Threat Ratings for Countries – Where can I find them and what is it exactly?

Many governments around the world maintain a country risk database. The threat ratings for countries are usually broken down into three basic components: High Risk, Medium Risk and Low Risk. These country risk databases help travelers determine the sorts of precautions they should take when visiting these locations.

Oftentimes the country security databases are no available to the general public. Governments use them for official travel only. They are sensitive to the political ramifications of labeling one country or another „high risk.“ This can adversely affect tourism, for example.

This does not mean, however, that information on the threat ratings for countries is not available to the non-government employees. For example, the UK and the United States have specific websites devoted to foreign travel security.

The U.S. Department of State requires each U.S. Embassy abroad to publish security guidelines for the particular country where they are located. These guidelines are an essential part of the threat ratings for countries and practically speaking are directly drawn from the classified country security database.

The UK Foreign Office has a specific website on foreign travel advice. Travelers can go to the website and look up whatever country they want. Each country has a write-up on safety and security issues, health issues, terrorism and specific travel advice. For high-risk countries, the foreign office provides maps with outlines of areas or regions within the country they consider off-limits.

Classified country security databases are only available to certain government entities. You must have a security clearance to access them. For example, the U.S. State Department has a very elaborate country risk database that is only accessible to employees with clearances. The threat ratings for countries are broken down into several categories: crime, terrorism, and counterintelligence. Each country gets a specific rating for each category. For example, Nigeria may have a High-Risk rating for crime and terrorism, but have a Low-Risk rating for counterintelligence.

To complicate matters further, different agencies of a government may have reasons to classify a country’s risk differently. The American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) worries more about the intelligence risks posed by a country and its agents than it does about the crime risk. The CIA may break down the intelligence risk ratings into more detailed subgroupings than High, Medium and Low.

The Department of Defense may want more level of detail regarding the terrorism threats. They may add categories, such as transnational terrorism and internal terrorism threats for each country. The Department of State may be more interested in political instability and add that as a category along with crime, terrorism and counterintelligence.

Finally, today many private security companies find it useful to their clients to provide specific threat ratings for countries that go into much greater level of detail based on their client’s needs. For example, a government may classify the country of Brazil as High Risk for crime. However, there are parts of Brazil where the crime rate remains below average even when compared to many European and North American towns. Private entities may break down the country risk ratings by city or even neighborhood in order to provide greater specificity for their clients and to better assist them in taking appropriate mitigation measures.

Some private security firms use a threat rating by 1 – 3, 1 – 5 or even 1 – 100.