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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 that tends towards sensationalism.
As a whole, the country is a safe expat destination; those relocating to the USA will just need to be wary of inner-city neighbourhoods or slums as these are where most criminal activity takes place. As recent years and countless brutal incidents have shown, it's also advisable not to provoke American police officers and to treat them with the utmost caution.
Crime in the USA
Loose gun laws, a glaring disparity between the wealthy and the poor, and growing prison populations are all contributing factors to the high crime rate, but these parts to a whole still in no way mirror the gun-wielding Wild West antics found on American television and cinema.
Violent crime is more of a concern in city centres than in suburban and rural communities. However, 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, though, as mentioned, police should never be provoked as they've acquired something of a notoriety over the years for a 'shoot first, ask questions later' approach. Not to tar the entire country's police force with the same brush, but caution is nonetheless advised.
Basic safety precautions which would be practised elsewhere in the world should be followed here too, such as locking car doors and avoiding walking alone or taking public transport at night.
Except for very wealthy and gated residential neighbourhoods, employing private security companies is rare and residents can expect quick responses by police or even a local neighbourhood-watch programme.
Terrorism in the USA
The threat of terrorism in the US has increased over the last two decades, aggravated by the conflict in the Middle East. Airline security measures are also extremely tight because of past incidents and travellers can expect to queue a bit longer than they might be used to in their home countries.
The attacks of 9/11 are often a sensitive subject for Americans – one that is generally best avoided by expats.
Since 2001, there have been a few isolated incidents of terrorism. Some of these incidents are random but others have targeted certain groups of people. However, these attacks are not a common occurrence. Should expats encounter any such incident, they are advised to contact their embassy.
►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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