Located just 24 miles from the U.S.-Canada border, Vancouver is an easy international getaway, especially for people based in the Pacific Northwest. Like any other city, there are both good and "bad" parts of town, but the coastal metropolis is still exceptionally safe to visit, even if you're alone. In any case, travelers should be aware of the inherent risk of traveling to a big city and know what to do if they find themselves in trouble.
- Due to COVID-19, Canada has banned travelers from most countries (including the U.S.) from entering, and the U.S. is discouraging all international travel indefinitely.
- Before COVID-19, the U.S. urged practicing normal precautions, citing petty theft as the greatest risk to tourists. "Criminals may target parked cars, especially in large cities and popular tourist destinations, for opportunistic smash-and-grab thefts," the U.S. Department of State says. "Do not leave unattended possessions in a vehicle, even in the trunk. Some jurisdictions such as Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver may fine you for leaving your car doors unlocked or for leaving valuables in view. Pickpockets may target you, especially in popular tourist areas."
Is Vancouver Dangerous?
Vancouver is generally not dangerous, but certain neighborhoods within the city see more crime than others. The most notable is Downtown Eastside (aka "the DTES"), an economically depressed sliver of Vancouver flanked by touristy Gastown and Chinatown.
The DTES is one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, and has become a hub for Vancouver's groundbreaking needle exchange and drug-related programs. It now houses a safe injection site and has in recent years been a hotspot for sex workers, but still, it doesn't pose any real threat to the safety of tourists. In fact, it remains a popular destination for dining out.
The U.S. State Department has declared Vancouver a low-threat area for crime directed at U.S. citizens . "Organized crime, including gang-related crime, is an ongoing issue in the lower mainland of British Columbia (BC)," according to a 2020 statement. "Asian gangs have long had a dominant presence in BC, and there are indications that Mexican cartels are gaining a foothold in the region. Asian organized crime and outlaw motorcycle gangs operate throughout BC, trafficking goods to the U.S., Australia, and Japan."
Although drugs and drug trafficking are a problem in the area, they pose almost no threat to travelers.
Is Vancouver Safe for Solo Travelers?
Vancouver is perfectly safe to visit alone, especially if you stick to the tourist-popular areas such as Gastown, Stanley Park, Yaletown, and Davie Village, and limit your outings to daytime hours only. Solo travelers will definitely want to avoid driving or walking through the DTES at night and stick to populated, well-lit streets. Don't be surprised if you see homeless people or are approached for money even in the better parts of the city.
Is Vancouver Safe for Female Travelers?
Vancouver is perfectly safe for female travelers as the culture here is very similar to the U.S. HI Vancouver Downtown is said to be one of the best hostels for female solo travelers—it's located in a "peaceful neighborhood" near Davie Village and offers women-only dorm rooms. St. Clair Hotel-Hostel has single-sex accommodation options, too.
Safety Tips for LGBTQ+ Travelers
Home to the largest LGBTQ+ population in Western Canada, Vancouver is somewhat of a gay haven. Rainbow flags adorn every crosswalk and storefront in Davie Village, the city's vibrant gay district, and the annual Pride Festival here warrants an entire week of celebrations. Same-sex marriage has been legal in British Columbia since 2003, five years before it became legal in California, so the city is extremely accepting. In fact, Vancouver's mayor, Kennedy Stewart, proposed a "bubble zone" to protect the LGBTQ+ community from verbal abuse from Christian preachers in 2020.
Safety Tips for BIPOC Travelers
Vancouver is a particularly diverse city celebrating many different cultures, religions, and ethnicities. Still, racist incidents have occurred, as they do in every city.
"Through both modest and comprehensive action, we are working to tackle racism and white supremacy within the City and Vancouver. This is an urgent priority," the City said in a 2020 statement. "Staff are expediting the City’s anti-racism strategy with input from Indigenous, Black, and other racialized peoples and organizations to ensure Vancouver is a safe and just place for all."
Anyone who witnesses or falls victim to a hate crime in Vancouver should report it to the Resilience BC Anti-Racism Network.
Safety Tips for Travelers
Although Canada is for the most part even safer than the U.S., crime isn't abnormal in big cities like Vancouver. Know what to expect and how to protect yourself when visiting.
- Car break-ins are common here. Vehicles left overnight on the street or in public parking lots are especially vulnerable, so it would be wise to keep your valuables with you at all times. Don't leave anything—purses, passports, wallets, cameras, phones, or laptops—visible inside the car.
- Like the U.S., Canada's emergency phone number is 911. You can call it for free from any phone to report medical emergencies, crime, car accidents, or fires.
- Say you have a non-emergency medical need: You can visit one of Vancouver's walk-in clinics, where you'll be seen a doctor without an appointment but you may have to pay out-of-pocket costs even if you have travel insurance. In any case, these are typically less expensive than emergency rooms.
- Many countries have a consulate or consular services in Vancouver. These are handy for lost passports and reporting crimes abroad. The U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Vancouver can be reached at (604) 685-4311.
Government of Canada. "Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Who can travel to Canada." November 12, 2020.
U.S. Department of State. "Canada International Travel Information."
Overseas Security Advisory Council. "Canada 2020 Crime & Safety Report: Vancouver." June 19, 2020.