Is it safe to drink water abroad?

May 12, 2023

In today’s world, we take for granted that in most Western countries, drinking water from a tap or outlet is safe to consume.

It may not always taste the best but we can mostly assume that it is ok to drink water from a tap in most Western countries. However, this is still not the case for many countries in the world and drinking water abroad can take its toll. Throughout the year, people travel far and wide to countries that may well have poor quality water and poor sanitation. Wherever we go in the world, we use water for drinking, bathing, brushing our teeth, and washing food.

Traveller’s diarrhoea is the most common illness and is very unpleasant, particularly when you are abroad in a hot country. There are many types of illnesses that can be contracted from contaminated water, such as cholera, typhoid, dysentery and Guinea worm disease. Swallowing or inhaling water from contaminated hot tubs, swimming pools, and showers, where bacteria has got into the water supply, can cause sickness, eye and ear infections, and a lung disease called Legionnaires, to name a few.

Up to 80% of illnesses in the developing world are linked to inadequate water and sanitation.

Many underdeveloped countries are more susceptible to contaminated water as they are most affected by water shortages, flooding, and poor water quality. Pollution and rising sea levels are also contributory factors.

Another example is the water systems used, although they may be constructed and used properly, they can easily become contaminated with germs. In some cases, storage tanks are filled with water that is captured and channelled from rooftops.  Heavy rains and flooding can wash large amounts of debris and pollutants into these collection systems deeming them unsafe to use.

Person fulling a glass of water from the tap

So, is it safe to drink water abroad?

It is good to know before you travel whether you are going to a country with bad water. There is an element of common sense too and not taking any risks if you are unsure.

Taking precautions too is paramount to avoid becoming unwell. Completely avoiding contaminated food and water can be hard whilst travelling, however, it is vital to keep hydrated, even if you are in an area of water that is deemed unsafe, and especially if you are in a hot country. Loss of fluid through perspiration can quickly cause dehydration which can make you feel quite unwell.

A few tips for avoiding becoming unwell from unsafe water

We’ve put some tips to make sure you keep hydrated and hopefully help to reduce the risks of becoming unwell if you are in a country with unsafe water.

  • If in doubt, only drink bottled water and make sure the cap is sealed.
  • Boiling water to make hot drinks is ok as long as you allow the water to boil rapidly for a minute.
  • Avoid ice in your drink – you don’t know what water the ice has been made from.
  • Be careful with salad as it may have been prepared/washed using unsafe water.
  • Only eat raw fruit and vegetables if you have peeled them or washed them in bottled or boiled water.
  • Clean your teeth with a tumbler of bottled water
  • Do not open your mouth in the bath, shower, or when swimming.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly, with soap, before you eat and particularly after going to the toilet.
  • Have a handy bottle of hand sanitiser in your bag – great for when out and about.
  • Keep your hands away from your face, particularly your mouth.
So what countries are safe to drink water abroad?

On the positive side, there are some countries that have water that is as good as bottled water.

Apparently, Copenhagen has some of the best-tasting tap water in the world and has no added chemicals. Switzerland too has some of the world’s cleanest tap water – which is no surprise being in the Alpine region. Canada, New Zealand, and Singapore are up there too for clean great-tasting tap water. But do check before you travel as countries that you think are safe may not be.

Top 10 Countries with the Best Water Quality in the World (2022 DALY score):

For more information on where it is safe to drink water abroad, please click here.

This article was originally featured on Edgar’s Water blog.