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Most common expat accidents while abroad

What are the most common accidents that happen to people while abroad? And what are the risks of various nations?

Accidents happen. But some places are more hazardous than others, and some locations have unique dangers that the uninitiated are more prone to. 9,179 Americans were killed abroad between October 2002 and June 2015; including drowning and road traffic accidents.

Here are some of the most common accidents and health-related issues that happen to travellers, international workers and expats.

Work place accidents

You probably feel safe sitting at your desk (and you probably are), but the workplace can be dangerous for many people – read our Most Dangerous Jobs article.

  • In 2001, Namibia was ranked as the most dangerous place for employees, with a fatality rate of 28, and Iceland was the safest with 0.6 — suffering only one workplace death in 2001. How do some expat hotspots fair?
  • Vietnam had the fifth most workplace fatalities
  • Thailand was 13th
  • Mexico was 22nd
  • Saudi Arabia was 15th
  • China was 67th
  • India was 89th
  • USA was 101st
  • Australia just made it into the safest place top 10 and the UK came in second.

Road traffic accidents

Whether you're a pedestrian or a driver, road accidents are on of the most frequent and dangerous types of accident. And the percentages of people dying go up in some key expat hotspots. Thailand has the second largest number of people per 100,000 who die in road traffic accidents ever year — 36 in 2015 — and those involving tourists and expatriates in Thailand are quite common. In 2013, the country was home to 50,000 British residents and 870,000 British tourists who suffered 68,582 incidents resulting in 9,205 deaths, involving both Thai residents and foreign nationals, in 2011. Only 1,901 were killed in road accidents in the UK that year.

Kenya’s figure is 29, South Africa is 25 and Brazil is 23. This might come as a shock to Brits whose national figure is only 2.9 deaths per 100,000.

According to the US State Department’s registry of American deaths, the most common causes of death to Americans in Egypt are auto accidents (18 deaths) and bus accidents (11 deaths). In total (including trains, boats and planes) a third of Americans deaths were from Egyptian travel. (NB: This data was taken from the registry over a period of 13 years).

Dubai is a big expats destination, so 2018 brought some good news as the Emirate’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) announced that road accident fatalities had dropped markedly, in February 2018.

Gun accidents

US citizens own more guns than anyone else by a large margin: 101 guns per 100 people. The next nation is Serbia with only 38 guns per 100 people. With 32 guns per person, Uruguay suffers the most accidental gun deaths followed by Guatemala and Georgia. Mexico is fifth on the list and America is 17th(correct at April 2018).  Japan has very few guns and, unsurprisingly, you’re far less likely to be accidentally shot there.

Pair of car keys between 2 snifters of liquor Pair of car keys between 2 snifters of liquor



Holidays can inspire some of the worst behaviour and a recent craze in the Spanish islands of the Balearics is ‘balconing’ — jumping from their balcony into the pool. In 2010 alone there were six deaths and 11 injuries; and alcohol was always involved.

Drinking generally increases the chances of any accident happening; from failing to make it from your balcony into your pool, to drowning at sea. While the most common cause of death of Brits in Thailand is road traffic accidents, most victims possessed “high levels of alcohol in their system”.

For some expats, they have to get used to changing effects of alcohol at high altitudes.

In some places, such as Dubai, drinking alcohol in public is illegal and you need an alcohol licence to consume it or consume it in a licensed venue. One news item reported that “bored and pampered” expat teenagers in Dubai are buying alcohol illegally, which tragically ended in accidental death for a 15-year-old boy in 2012.

As Indonesia aims to curb the sale of alcohol, many people are turning to methanol-laced drinks — unlicensed homebrew — which killed 186 people in 2016.

Animal attacks

Just as your new environment might have a different climate and language, so too it will include new wildlife. Westerners moving to India and South East Asia often share their immediate surroundings with our primate cousins, and anyone moving from cold climes to the tropics may be exposed to poisonous spiders and snakes for the first time.

The biggest killer from the animal kingdom is mosquitoes, responsible for 725,000 deaths and for incapacitating 200 million through malaria alone.

While fewer than 100 people are killed by lions each year, snakes kill 50,000 every year. Rabies from dog bites kills 25,000 people every year and many Western expat destinations have more stray dogs than they may have experienced at home.

Crocodiles kill 1,000, hippos kill 500 and elephants kill 100. Wolves and sharks only kill 10 people are year.

The accident is often getting too close and not knowing… So always check your shoes before putting them on.


1,320 Americans drowned abroad between October 2002 and June 2015 – 101 of whom died off the coast of Costa Rica and 355 died in the waters of Mexico.

Food poisoning

More than 200 diseases are caused by unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, parasites, viruses, toxins and chemical substances, according to the World Health Organisation.

Many countries such as Thailand and India have exciting — and cheap — street food, but poor hygiene can leave you regretting your tasty bargain. Symptoms can range from diarrhoea and nausea to more serious conditions — often due to bacterial contamination. Another stomach-turning fact is that a study revealed that Delhi street food includes high levels of faecal matter.


It’s only natural to want to capture images of the places we visit. And many people want themselves in those pictures. But selfies can be fatal.

264 people have died or been injured in selfie-related incidents since 2011, including 48 people who ignored warnings and suffered burns while taking selfies near a burning bakery in India. Trains and drownings seem to be a common theme, so take care when capturing memories — you don’t want a bad selfie to be your final legacy.

Other expat accidents:

  • Sporting
  • Sunburn
  • Domestic accidents

Be careful, but be prepared

Some accidents are our fault while others are just bad luck — and some fall somewhere in between.

It's just as important for expats to be prepared for accidents like those above as it is health care emergencies — such as heart attack — and safety and security emergencies – such as natural disasters. So whether you’re relocating for work, moving abroad with family for a fresh start or travelling regularly for business, it's important to consider International Private Medical Insurance (iPMI).

Click here for more information on how iPMI differs from travel insurance and why expats need know the difference.

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