Travel, trouble, traffic: State Department numbers on deaths abroad

Traffic fills the streets of central Moscow on a winter night in early 2013. U.S. State Department figures show traffic accidents are a major cause of fatalities among U.S. citizens abroad.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

In just an average week, Americans safely make more than 1 million trips abroad. But over the course of a year, hundreds of U.S. citizens do die abroad -- and traffic is the leading killer.

Statistics from the U.S. State Department show 803 deaths abroad from “non-natural” causes among U.S. citizen deaths from July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014. Of those deaths, 213 were listed as vehicular accidents (including autos, buses, motorcycles, pedestrians and trains).

Another 184 deaths were classified as homicides; 134 were suicides; 108 were drownings; 99 were listed as “other accident”; 20 were “drug-related”; 18 were air accidents; 13 were “terrorist action” in Afghanistan; and 10 were maritime accidents.

The country with the most reported deaths was also the country Americans visit most often: Mexico, which received 20.8 million American visitors in 2013, was the site of 244 “non-natural” American deaths in the 12 months ending June 30.


The State Department itself warns travelers against reading too much into these numbers. As officials point out, most American citizens who die abroad are residents in those countries, not tourists. (The State Department has estimated than 1 million U.S. citizens live in Mexico. The Commerce Department, meanwhile, is tracking where American travelers go.)

Also, some deaths go unreported to U.S. officials; and military deaths may be excluded. Moreover, names and details in all of these cases are withheld to preserve families’ privacy.

Still, the numbers do offer a reminder that trips come with some risks, especially if there’s driving or swimming involved.

In Mexico, where drug-war violence has plagued many states for several years, the State Department’s American-death figures have dropped as low as 194 (in 2006), rising as high as 278 (in 2010). In 2013, consular officials counted 216 American deaths in Mexico.


Of the 244 deaths tallied in the 12 months ending June 30, 92 were by homicide, 71 were by vehicular accidents and 33 were by drowning. There were 25 other kinds of accidents, 21 suicides and one death listed only as “drug-related.”

Beyond Mexico, Thailand counted 30 American deaths during the year ending June 30; the Philippines, 28; Costa Rica, 22; Germany, 19. Canada, which runs second to Mexico in U.S. visitors, reported just 15 U.S. non-natural deaths.

As for traffic deaths -- in Mexico and worldwide -- the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has gathered country-by-country figures showing relative risks. The numbers are sobering, especially for anyone traveling to Africa. (Of the 20 countries with the highest estimated traffic-death rates worldwide, 15 are in Africa.)