Whiletheodds of you getting kidnapped on vacation are about as good as catching an on-time flight from O’Hare, if it happens you’re probably not gonna have Liam Neeson around to kill half of France in order to rescue you. Sure, the countries with the highest kidnapping rates are typically only places you’d visit if you were a defense contractor, but there are some vacation nations where kidnapping is as popular as fruity drinks and three-for-$10 t-shirts.
Here’s a quick guide to seven of them, and what to expect should you find yourself abducted.
1,583 kidnappings in 2013, although as many as 99% may be going unreported.
Where you’re getting kidnapped: Anywhere, really, but it’s most common in border cities like Juarez, Tijuana, and Tampico.
Who’s getting kidnapped: Mexico is a fairly equal-opportunity country when it comes to stealing people, though the more-publicized and brutal incidents mostly involve locals, not tourists.
Who’s doing the kidnapping: Unless you’re an international drug mule (or a guy in an RV with Jennifer Aniston pretending to be one), the cartels will likely leave you alone. It’s the random street thugs and rogue cab drivers that you should worry about.
How they’re kidnapping you: The majority of American kidnappings in Mexico involve ATM holdups, where tourists are kept for a few days while they withdraw as much money as possible. “Express kidnappings” can be common as well, and involve being held until a family member pays a ransom. So be sure to buy everyone nice presents before you leave.
How to avoid It: Stick to the resort areas and beaches in whatever city you’re visiting. If the lure of the donkey show is just TOO much for you, make sure you stay on well-lit streets, and don’t hail “unofficial” taxis to save a few bucks.
162 in 2012, down from 720 in the mid 2000s.
Where you’re getting kidnapped: Unless you’re at a resort, pretty much anywhere.
Who’s getting kidnapped: A 2012 US Travel Advisory warned tourists that “No one is safe from kidnapping, regardless of occupation, nationality, race, gender, or age.” However, the vast majority of kidnapping victims in Haiti are Haitians.
Who’s kidnapping you: Haiti has historically been home to kidnapping rings who grab political, social, and business rivals, as well as their families. Recently though, it’s been a more ragtag operation of disorganized street criminals.
How they’re kidnapping you: Anything and everything. Haitian kidnappings are shrouded in more secrecy than in other countries, but the garden-variety “express kidnappings” are also rarer than the old held-for-ransom-in-a-slum type.
How to avoid it: If you’re going to Haiti, take your resort’s shuttle directly to and from… well, anywhere. If you must see the cities, hire a trusted local guide.
Around 1,000 kidnappings in 2012.
Where you’re getting kidnapped: Mostly in major cities like Sao Paolo and Rio de Janiero.
Who’s getting kidnapped: Wealthy businessmen, their family members, and — in an odd trend a few years back — soccer moms. Or at least the mothers of professional soccer players. Tourists, for the most part, are left alone.
Who’s doing the kidnapping: Mostly poor residents of the cities’ notorious favelas.
How they’re kidnapping you: Unlike drug-motivated kidnappings, almost all abductions in Brazil are financially motivated. Which means if you’re “express kidnapped” and the abductors realize you’re worth more than your ATM card, they’ll keep you until a ransom is paid.
How to avoid it: Kidnappers admit to targeting people who are both well dressed and appear not to speak Portuguese. So instead of dropping $500 on that Gucci shirt, perhaps put it towards Rosetta Stone.
150 kidnappings reported in 2013.
Where you’re getting kidnapped: In the southern part of the country, particularly the Zamboanga region, SW Mindanao, and the Sulu archipelago. Mostly the parts with all the pretty beaches.
Who’s getting kidnapped: Primarily foreign tourists from China, Europe, Australia, and in some cases the United States.
Who’s doing the kidnapping: Terror groups like Abu Sayyaf are responsible for many Philippine kidnappings. Pirates cruising the Sulu Sea have also been known to snatch people from resorts and beaches.
How they’re kidnapping you: While most abductees are returned unharmed, some terror demands have extended beyond money and led to hostages being beheaded when the government refuses to cooperate.
How to avoid It: The northern and central parts of the Philippines are fairly safe for visitors, so avoid the south and you should be fine.
2,975 kidnappings in 2010.
Where you’re getting kidnapped:Depends who you are. Child abductions are a major epidemic in India and can occur right in the family’s home. The more traditional adult-nappings, however, happen primarily on streets in major cities.
Who’s getting kidnapped: Mostly children, but as India’s economy has grown, middle-class Indians have become a bigger target. Foreign and tourist abductions are rare.
Who’s doing the kidnapping: Indian kidnappings are not particularly well-organized, and often used by the poor as a way to score quick money; could be a street vendor, could be a typical street criminal.
How they’re kidnapping you:Indian kidnappers don’t have much interest in killing you, and their ransoms are usually pretty low. And negotiable. Assuming your family is willing to pay and not still upset about the argument you started at Thanksgiving dinner, youshould be released within a few days.
How to avoid It: Visitors aren’t usually targets, but take precautions. And don’t flaunt your iPod Shuffle, or any expensive items you may be carrying.
292 reported kidnappings in 2013.
Where you’re getting kidnapped: Rural areas like mountain roads, jungles, rivers, and plantations. Stick to the cities and you’re usually OK.
Who’s getting kidnapped: Not nearly as many people as in years past, but mostly Colombians with the means to pay a ransom. Tourists are at risk, as well; be vigilant when traveling the campo.
Who’s doing the kidnapping: The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a guerrilla group responsible for 30% of the 29,000 or so kidnappings over the last 40 years, denounced the practice as part of peace talks in 2012. But some rogue factions still do it, as does the National Liberation Army (ELN).
How they’re kidnapping you: Unlike urban kidnappers in other countries, these jungle-based guerilla outfits wander the countryside, taking you with them until either the ransom is paid or they get tired of dragging you along. You won’t be tortured, and you’ll be fed, but hopefully you wore your most comfortable Rockports as you may be trekking through the jungle for months.
How to avoid It: If you visit Colombia, go with someone from the area. That or make local friends pronto. While the cities are much safer, they’re still not immune from kidnapping, so sticking to the more reputable bars, clubs, and restaurants will ensure you get home safe.
An estimated 2,000 kidnappings annually, although the government stopped reporting statistics in 2005.
Where you’re getting kidnapped: Anywhere. Venezuela is now considered the most dangerous country in Latin America, and its capital city, Caracas, has one of the highest murder rates in the world.
Who’s getting kidnapped: Mostly middle and upper-class Venezuelans, as many of the foreign visitors are business people traveling with armed guards.
Who’s doing the kidnapping: When the late President Hugo Chavez released thousands of violent criminals in the early 2000s, many formed professional gangs who use kidnapping for ransom as their primary source of income.
How they’re kidnapping you: The Venezuelan version of “express kidnapping” involves being carjacked and forced to visit as many ATMs as you can (as well charging large ticket items from local stores on your credit card) before the kidnappers abscond with your wheels. Gangs also engage in “virtual kidnapping,” during which they disconnect your phone service (or ask to use your cell phone) and call Mom claiming to have taken you hostage.
How to avoid It: While the promise of the best breakfast in the world might be tempting, just don’t go. If you can’t find an arepa in your own city, Miami is a much safer option.