Who is more vulnerable?  Who is at greater risk?  A short-term traveler or a long-term visitor/expatriate?  It’s an interesting question and one without a clear-cut answer.  All other things being equal, each one can present its own set of vulnerabilities.  Let’s look at each one and then compare and contrast.  For simplicity sake I will use the pronoun “he” although the travelers in question could be male or female.  It’s also worth mentioning this article focuses heavily on business travelers to mid to high risk destinations, although the concepts are really universal to all travelers to a degree.

The short-term traveler arrives at a destination he is most likely unfamiliar with.  He likely has limited local contacts, if any.  He also probably does not know the culture of the area well or the baseline of places that he will visit.  These are all vulnerabilities.  Even the trip from the airport to his hotel can be risky if not planned out well in advance.

The long-term visitor or expatriate is familiar with the environment.  He knows the different areas of the city and likely is aware – at least based on anecdotal information – which areas are bad and which are good.  He knows how the locals behave and the patterns of life in different environment that he frequents.  In theory he is better prepared to detect potential threats.  He also likely has a better support network and resources he can rely upon in the event of an emergency.  He may speak the local language, which is a massive advantage in reading the environment.

From this initial introduction it may sound like the long-term visitor or expatriate is in a better, safer position and the short-term traveler is ripe for victimization.  This is not necessarily true.  Let’s look at the other side of it:

The short-term traveler is, by definition, only there for a short time.  There is usually not the time to establish patterns or movement and behavior that can facilitate deliberate targeting.  The greatest risk to the short-term visitor is an opportunistic event or compromise by local contacts/associates.  For a business traveler who plans their trip, uses reputable local contacts and services and stays focused on their objectives (does not go out looking to party or otherwise go looking for trouble) the window of vulnerability is quite small.  Short-term visitors should:

  • Plan their transportation in advance, particularly their pick up on arrival at the airport.
  • Use vetted and reputable local contacts and services and considering layering these (a concept we will discuss in a future article).
  • Research their destination well and know the security issues and threats present, and have a familiarity with the geography from conducting a map study prior to travel.
  • Stay focused on their objectives while traveling.  Work to maximize their productivity and limit down time.
  • Avoid going out alone at night, going to party or engaging in high risk activities.

Following these guidelines will mitigate a huge amount of risk during short term travel.

The long-term visitor or expatriate has some significant vulnerabilities that the short-term visitor does not.  As we mentioned, the long-term visitor is familiar with the environment.  This familiarity can breed complacency as well.  Complacency is perhaps the greatest threat to personal security.  The other significant vulnerability that the expatriate or long-term visitor will have is time and place predictability.  Unless the person deliberately tries to add variance and avoid routine, time and place predictability will occur.  In fact it will occur even when efforts are made to vary routine.  This aspect combined with the fact that a long-term person will be dealing with other people in the environment that will come to know things about him and can gather intelligence about him in a way they cannot with a short-term visitor.

Looking anecdotally at incidents involving foreigners who have been victims of murders, kidnappings and robberies in different locations around the world, we find they are often long-term residents.  In many cases they are well integrated into the society and may even be married into a local family.  On the face of it this would seem to mean the person would be more secure and less at risk, but this is often not the case for the reasons already discussed.

Each type of traveler has some exposure to risk but the risk points are different.  For the short-term visitor its primarily (1) initial arrival in the country and first transport/movement (2) opportunistic events (3) a compromise by local contacts/associates.  For the long-term visitor of expatriate the risk points are (1) time and place predictability (2) complacency (3) compromise by local contacts/associates (4) broader exposure (purely by the fact they are there longer the exposure to an event is likely greater).

Regardless of your situation, a good starting point is to recognize the likely vulnerabilities and take steps to mitigate and reduce your risk.

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