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Worried About Travel Safety? Avoid the Vatican

the worst travel destinations for pickpocketsWhich country in the world has the highest rate of crime per capita? It’s not some third-world country that sounds mysterious and shady. It’s the Vatican.

Yes, the city state ruled over by the Pope and his crew often gets reported as having the worst crime rate per capita in the world. I first wrote about the phenomenon back in 2006, when they had 341 civil and 486 criminal cases, in a place with a population of 492. Now the population is over 800.

This strange little country gets close to six million visitors a year, so the population really isn’t so relevant. What it does show, however, is that you are as likely to get pickpocketed in Italy—especially in the Vatican—as you are in Bangkok, Bombay, or Cusco. So just because you’re in an expensive western country, even in a holy place, don’t feel you can let your guard down. Have a great time, but keep the valuables tucked away securely under your travel clothes.

The funny thing is, the Vatican only catches some 10 percent of the criminals and when they do catch them, they don’t have a jail to put them in. They have to send the crooks to an Italian jail and then get billed back for all expenses!


Where else are you likely to get pickpocketed? It’s hard to find reliable stats on this. Often people don’t bother reporting it since the criminal is long gone. If they do report it, the police can’t really do much besides apologize. So the travel safety crime stats never tell the full story.

The photo of the sign above is from Bangkok and the one below (with the scary black man) is from Tokyo Narita Airport. Your odds are worst in Europe though, where street theft is a thriving business.

scary travel crooks

Spain Travel Safety

When asked who’s the champ of pickpocketing in Europe, Spain often holds the trophy. When 2,000 British vacationers were surveyed on where they had been a victim of crime while on holiday, Spain topped the list at 21%. Barcelona has long been called “the pickpocket capital of Europe” (often reaching 300 reported incidents a month—and who knows how many more that are not reported). Milan often rates in the top-5 worldwide as well. Ibiza doesn’t show up on any formal lists that I have seen, but experienced travelers know to limit the valuables they’re carrying when they go out partying there.

Italy’s Long Pickpocket History

The Vatican led off this piece, but that’s partly because it’s a dot in the pickpocket haven of Rome, a frequent #2 on worldwide lists after Barcelona. As in Spain, the leader has a strong silver contender: Florence. Venice gets fewer reported incidents, but perhaps that’s because it’s tougher to run for it after the deed is done!

Vatican City watch for pickpockets


Prague Pickpockets in the Czech Republic

Just as prices take a drop when you leave the capital city of the Czech Republic, the same holds true with crime. Most of this country has a low petty crime rate, but popular Prague is a different story, showing up in the top-5 on nearly ever tally and survey for pickpocket rates. The travel safety worries here aren’t really physical: there are just a lot of scammers trying to separate you from your money.

Greasy Pockets in Greece

When the city of Athens hosted a travel bloggers convention a few years ago, two well-traveled attendees lost their phones on the way in from the airport. Welcome to Greece!

Last year the Athens police busted a pickpocket ring that was stealing an average of €3,500 per day from tourists and the elderly. Here’s a police comment on the bust:

A total of €9,500 was found in 498 wallets confiscated by police in the raids, but more than 4,000 cases of theft are believed to have occurred during a 10-year period, with takings in the hundreds of thousands of euros.

It doesn’t stop at these places of course, but they’re the ones where you have to keep your travel safety guard up the most.

Other spots where you need to secure your valuable well include some of Europe’s most popular cities: Amsterdam, Istanbul, Paris, and Lisbon. In fact if you look at the testimonials on the Clothing Arts page, the vast majority of foiled pickpocket attempts took place in Europe.

Otherwise you need to be vigilant in Vietnam’s big cities, Morocco, Russia’s two largest cities, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Remember, the more tourists you see in big groups, especially on public transportation, the more likely it is that the professionals will be working the field.

(top photo from Pamdora’s Box , Vatican Flickr Creative Commons Vatican photo by Hadzinsky)


Friday 8th of November 2019

Wow, really interesting. We've visited Rome twice and never would've thought the Vatican is where we should keep up our guard. I did lose my wife's phone in Rome this year, and I suspected that I was pickpocketed. Lesson learned.


Tuesday 3rd of April 2018

Thanks for your blog. Vatican city is amaizing to see, but ofcourse there are a lot of pickpockers. Always be carefull and take care of your own stuff.