Travel is highly subjective, with each individual's personal preferences influencing whether they think a given country is one of the worst countries in the world to visit (or live in) or one of the best countries to visit (or in which to study abroad).
Moreover, most travel enthusiasts generally feel that every country is worth a visit, from the world's most-visited countries to its least-visited countries. Ordinarily, these factors would make it impossible to compile an accurate and objective list of the worst countries for tourists. However, there are a handful of countries in which a visitor could be kidnapped, imprisoned, or even killed. These are clearly the worst countries in the world to visit.
The US Department of State's Travel Advisory system
The US Department of State conducts an ongoing Travel Advisory system that tracks conditions in each of the world's countries and territories and places each one into one of four categories:
- Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions
- Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution
- Level 3: Reconsider Travel
- Level 4: Do Not Travel
The State Department further designates the specific threats that earned each country its rank. While most of these concerns are man-made, such as crime, terrorism, and civil unrest, they can also include naturally occurring elements such as dangerous weather or natural disasters. Some countries, such as Russia and Ukraine, are currently at war. The travel advisories are frequently updated to reflect the current conditions in each country. As of November 2022, 19 countries carried a level 4 travel advisory, and two additional countries had an "other" advisory that warranted a customized ranking.
The 21 Worst Countries in the World to Visit (2022-11):
|Central African Republic||Myanmar||Syria|
Note: Countries marked with * are ranked outside the traditional Level 1-4 travel advisory system. All other countries shown are Level 4: Do Not Travel.
Profiles of the worst countries in the world for tourists to visit
Since the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan upon the withdrawal of US forces in August 2021, the country has become even more dangerous—particularly for US citizens.
Belarus is a close ally of Russia and has allowed Russian forces to mass on the Belarusan/Ukrainian border, which has introduced elements of danger and civil unrest. The risk of unlawful detention is also high in Belarus, whose government has arrested thousands of people, including many US citizens, based upon often-unproven claims that those individuals have participated in political demonstrations or otherwise attempted to undermine the government.
Terrorist activity is a significant concern in Burkina Faso, where several areas are considered to be in a state of emergency. Insurgents may attack targets ranging from hotels and restaurants to police stations and places of worship with little or no warning. Kidnapping and hostage taking are additional ongoing concerns.
Central African Republic
Although Westerners are not believed to be specific targets, violent crimes such as armed robbery, aggravated battery, and homicide are common in the Central African Republic. Additional dangers include civil unrest, demonstrations, and election-related violence.
Kidnapping and ransom are a significant concern in Haiti. Carjackings and armed robberies are also quite common.
US citizens in Iran are often specifically targeted for unlawful kidnapping, arrest, and/or detention by the government, under the fictitious claim that they represent a threat to the country's national security.
Terrorist attacks are an ongoing threat in Iraq, where even peaceful demonstrations and protests can turn violent with little warning. US citizens are also at high risk for violence or kidnapping.
Libya is mired in civil unrest. Crime levels are high, and gunfire between various armed factions could break out with little to no notice in most locations. Westerners are frequently kidnapped and held for ransom, militia groups may capture or detain individuals illegally, and protests can turn violent.
Terrorism is high in Mali, where armed groups are known to attack locations ranging from places of worship to night clubs, Malian government offices, important infrastructure sites, or locations known to attract Westerners. Violent crimes including armed robbery and kidnapping are also common, particularly during local holidays or seasonal events, and are often facilitated by the use of roadblocks.
Currently locked in a drug war, Mexico is one of two countries whose current travel advisory falls outside the Level 1-4 system. While the states of Yucatan and Campeche are relatively safe, in many other parts of Mexico, foreign tourists are frequent targets for crimes ranging from pickpocketing and muggings to kidnapping, carjacking, and homicide.
Myanmar's elected government was deposed by a military coup d'état in 2021, leaving the country—which was already engaged in the world's longest running civil war—under military rule. Civil unrest and armed conflict are possible, landmines and other unexploded ordnance make some areas dangerous to traverse, and unlawful detentions have been reported. Myanmar also suffers from limited and/or inadequate healthcare resources.
Known for its secrecy and its third-generation dictator, Kim Jong-un, North Korea is considered an extremely risky destination for international travelers. The lives of people in North Korea are very tightly controlled and policed, and once a tourist enters the country, there is no guarantee they will be allowed to leave again. US citizens are currently banned from traveling to North Korea. The US government instituted the ban in 2017, after an American student named Otto Warmbier, who had been detained in North Korea and imprisoned for 17 months, was returned to the United States in a coma, passing one week later. The ban is currently renewed 12 months at a time, with the most recent renewal having taken place in August of 2022.
Palestine (Gaza Strip)
One of two countries, along with Mexico, that currently do not fit within the level 1-4 framework. Palestine's West Bank and the neighboring country of Israel have both been awarded level 3 advisories due to the persistent threat of terrorist attacks and civil unrest. However, Palestine's Gaza Strip region earns a level 4 advisory due to the added threat of armed conflict breaking out in the area.
Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, visiting Russia has become more dangerous and logistically challenging for international travelers (and US citizens in particular). Travel in and out of the country is extremely limited, US credit cards no longer work in the country, and Russian law enforcement officials are known to target US citizens and arbitrarily levy harsh punishments. The most highly publicized example of this is the case of Brittney Griner, a WNBA player who was apprehended in Russia with less than a gram of hashish oil, for which she had a US prescription, but which is prohibited in Russia. Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Both civil unrest and terrorist activity are routine in Somalia. Illegal roadblocks, kidnapping and murder are common, and schools and other facilities are often repurposed as "cultural rehabilitation" centers where people are unlawfully detained and may be physically abused. Terrorist attacks often include suicide bombers, car bombs, physical attacks, or mortar fire; and often target places with large crowds and frequent Western visitors, such as airports, seaports, hotels, or shopping centers. Offshore, piracy is also a concern, particularly in international waters, with Somali pirates hijacking ships and either robbing the ships or holding the crew and passenger hostage in exchange for ransom.
Armed conflict is ongoing in South Sudan. Violent crimes occur frequently, including carjackings, shootings, robberies, kidnappings, and cattle raids. Foreign nationals have experienced armed robberies, sexual assault, and rape. Journalistic reporting is illegal unless one is properly licensed, and even journalists with their paperwork in order may be harassed or killed.
While Sudan's capital city of Khartoum is relatively secure (though travelers are still advised to steer clear of protests and demonstrations, in case they are violently dispersed), the rest of the country is notably less stable. The areas bordering Chad and South Sudan are particularly dangerous, as terrorist activity is known to be higher there.
The US has not operated an embassy in Syria since 2012 due to the threat of violence stemming from the country's ongoing civil war. No part of Syria is safe from violence. Kidnappings, terrorist attacks, unjust arrest, chemical warfare, aerial bombardment, torture, and extrajudicial killings have all been reported, and the country has long-standing border issues with Israel, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan. US citizens and other Westerners are often sought-after targets for kidnappers as well as the corrupt government, which may be responsible for the disappearance of more than 100,000 people.
Although most travel experts consider Ukraine a beautiful place to visit during times of peace, Russia's invasion of the country has earned both nations a level 4 advisor, which will likely remain in place until sometime after the invasion ends.
Ruled by a dictatorial regime, Venezuela is currently experiencing frequent shortages of food, gasoline, electricity, water, and medical supplies. Violent crimes are common, including homicide, armed robbery, kidnapping, and carjacking. Finally, the government is known to violate human rights with acts including unlawful detention, torture, and extrajudicial killings.
Although the death toll in Yemen's ongoing civil war decreased greatly in 2022, violent terrorist attacks can still happen with little warning, particularly in public places. The fighting has also taken a toll on local infrastructure, which has impacted the reliability and obtainability of electricity, clean water, and medical care.