is a complement to Positive Peace which is defined as the attitudes, institutions and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies.” Global Peace Index 2022, p.82

The factors used to measure this “Negative Peace” are the level of Societal Safety and Security, the extent of Ongoing Domestic and International Conflict and the degree of Militarization. The two latter factors are pretty straight forward when it comes to Iceland. In a country with no military and very low military spending the GPI will always be very low. An island in the middle of the North Atlantic has very little business in international conflict, sharing no physical boarders with another nation and with only 370,000 inhabitants on a a rather large island, the nation tops the charts when it comes to community and social security, meaning Icelanders overwhelmingly feel like they can depend on a fellow human being in times of need. As a result, domestic conflict is a virtually unknown term in Iceland. The Societal Safety and Security part is where it gets interesting and the factor that speaks volumes about Iceland’s safety as a home as well as a desirable tourist destination.

A view of the harbor in the town of Húsavík in the north of Iceland

What are the 10 safest countries in the world?

The 10 safest countries in the world in 2022 according to the Global Peace Index are:

  1. Iceland
  2. New Zealand
  3. Ireland
  4. Denmark
  5. Austria
  6. Portugal
  7. Slovenia
  8. Czech Republic
  9. Singapore
  10. Japan

Honorable mentions for the curious reader include Canada in 12th place, the United Kingdom in 34th place while the United States is in 129th place and Russia in 160th place out of the 163 countries measured.

 

Diamond Beach full of icebergs in Iceland

Which country has the lowest crime rate?

According to the World Population Review, Qatar has the lowest crime rate by country in 2022. Iceland is ranked 125 out of the 137 countries listed. The highest crime rate on the other hand is in Venezuela, followed by Papua New Guinea and South Africa.

The Hvítserkur rock off the northern coast of Iceland

The crime rate in Iceland

Iceland’s crime rate is very low, measuring 23.75 on the Crime Index, a number calculated by dividing the total number of reported crimes of any kind by the total population, then multiplying the result by 100,000 since crime rate is typically reported as a certain number of crimes per 100,000 inhabitants. Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital and only city ranks in 33rd place on a list of 453 cities of the world’s lowest crime rate cities. As a result, the general feeling of safety is very high, both in rural Iceland and the capital. It’s also worth noting that there is no army in Iceland and the police doesn’t carry firearms. There’s a special squad equipped with weapons, aptly nicknamed “the Viking Squad”, a special task force trained to deal with high-risk situations. But their services are very rarely required.

 

The green dunes of Stokksnes with Vestrahorn mountain in the background

Equality in Iceland

Women are often more susceptible to an overall feeling of safety or lack thereof, as they are statistically more often victims of sexual assault and gender-based violence. The overall sense of equality in a country plays a part in the possible victimization of and violence towards women. Iceland ranks number 1 on a list measuring gender equality among nations, for the 12th year in a row. You could say that Iceland is therefore the most gender equal country in the world. Women’s rights are human rights and human rights play a big part in the overall safety of a community. Iceland has a longstanding and interesting history of women’s rights. A case could be made that the cultural heritage of the “strong woman” from the Viking era plays a part in women taking power and authority in modern times. On October 24, 1975, women in Iceland organized a strike and a huge number of women gathered in downtown Reykjavik and all over the countryside to protest the gender wage gap. The “strike” was intended to emphasize the important role of women in the workforce and their vital part in the nation’s economy. The Women’s Strike has been repeated a few times since and in later years the strike begins at the time of day that symbolizes the wage gap between men and women. In 2010, that meant that women stopped working at 14:25 and marched downtown, emphasizing that if they were paid equal to men, they were not paid for longer hours than that. In 2022, 47% of Icelandic parliamentarians are women. Numerous laws aim to ensure gender equality in the business and political sectors and Iceland has strict equal pay legislation. That said, Iceland now measures gender equality at just over 90% which is still 10% short of perfect equality and that is the goal Iceland is determined to reach very soon.

A couple of puffins in an embrace

Child safety in Iceland

Icelanders often do their graduate studies abroad or seek out more eclectic careers in a different country. Many choose to return, particularly families with young children. Those that linger abroad will often have to negotiate heavily with their children to postpone moving back to Iceland, even with children that grew up abroad. The reason is simple. Iceland is something of a children’s paradise. The low crime rate, the small size of the nation, the proximity to the wild nature and the often-small towns and comfortable capital make this a haven for the young and the restless. This means unaccompanied ventures to the playground, running off to see your friends after school, venturing out on a bus roulette (enter any bus and see where you end up – works best with a swimsuit as you’ll most likely end up near a previously unknown swimming pool!). There is essentially a freedom available to children in Iceland that not many countries have and it is this freedom that children everywhere appreciate and prefer.

Children playing in Icelandic nature

Wild animals in Iceland are not dangerous

The wildlife in Iceland is both extraordinary and adorable and very few individuals can cause any harm. Yes, there are tiny midges in some parts that can be a nuisance, the arctic tern will try to peck you in the head if you come to close to their nests and once every few years a stray polar bear floats in on a breakaway iceberg and makes the news, as if part of some fairytale or children’s cartoon. But that’s about it. Hiking and trekking in the highlands and wild is not risky as far as the wildlife is concerned. However…

An adorable Icelandic wild fox

Safe travels in Iceland

All this doesn’t mean that Iceland doesn’t come with its hazards and there are definitely dangers to be aware of. The safety of tourists in Iceland has been a concern in the past couple of decades as tourism began to flourish and the infrastructure was initially not prepared and somewhat inadequate. These dangers mostly concern road safety and proper preparation in the wilderness. They are however very preventable and with good preparations there’s no need to take any unnecessary risks. We highly recommend www.safetravel.is, the official website of the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue where you can read up on road conditions, submit your travel plan for first responders and download their app. And one thing you should always be aware of and prepared for in Iceland is the weather. It can change dramatically in the space of a few hours but never without warning so stay up to date on the latest forecast and prepare accordingly. Check out our blog about traveling safely in Iceland for more tips and guidelines.

Reynisfjara beach on a sunny day on the south coast of Iceland

Quality of life, air and everything in between in Iceland

There’s something to be said for the quality of living in Iceland when discussing safety. According to the OECD’s Better Life Index, Iceland ranks no 1 in topics like Community (quality of your social support network) and Jobs (earnings, job security and unemployment). Iceland is ranked in the top five places for indicators like Environment (very little pollution and clean water), Income (high income and wealth), and maybe most importantly when measuring quality of life, Life Satisfaction. Icelanders graded their general satisfaction with life at 7.6 on a scale of 0-10. An incredible 97% of Icelanders say they are satisfied with the quality of their water while the OECD average is 84%. To top it off, life expectancy in Iceland is approx. 83 years, which is two years more than the OECD’s average.

Quality of life is very high in Iceland and Icelanders usually rank at the top of the list of happiest countries in the world. Iceland ranked 4th on the list of the happiest countries in the world for 2021 with the highest feeling of social support. All this is to say that happy and satisfied people make nice hosts and enjoy spreading the joy. 

 

A waterfall in Iceland with blue skies

Relax, you’re in Iceland

Until recently, Icelanders were quite isolated, and guests were something of a treat. It was common for overly excited Icelanders to ask foreigners on their way from the airport how they liked Iceland, approximately 30 minutes after landing in this faraway land. While Icelanders are a bit more relaxed about receiving visitors, this enthusiasm is still quite tangible, and the overall attitude is marked by an ambition to be good hosts. Most Icelanders are proud of their country and want to make a good impression. The general attitude of the Icelanders you’ll meet will most likely be very welcoming and helpful and it helps that most Icelanders speak very good English (and love showing it off). There’s also a sense of responsibility for tourists in Iceland, to ensure they stay safe when exploring the many natural wonders of this country. Icelanders have a very strong connection to their natural surroundings and a humility that comes with living near such awesome natural forces. This respect comes with a sense of caution, comradery and awe. Icelanders operate a huge volunteer network of first responders with clubs all over the country that belong to the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue. They are a well-equipped, well-trained and superbly organized network of volunteers that usually know their local area inside out and are dispatched whenever someone runs into trouble in their vicinity. They are some of the most respected groups of people in the country and have saved countless lives from difficult situations.

A rainbow over the city of Reykjavik

Finally...

Iceland has many amazing attractions. The natural wonders like the northern lights, the glaciers, the volcanos, the black beaches, the waterfalls, the mountains, the hot springs and the highlands top that list but the colorful nightlife of Reykjavik and the friendly attitude of Icelanders deserve honorable mentions. But what most Icelanders probably neglect to mention or even notice is the sense of safety in Iceland and the freedom that comes with it. Safety brings freedom and if there’s one thing Icelanders hold in high regard, it’s their freedom. Grab a cheap flight to Iceland and roam free and safe.

 

Stuðlagil canyon in the river of Jökulsá in the northeast of Iceland

Sep 6, 2022